Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Ezra is in for a shock. He has come to teach the law and encourage the Jews to keep it, but finds out that the earlier returnees in Judea, who had arrived about 100 years ago, are living in disobedience to God. Instead of keeping themselves religiously and morally separate from their pagan neighbours, they have adopted some of their idolatrous practices (Ezra 9:1). This has happened primarily through intermarriage-a sin that the people, including the priests and Levites who should have known better, are guilty of (v. 2). A dangerous unfaithfulness and spiritual rot is establishing itself in the remnant community.
There is some similarity between the eight nations mentioned here (v. 1) and the seven nations mentioned in Deuteronomy 7:1, when the exodus community first arrived in the promised land. God has continually warned the Israelites not to mingle with these nations, so that they won't adopt their idolatrous practices. Unfortunately, intermarriage was frequently practised in Israel, even among the kings-for example, Solomon and Ahab. As a result, idolatry crept into the nation. This was one significant reason why God had handed the Israelites over to conquering armies, and why Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed.
Now that God has given His people a fresh start, it is deeply distressing to Ezra that they had not learnt from their past. The term ″holy race″ (Ezra 9:2) must not be misunderstood to mean that God's people (including Christians today) are to remain racially pure. The focus here is not ethnic, but religious, purity. David's great-grandmother was Ruth, a Moabitess who entered the covenant community by faith. The term ″holy nation″, used by the apostle Peter, included both believing Gentiles and Jews (1 Peter 2:9). The problem here is idolatry, which has serious consequences.
Ezra expresses his grief and anger by tearing his clothes and pulling out his hair and beard (Ezra 9:3). Stunned, he ″sat down appalled″. Those who share his sorrow sit down with him in fear, knowing that God's law has been disregarded. It is a sad day for Ezra.
It is easy for us to absorb the fallen world's ungodly patterns of thinking and behaviour into our way of life. Instead, we should look to the Holy Spirit for discernment, so that we can remain true to God by separating appropriately from the world's sinful ways (2 Corinthians 6:14-17), and by allowing the Spirit to transform our mind (Romans 12:2). Christ must be the only Lord of our lives, and we are to belong entirely to Him (14:8).
How can we end up compromising our spiritual and moral foundations in Christ when we associate with others not of the faith? As we live in pluralistic societies, how can we not be infected yet remain involved with others?
Reflect on Ezra's response to the news about the blatant sins of the people. What can we learn from him about how we should regard God's Word and commandments?