In the book of Ezra, chapters 9 and 10 are extremely controversial. Ezra is grieved because many of the Jewish people have married the women of the area – “foreign” women. These women are outside of their race, their culture, and their faith. And Ezra makes a bold move in requiring these men to leave their wives or otherwise be exiled from the community.
When I first read this I was a little horrified. I, personally, am in an intercultural, interracial marriage. According to Ezra, is my marriage blasphemous? Should my husband leave me and take up with a Nigerian woman? Does God say that we shouldn’t be married? And then I remembered Moses.
Most people who have heard of the Bible have heard of Moses. He’s famous both in religious and secular circles. And Moses, an undeniably great man of God, had a “foreign” wife. When Moses fled from Egypt to Midian he took Zipporah, daughter of Reuel (later referred to as Jethro), to be his wife (Exodus 3:21). Moses did receive criticism regarding his marriage, but it was from man – his siblings of all people – not from God. In fact, Miriam and Aaron were chastised and punished by God for speaking ill of Moses (Numbers 12). This clearly indicates that God is down with interracial, intercultural marriages. What he’s not as keen on are interfaith marriages.
A word on interfaith marriages. I am in no way suggesting that if you married outside of your faith you should be filing for a divorce. In fact, if you’re a believer the Bible says explicitly NOT to do that. It’s not because God doesn’t want you to marry the person you love or that he thinks Christians are better than someone from another faith. He wants to protect you. Interfaith marriages aren’t God’s intention because the covenant and bond of marriage is so great. You want to share all of yourself with the person you love and that includes your faith. I know people who have grown up in interfaith households and despite sometimes attending services regularly, they often feel a bit lost in their spiritual walk. Everything God asks of us is really for our own good even if it doesn’t always seem that way on the surface. Paul addresses marriage, including interfaith marriage, in detail in 1st and 2nd Corinthians.
But back to Ezra! So, Ezra is basically having a meltdown. It’s not just because of the interfaith marriages, but because these marriages were done with a blatant disregard for the instruction from God. And Ezra knew God would not look kindly on this. I can imagine Ezra felt a bit like my 12 year old self who spent weeks on a school project that our family dog destroyed in about three minutes. The Jewish people had worked so hard to get back into God’s favor and he saw it all slipping away.
The response may seem a bit drastic. Why not just bring these women into the faith? Which brings us back to obedience. Ezra didn’t know how God would respond and he didn’t want everything they had worked for destroyed – again.
The beauty of our Father in Heaven is that he can work with whatever we give him. And regardless of where we are in our marriages, he can deliver them. He can redeem them. And Ezra isn’t there to tell you that your marriage is blasphemous.