Deadbolting the Idols Out

While intermarriage appears to have been tolerated early in Israel’s history (Abraham, Joseph, and Moses married foreign women, perhaps for political reasons), this later changed. In fact, intermarriage was especially forbidden when Israel was at its weakest, according to John Goldengay. “Ezra and Nehemiah assume that the little Second Temple community living among other peoples is too weak to risk the loss of its identity by absorption into the wider group through intermarriage” (OTT1:747–748). But the concern was larger than identity, and it’s not hard to imagine why. A foreign wife carried her foreign-deity-baggage into a marriage, and likewise, a foreign husband carried his foreign-deity-baggage into a marriage. The addition of these deities into an Israelite home invariably shaped the spiritual devotion and worship practices of a family, making any wholehearted worship of the living God impossible (see 1 Kings 11:1–13). Goldengay takes this one step further by suggesting that Israelites may have been tempted to intermarry to secure divine insurance, a way to broaden one’s base of collected gods to better ensure personal blessing, peace, and financial prosperity. Whatever the motive, intermarriage with a non-believer, he writes, “compromises the principle that Yhwh alone is the one from whom the community must seek help and guidance for its life concerning matters of a moral and religious kind and concerning the future” (Ex. 34:12-16, Deut. 7:1-4, Ps. 106:34–36). Thus, the forbidding of intermarriage in Old Testament history was not a matter of racial preference, a point made especially clear with the Moabite people. It was faithless Moabite women who led Solomon’s heart astray and it was the faithful God-fearing woman named Ruth, also a Moabite, who became the great-grandmother of King David, thus finding herself in the lineage of the Savior. The bottom line: intermarriage was forbidden to preserve undistracted devotion to Yhwh. John Piper summarizes the point well: “The issue is not color mixing, or customs mixing, or clan identity. The issue is: will there be one common allegiance to the true God in this marriage or will there be divided affections?” God wants our homes to be places of guarded worship for Himself alone. There’s application in there for us all.

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