The Israelites had made a covenant to cease the practice of intermarriages with idol-worshipping neighbours. But they continued to marry women from the neighbouring states of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab (Nehemiah 13:23), which may lead them to embrace idol-worship.
An additional serious consequence has to do with their children, half of whom speak the foreign languages of their mothers and ″did not know how to speak the language of Judah″ (v. 24). Hebrew is being lost as the mother tongue in Judah, and this would have grave repercussions. These children would not be able to read the Hebrew Scriptures nor participate in the Hebrew liturgies of worship, which is a prescription for the loss of faith among the next generation. This leads us to wonder whether similar processes are at work today, not only through religiously mixed marriages, but also by our failure to teach the young gospel truths and a biblical vocabulary, which can result in them embracing the languages and thought patterns of the ungodly world. The corruption of the next generation and their ″paganisation″21 poses serious challenges to the church.
Again, Nehemiah has to rebuke the guilty parties. Angry at their stubbornness, he ″called curses down on them″ and ″beat some of the men and pulled out their hair″ (v. 25). The beating is probably part of a formal punishment (see Deuteronomy 25:1-3). Pulling out hair (which might refer to the shaving of the head as a penalty) is reminiscent of what Ezra did with his own hair (Ezra 9:3).22 Nehemiah makes the Jews take an oath that they will cease intermarriages with foreigners who do not share their faith (Nehemiah 13:25), citing the example of King Solomon who married foreigners and was led into sin (v. 26). The practice of intermarriage, he makes clear, is a ″terrible wickedness″ and is ″being unfaithful to our God″ (v. 27).
The problem has infected the highest places. One of the grandsons of the high priest Eliashib, the man who had kicked off the building of the wall, has married the daughter of Sanballat, Nehemiah’s old nemesis. Nehemiah is so upset that he ″drove him away″ (v. 28). Such priests had ″defiled the priestly office″ and the covenant it represented (v. 29). Nehemiah then has the priests and Levites purified from all foreign influences (v. 30).
What lessons can we learn here? First, we need to be aware of how our beliefs, values, principles, and habits can become corrupted as we interact daily with the world and its ways. We cannot avoid these interactions, but we can avoid their negative impact by remaining faithful to the Lord Jesus.
The letters that the risen Christ sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2-3) remind us that we can lose our original love for Christ, fall prey to heresy, and compromise on holy living. We need to guard not only our lives and families, but also our churches. The Lord has enabled us to remain faithful, and we can seek to trust and obey Him as we await His return to establish His kingdom forever.
22 Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness, 193.
How can we avoid being corrupted by ungodly people while still interacting with them and reaching out to them with the gospel?
How can we ensure that we speak the language of the Christian faith and teach the same to the next generation?