All of the soul of the house of Jacob that came into Egypt numbered 70. These lists in Scripture are very similar to modern lists of ratepayers or the like. Every person is considered reckoned in when the representative of each household or each apartment is mentioned, so that wives and young children are included under the name of the person who is legally responsible on their account. Thus the “70 souls” that came with Jacob to Egypt must actually have included at least double the number, since the wives and daughters are not mentioned specifically in the list, which is after all a formal and legal rather than an historical document.
We may consider it all the more strange then, that this very appreciable number of people is spoken of in the Hebrew text in the singular number, “All of the soul”. The household of Esau, although very much smaller than that of Jacob, is on the contrary referred to by a noun in the plural number, “All the souls of his house” (Genesis 36:6). This peculiar Hebrew idiom was selected, says the ancient Midrash (Vayikra Rabba) to teach us that Jacob’s family shared one feeling, in their service of the one God. They all had but one soul, but Esau’s family, distracted by the different beliefs and worships brought in at the marriage of each son and grandson, was divided by the essential difference of outlook between soul and soul. So it could not be truly spoken of in the singular as one and united, but only in the plural as an assemblage of separated souls.
This remark of the Midrash establishes the whole case against intermarriage between persons of a different religious belief, and emphasises the reason why such intermarriages should be discouraged not only by the Jews alone, but by all religionists who prize the faith in which they have been trained from their childhood. The Torah originally prohibited the intermarriage of Israelites with members of the seven degraded races of Canaan, and stated as its reason, “For they will turn away thy child from following me, to serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4). Actuated by this motive, and seeing how the purity of the Jewish faith must depend on the purity of the Jewish race, Ezra and Nehemiah extended this prohibition so as to cover all the pagan nations of antiquity (Ezra 9:1, 2, 10-11, Nehemiah 10:30, 13:22-25).
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Author: Rabbi Cohen
Keywords: Intermarriage, intermarry, interracial marriage, marriage, mixed marriages, exogamy, unequally yoked, unequally yoked with unbelievers, marriage yoked, yoke of marriage
Bible reference(s): Genesis 36:6, GEN 24:3-4, GEN 28:1-2, EXO 34:11-16, NUM 25:1-2, NUM 36:6, DEU 7:1-4, JUD 14:2-3, 1KI 11:2-4, EZR 9:1-12, NEH 13:23-30, PSA 106:34-35, 1CO 7:39, 2CO 6:14-17
Source: The Believer, No. 20, 1974.
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