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Abraham was from a pagan family, separated by his call to God. His families I supposed weren't different from the Canaanites in pagan worship. In some instances, the Canaanites proved more morally upright than Abraham and Isaac by instructing their fellows not to interfere with Isaac and Abraham's wives (family), meting with dire consequences anyone who does break such binding law. Genesis 26: 6-11

If this proves true, why did Abraham and Isaac instructed the heirs of the covenant never to marry from the Canaanites (pagans) but should marry from their families (pagans) in Padan-aran?

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  • The question answers itself in the first sentence. 'His call to God' was the reason for his separation.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 24 at 11:36
  • That is is preface, it does not explain why he chose between pagans? Is it because they are his kins?
    – ken4ward
    Commented Jan 24 at 11:39
  • Once Abraham was called by God he was no longer 'pagan'. I don't understand what you are trying to ask.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 24 at 11:41
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    Abraham and Isaac were not pagans, the families they instructed the heirs of the covenant to marry from are still pagans. Examples are Laban. The question is, why did they instructed their sons to marry from their pagan families and not the pagan Canaanites?
    – ken4ward
    Commented Jan 24 at 11:52
  • welcome to the group, ken4ward. Kinship was the external reason, the Covenant was the internal reason. (see my answer) Commented Jan 24 at 12:55

4 Answers 4

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The question can be answered from both a cultural and a religious perspective. Culturally, this was still the era of tribal societies and it was normal for tribes to avoid marrying outsiders. Religiously, the issue was remaining faithful to God's covenant. Abraham was pioneering that course and it was providentially important that his children and grandchildren stay faithful to it, especially since other tribes tended to be idolatrous. Although Abraham's family of origin was not part of that covenant, their womenfolk were less likely than the local Canaanites to lead Abraham's sons astray. Thus, Genesis 27 reports:

46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?”

Later in the text, Jacob's clan -including those not descended from Abraham - rids itself of any remaining vestiges of idol worship (Genesis 35:4). In the time of the Patriarchs, Esau is the prime example of the wayward tendency. Jewish tradition provides many stories about his debauchery and idolatry due to being influenced by local women and customs. In the New Testament, this tradition is also evident:

Hebrews 12:15-16

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no sexually immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

Throughout the OT, the text displays a strong concern that marriage outside of the Hebrew people would lead the Israelites to practice local religious and moral customs, rather than those commanded by God.

Conclusion: Abraham followed the normal custom by urging his sons to marry within the clan. But the deeper reason for his doing so was the it was essential that his lineage remain faithful to the Covenant, as opposed to being tempted to adopt the customs of local tribes.

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Why did Abraham and Isaac instruct their children to marry only from their clan?

The OP claims: "Abraham was from a pagan family, separated by his call to God. His families I supposed weren't different from the Canaanites in pagan worship."

The premise of the OP is wrong: Abraham's relatives across the Euphrates were not pagan.

Terah's sons were Abraham, Nahor and Haran. Haran's son, Lot, was also godly (2 Peter 2:7), though he made a bad choice to live near Sodom and Gomorrah.

Nahor, the father of Bethuel, and grandfather of Laban and Rachel, was a godly believer:

May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. Genesis 31:53. Jacob vouched for the godliness of his father Isaac, and Laban vouched for the godliness of Nahor. Jacob knew his father was godly because he had lived with him. He couldn't vouch for the godliness of Nahor because Jacob had not lived with Nahor, because he was the other side of the Euphrates, but Laban could vouch for Nahor. So each one (Laban and Nahor) swore in the name of someone he could be certain about because he was himself an eye-witness.

I'm not sure if "the God of their father" is referring to Terah, father of Abraham and Nahor, or is referring to their respective fathers, Isaac and Bethuel (Laban's father). But either way, though Laban was not godly, Rachel was from a godly family.

Even though Abraham's extended family served other gods (Joshua 24:2), the salvation that came to Abraham also came to other members of the clan, including at least Nahor, son of Terah; and Lot.

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  • I don't take into context unscriptural assumptions, most of which you made. Jacob was very cautious to take the oath using Isaac's name as he couldn't vouch for the "God of their fathers" Laban referred to. This made your assumptions inconsequential to this discussion. Thanks for your contributions, though.
    – ken4ward
    Commented Jan 25 at 18:14
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    If Laban was wrong then this would not have been put in Genesis 31:53 in this way. Can you prove Laban was not correct?? Commented Jan 25 at 19:14
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Originally Abraham's family was not pagan; they were descendants of Noah through Shem. Therefore Abraham's decision to live a faithful life was a return to the faith of his fathers, and Terah or one of his ancestors had made a departure from that original faith at some point in time. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20, Hebrews 7:10-11), proving that the ancient hereditary faith passed down from father to son that preceded Abraham was still alive at the time of his conversion. Obviously Abraham knew about it or learned about it by this time or he wouldn't have reconnected with it, therefore it may be safely assumed that the break in faithfulness in his family line was sufficiently proximal that he could reasonably and expeditiously return to the faith (as evidenced by the numerous covenants the Lord made with him, beginning early in his account).

It is true that there were times that the pagans were more righteous than the Israelites (how could the Israelites be more righteous than pagans when they betray the God of their fathers and worship idols?), and those periods frequently corresponded to captivity and always to degeneracy. Various relatives of Abraham's were indeed wicked and treacherous, Terah was an idolater and Laban was also, and defrauded his nephew. This does not mean they did not recognize or hold any elements of the faith of their fathers--it isn't a strict either/or. As for the Israelites who later fell into idolatry, they had at least some knowledge and awareness of what they ought to have been doing. But there is no Biblical evidence to support the claim that the pagans ever exceeded Abraham or Isaac for righteousness.

The promises the Lord made with Abraham on numerous occasions treated primarily the subject of Abraham's future posterity and their faithfulness to God:

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3)

And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. (Genesis 15:4-5)

And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. (Genesis 17:6-9)

The Lord's commandment and promise that Abraham and his posterity should keep the Lord's covenant would have been null and void if Abraham's posterity had been allowed to have been fully corrupted by paganism.

The instructions of Abraham and Isaac to their heirs to marry within the covenant is consonant with later instructions reinforcing the covenant that the Lord gave through Moses to all the Israelites:

Neither shalt thou make marriages with [pagan nations]; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly. (Deut. 7:3-4, see also Exodus 34:16, 1 Kings 11:4)

Laban, Bethuel and Rebekah, Abraham's kin of the house of his father, all recognized the errand from Abraham's servant to find a wife for Isaac as being from the Lord (Genesis 24:50-58), therefore, the supposition that Abraham's kin in Padan-Aram were inherently pagan is probably incorrect; they still also knew and recognized the faith of their ancestors, again suggesting that Terah's apostasy was proximal, and the covenant Abraham received and passed on to his descendants was a renewal and reinforcement of his family's own ultimate and prior faith in God.

The commandment not to marry into paganism was and forever remained a necessary protection against apostasy, so that the blessings the Lord promised Abraham to be delivered through and to his posterity in the covenant could be fulfilled.

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  • This chronologically proves true as Abraham's lifespan overlaps with Shem. Some manuscripts claimed he lived with Shem in his early days. It's logically acceptable that growing up, he would have seen the good and bad of both (Shem's spirituality vs paganism) world to decide which is better for his son.
    – ken4ward
    Commented Jan 24 at 20:04
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This timeframe is in its context not unlike the works of God on a global and even universal level. The corruption from the point of salvation (the Ark) had its influence upon the world so that many would wrongly assume God's deliverance was of no effect. But if that were the case then why would one do such things in faith upon the Word of God (Called the friend of God and Father of Faith, whether circumcised or no, by so doing...obeying/responding faithfully to the Word of God in reverence).

The bible from here on is a record of this blessing "redounding unto the Glory of God" throughout the very offspring He promised, showing His omnipresence as much in each of their lives out of reverence to the Word spoken to Abraham. The pagan influence and corruption upon the world (which gains its strength only by exploiting the grace of God, void of the sentiment that they enjoy by doing so) can never root out the righteousness of God and the sanctification of His anointed Word, as manifest by everyone that ever so responded to the calling of the Word of God. None righteous of themselves or even their lineage (for by whom was even this measure of righteousness imputed rather than earned or deserved), but how they would respond to the calling of His Word offered in Grace!

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