Sunday, August 9, 2009

Marital Purity in the Old and New Testament

After reading Ezra 10 this morning, I have to admit my mind was swirling and I didn't like what I read. How could it be God's will for all of the religious leaders to divorce their wives and send them out of their house along with their children? This is one of those passages where God does not do what I expect, and I am reminded that I am always growing in my knowledge of Him.

I Corinthians 7 says:

"If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy."

This is the Scripture that has framed my theology of marriage, and so I think that is why Ezra 10 comes as such a shock to me.

So what is it that is different between the Old and New Covenants? As much as I like to highlight the continuity between the Old and New Testaments, I cannot deny there are some distinctions, and this is certainly one of them. It seems that under the law God is more concerned with the purity of His people than with them being a sanctifying influence on their unbelieving spouses. These foreign wives had polluted God's people and lead the men (even the Levites) into idolatry. God needed to purge His people, and that purging involved tearing apart families that were unequally yoked.

I suspect that is why I Corinthians 7:12-16 was penned. We deal with the same issues that the Israelites did, and there are many who are unequally yoked in our day. Yet God wants us to take a different approach from that of Ezra 10. Despite the sin of marrying an unbeliever, God wants that unbeliever to experience the gospel through the words and actions of a redeemed spouse in hopes that God will bring redemption in their own heart. After all, part of the mystery of the new covenant is the fact that God is bringing all people groups to Himself, and His church is a multi-faceted body that collectively brings glory to Him through their diversity. This was not the case under the Old Covenant, where Israel's ethnicity and culture set them apart from the rest of the world, and God wanted that sanctification to be displayed starkly so all other nations would see it. I guess one could argue that sanctification looks different between the two covenants - Under the Old Covenant sanctification was more tangible - what you eat, how you dress, who you are married to... However, under the New Covenant sanctification is measured primarily by the fruit of the Spirit that you evidence. Still observable to be sure, but not quite as measurable. Perhaps this explains some of the seeming contradiction between Ezra 10 and I Cor. 7. Not sure though.

I am still trying to wrap my mind around Ezra 10, but I am reminded this morning that I need to be reading through all of God's Word, so that I may know His character and personality in a deeper way.