Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nehemiah 13: Foreign wives...


This could be seen as a difficult passage.  The thought of all those wives being abandoned as a point of loyalty seems to go against all that God desires.  We know He hates divorce.  God stands up for the weak and victimized--especially women and children--and this passage stands in stark contrast to what we would normally expect, but there's more to this story than meets the eye. 

Had the women wanted to become a part of Israel, there were ceremonies to do so.  One noted example is Ruth, who was allowed and encouraged to marry Boaz even though she was from Moab (one of the nations mentioned in this passage).  In entreating Naomi to allow her to stay with her three times and vowing to take on Naomi's people and God, she was considered a Jewish proselyte.  It was rare but it could be done.  Any one of those women could have chosen to become an Israelite and there would have been no problem. 

Where the problem comes in is that these women willingly married Jewish men intentionally to drive a wedge between them and their nation and God.  The fact that the children couldn't even speak Hebrew, the language of the scripture, was further indication that these were not women who wanted to be a part of their husband's culture, but women who intended to keep their own gods, including detestable practices like child sacrifice and ritualistic prostitution. 

Mata Hari
A leading Levite giving the daughter of Tobiah to his son was pure treason. Tobiah fought for the downfall of Jerusalem throughout the entire 12 year rebuilding period to the point that the workers had to arm themselves during the work for their own protection.  This harkens back to the practices that Baalam recommended to Balak  to bring down the nation of Israel.  At Baalam's direction, Balak sent foreign women to tempt the Israelite men to idolatry as a strategy to get God to be mad at them and remove His blessing.  These marriages were not innocent.  They were a well-thought out infiltration with a long historical precedent.  It even involved the same nationality of people.  These marriages  were intentional acts of war.  In many ways, this is similar to the spy, Mata Hari, that was used in WWII to seduce Allied men, intending to steal their secrets.  The only difference is that these women were stealing the spiritual livelihood of the men of Israel from within their own homes.  This kind of treachery is far more diabolical. 

One of the wildest comparisons I've ever heard is between what Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the official did in response to finding out about the men of Judah marrying these foreign women. In response, Ezra tore his own robes. Nehemiah tore the robes of the offenders. It's a good balance. The priest went in repentance before God, identifying himself in intercession for the people of God. The government leader held people accountable for their treachery.