[S]hall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?
Ezra 9:14 (ESV)
The spiritual and emotional intimacy of marriage can be wonderful or dreadful, depending upon the partner. When husband and wife are genuine Christians, their lives are mutually edifying. However, when a Christian’s prospective spouse is an unbeliever, compromise is the order of the day. This form of accommodation plagued the Israelites, just as it does the contemporary Church.
The words of Ezra 9:14 come from a heartbroken prayer. The people had recently returned from Babylonian captivity, from an exile which was God’s punishment for their faithlessness. One would think they had learned their lesson, but they were once again involved in high-risk behavior. They wasted no time in resuming their romantic ways with Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites (9:1). God’s chosen people had chosen to ignore His pleas for marital integrity, and it was frightening to consider what punishment He might choose next.
In many settings, it is difficult to find a Christian spouse. The community of believers is either so small or so backslidden that promising candidates are scarce. Furthermore, non-Christians can be charming and admirable to a certain extent. Infatuation and the specter of loneliness can drive the spiritually immature into a foolish marriage. Hittites and Perizzites no longer beckon, but agnostics, materialists, hedonists, and heretics are everywhere—and they are clever at engaging the objects of their affections.
Every seasoned pastor can offer examples of regret from Christian/non-Christian marriages. One counselee after another wonders, “What was I thinking?” So much unhappiness comes from their failure to find shared purpose in the range of marital activity, from budgeting to child-raising. But loss of happiness is a secondary matter. The great tragedy is the Christian’s failure to advance God’s Kingdom through godly matrimony.
Believers who are already married to “Canaanites” or “Moabites” need all the support they can get. Pastors can address the singles, who still have freedom to choose well. And they need not dwell on the heartache of ill-conceived unions. Rather, they can emphasize the fruitfulness and joy which manifest themselves when husband and wife are also brother and sister in Christ—and the fulfilment that can be found in Christian singleness.