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Interacial Marriage Taboo: Why did the Israelites have to abandon their foreign wives and children

After the Babylonian Captivity, when Judah returned to Jerusalem, the situation was fraught with challenges and complexities. Ezra, a prominent leader among the people, was confronted with distressing news that raised serious concerns about the spiritual and cultural identity of the returning community. This news pertained to a significant failure among the Israelites, including both priests and Levites.

The heart of the issue lay in the failure to maintain a clear and distinct separation from the neighboring peoples who had practices deemed detestable. These practices were reminiscent of those observed among the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites – various neighboring nations with their own cultural and religious customs.

This failure to maintain separation was problematic for several reasons. Firstly, it jeopardized the unique religious and moral heritage of the Israelites, as they were meant to uphold the laws and commandments given to them by Yahawah. Secondly, it posed a risk to the spiritual purity of the community, potentially leading to idolatry and moral decay. Lastly, it raised questions about the effectiveness of their return from exile if they were unable to preserve their distinctiveness as a chosen people.

In response to this alarming situation, Ezra and other leaders likely faced the formidable task of addressing these issues, ensuring that the returning Israelites would recommit themselves to their religious and cultural identity, and take steps to distance themselves from the practices of the neighboring nations. This likely involved religious reforms, efforts to reinforce adherence to the Mosaic Law, and the purification of the community's religious life.

Overall, the post-exilic period marked by Ezra's leadership was a crucial time for the Israelites as they sought to reestablish themselves in Jerusalem while navigating the challenges of maintaining their unique identity in the midst of a diverse and often conflicting cultural landscape.

They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy lineage with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness (Ezra 9:1–2).

These marriages in particular, with the people of other nations that worshiped false gods were forbidden in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 7:3–4). Ezra’s heart was grieved. He tore his tunic and cloak, pulled hair from his head and beard, “and sat down appalled” (Ezra 9:3). Idolatry was one of the sins that had resulted in Judah’s being conquered by Babylon. Now, upon their return to the Promised Land, Judah was again toying with the same sin.

In Ezra 10:2–3, as Ezra was praying, a large group of Israelites came to him in repentance. They made a proposal to rectify the situation: “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.” The purpose of this covenant would be to once again set apart the Israelite people as fully devoted to Yahawah and remove all connections with those who worshiped other gods. The agreement required the men of Judah to divorce their pagan wives.

Ezra agreed that this covenant was the proper course of action. He commanded, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives” (Ezra 10:10–11).

A full list of the families involved is found in Ezra 10. The entire process took about three months at the end of the year.

We know that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and some have asked how this event is related to the issue of divorce in contemporary Israelite society.

I say the Israelite community rather than mentioning Christians because of a preponderance who are lawless and believe the laws of Moses are irrelevant, but then use words such as sin, as if sin isn't the transgression of the same said law.

Anyway, I would say, marry within the confines of your own people, and you won't have this predicament; furthermore, choosing the spiritually like-minded from within your own people is highly suggested, or else, bear the consequences of a lack of discernment.