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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Inter-national marriage in the Old Testament

See this post for related material.

Joshua 23:Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you. (ESV. More on use of the ESV here.)

Joshua's command may have been based on Exodus 34:11-16. A similar statement is made in 1 Kings 11:2, about Solomon's many wives and concubines, who did help to lead that king astray spiritually.

These admonitions to the Israelites seem to amount to a straightforward command to avoid marriages with other nations entirely. .However, things don't seem to be that simple. One of the nations that the Israelites were prohibited from marrying, in the Exodus passage, was the Hittites. Yet Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, and one of David's most valued warriors, was a Hittite. (Although someone who should know tells me that the last part of his name is the same as that of, say, Elijah, and means that he was a follower of God.) Presumably Bathsheba was an Israelite, not a Hittite, but if she was a Hittite, then David, himself, married her. Ruth and Rahab were both foreigners, a Moabitess and an inhabitant of Jericho, respectively, but they were both part of the ancestry of the royal Israelite line, including being listed in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus. (See verse 5 of Matthew 1.)

I have previously posted about two known examples of Egyptian ancestry among the Israelites. The wife of Moses was not born an Israelite. Apparently, the wives of all of the sons of Jacob, including Joseph, who married an Egyptian, were non-Israelite, meaning that all of the grandsons of Jacob (also known as Israel) were half Israeli, and half something else.

So what does this command really mean? It seems to me that the crucial issue was not whether the person you married was not part of Israel, but whether such a person was willing to become a worshiper of God. Ruth and Rahab clearly were. Uriah most likely was. I suppose that the wives of Moses and Joseph also were. Solomon's wives, however, were not.

Thanks for reading.

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