The Holy Seed
Times of reformation are not times when sin goes away, when no recurring temptations present themselves. Rather, history reveals periods of reformation as those times when the sin was dealt with as it should have been, often at great cost. Reformation is not like a figure skater gliding smoothly across the ice; it is more like nine miles of bad road.
Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abomination . . . (Ezra 9:1-15).
After Ezra settled in, some of the princes came to him with some bad news (vv. 1-2). It turns out that a number of the people had begun intermarrying with the pagans. Ezra was appalled, tore his clothes and tore out his hair, and sat before the Lord until the evening sacrifice (vv. 3-4). When he did this, all who feared God gathered to him (v. 4). At the time of the evening sacrifice, Ezra got up to pray (v. 5), and cried out to the Lord. The first thing he says is that the sin involved is horrific (v. 6). The Jews had been in exile because of their fathers’ sin, and this was the case down to the present (v. 7). And yet God in His kindness had given them a respite, a time for reformation and repentance (vv. 8-9). What did they do with that grace (v. 10)? They sinned (v. 10). The commandment was clear enough—do not intermarry with the pagan tribes surrounding because of their wickedness (vv. 11-12). After such a clear commandment, and the previous punishments (v. 13), should the Jews sin with a high hand again (v. 14)? Ezra concludes with the thought that God is righteous in two senses: He has delivered the Jews in His rightousness, and He is righteous in His holiness (v. 15).
Why Ezra Was Appalled:
When the word of the sin was brought to Ezra, he was mortified because of the Jews marrying pagans who were continuing to do “according to their abomination” (v. 1). The problem was sin and wickedness. When Ezra quotes the Mosaic law on this, he makes it plain that this was the reason for the prohibition. The land of Canaan was an “unclean land” and the law referred to “the filthiness of the people” and their “abominations” (v. 11). The pagan people had filled the land “from one end to another with their uncleanness” (v. 11). The law then says, therefore do not give your sons to their daughters, or your daughters to their sons. After God was so clear about this, “and join in affinity with the people of these abominations” (v. 14). The problem was that intermarriage would lead to worship of their idolatrous gods (Jud. 3:5-6).
Why Ezra Was Not Appalled:
It is a shame to have to go into this, but this passage is used by some to justify a stance prohibiting all inter-racial marriages. The intermarriages involved here were with “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.” But the reason repeatedly assigned in the text for the prohibition is the iniquity of these peoples, and not the racial or ethnic issue. What are some other reasons for holding to this? Out of the eight groups mentioned here, we have examples of intermarriages that are expressly not condemned by Scripture. Rahab was a resident of Jericho (a Canaanite city), and she married Salmon and was an ancestress of the Christ (Matt. 1:5). Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba was a Hittite (2 Sam. 11:3). Joseph married an Egyptian (Gen. 41:45). Ruth was from Moab (Ruth 1:4), and was an ancestress of Christ (and Rahab was her mother-in-law). In addition, the Mosaic law explicitly allowed for intermarriage when a pagan woman abandoned her ancestry (which meant abandoning her gods), and converted to the worship of the true God (Dt. 21:10-14). The issue is always worship, not
ethnicity. Some of the other standard proof texts in favor of prohibiting all inter-ethnic or inter-racial marriage are as lame as this one. For example, take this: “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). The person might argue, “See, God intended for them to be there, on the other side of the tracks.” But this is a statement of God’s decretive purposes, not a statement of His law for us to obey. Throw into the mix the problem of defining races and prohibited unions in any way that is remotely connected to the text of Scripture. Is it lawful for a Japanese to marry a Korean? What passage should we consider? For a white man to marry a fellow Caucasian from India, who is three shades darker than a girl from your home town, who is black? Our Bibles are open—where do we turn?
Having said all this, there is (always) a ditch on the other side of the road. There are humanists whose idol is all humanity thrown into a global blender. There is a vast difference between saying that inter-racial marriage is lawful (which is most certainly is), and saying that it is easy, or mandatory, or redemptive. Easy? Men and women are different enough, and if you throw in cultural and linguistic barriers, you could be asking for real trouble. Mandatory? The world will be united in Christ Jesus the Lord, and no other way. Culture-bending is in no way obligatory. Redemptive? Only Christ is Savior, and we cannot look to any false idols (including cosmopolitanism) to bring harmony into the world.
Intermarriage in the New Covenant:
What restrictions are placed on us in the New Covenant? This law that we find Ezra upholding is not a law that has gone away. God still wants a holy seed. But in the New Covenant, the potency of the holiness is greater (1 Cor. 7:14). In the Old Covenant, what happened when something holy came into contact with something unholy (Hag. 2:11-14)? Nevertheless, an unequal yoke in marriage is still flatly prohibited (1 Cor. 7: 39). The apostle is very clear on this—what fellowship has Christ with Belial (2 Cor. 6: 15-18)? Those who are willing to deal with the unhappiness of their singleness by marrying outside the faith are simply multiplying sorrows.
The Pattern of Reformation:
God gave the Jews a “reviving” (v. 9). He gave them a “little space” (v. 8). He began again to establish His work. And what was done? The work has already been challenged by the surrounding peoples (unsuccessfully), and so the devil takes another tack. He undertakes to corrupt the people through personal and familial compromises. The armada won’t arrive any where if all the individual ships sink. The reformation begins, and as soon as it begins to make its presence felt, the local authorities, the local powers that be, try to stop it. Failing that, what happens next? Members of the gathered congregation, those who were citizens of Jerusalem, demonstrated that they did not have a clue. They gave their daughters to marry a pagan. They have allowed their sons to marry women who were guilty of various abominations, and they married a number of these women themselves. In short, ethical and theological cluelessness arose from within the ranks, and challenged the work of God.
In this regard, notice what marriage is: “nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever” (v. 12). Marriage is the tie that knits together a commonwealth. And consider that word—commonwealth. Don’t intermarry with them—don’t seek their peace. Don’t intermarry with them—don’t seek their wealth. Do not covet what they have, and do not desire to bestow peace on them. Why? Because you want these blessings to reside where God has promised to give them, and that is within the bounds of the covenant.
What is your desire? It should be to “eat the good of this land” (v. 12). And you should want to leave it as an “inheritance for your children forever.” What does this presuppose? Will your great, great grandchildren will be faithful, worshipping Christian people?