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Is God a Racist? Using Context to Untangling Ezra’s Prohibition of Intermarriage

If you are following the Legacy Reading Plan, do remember that we are now in the book of Ezra. It is critically important that as you read through the book of Ezra that you are imbued with the ability to read the Bible for all its worth. In Ezra, of course, we see God fulfilling His promise to return His people to the land of promise after seventy years of exile.

 

As you read through Ezra, however, there things that will grip you. You’ll wonder: how in the world can God make certain demands of His people? For example, what about Ezra’s prayer about intermarriage? Ezra is broken before the Lord as the result of the fact that Israel had intermarried with foreign people. The men had taken foreign wives and vise-a-versa. Does this not in some sense make God a racist? “Shall we again break Your commandments,” says Ezra, “and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations?” (Ezra 9:14, NASB).

 

Well, that passage always needs to be contextualized. As I often say on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, “a text without a context is a pretext.” “You shall not intermarry with them” (Deut. 7:3) is contextualized by the words, “they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods” (Deut. 7:4). In other words, the aim of God’s command was the obliteration of wickedness, never the obliteration of the wicked, or a racist motif. Not only so, God’s purposes were to use Israel as a light to the nations, and thus they were not to reflect the practices of the pagan nations around them. As such, those from the nations who embraced Yahweh were considered true Israel, and those who did not were those considered to be aliens or foreigners, but even there, God unequivocally commanded Israel to treat the aliens living among them with respect and equality (Exod. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-37). Such concern for foreigners demonstrates that mercy was to be shown to those who repented of idolatry and were, therefore, grafted into true Israel.

 

My point in saying all of this is that we as believers need to read the Bible for all its worth and that is a discipline to learn the art and science of biblical interpretation. If we do not learn that art and science, we may well read into the Scripture something that the Scripture was never intended to communicate. In fact, we might well subvert the Word of God, as opposed to those who communicate the Word of God. We say, “God has spoken, the Bible is the infallible repository of redemptive revelation.” If that is true, and if we genuinely believe that with all our hearts, then the attendant question is “What has God said?” That means that you and I will spend time learning the art and science of biblical interpretation.

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