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EZRA'S PRAYERFUL RESPONSE TO THE MIXED MARRIAGES OF ISRAEL WITH PAGANS
Actually, both of these final chapters of Ezra are devoted to the solution of the problem presented by Israel's intermarriage with foreigners. It is easy for us to see how this problem developed. In the first place there might have been a shortage of women in that company of returnees which came with Zerubbabel; and again, the great men of Israel's history had repeatedly taken foreign wives. Both Abraham and Joseph had married Egyptians; Judah also married a Gentile; Moses married a Cushite; one of David's wives was a foreigner (2 Samuel 3:3); and Solomon's harem was apparently dominated by pagan wives. Under the circumstances, therefore, it is easy to see how this problem developed.
Nevertheless, in spite of what some view as the violation of human rights, and the incredible grief, sufferings, and emotional distress that resulted from Ezra's drastic solution of this crisis, it needed to be corrected; and there can be no doubt whatever that God's will was accomplished in the epic severance of Israel from their idolatrous wives. "There is no doubt that if the practice of intermarriage had continued and extended, then the Jews would have lost their national identity; and it is of the greatest significance that the New Testament warns against marriages with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14)."
In this connection, we must reject the liberal view that, "The Israelites did not originally condemn intermarriage."; Deuteronomy 7:3 specifically forbade intermarriage with non-Israelites; and it is a gross mistake to identify that restriction with some alleged "Deuteronomist." The prohibition against Israel's mingling with non-Israelites in marriage was an integral part of the entire Mosaic covenant, as taught in Exodus 23:32, where God forbade making "any covenant" with the pagan populations, a restriction which absolutely included the marriage covenant as well as all other covenants. Again, "Is it not that we are separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth" (Exodus 33:16)? The wholesale violation of God's law in this matter by many of Israel's famous leaders in no way invalidated God's specific orders.
Before proceeding to examine the text of this chapter, we notice another liberal viewpoint which we must reject. It seems to be a presumptive privilege falsely arrogated to themselves which prompts many critical scholars to proceed with rearranging the Biblical text to conform to their imaginative theories and prejudices, apparently overlooking the fact that they are absolutely without any divine mandate to do any such rearranging of the Biblical text.
We thank God that the custodianship of the Sacred Scriptures was not entrusted to the radical critical enemies of the Bible whose writings have proliferated during the current century. The inspired writings of the apostle Paul tell us exactly who received that commission of custodianship. Here it is:
"WHAT ADVANTAGE THEN HATH THE JEW? ... MUCH EVERY WAY; FIRST OF ALL BECAUSE THEY WERE ENTRUSTED WITH THE ORACLES OF GOD" (Romans 3:1,2).
Well, there we have it! The Jews were entrusted with keeping the Sacred Scriptures of the O.T.; and because of that, we cannot receive the proposition that, "The story of the reading of the law and its aftermath (Nehemiah 7:73b-9:37) originally stood between the Ezra 8 and Ezra 9." There are excellent explanations of the gap of several months between Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem and his getting down to the problem of the mixed marriages; and we shall note these below.
This is a remarkably interesting and important chapter. There are ten divisions in these final two chapters, three of which appear in this chapter. These are: (1) "The complaint of the princes regarding the mixed marriages (Ezra 9:1-2); (2) Ezra's astonishment and horror (Ezra 9:3-4); and (3) Ezra's confession and prayer to God (Ezra 9:5-15)."
EZRA GETS THE BAD NEWS ABOUT THE MIXED MARRIAGES
"Now when these things were done, the princes drew near unto me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the peoples of the lands: yea the hands of the princes and the rulers have been chief in this trespass."
"Now when these things were done" (Ezra 9:1). Hamrick wrote that, "These words seem to imply that the controversy over mixed marriages occurred immediately upon Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem." A number of current scholars take the same view; and then, because Ezra's action to correct the situation did not take place until the twentieth day of the ninth month (Ezra 10:9), the critical scholars at once account for this "gap," as they call it, by supposing that, "The story of the reading of the law and its aftermath (Nehemiah 7:73b-9:37) should be inserted into the Book of Ezra, between Ezra 8 and Ezra 9."
As noted above, we believe in the integrity and authenticity of both Ezra and Nehemiah; and we do not accept the assumed authority of 20th century scholars to revise the Holy Bible and to do any kind of a scissors and paste job on it that pleases them.
Their error here is in the failure to see that "after these things" in the text says nothing about Ezra's actions being "immediately after his arrival in Jerusalem." It simply means that Ezra received the word about the mixed marriages after he had completed his assignment from the king. And how long was that?
Keil explained that several months elapsed before the word about the mixed marriages came to Ezra. "The delivery of the king's commands to the satraps and governors ... occupied weeks, or months; because the king's command was not merely to transmit the royal decree, but to come to such an understanding with them as would secure their goodwill and support in furthering the people and the house of God." In view of the vast distances involved in Ezra's delivery of the king's decree to all the satraps and governors beyond the River, it is surprising that he confronted the mixed marriage situation as early as he did.
"The Canaanites, the Hittites, Perizzites, ..." (Ezra 9:1). There were seven of the Canaanite nations (Exodus 3:8; 23:23; Deuteronomy 7), five of whom are mentioned here. The Ammonites, Moabites and Egyptians are here mentioned in addition to five of the seven Canaanite races. "If any effectual check was to be put upon Israel's relapse into heathenism, the prohibition against marriages with all of these groups, under existing circumstances, was absolutely necessary."
The problem was aggravated and intensified by the violations of many of the princes and rulers of the Israelites by such marriages.
THE ASTONISHMENT AND HORROR OF EZRA
"And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my robe, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down confounded. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the trespass of them of the captivity; and I sat confounded until the evening sacrifice."
Ezra's reaction to the bad news was extreme. There is hardly anything more painful than pulling out the hairs of one's beard. Similar actions were customary among Oriental peoples as an expression of grief, dismay, or consternation (Job 1:20; Ezekiel 7:18). "Notice that Ezra's appeal was moral and religious ... reformation can never be achieved by force." As the chief authority, Ezra could have ordered the needed reforms and enforced them even with the death penalty; but he chose the better way.
Oesterley commented that, in Ezra's strict enforcement of the prohibition of mixed marriages, "His zeal in this matter resulted in his going beyond the requirements of the law (Deuteronomy 23:7)." That passage states that, "Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite ... or an Egyptian ... The children of the third generation of them that are born unto them shall enter into the assembly of Jehovah"; but there is nothing in that passage that justifies Oesterley's conclusion.
EZRA'S PRAYER REGARDING ISRAEL'S SIN IN THE MIXED MARRIAGES
"And at the evening oblation I arose up from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe rent; and I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto Jehovah my God; and I said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our guiltiness is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. And now for a little moment grace hath been showed from Jehovah our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended lovingkindness unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the ruins thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments, which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness: now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their prosperity forever; that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever. And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great guilt, seeing that our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such a remnant, shall we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the peoples that do these abominations? wouldest thou not be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O Jehovah, the God of Israel, thou art righteous; for we are left a remnant that is escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our guiltiness;for none can stand before thee because of this."
"At the evening oblation I arose up from my humiliation" (Ezra 9:5). "This is probably to be identified with the ninth hour (3:00 P.M.) (Acts 3:1)."
"Our guiltiness is grown up unto the heavens" (Ezra 9:6). This was also the conviction of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:29-35), and likewise that of Daniel (Daniel 9:5-8). "The captivity had effectively done its work in convincing a previously proud and self-righteous nation of their gross wickedness and unfaithfulness to God."
"Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty" (Ezra 9:7). "The guilt which Ezra confessed was not merely that of his contemporary generation but that of their whole history. The guilt of the corporate community transcended that of a given generation."
"To give us a nail in his holy place" (Ezra 9:8). "This metaphor is probably derived from a tent-pin, driven into the earth to secure the tent."
"We are bondmen ... God hath not forsaken us ... to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem" (Ezra 9:9). Although the Persian kings had granted favors to the Jews regarding their return to Jerusalem and the building of their temple, they nevertheless still remained subjects of the Persian king, bound to obey him in everything. The mention of "a wall" here does not mean that the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. "The word wall means a fence, and is used of a fence around a vineyard; and it is used here metaphorically for protection."
"Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets" (Ezra 9:11). Ezra here, by the words, "The land unto which ye go to possess it," clearly had the Mosaic age in mind; and we have already cited three references in the Books of Moses that forbade foreign covenants including marriages; but the mention here of "prophets" has led some scholars to point out that there are no specific commandments in the prophets regarding this. However, as Moses was the Great Prophet unto whom even the Christ was compared; and since all of the prophets endorsed the Mosaic Law and commanded the people to observe it, "It was proper for Ezra to designate the Mosaic Law as the sayings of the prophets also."
"God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve" (Ezra 9:13). It is significant that Ezra includes himself along with the guilty people, identifying himself in every way with the sinful nation. Note also that he acknowledges the righteous judgment of God in the acceptance of his punishments as being "less than they deserved."
We appreciate Bowman's rejection of the criticism of some radical scholars who deny the authenticity of this prayer, on the basis of several, erroneous assumptions and `guesses.' He wrote: "This prayer does not have an artificial or secondary nature, but is psychologically as well as historically appropriate. It is relevant to the occasion and necessary for the development of the situation."
This magnificent prayer was used by the Lord to rally Israel around Ezra and to provide sufficient support for the drastic rejection of the mixed marriages.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezra 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany