Dear radio friends,
During Nehemiah’s brief absence from Jerusalem, the spiritual condition of God’s people had declined rapidly. The house of God was forsaken, the Sabbath Day was profaned, and now today we see that the men of Israel had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab. To this comes the question of Nehemiah: Shall we then hearken unto you to do this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?
If you will remember, in chapter 10 of Nehemiah, a spiritual high point, the people of God had vowed not to do these three evils. They would not forsake God’s house. They would not buy on the Sabbath. They would not marry heathen wives (10:30), “and that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons.” They had made a vow.
We, too, make vows. We make a vow in marriage. But, you see, the devil works very hard on our vows. Vows are promises to God. Vows are something we will do for God’s sake. But the devil hates promises to God. And he is always working to get you in a position to compromise your vow.
Now all of this, of course, is very applicable to us, for the Scriptures were written with you and me in mind. Marriage must be established in one faith in Jesus Christ, in one truth in Jesus Christ. God says that throughout the whole Bible. For instance, I Corinthians 7:39: that the widow is free to marry whom she will, only in the Lord! There is the qualification: in the Lord. I do not know how to stress this strongly enough. Be faithful to God in your dating. Be faithful to God in your marrying. Ask this question: Does he love God in truth? Does she?
The crucial reason for marrying in the Lord will be shown to us in this passage in Nehemiah today. The crucial reason is: children. For the children of these mixed marriages, of believer and unbeliever (compromised believer – believer in name) – these types of marriages resulted in children who could not speak a spiritual language. We read, “And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language.” The children could not express spiritual language. Spiritual things were foreign to them.
We consider Nehemiah’s question: Shall we transgress in forming mixed marriages? Many of the young men in Judah in Nehemiah’s day were ignoring that. They paid lip service to the need for spiritual unity in marriage and were marrying women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab. The availability of these heathen women was ready because the boundaries were gone.
Now we learn that this practice of mixed marriage, of one of Israel and one of the heathen nations, had become common and was advocated. It was common. Nehemiah says, “In those days also saw I Jews that married wives of Ashdod” (v. 23). He witnessed that it was taking place. It was not isolated. And it was even being done by the priests. We read in verses 28 and 29 of that. A grandson of Eliashib the high priests had married Sanballat’s daughter. You remember Sanballat. He was the one who opposed the building of the walls of Jerusalem. His name means: sin gives life. The daughter of the man called “Sin gives life” had married the son of the high priest. It had become a common thing.
And it was being advocated. It was being promoted. We get that from verse 27 of Nehemiah 13. Nehemiah says, “Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil?” That question of Nehemiah implies that the men who were doing this tried to convince Nehemiah and the people that what they were doing was OK. “Shall we then hearken to you?” They were, perhaps, saying to Nehemiah: “We will convert them afterwards. We grew up with the girls of Judah. They are like our sisters. We can’t marry them.” And they were encouraging others to do it. Evil is always bold. When the bonds of holiness are broken by sexual sin, then that will always result in something being bold. That evil always tries to promote itself as right and good and sexual preference. And if you are against us, then you are a bigot. This evil promotes itself.
The reasons behind these mixed marriages evidently were two. And both were carnal.
The first was lust. The beauty of these women, yes! And the fact that these girls would do what girls committed to Jehovah would not do. They would drink. They would fornicate. They did not see that their body was a special possession of Jesus Christ for the Lord and then, one day, for the husband that the Lord would give. They did not say, “No.” They did not see themselves as precious daughters of Jehovah. These unbelieving girls had only this life. They had not the standard of the love of God. They had no reason why they should not give themselves over to the pleasures of sin because they did not know God. So they let themselves be used by men.
The second was greed. That comes from the context of the whole chapter. The impression from this chapter is that the sin of materialism was very strong among God’s people and the desire to have more of these things. The questions on the heart of the young men and women in Judah when they got married was not “Whom do I need to help me live my life toward heaven as a pilgrim?” That was not the question. But the question more and more was this: “How do we reach our dream home? How do we get what we want? How do we have the things of this life? How do we have nice, new things that we want?”
It was out of lust and greed that these men were forming these marriages. But, really, those were not the reasons. They were the symptoms. Nehemiah puts his finger on it in verse 27 when he says, “Shall we then … transgress against our God?” There is the point! This was a matter of commitment to God. The Christian’s confession is: “God is everything to me. He is my master and my savior. He is the love of my soul. He is fellowship to me. He is life. Therefore I want to be joined to one who truly loves God and loves His truth so that, together, we might grow up into the Lord Jesus Christ.” But the men of Judah, in marrying unbelieving women, were saying, “All of that is words. That’s all it is to me – just a bunch of words. You can’t take religion too far. We believe that God is a private matter that should not control life or affect whom we marry. We believe that it is not really a principle thing if we worship God in the form of Ashdod before Dagon or if we worship Him through Moab’s vanity called Chemosh or the abomination of the Ammonites. I can go this way or that way. It’s my heart that matters, right?” And, in reality, what mattered to their heart was her body and her money.
Are you ready to get married? Is he ready to marry you? Should you marry him? Should you date him? Is he committed in covenant love to God? Have you convinced yourself of that? Or is that true? Is he ready to obey and serve God and follow God, or does he want to have Jesus and have Jesus his way? You say, “I’m ready to get married. I’ve got a job. I can manage finances. I can fix a house.” Very good. You say, “We’ve salted away some cash.” Good. But where is your heart toward God?
Young girl: have you heard him pray? Young man, how deep is her faith? Where is her beauty? Marriage must have a spiritual unity. It must have one God, one faith, one hope in Jesus Christ. Nehemiah exposed the evil of marrying outside of faith by citing first a precept, and then a precedent. The precept is in verse 25. He cites the Old Testament law. We read, “And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons.” Nehemiah was quoting there from Deuteronomy 7. And Nehemiah’s anger and sternness was directed toward the fathers. He is reminding them of Moses’ precepts. He was saying, “Do you have a concern for your son? Do you have a concern for your daughter’s soul? Do you have a concern for their spiritual good? Don’t you see that, as a father, you must counsel your sons and your daughters for the needs of spiritual unity in their marriage?”
Then he quoted a precedent. That precedent in verse 26 refers to Solomon. He says to them: “Was there ever a king like Solomon – so wise, so acquainted with the workings of sin, so close to God’s heart? He believed God. Yet, what happened to him? He threw away everything that he knew. He worshiped idols. He made himself base in the sight of God. How did that happen to him? He married many wicked wives. The unholy union (lust of the flesh, pornography, sexual sin) slew the world’s wisest man and brought his soul inches from hell and ruined his life and his accomplishments.” Marriage is a place for sanctification, for holiness, for two to be brought into life’s closest bond. Now, are you going to enter into the bond divided spiritually – serving two different gods?
This comes to us with urgency. This comes to us with sobriety. Marry in the Lord, so that you have a place to go with your problems. Marry in the Lord, so that you are committed to one thing: to honor God in your marriage. Then you have one goal to strive for. Then you have fellowship with God. Then you are not living with crossed purposes in your marriage. And then you may expect blessings—blessings each morning.
Now, young people, you are most likely to marry someday. When you do, you must ask bluntly and pointedly: What will be the glue of this marriage – what is it that we have in common – why do we want to get married? Be absolutely sure that the answer is: God. One faith, one hope, one love of God in Scripture.
The dreadful result, as I was mentioning a moment ago, of these mixed marriages was to be found in the children of that marriage. The children grew up not understanding the spiritual language of a child of God. We read in verse 24, “And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.”
Language is more than just words. The problem was not simply that they could not speak Hebrew, as if Hebrew was more holy than English or Spanish or Dutch. One’s language here refers to the expression of their heart, what they held dear, how they talked. That is the point. There is a language of the world. And it soon becomes plain as you listen to the language of the world and to those who are of that world, that this present life, this world of sin, is all that they have. And then there is the language of God’s church and God’s people in Jesus Christ. When you listen to them it becomes very plain that they have a hope in Jesus and that their heart is set upon another world—a world that is ahead.
But the children could not speak that spiritual language. They did not understand it. They could only understand the language of the world. That is the meaning here. They could not speak in spiritual language. They could only speak in the language of the world. The mother in the home spoke the language of this world. And without exception the children followed her. Then Dad came home, and he was a poor example. He tried to talk of the things of God, of spiritual life, but his kids could not understand. It was not just the words that his wife used in the home while he was gone, but it was how she talked with them. For, when she opened her mouth – as whenever you open your mouth – it was her heart that was being seen.
Do not put your children in day-care for the radio to be blaring of this world and the attendant who is with your child is fresh from the class of the world’s child development. No, no. You talk to that little baby. As a believing mother you sing and you cry and you talk heaven’s language with your little baby. Do you know that language? Do you speak it? You say, “Yes, I know it, but I stammer and I stutter.” Continue to speak spiritual language.
What language is spoken in your home? We must know spiritual language. We must learn the words of spiritual language. We must learn the words of Scripture. We must fill ourselves with the Holy Scriptures. We must be conversant in spiritual language. It must not just be the minister on the pulpit. Do your children know the language of the Reformed and biblical faith? Are they conversant in spiritual talk? What language is spoken in your home? What tongue do you speak when disappointments and troubles come, when setbacks and trials arise? What language do you speak when other people’s names are mentioned? What language do you use concerning sexual matters? Is it all the language of the world? Is it all the sayings and clichés of TV? Is it all the words of songs of this world? Is that all that we know? Do we address sexual matters always from an obscene, corrupt, joking language? Do we know how to talk spiritually?
Are we fluent in the language of sports? Are we knowledgeable in the language of beer and brands of beer and cars and computers? What about the language of God’s people? Are you ashamed of it? Are you ashamed of speaking spiritually as you stand before the world in your office? You know, sometimes people who come from a different country and cannot speak the language are somewhat ashamed to speak because the moment they speak it is evident that they are not natives and they are not at ease in that new language. Are you ashamed of heavenly, spiritual language, talking about Jesus Christ?
This comes from the home. No, this comes from the marriage. This is why you must marry in the Lord, because you must speak one spiritual language.
It is not the vivaciousness of the girl, it is not her smile, but it is whether she loves the Lord and knows and understands the speech of God in her soul. What language will you have spoken in your home? Will it be the language of those who treasure heaven? Will it be the language of those who see that this life is temporary, that the only real peace and satisfaction is to be found in Jesus Christ? Or will it be the language of those who see that this world is just a big playground? Or will it be the language of one who sees that this world is a spiritual battleground for the child of God? Will you have family devotions? Will you pray together? Will you be able to talk together about the Scriptures? Will you be able to teach your children the Scriptures? What language is going to be spoken in your home?
When you marry, can you speak the same language? Imagine marrying someone who cannot speak the same human language as you speak. Certainly we would have a communication problem here. But it is even more so in the spiritual language. If you do not talk the same spiritual talk, you cannot communicate. You are of two different worlds. And you will be drawn into her world or his world of unbelief.
You see that Nehemiah’s addressing this issue was crucial. Nehemiah saw to it that God’s people walked in repentance. He called for them to repent, to marry in the Lord.
May this word of God come to us today. May our hearts not be lifted up in pride and see no need for repentance. But let us be upon our knees in repentance and in sorrow of heart before God. Let us cry out for forgiveness at the foot of the cross. And let us be resolved that we shall live as friends of God in this world and that we will set the Lord always before us, seeking to be united as man and woman spiritually in the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking the language of eternal life with each other, having God as our all and all, able to communicate with Him and thus to communicate with each other, in dependence upon Him. And God will bless us.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we have heard Thy Word. We pray that it may be addressed now unto our souls. We know, O Lord, that the temptations of our flesh are great. But we pray that we might be held by Thy mighty grace and that we may do all things out of love for Thee. Establish our marriages in the love of God and give us more and more to communicate in the language that He taught us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.