Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”
– Ezra 10:9-11
“Adopting the world’s ways instead of God’s ways is serious business. Someone once said, ‘Give the church a few years and it will assimilate the ways of the world.’ Several would argue this has already been happening for some time.
“In the scripture surrounding today’s verse (Ezra 10:11), Israel had disobeyed God by marrying foreign wives. This was a big deal back then. They had not only invited the ladies into their homes, but they had adopted their ways. God demanded repentance not just because His people had disobeyed Him, but because they had also compromised their character in pursuit of what they wanted, not what He knew was best.
“Believers are to be in the world, not of it; not to simply pass time until Heaven, but to be sent into the world as Christ’s witnesses (John 17:18). Yet you can’t represent Jesus if there is no difference between your lifestyle and the unbelievers around you (Romans 12:2). Is your focus self-centered and pleasure-seeking, or do you strive to be like Jesus, express His character, and declare His name?”
– Presidential Prayer Team Devotion
I fell in love with my wife very quickly. If not upon first sight, it was our first real date or the talks on the telephone. She still has a wonderful voice.
I had been raised to not look at color, but I got flack from my mother when she first met my wife (a few months before the wedding). “Just think of what the children will look like!” We had a rocky start with regard to my mother, and it went downhill from there.
But the difference in skin tone is not what Ezra is talking about. Jesus’ family tree had a few women that were not born Jewish. Matthew insisted on pointing that out in his first chapter. My mother could have argued the point regarding religious background differences. She knew about that. Her father was a Primitive Baptist and her mother was Methodist. Talking about such things was off limits in the home. My mother had no church home until friends invited her to a youth group meeting at the Presbyterian church in her teens, her first exposure to worship other than some Bible reading at home.
My wife was raised in the Catholic tradition, but she could not get straight answers out of the priest. She had the old practices engrained, but she had lost faith in the leadership as a minimum. I was raised Presbyterian. The fact that my wife is an immigrant to the US and Eurasian would never have been factors in our marriage, but the Catholic / Protestant battle has reared its head in our home on a few occasions. Yet, many high church practices in our present church grate at my wife’s nerves, having thought she had escaped such things. Now that she has a personal relationship with Jesus, the manner of worship and eating fish on Friday seem trivial. Although she’d eat fish every other day if she could.
Having lived with a ‘mixed’ marriage for nearly 44 years makes me think about those couples in the time of Ezra. I have heard Sandy Patti say that everyone loses in a divorce, or words to that effect. Here Ezra is breaking up families for the sake of religious purity. Would some of the wives have been willing to denounce their religion to keep the family together? What happened to the children?
When we read these bits of history in the Old Testament, reading between the lines can add texture to the situation. Otherwise, we just have historical snippets. God worked through Ezra to establish a commitment from the remnant to hold fast to the rules He had given to Moses. The new covenant of Grace was coming, but until Jesus came upon the scene, they had God’s Law to measure themselves against. Can you see how the Pharisees and Sadducees came into being? They became the legalist police to hold everyone, other than themselves, in line. They feared another banishment from the Promised Land.
In Ezra’s time, families were separated. That was painful. Jesus died on the cross. All the disciples died the deaths of martyrs. Yet today, we think of God as being like Santa Claus, ask and receive. Somewhere along the line, we got things backward.
What is best for me? To be more like Jesus. In pain and suffering? Yes. In Joy and triumph? Yes, and yes!
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.