Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Should Believers Intermarry?

Today is the second day in our 49th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Ezra 7-10; Revelation 4, Psalm 97.

From time to time, people have asked me what the Bible says about interracial marriage.  "Doesn't the Bible say it's wrong?" they ask.  

I've already written about this in an article entitled "The Yoke's On You!"  I hope you'll take a look at that entire article as well.  In it, I wrote:

Some people believe that interracial marriage wrong, and even claim that the Bible says not to marry outside your race.  Hogwash!  God's prohibitions against Israelites marrying the Canaanite races had nothing to do with race, and everything to do with religion.  Moses had a Cushite wife, and God cursed Miriam and Aaron when they criticized the union (Numbers 11:1-15).  Though she was of a different race, apparently she shared the same faith--and that was the most important thing.  Racially, the Canaanites weren't that different from the Hebrews, but in terms of faith, they couldn't be further apart.  Ethnic differences are nothing--differences in religion are everything.
Here, the topic pops up again, in the story of Ezra's reforms.  Though I often prefer the ESV, I feel that one word here, translated as "race," is problematic.  Here are verses 1 and 2 of Ezra chapter 9.  

After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.  For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that theholy race[m] has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.”

A footnote in the ESV points out the word "race" is actually "offspring" in Hebrew.  My question is this--if the Hebrew word zera means "a sowing, seed, offspring, or descendant," then why did the translators use the incendiary word "race"?  The ESV isn't alone in translating zera this way.  They are joined by the translators of the NIV, NLT, NASB, NET, KJV 2000, and GWT.  Still, others have been more sensitive to ethnic issues here, and have chosen phrases like "holy seed" or "holy people" instead of "holy race."  Good for them--because this was never about race, anyway!  Ezra's own words say that the prohibition of marriage with the people of the land had to do with their practices and abominations.  In verses 10-15, he prays:

 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments,  which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness.  Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’  And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this,  shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?  Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.”

God prohibited intermarriage with the pagans of the land, so the faith of the Israelites would not be corrupted by idolatry and abominations.  It had nothing to do with keeping the blood line pure.  In fact, foreigners who adopted the Jewish faith were permitted to intermarry with Jews all they pleased.  

The reader should note that the solution to their situation originated with a human idea--not from a divine command.  10:1-5 says:

While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.  And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.  Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law.  Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.”  Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath.

My mama always taught me that two wrongs don't make a right.  While it was wrong to intermarry with the people of the land, it was also wrong to solve the problem with massive divorce.  The right solution would have been a massive evangelism campaign, to see if they could make true believers out of all those pagan wives and children.  The right solution would have been to see how they might make the best of a bad situation.  But no one will ever convince me that a godly solution was found in turning out their wives and children.  

Which proves that just because a biblical hero does something--that doesn't mean it's always a good example for us, or even a good decision for that hero at the time.  They can make mistakes, too.  And I think Ezra made a big one here.

So, if you think that ethnic intermarriage is wrong, don't try to use this biblical passage in order to support your racist ideas.  This story is all about religious intermarriage, not the ethnic purity of some supposed "holy race."  

"But just think of those poor mixed-race children," some people say.  When you research Jesus' bloodline, you'll find that He Himself is a mixture of "pure Jewish blood" and the people of the land who married into the descendants of Abraham.  I don't think there's anything at all poor about the mixture of races--and if God did, then He wouldn't have allowed Jesus to have mixed heritage.  Our Lord made us all beautiful, and it's a beauty that can be shared--no matter the shade of your skin.

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