Introduction: Our lesson this week is about a very specific issue –
marrying those who do not share our faith. My wife told me that when
she was young she prayed that God would lead her to the right man to
marry. When I was dating I recall being very concerned about faith. I
was not simply looking for someone who was a member of my church, I
was looking for someone who shared my level of devotion. For example,
for a while I was dating a friend who was active in the church
program on Sabbath, and then she would spend her time after church
visiting the elderly in nursing homes or something similar. That was
too much for me! On the other hand, I did not want to date someone
who didn’t care about God’s will. When I met my wife, she had the
right mix of devotion and Sabbath rest. We are still married 45 years
later. Let’s explore what the Bible teaches us about this!

  1. Sin Consequences

    1. Read Nehemiah 13:23-24. What is the issue? (When you
      intermarry, your children may not speak your language!)

      1. In the United States, this is not much of an issue.
        English is the language of the nation, but we have
        many immigrants who speak Spanish. Christians, and
        specifically members of my church, speak both
        languages. Has this problem no application to us
        today? (My daughter married the grandson of a pastor.
        He was not a member of our church, but he said he was
        a Christian. After they were married, my daughter
        reported that despite his church attendance as a
        young man, he was Biblically illiterate. He did not
        even know the major stories of the Bible. They did
        not “speak” the same language.)

    2. Read Nehemiah 13:26. What point is Nehemiah making when he
      praises King Solomon? Why not just say that intermarriage
      made Solomon sin?

      1. When a person is serious about God, but in love with
        someone who does not share the faith, what do you
        think is the believer’s goal if they marry? (The
        believer plans to convert the unbeliever.)

        1. Does that normally work?

        2. Is this the reason for highlighting Solomon’s
          virtues? (I think so. A very smart, very wise,
          very talented man was led astray by his wives.
          He did not convert them.)

  2. Ezra’s Complaint

    1. Read Ezra 9:1-2. What additional problem with
      intermarriage does Ezra report? (They “have mingled the
      holy race with the peoples around them.”)

      1. What does that mean? Are you a member of a holy
        race? (Recall that God told Abraham ( Genesis 12:1-3)that He would make Abraham a great nation? God
        would bless other nations through Abraham. Ezra is
        referring to a unique problem – keeping the Jewish
        nation Jewish.)

      2. How extensive is this problem? (The leaders and
        officials were leading the way into this sin!)

        1. I thought the leaders were the ones who
          reported this problem to Ezra! What does this
          tell us? (That the leadership was divided on
          this issue.)

    2. Read Ezra 9:3. I’ve never done anything like this with
      regard to sin in the church? Have you? As I get older,
      pulling my hair out is the last thing I have in mind!

      1. Have you ever cried when a family member or close
        friend got in trouble with the law? Or, was
        seriously injured? (I have.)

        1. If you answered yes, but have never torn your
          clothes or cried because of sin in the church,
          why the difference? (My answer is this: Today
          we identify with family and close friends, but
          we have a feeling of independence from the
          church. We cry about friends, but not the

        2. Is this feeling of independence from the church
          a problem?

    3. Read Ezra 9:4. What kind of people tremble at the words of
      God? (Those who fear God and recognize the importance of

      1. Is that the real issue, rather than independence? Is
        the problem today that we do not “tremble” at the
        words of God? Are we too casual about obedience?

      2. Look at the emotion expressed by Ezra. He says twice
        that he sat there “appalled.” Does anything done in
        the church appall you today? (I’m often appalled at
        what the pagan world does. But, when it comes to the
        church, I think “concerned” is a more accurate term.)

    4. Read Ezra 9:5-7. Ezra states that disobedience results in
      bad things happening to God’s people. Is this fear of
      judgment behind the issue of “trembling” and being
      “appalled?” (It would be easy to say that Ezra served God
      through fear. We would then reject that as a reason to
      follow God. I think the reference in Ezra 9:6 to shame,
      disgrace and guilt gives us a better understanding. Ezra’s
      people let God down.)

    5. Read Ezra 9:8-9. What other emotion is involved here?
      (Gratitude for God’s love, care and kindness. All of
      these emotions come together in Ezra’s reaction to this
      disobedience. It would not be fair to say Ezra served God
      because of fear.)

  3. The Remedy

    1. Read Ezra 10:1. We tend to debate what is and is not sin.
      What would happen if we simply publicly grieved over a
      particular sin? Would that be a stronger influence?

    2. Read Ezra 10:2-3. What do you think about Shekaniah’s
      remedy? Why would he suggest splitting up families? (Note
      that verse three says that this is “in accordance with the
      counsel of my Lord.” There is some dispute over whether
      “Lord” refers to God or Ezra. I’m going to understand it
      to be about God’s counsel.)

    3. Read Ezra 10:9-11. What is the attitude of the group?
      (They are distressed. It is cold and raining. They are
      anxious. The whole thing makes them shiver.)

      1. Can you imagine the emotion of this moment? Both Ezra
        10:3 and Ezra 10:44 indicate that children are also
        involved. Some might have been children that came
        along with the wives. But, some are clearly the
        children of the Jewish fathers.

        1. What kind of decision would your church make on
          a matter like this?

    4. Read Ezra 10:12 and Ezra 10:15. Although the nature of the
      opposition is somewhat obscure, it appears that there were
      two views on sending the wives and children away. What
      would the argument be for opposing this – not sending the
      wives and children away? (The children would grow up
      learning about the true God and following Him. The wives
      could be converted. Families would be kept together.)

    5. Read Ezra 10:13-14. What is the argument in favor of
      sending the foreign wives and the children away? (The
      repeated argument is that they have sinned. They have
      violated God’s law. This must be fixed.)

    6. Let’s go back to a subject that we previously discussed.
      Read Nehemiah 10:29-30. Recall that the people entered
      into a contract with God. The first term on the contract
      was that they would not intermarry. Do you recall at the
      time that I asked why would that be the first provision?
      Why would that be included at all? (This shows the
      importance of the underlying issue – keeping God’s people
      pure from the influence of foreign gods.)

    7. Should this example apply today? If you have married
      someone outside the faith, should you send your spouse
      away? (Read 1 Corinthians 7:12-14. Paul gives just the
      opposite advice. He also says it is better for the

    8. Read 1 Corinthians 7:15-16. Notice that Paul suggests that
      the unbelieving spouse may be converted.)

    9. How do you explain such radically different advice? Why do
      Ezra and Paul disagree? (The context is much different. In
      the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, God’s people were a small
      group who were God’s “holy people” to keep His message
      pure. In the time of Paul, the gospel had been shared with
      Gentiles. Indeed, some of the members of the Church at
      Corinth were Gentiles. See 1 Corinthians 8:7. Marrying an
      unbeliever was still a bad idea, but it was no longer such
      a central issue.)

    10. Friend, if you are considering marriage, will you accept
      the counsel of the Bible and marry only within your faith?

  4. Next week: Leaders in Israel.