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.


  1. First off, thanks for returning to the blog!! I realize that life gets busy, but you have to remember those of us that have down times at work and rely on bloggers like yourself to keep us from completely detaching from society and our sanity!

    Good thoughts on Ezra. I am starting to really appreciate those places in Scripture when God rocks our theology by doing something we think He wouldn't or shouldn't do. Sometimes I wonder if He doesn't just puts those passages in there to humble us.

    Ultimately though, I'm glad that you are embracing the whole of Scripture and not hiding away from it. I think many of us encountered the "problem passages" in college or whatever and pondered them just long enough to commit to never going back there again. But like you said, we need to be reading all of His word so that we can get closer to Him. The older I get the more I'm understanding that I will forever be realizing who God is.

  2. Ezra also reminds me of Hosea... another freaky direction God gave to a man for a holy purpose. Probably the part that reinforces Paul's letter to the Corinthians for me is his letter to the Ephesians when he instructed husbands to love their wives in the same fashion the Christ loves them (the Church). And He stands at the door knocking. Not mocking, but knocking. Waiting for me to invite Him in. And, so, love your wife.
    That to say, Thanks. I needed

  3. I too have wondered about this seemingly harsh action by Ezra. I discussed it with my wife, and she also had no answer, but agreed with me in assuming that Ezra likely did this with the leading of God.

    If not then, could Ezra have gone overboard with enthusiam for righteousness in his zeal for community repentance?

    If He did follow the instruction of God, then perhaps the Lord was using this as a stick, as an example of His holiness, showing them that His patience has limits.

    It can be noted that it was wrong for them to marry outside of the People of God, but, on the other hand, the Israelites took many virgins captive for wives after battle with foreign nations, and also, Soloman took foreign wives (of course we know that they were trouble for him) and was not admonished to put them away.

    This is another great mystery that awaits our understanding. Someday . . .

  4. I agree Norman. It will be nice to have these questions answered someday. :)