Covenanting with Unbelievers
After telling Israel not to make any covenants with the seven nations of Canaan, he says in Deut. 7:3 and 4,
3 Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you.
The divine motive here is not directed against international or even interracial marriage per se. The problem is religion or religious culture that would be adopted by the Israelites if they consented to intermarry with those Canaanite nations. Anyone could repent of his false gods and turn to the God of Israel, in which case, he would become a citizen of Israel and join himself to one of the tribes.
We see, however, that after Israel conquered Canaan, they did indeed begin to intermarry with Canaanites who still worshipped other gods. They found that even unbelievers could be nice people with attractive sons and daughters. In the interest of making peace between neighbors, Israelites allied themselves by marriage with Canaanites.
God used Canaanites to Test Israel
Perhaps the most noteworthy lesson in that passage is the fact that God Himself used the Canaanites to test the hearts of the Israelites. Judges 3:1-4 says,
1 Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly) . . . 4 And they were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses.
God had commanded that Israel destroy the Canaanites or drive them out. However, God then took credit for leaving many Canaanites in the land in order to test the next generation of Israelites. It was “to find out if they would obey the commandments of the Lord.” Of course, God already knew the result of this test, so the test was really for our benefit. It was to give us proof of the root of lawlessness residing in the heart of man.
6 And they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. 7 And the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgot the Lord their God, and served the Baals and the Asheroth.
This is the stated reason for Israel's first captivity to the king of Mesopotamia in the next few verses.
The Law of Unlawful Unions
The marriage laws of God are set forth in a few simple commands. Deut. 22:9-11,
9 You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seeds, lest all the produce of the seed which you have sown, and the increase of the vineyard become defiled. 10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. 11 You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.
These are all unlawful mixtures in different contexts, which causes us to be defiled. Verse 9 prohibits hybridization and genetically modified seeds, which causes produce to “become defiled” or sterile. The spiritual principle applies also to marriage, as Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 6:14-16,
14 Do not be bound together [“unequally yoked”] with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God....
Paul was referring to unlawfully yoking an ox and a donkey to plow a field. The spiritual principle behind this law was not merely about the weight distinctions between oxen and donkeys. It was about yoking believers with unbelievers in marriage or in any kind of partnership. Believers and unbelievers function in two separate worlds, two distinct cultures, two sets of laws that are often contradictory to each other. Most importantly, an ox was a clean animal; a donkey was unclean.
Of course, in 1 Cor. 7:12-17 Paul found it necessary to give counsel to those believers who were already married to unbelievers. Many times, one spouse is converted, while the other remains an unbeliever. What should one do in such a case? Paul discourages divorce in such cases, if the two can still live together in spite of the differences.
The bottom line is that the biblical command is against marriages between believers and unbelievers. When the Israelites violated that law on a large scale, God brought them into captivity. Moses said in Deut. 7:4, “then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you.” We see this fulfilled in Judges 3:8,
8 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.
The consequences of marrying unbelievers and being “yoked together” with unbelievers is that God may sell us into the hands of the king of Mesopotamia (the old name for Babylon). For example, when America allowed non-Christian immigrants to enter freely and to become citizens, the nation itself became “married” to unbelievers.
As a result, America itself was sold to Babylon in 1913 through the Federal Reserve Act on account of our national mixture between believers and unbelievers living in the same house (nation). Because we granted full citizenship to unbelievers and encouraged the immigration of unbelievers to dilute the Christian character of the nation, “the anger of the Lord was kindled” against us for bringing in those who despised the law of God and refused to recognize His right to rule the nation.
Men may disagree with God, but the consequences of lawlessness will remain until we repent. At this point, we are too far gone to legislate the law of God and expel all unbelievers. The only feasible solution at this point is for God to pour out His Spirit upon the believers, so that the unbelievers will see the glory of God and will believe.
Even as Israel was tested by God Himself in this issue, so also have we been tested and found to be lawless. The story of Israel is being repeated, because the hearts of men have not changed in their tendency to resist the law of God. The heart is deceitful in its belief that it knows better than God and can devise its own laws that contradict the law of God. Even Christians have been seduced by the same prideful thought, being taught that the law of God has been put away and that they can now let their fallible conscience be their guide.
If men were truly led by the Spirit, they would not be lawless, for the Spirit of God does not lead us into sin, but into the righteousness of God. Walking by faith does not give believers a license to sin. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Moses says in Deut. 7:5,
5 But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire. 6 For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
The Old Covenant method of accomplishing this was ineffective in the long term, because it dealt only with externals such as altars and pillars. Depriving people of their sacred places of worship does not change the heart. The New Covenant changes men's hearts so that they will destroy their own false altars and pillars, false gods, and spiritual strongholds. Yet they will do this only when the Church truly manifests the glory of God to them.
How to Live with Unbelievers
When Paul gave counsel to those believers who were married to unbelievers, he did not advocate divorce. He counseled the believer to remain if the unbelieving spouse wished to continue the marriage (1 Cor. 7:12).
This same principle applies also on a national level. Whether we like it or not, the situation in America (and virtually every other country) is that believers are yoked together with unbelievers. What do we do in such a case? Paul's counsel to individuals is applicable to nations as well.
In other words, we are to live in peace with the unbelievers as much as possible without compromising the principles of biblical law. 1 Cor. 7:15 says “God has called us to peace.” In fact, Paul tells us that the believers sanctify the unbelieving husband. Even so, the believers in the nation sanctify a secular democracy. Paul says further in 1 Cor. 7:16,
16 For how do you know. O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
We are called, in fact, to bear witness to the glory of God that will cause the nation to turn to Jesus Christ and thus “save” the nation.
The only difference between the individual and the national application in this case is that individuals today have more leeway in leaving, whereas on the national level, where can a believer go today to live in a truly Christian nation? We are stuck in this relationship and really have nowhere else to go. For this reason, our instruction is clear. Paul says to live in peace and let your light shine so that the unbelievers will want what you have.