“When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you… and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them… You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.” - Deuteronomy 7:1-4
After arriving at Jerusalem and fulfilling his duties at the temple, Ezra is given sobering news concerning the task before him: “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands and with their abominations… for they have taken some of their daughters to be wives… Even more distressing, he learns that in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.
The camera keeps its focus on Ezra. All through this book there has been the question of compromise: Cyrus’s limited concern for the God who is in Jerusalem; the people of the land, whose children’s children feared the LORD and also served their carved images; and the choice they gave Zerubbabel: let us join you, or we’ll petition the king to thwart your efforts. At the climax of the book, this question is now put before Ezra.
His first response is to sit appalled. All day, in fact. His next response is to pray, and listen to the rhythm of that prayer, how humility and gratitude and repentance and worship reach a crescendo with: “Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” And finally, he calls an assembly, and the proceedings bear the marks of the faithful and detailed scribe whom we met yesterday.
I’ll leave you with an important literary note: in chapter 9, when the Jewish officials apprise Ezra of the intermarriage problem, they refer to themselves as “the holy race…” Remember that the deep meaning of “holy” is “set apart” and that LORD Himself had commanded the people of Israel to be “holy,” set apart from the nations around them. There is no reason to read arrogance into their statement. They are alarmed, as is Ezra, at how un-set-apart the children of Israel have been, and they have a righteous fear that the anger of the LORD would be kindled against them.
Our verses for this week are Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Ezra 9 and 10. Now let’s read it!
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.