Daily Distinctives, April 20, 2018 – Pitfalls of Being Unequally Yoked

Today I thought that I would focus in on the last two verses of Genesis 26 for my devotional because these two verses could be a study on their own as they provide some interesting insights into marriage and family relationships. This won’t be a very long devotional study, I wouldn’t think, but I hope that it will provide insights for those considering marriage. Having been married now for over ten years I think I have earned the privilege of saying a thing or two about marriage. On that note, I was very happy to know that my in-laws just recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They could tell me a thing or two about marriage I bet! Still, I find the best counsel comes from the Bible, so let’s dig in and see what we can glean from my text for today.

[Gen 26:34 NKJV] When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.

Now, it did not take me long to extract some good advice and practical wisdom from the first verse in my devotional for today. But we have to understand that this was a different time and culture and so it would not be accurate for me to hold an Old Testament figure to the same standard we would hold a New Testament person. Also, the cultural differences do not mean that the former is somehow inferior. Still, as one of my pastors wisely noted, “There is one interpretation, but many applications,” when it comes to drawing out wisdom from the WORD. I would also add that there are immutable truths in the Bible which transcend all time and culture. It is this practical wisdom that I seek to draw from for this study. And so, it is from this perspective that I can say that perhaps Esau waited too long to get married.

Now, I understand that during this time the life-span was much longer than what we see today and so even at 40, Esau was still a pup by comparison to his own patriarchs. But by today’s standard, I think there is an advantage to getting married at a younger age. I can only speak from personal experience, having married at the age of 35 and having children immediately. I look back at my parent’s lives and they were married very young. They remained married until the day each of them died. My In-Laws too were married at a young age and are now celebrating their 50th anniversary. I think that because they married at such a young age, they were better equipped to forge ahead with their relationships having not had the barrier of being settled in their own ways prior to marriage. They discovered things together for the first time in most cases. Having married at the age of 35, my wife and I were pretty much set in our ways when we came together. If you can’t imagine the difficulties this brings to a relationship, let me clue you in on a few things. First, my wife and I had already established our own individual schedules and habits. Not that either was right or wrong, just quite different. I could give you countless examples of how these two things alone have caused no end of struggle in our marriage. Had we been married at a younger age, we could have established many of these habits and schedules together and there would be no need for trying to merge the two as they would already have been defined.

Then there are the issues of children and finances. The mere mention of children automatically equates to limited finances. They say that the number one struggle in marriages leading to separation deals with issues surrounding finances, but I would argue that having children is the most difficult thing in a marriage, especially when you have two totally different parenting styles at play. If you add the nuclear family and modern complexities of mixed marriages, as is the case with our family (my wife bringing three little ones to the table when we married), things become even more difficult.

I think, at least from my own experience, that there is a sweet spot in our current culture for marriage. I would be willing to say that the “Goldie Locks” age for marriage in our current time and culture is between the ages of 20–26. My reasoning for this is simply that you are young old enough to begin a life with someone where you are not burdened by too much baggage, but you are still young enough to establish new habits and schedules together without too much complication. If you are fortunate enough to start a family at this age, you will more than likely be better equipped emotionally and financially to avoid some of the pitfalls that people experience who marry at younger ages. Finally, there is a level of maturity that usually accompanies age. I have heard it said that from a scientific perspective the human brain does not finish developing until the mid-twenties. Now, these are just my thoughts on the topic and there are no guarantees that if you wait until a particular age range to marry that you will be successful in your marriage. The bottom line is that if you want a successful marriage you have to work hard to make it happen, and then, only by the grace of God can you hope for a good marriage.

So Esau was forty years old before he took a wife. No, that is not what it says. It says that Esau took wives (plural). Again, this was a cultural thing during that period of time. Still, from the perspective of today, I think it is wise to be a one-woman man or a one-man gal. Having multiple relationships might be prudent to some degree when you are dating, but even then, I don’t think it is too smart to spread yourself, especially your heart so thin. I get it. You want to play the field and experiment with different people and different personalities in hope that you can land on Mr. or Ms. Right. But I think that is backward thinking. I believe that when you are younger and have your whole life before you that your time would be better served to strive to be Mr. or Ms. Right. When you are dating and you have multiple people you are dating, instead of one steady partner, things can get out of line super fast. Now, I understand that there are many people who do not have a biblical moral compass. I would argue that there are those who fall within the pale of Christain orthodoxy who don’t have a problem with dating several people over the course of their dating lives. My only contention would be that it seems to be a reactive approach, rather than a proactive one. If you are settled in your mind as to who would even fit into the category of prospective marriage and life-long partners, then dating is not going to help. You can test the character of a person and whether or not they are a potential fit without getting romantically involved. And let’s face it, in our culture today you can’t simply date without becoming romantically involved, otherwise, it would not be called dating by today’s standards, but friendship. My belief is that the best place to find a potential spouse is by serving together in the community (in the case of the believer, the church community) over the course of several seasons. This gives you time to see how that person behaves when faced with many challenges that only time can provide. I think that we are too quick to jump into relationships today because we are not content with being alone. Again, this is backward thinking. We are never alone when we have a community and we are certainly never alone when we are nurturing our most important relationship with God.

So, we have age as an issue and multiple partners as an issue, but let’s examine the backgrounds of the women that Esau chose to marry. In our culture today there are no prohibitions to marrying outside of our own cultures. It is commonplace today to intermarry with other races and backgrounds, etc.. Race, economic standing, culture, and all of our other differences do not preclude people from having good marriages. I would argue that even some people who have different religious beliefs can marry and have wonderful marriages. But for the believer, I feel that there must be a distinct line drawn with regard to religious beliefs. This is one of those mandates that supersede culture and are expressly laid out for us in Scripture. All of the other differences may prove to present their own challenges, but the one thing that is important, at least to the believer concerns the area of faith and a relationship with God. I can say that it is difficult enough marrying a fellow Christian, but to add to it opposing faiths would be a very difficult thing to overcome. Having married a Christian woman myself, I still struggle with being on equal footing with my wife. We are equal in all things regarding our salvation, but we approach our faith in different ways. Not that my way or her way is better than the other, just different. I am a student of the Bible, and I love reading commentaries and books on systematic theology and the like; whereas, my wife is content with reading an article on Facebook that involves practical Christian living. I like to be in church every time the doors are open, my wife, not so much. I like to serve where I am needed, my wife likes to serve where she wants when she wants. These are both very acceptable, but make it difficult even in a Christian marriage. The Bible tells us that we are not to unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). While this is certainly not limited to marriage relationships, as it encompasses all kinds of relationships, it is a commandment meant not to hinder but to bless. God, in His wisdom, understood the proclivities of man when He, by the Holy Spirit, issued this directive through the Apostle Paul. There are so many avoidable contentions that spring from being unequally yoked that we could spend months just discussing them. The fact is that we better serve ourselves, our partners, and more importantly the LORD when we marry within the family of faith. While it may be acceptable, and may even work in our culture today to marry outside of our own culture, it does tend to be more of an added burden to an already difficult challenge of being married to someone of the opposite sex. Now, I won’t even go into the topic of same-sex relationships. That is on a whole other plane.

Esau married outside of his faith and culture. Esau went against the pattern established by Abraham and it brought no end of grief to his family. Matthew Henry writes on the topic:

Esau’s foolish marriage-foolish, some think, in marrying two wives together, for which perhaps he is called a fornicator (Heb. 12:16), or rather in marrying Canaanites, who were strangers to the blessing to Abraham, and subject to the curse of Noah, for which he is called profane; for hereby he intimated that he neither desired the blessing nor dreaded the curse of God.

When you think about it, their cultures would have been so different that his wives likely worshipped foreign gods and idols, practiced rituals that were considered profane to God, and most likely did not respect the unique things that made the recipients of God’s covenant a unique and peculiar people.

My advice to any who read this and contemplating marriage would be to marry younger rather than later, determine what it is that you want in a marriage partner early and begin to assess these qualities in others through service together over seasons of time, and to look for these kinds of partners within the community of faith.

[Gen 26:35 NKJV] And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.

Now, you might be thinking, “So what? I am an adult. I can marry who I want when I want.” And certainly, you have that right. But I would argue that you would be better served learning on the wisdom and advice of your parents with regard to who you choose for yourself as a mate. It is not so much that these women that Esau married were a grief of mind, that is they brought upon much anxiety and uneasiness to their in-laws, but they were likely unwilling to assimilate into the culture of faith that Isaac and Rebekah expected from their children.

Now, I would like to add some practical wisdom if I may. I would encourage anyone looking to get married to lean heavily on their parents for wisdom with regard to the one they have chosen to pursue in marriage. The truth be told, your parents know a thing or two about you, and your personality. If you are involved in the community of faith there is safety in the multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14). The idea here is that marriage is not something that one should enter into lightly. Now, you might be of the mind that you have this all under control, but would you be open to the possibility that perhaps infatuation and emotions could be a motivating factor, and that it might be wise to hear the truth from someone not so closely involved in the relationship, and who knows you well enough to guide you for your best interests?

My oldest son who joined the United States Army shared the news of his recent marriage through a text on social media to his siblings. We found out our son was married when his younger brother mentioned it in passing. I have to admit that I felt like Isaac at that moment. Not that his lovely bride did anything to make me despair. We have since met her and have offered our love and support. But, what grieved me as a father was the perceived carelessness and lack of consideration my son expressed by not including his parents in such a large life decision. Perhaps he felt that we might persuade him otherwise and so as to avoid conflict and hearing something that might have caused him to change direction in his decision, he opted not to lean into the wisdom of his parents. It is likely that we would have tried to reason with him and pour wisdom into him. Perhaps we might have deduced that entering into marriage with the young lady he chose was not the best decision. On the other hand, we might have encouraged him to move forward with our blessing. In my opinion, the only foolish thing was not seeking the counsel of his parents. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I am dissatisfied with my sons’ decision to marry the person he chose to marry. I fully support his decision, and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if I support it or not as he is an adult and can do as he pleases. I only hope that nothing happens in their marriage that could have been avoided if he had sought wisdom and counsel from those outside of the relationship itself. I know my son well enough to know that he is an ideal candidate for marriage and that he will make a good, no great, great father. But I also know him well enough to know that there are certain areas he still needs growth in to be successful at being a husband and a father, and I would have loved to have poured into the wisdom of experience before he made the decision. As it stands he has several good things going for him and his bride. He is young and already has a career, he is faithful to one woman, and we raised him to seek after God. The rest is on him. Of course, we will continue to pray for them both and are available to offer counsel when they open themselves up to it. I get it. As a young man or woman, you want to pioneer your own lives; together against the world and the odds, but the wisdom of godly counsel and community should be one of the tools that you make regular use of when getting married.

So, I didn’t think there was much to pull from two verses when I set out to write my devotional today. Boy, was I wrong? It turns out that I had a lot to say on the matter. I trust that if you are reading this you will look beyond my thoughts and comments and discern from the Bible the practical wisdom that I tried my best to convey here. Above all things, I hope that you will listen to God regarding marriage, or any relationship for that matter and spend considerable time in prayer before taking the big leap. You will be glad you did.

Prayer: LORD, marriage is no easy task for most of us. Being outside of your will makes this task all the more difficult. That said, I pray LORD that You would help me in my own marriage. I pray that You would help my wife too. I know the guy she is married to and he is not the easiest person to be married to. LORD, I love my wife with everything that is in me, but I need Your help to love her in the way she needs to be loved. After ten years you might think that I would be a pro at it by now, but I have to rely on You and I want to rely on You to help me be the husband You are calling me to be. Please bless my marriage. Please show my wife the things that You require of her to married to me. Help us both to lay aside pride and seek the best for each other above all other relationships except for our relationship with You. LORD, for those who are contemplating marriage, I pray that You would put people who are genuinely seeking their best in front of them, starting with their prospective mates and including their family and community. LORD, You have made marriage as a pattern and a type of Your relationship to the Church. Please help us to follow closely the example that You have set. It is in Your name that I pray. –Amen

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