Today we finish up the book of Ezra; it doesn’t end on a high note. Ezra learns that in the years since the first exiles returned, they have foolishly fallen back to their old ways. They have taken wives from the nations surrounding them, in direct disobedience to God’s commands. He is especially distraught to learn that the leaders and officials have set the example in this, leading the people astray.
Ezra immediately goes to God in confession and repentance on behalf of the people. He can’t believe that his people have taken God’s grace in providing relief from their bondage for granted and returned so quickly to the very things that caused the discipline of God in the first place. God has always warned His people not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers because He knows the influence it will have. For the Israelites, marrying into the nations around them brought idol worship and pagan practices. Ezra calls the people to repent, and commands that they send the pagan wives, and the children that have resulted from these marriages, away. This sounds harsh to us, but it shows us how serious God is about His children being separated from the worldly culture that will draw them into sin and idolatry.
For believers today, marrying unbelievers brings conflict and struggles and is disobedience to God’s commands. A God-fearing man who marries a woman who does not share his faith will soon be drawn away from his own faith in God, and their children will suffer from the confusing teaching.
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)
Are you a believer dating an unbeliever? According to God’s word, this is wrong, and you should end the relationship before it leads to marriage. Are you a believer married to an unbeliever? Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 7 that if the unbelieving spouse wants to remain married, you ought to remain married, but if they desire to leave, then you are not held to the marriage covenant, and they are free to leave. (This does not necessarily mean you are free to remarry.)
What’s the takeaway? Are these “old-fashioned” ideas that simply aren’t relevant or possible to practice today? Or should we take God’s instructions about marriage seriously, and learn from Ezra’s drastic actions and heart-felt repentance that this is an issue that matters to God very much? I believe it does matter, and that God’s ways always work. We would be wise to listen.