23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”
28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me.
29 Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites.
30 So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. 31 I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times, and for the firstfruits.
Remember me with favor, my God.
(Nehemiah 13:23-31 NIV)
In previous passages, Nehemiah had departed Jerusalem, traveled back to Babylon to resume his duties with the king, then returned again to Jerusalem. Upon his return, Nehemiah found three major issues, all related to assimilating into the culture of the surrounding non-Jewish people:
- Use and operation of the Temple was not according to God’s Word
- Not keeping the Sabbath as God’s Word commanded
- Intermarrying with non-Jewish people, again in direct violation of God’s Word
As we discovered last time, Nehemiah dealt with the use and operation of the Temple first, then with the keeping of the Sabbath. In today’s passage, Nehemiah confronts the issue of intermarriage with non-Jewish people.
When Nehemiah realizes that Jewish men were marrying non-Jewish women (v. 23), he sees the implications first-hand in the children of these illegal unions. While the kids could speak the language of their mothers, none had learned the language of their fathers (v. 24). How could these kids be expected to learn God’s ways if they could neither speak nor read Hebrew, the language of Judah? This was not the children’s problem – this fell squarely on the shoulders of the fathers.
Nehemiah knew that this generation would be lost if they did not stop this sin immediately. Remember the national day of repentance, fasting, Scripture reading, and prayer in chapters 9 – 10? One of the outcomes of that day was a written document outlining how the people would obey God’s commands, signed by over 80 Jewish leaders, and agreed to by everyone in Israel.
In that document, the people took an oath to obey God and called down a curse upon themselves if they did not obey (10:29). The first item on that list was the promise to not intermarry with non-Jewish people (10:30). The other two issues (use and operation of the Temple, and keeping the Sabbath) were also in that document.
Ezra had dealt with this same issue (Ezra 9 – 10) and required the men to end those illegal marriages and send the women back to their homelands. Nehemiah, as governor, took a different approach and called down the self-imposed curse in 10:29 on them. There also appeared to be a physical altercation, and Nehemiah physically punished those who knew better but disobeyed God’s commands anyway (v. 25).
Nehemiah reminded these men about Solomon, the wisest king of all Israel, whose downfall came through disobedience to God’s command to not marry foreign (non-Jewish) women (v. 26). If life ended badly for Solomon because of this sin, how did these men think life would end any better for them?
One of the men who intermarried was the grandson of Eliashib the high priest. Not only had he set a bad example for the rest of Israel and Jerusalem, but he had done so with a vengeance. This man had married a daughter of Sanballat, one of the chief antagonists and conspirators against God and His people (v. 28). Nehemiah ran this man and his family off, expelling them from the city and from Jewish community altogether. Nehemiah also prayed that the Lord would deal with this man and his family for being such a bad example of living in open defiance of God’s Word (v. 29).
Like his other prayers after dealing with the previous two issues, Nehemiah ended by praying that the Lord would remember the good he (Nehemiah) had done despite the sins of the people.
May we realize that the Lord has our best in mind when He gives certain commands to live by. He is not a cosmic killjoy, but rather a loving Father that knows some things will end badly for us if we choose that thought or course of action.
May we also remember that God is sovereign, and despite our best efforts, things don’t always turn out as we had hoped. While Nehemiah’s book ends on a certain note of sadness, it also points us forward to Christ, the great Redeemer and King. God used Nehemiah in a mighty way, despite the choices of the Jewish people.
May we be faithful to our calling, and to His Word.