Contemporary readers may be shocked by Nehemiah’s behavior in today’s passage, especially in this age that celebrates inclusivity and diversity (v. 23). Nehemiah, however, offers two explanations for taking such extreme measures. First, the returned exiles were beginning to lose a common language (v. 25), making it difficult to communicate. Those who did not speak the language of Judah might lose access to the Word of God. Second, the religious views of those joining the community were not in line with the teaching of Scripture. Their faith was in jeopardy (v. 26).
Does God hate “foreigners” then? Far from it. Think of Ruth, Rahab, and the “mixed multitude” (Ex. 12:38 ESV) that left Egypt. These were non-Israelites who became Israelites through their faith in the Lord. They were fully integrated into Israel, with Ruth and Rahab becoming ancestors of Jesus Christ. Christ redeems people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
The people of Judah showed willful disobedience, one more way they had turned away from following the Lord. When Nehemiah left, they reverted to old, sinful patterns. They went against commands and married “foreign women,” or non-Jewish women who did not follow Yahweh, the God of Israel. When God’s people chose to marry non-Israelites who did not worship the Lord, they were putting their relationship with God at risk. These women kept their previous devotion to other gods, and that devotion often turned God’s people away from Him and even caused them to commit idolatry.
>> When you enter a close or contractual relationship with another person, it has a significant influence on you. Examples might include a dating relationship or a business partner. Being commonly “yoked” by our faith in God is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. How should this knowledge shape your personal relationships and commitments?
Thank You for the believing and unbelieving friends You have given us. We ask that You help us remain devoted to You, that our commitment to You will be an encouragement to other believers and a testimony to unbelievers.