It's funny when magazine articles and blog posts suggest that Christianity is collapsing. Even funnier when they argue that it has run its course when they see a number of ordained ministers leaving their churches and heading to other churches that take a different view on marriage. There are entire denominations running to the Shechemites, but that certainly doesn't mean it's the end of Christianity.
We've been here before.
Inter-marriage was a serious and difficult problem in Nehemiah’s time. God's people were marrying non-believers and the non-believers were drawing God's people to false gods. It was how the people were pulled away from God, which led to the exile. Solomon struggled in this (as Nehemiah points out in Nehemiah 13:26). Ezra dealt with it (Ezra 9). And we can find the same drama centered around inter-marriage in Nehemiah's day. There's a loose string coming from the garment of a man named Sanballat. Let's give it a tug and see what unravels.
Looking at Nehemiah 13:28-29, there is a curious thing about the relationship between the the son of the High Priest, Eliashib to Sanballat. It says the son was also the son-in-law of Sanballat, making this guy’s father (Eliashib) the High Priest and his father-in-law (Sanballat) the governor of Samaria. This also suggests that Sanballat’s daughter was a Horonite like her father.
But in Nehemiah 10 they had covenanted not to marry outsiders. They agreed that they would stand on the truth of God's Word. But this son-in-law married a Horonite.
Why is this a problem?
The position of High Priest was handed down through family lines. So there was a potential that this guy could become the High Priest, if not for Leviticus 21:14-15 (which says of the High Priest, "A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am the LORD who sanctifies him" (bold added for emphasis).
Josephus gives us more. In his writing, Antiquities of the Jews, (Book 11, Ch 8), Josephus states that the son of the High Priest, Manasseh was instructed to divorce his wife or he would be driven away from the altar of the Lord. (This is still in violation of Levitical law, but it seems they were prepared to make some exceptions.) Josephus continues,
“Whereupon Manasseh came to his father-in-law, Sanballat, and told him that although he loved his daughter Nicaso, yet he was not willing to be deprived sacerdotal dignity on her account, which was the principal dignity in their nation, and always continued in the same family. And then Sanballat promised him not only to preserve to him the honour of his priesthood, but to procure for him the power and dignity of a high priest, and would make him governor of all the places he himself now ruled, if he would keep his daughter for his wife. He also told him further, that he would build him a temple like that at Jerusalem, upon Mount Gerizim, which is the highest of all the mountains that are in Samaria; and he promised that he would do this with the approbation of Darius the king.
“Manasseh was elevated with this promises, and stayed with Sanballat, upon a supposal that he would gain a high priesthood, as bestowed on him by Darius, for it happened Sanballat was then in years. But there was now a great disturbance among the people of Jerusalem, because many of those priests and Levites were entangled in such matches; for they all revolted to Manasseh, and Sanballat afforded them money, and divided among them land for tillage, and habitations also; and all this in order every way to gratify his son-in-law.”
So if Josephus is correct, Sanballat gave his son-in-law a high priesthood in an unholy temple and made him the governor of Samaria. Then as other priests and Levites married foreign women, Sanballat gave them money and land in Samaria.
Does this account not seem like some of the actions we're seeing today? The concerning part is the lasting ramifications of building temples to the god of our own desires.
Remember the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4? In verse 20 she references a dispute regarding the most holy hill for a temple. It’s possibly a reference to Judges 9:7 and it’s definitely a reference to the reality that Samaria had a temple of their own . . . on Mount Gerizim.
Josephus also states, “Now, when Alexander was dead, the government was parted among his successors; but the temple upon Mount Gerizim remained; and if any one were accused by those of Jerusalem of having eaten things common, or having broken the Sabbath, or of any other crime of like nature, he fled away to the Shechemites, and said that he was accused unjustly” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, Ch 8).
So it would seem that there was a liberal temple where one could go if he violated God’s Law but still wanted to feel holy and continue to worship the god of self. It was this same temple that came about because a son-in-law of Sanballat wanted to be God’s high priest but not follow God’s Law. And it seems nothing has changed today, has it?