Deuteronomy 7:3-4, “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.”
This morning, certain subjects ramp up the “emotion meter” more than others. Due to the intrinsic or inherent nature of the subject matter, emotions sometimes run away from reasoning. Therefore, we hope to handle the subject matter before us as objectively as possible and not allow undue emotion to enter into the writing. Today, there are opinions a mile wide on every hand about the subject of inter-racial marriages. Some are for it. Some are against it. Some approve a little. Some approve a lot. Ask a random selection of people off the street how they feel, and you may get a dozen or so varied statements about it. However, as disciples of the Lamb, we need only be concerned with the Scriptural pattern to see how we should think and look at the subject. So, what does our source material state? How should we think?
When I was growing up, I had the providential blessing of being raised in a supremely good home. My parents attempted to bring me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. One of dad’s favorite statements in his exhortations to my brother and I was, “Be sure you pick out a God-fearing woman to be your wife.” He would say oftentimes that many differences of opinion could be worked out if two people were devoted to making it work, but one issue could never be resolved if the woman did not believe in God. Sometimes, I even think he secretly wanted us to find some woman of another order and help convert her. But, I digress. The point of his statement was that any other type of woman will eventually do what God warned the children of Israel about. The seven nations of Canaan that they were about to dispossess from the Promised Land were idolatrous people. They were not God-fearing. Any marriage to them would have resulted in idolatry (and occasions in the future showed this to be true).
The study verses before us are the prohibition that we should look for in opposing certain marriages. Was Israel prohibited from ever marrying someone of another nation? Previously we read from the book of Genesis that Joseph had an Egyptian wife that bare him Ephraim and Manasseh. Moses married an Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12), and Aaron and Miriam spoke out against it. As a result, God’s judgment came upon Miriam in the form of leprosy. Ruth was a Moabitess, who Boaz eventually married in the book of Ruth, which union was blessed and honored by God to eventually bring forth King David and ultimately King Jesus. Why were these marriages so prosperous and honored by God while the seven nations of Canaan were prohibited as spouses for the Israelites?
We can only speculate about the Ethiopian woman that Moses married as well as Joseph’s wife, but we can see plainly confirmed on the page that Ruth was a God-fearing woman that was honourable in all things. This pattern seems consistent with the prohibition of the Canaanites. They were not God-fearing nor honourable. God would not recognize those marriages with His blessing and favour. However, He blessed the other inter-racial unions and cursed those that cursed those unions (like He did with Miriam). The lesson to this point seems to indicate that the state of the person’s attitude and heart towards God is of greater concern than the particular nationality that they hailed from.
Let us consider some failed inter-racial marriages from the Bible. In Nehemiah, we read of those that the Israelites had married after returning from the captivity in Babylon. The nations were so perverse and corrupt that the Israelites’ children were speaking part Hebrew and part language of Ashdod. (Nehemiah 13) The worldliness of their upbringing was stifling and stunting Israel’s spirituality, as seen quite clearly in the lives of their children. Solomon married a great number of women from various and sundry nations, and his marriages ultimately led to his latter end being worse than his beginning. Idolatry and wickedness marked his twilight rather than peace and prosperity from the God of heaven. In both of these cases, idolatry is seen prominently and flagrantly.
So, how should we approach the situation today? What are our prohibitions today? Biblically speaking, I believe dad’s faithful and trusty old saying, “Make sure she’s God-fearing” stacks up pretty well with Scripture. If the prospective spouse hails from a culture and upbringing that is quite idolatrous and shows no indication of desiring anything else, then do not consider such as a good choice for husband/wife. However, if someone is honourable, God-fearing and truly wants to make things work, then consider such a one a possible choice for a spouse.
To be fair, we cannot discount the fact that there are differences of cultures across different ethnic groups. Just on a food and clothing level, certain ethnic groups prefer certain types of foods and wear certain styles of clothing. As a tame example, I would probably would have had a hard time marrying a Scottish lass if she expected me to wear a kilt all the time. Though our skin tones are the same, there is a cultural difference there that would have taken extra effort to agree upon before entering into marriage. There are many examples of cultural differences besides food and clothing, but these should suffice to make the point. If I were asked by an inter-racial couple to perform their ceremony, one thing I would definitely encourage them to consider is that they will have extra hurdles to work through than other couples would. Every couple is going to have hurdles to work through, but differing cultures adds another layer to the cake to sort out when trying to make a marriage work. However, if they understood that and were willing, devoted, and committed to making it work anyway, I would have no problem performing their ceremony.
Beyond the cultural aspect, how else should we consider this today? Should we stand for the idea? Against it? Indifferent? I recall many years ago that I had a discussion with a minister who vehemently opposed the idea of inter-racial marriage – rather he only opposed one type of inter-racial marriage. At the time, my son was less than a year old and crawling around on the floor. When I tried to show him the Biblical pattern to observe, he pointed to my son and asked, “You mean to tell me that you would be ok if your son came home one day with a black girl?” My answer floored him. “I would rather he come home with a black girl who is respectful, God-fearing, and loves him in a lifelong and committed way, rather than him come home with a trashy, disrespectful, and God-hating white girl.” Considering marriage and all of its inherent difficulties (two people living as one), why would one consider choosing someone fraught with problems just because the race or skin tone is the same?
Another thing that should be considered is simply this, inter-racial marriage is something that we can only legitimately say is acceptable for all races or unacceptable for all races. Mixing and mingling the idea that this race is ok and that one is not is the height of hypocrisy. God’s prohibition of those seven nations was due to their idolatrous ways. Any other nation that acted similarly was to be treated likewise in the subject realm of the discussion of marriage. Since the cultural differences exist between various races – even if the skin hue does not – the extra marital hurdles will have to be navigated in all cases. Therefore, all cases of all different races need to be treated consistently. The race is of less importance and value as the quality of the character of the individuals looking to wed.
Doubtless, we have all seen failed marriages between like races as well as differing races. We have seen successful marriages between like races as well as differing races. As previously shown, the Bible is replete with examples of all. Similarly we have seen marriages fail when people were of differing faiths (denominations) as well as failed marriages of the same faith (same denominational order). Rich and poor people have married to varying results. Young and old have wed to mixed conclusions. Each scenario, whether race, finances, age, or order, presents its own set of unique pitfalls and landmines to navigate around. The point is not whether people find someone else with the same exact background. The point is whether someone is willing to stay committed and devoted to their spouse through thick and thin, no matter what comes, as their vows require that they do. Therefore, it goes back to character, integrity, and being committed which can only stem from being God-fearing.
As long as time shall remain, there will always be a variance of opinion on this subject. Some will go to their grave disagreeing with me, while others will perhaps agree with these sentiments. If I ever hear a compelling, reasoned, and – above all else – Biblical argument to change my views, I hope that I would do so. However, no matter how high the emotion meter may rise or fall due to a certain subject, we must always strive as Christ’s disciples to seek to know His mind upon the matter rather than follow “my druthers.” May we diligently devote our lives to seeking His counsel from His pages of Scripture and through prayer for daily guidance. One thing His word plainly declares is that marriage is unto death. May our endeavors in life keep this bedrock principle firmly in view and seek to honour the marriage regardless of any natural circumstances, whether race or otherwise.