From Deuteronomy 21:10-14, it would appear that God allows his people to marry outside of Israel. Was this a special case? What seems odd to me is that the husband can send his (foreign) wife away, if he is not pleased with her. This doesn't gibe with what I know about God. -- Marco Fortina (Milan)

Yes, I believe you are right. This is indeed a special case, and a strange one. Perhaps we should begin by realizing that the prohibitions against intermarriage are for the maintenance of the purity of the Israelite religion. The Lord does not want his people to marry into idolatrous faiths, and that is why it is important for the people of God to keep their distance from the pagans. Quite often pagans converted to the faith of Israel, and in this case there would be no insuperable obstacle to marriage. The captive woman in this instance is apparently not Canaanite, as recent discussion has focused on other nations (20:17). The danger of being affected idolatrously is presumably less than in the case where an Israelite marries a Canaanite.

Now, if you are asking about sending one's wife away, remember that three chapters later (Deuteronomy 24:1ff) the Lord permitted divorce. Jesus tells us (Matthew 19) that this was not God's ideal will, but rather a concession, due to the hardness of the Israelite's hearts. The bar does indeed seem to be raised with the law of Christ.

At any rate, today we are not allowed to take captive females from the spoils of war and add them to our families. There has been a change of civil law, national custom, religious covenant, and what the Lord permits. The question you raise is certainly of historical interest, but since "all scripture is useful," there are several things we can learn from it:

* The Lord allows us time to mourn. (As this was granted even to the captive woman.) Mourning is something minimized in modern western culture, though widely validated in traditional cultures. Without mourning we become "stuck" in the past, and it is difficult to be joyful, or psychologically healthy.
* Wives may not be mistreated, whether foreign (as in this passage) or a native Israelite (21:15). God shows no favoritism. He takes the side of the oppressed. The family is the circle within which a man's character is most clearly revealed.
* The contrast between these regulations and New Testament legislation vis-à-vis marriage is great, thus accentuating the importance and nobility of our Lord's expectations for husbands under the new covenant. (For more on marriage and divorce, please see the other relevant articles at this website.)

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