I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Ezra 5–10, Psalm 23, Proverbs 23.
My son, give me your heart,
and let your eyes observe my ways.
For a prostitue is a deep pit;
a foreign woman is a narrow well.
(Proverbs 23:26–27, ESV)
1The latter half of Ezra explains how it is that the people of Israel turned away from their pattern of idolatry—and it wasn’t pretty or easy. After the people began building the temple again under the leadership of Haggai and Zechariah, after the favor shown to the Jews by the kings Darius and Artaxerxes, and after Ezra made his God-favored journey from Babylon to Jerusalem bearing more gifts and entrusted to teach the people the law, everything once again nearly went wrong because of an old pattern the Jews were embracing. Despite the clear instruction of the Law of Yahweh, they were intermarrying with the people around them.
The instruction not to intermarry was not racism, even if some abused it to that end. Those who did missed the point entirely, for Yahweh had always welcomed the outsider into his people. Indeed, the very existence of Israel was predicated on Yahweh’s choosing for himself someone who was not following him. Likewise, the kingly line had in it multiple outsiders (most notably Rahab and Ruth). No, the point was not the superiority of the Jews over the people around them—a notion that their history should have made clear was laughable in any case—but the protection of their worship. Every time that Israelites began intermarrying with the people around them, they also began following the worship practices of the people around them. They started worshipping idols, every single time.
Thus, the prohibition on intermarriage was not a matter of racial distinction, but of religious distinction, and Israel’s history bore out the necessity of the policy. Yet in Ezra 9, we find that once again they were slipping into the same old pattern. Ezra’s response might be startling without that history. Even apart from a pattern of this same folly, though, his response is the right one from a shepherd when God’s people disobey him. There is a lesson here for pastors and ministers: Ezra’s first response was grief and a prayer of corporate repentance. Only after offering that prayer did he move to deal with the sin.
The mundane2 response Ezra made is interesting and has been much debated, given God’s stated opposition to divorce. While we might speculate about the outcomes of the decision for the women and children affected by requiring these Israelite men to put them away, we have no grounds to do so. Certainly we can say that the right thing for these men to do would have been to provide for the families they had created, even while no longer having them as spouses. As to what they actually did, though, we simply have no basis for speaking one way or another. What we can say with confidence is that Ezra’s actions here underscore the seriousness with which he took keeping the Law of God. Holiness mattered to him—and not just his own personal holiness, but the holiness of the people of God.
So it ought to be for us, especially those of us who seek to be teachers and leaders within the church. If we are to be the bride of Christ, we must seek to be wholly pure. A bride does not care only that her face and one of her dress sleeves are white; she cares that her whole appearance is radiant and beautiful when she meets her groom. So let us diligently pursue both our own holiness and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’ve chosen the Hebrew original rather than the usual translation of “adulteress”—you’ll see why momentarily.↩
I have chosen “mundane” rather than “practical” because the two are not the same, and the latter would imply that Ezra’s prayer was not practical, when in fact prayer is often the most practical thing we can do.↩