HUMBLED BECAUSE OF MIXED MARRIAGES
If Ezra expected to engage in the pleasant work of the priesthood, it must have been a keen disappointment to find soon after his arrival that there was very unpleasant work to do.For the priest's work was not only to offer sacrifices to God.He must deal with failure and sin among the people, and such cases were soon brought to his attention by the leaders(v. 1).They reported that, not only had the common people mixed with the peoples of the land, to practice the abominations (idolatry) of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perezzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites; but the priests and Levites had done so also.This involved even more nations that had been in the land when Israel first came there.Linked with this idolatry they were practicing was the fact that the Jews had taken some women from those nations as wives. Is it not always true that bad associations will lead to a bad attitude toward God? -- that is, idolatry. But Ezra was told that the leaders and rulers had been foremost in this trespass (v. 2). Certainly, if leaders do it, the people will follow, and it is easier to follow a bad example than a good one.
But how good to see the effect this had on Ezra! It caused no bitter anger, no panic, no precipitate actions, but rather a humble, self-judgment expressed in tearing his robe, even plucking out some of the hairs of his beard, and sitting down in deep dismay (v. 3).
This brokenness and humility of the man of God had some serious effect on others who trembled at the words of God, and they assembled to him.If we have any regard for God Himself, His word will certainly make us tremble as we contemplate men's haughty defiance of that word, for a haughty attitude will bring down the awful judgment of the God they defy, and we should desire to see that averted if it is possible.
But Ezra knew how to wait upon God for an answer.His deep distress continued till the time of the evening sacrifice (v. 4).Then he arose, his garment and his robe having been torn, and spread out his hands to pray to the Lord his God.
How different is Ezra's prayer from that of Elijah some years before, when he told God how unfaithful Israel had been while he (Elijah) had alone remained faithful (1 Kings 19:10). Instead of this Ezra prayed as though he was just as guilty as others of Israel in this sad mixture of the Jews with the nations.He confessed the sin of all just as though it had been his, though he was not personally involved in the sin.He discerned this, that Israel had sinned, and he was part of Israel.As God's priest, he was eating the sin offering (Leviticus 6:25-26), which involves feeling before God the seriousness of Israel's sin, in which the priest was to consider himself involved.We see this most strikingly in the words of the Lord Jesus in Psalms 69:5, "O God, You know my foolishness; and my sins are not hidden from You."Certainly the Lord Jesus had no sins of his own, but He took the responsibility on His own shoulders for the sins of Israel, confessed them before God, and in fact bore them "in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).
It is lovely to see this same spirit in Ezra, confessing before God, "O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens (v. 6). In other words, their sin was far beyond their control or their ability to check it.But he does not confine his thoughts to the guilt then present, rather he confesses it had been there "since the days of our fathers' (v. 7).In speaking thus, he remembered that it was such guilt that had led to their captivity, their kings and priests being delivered into the hands of foreign kings because of this guilt, and brought down to shameful humiliation.
"And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God to leave us a remnant to escape." Ezra deeply appreciated the great kindness of God in the small measure of recovery He had given His people, though only a remnant.He had given them "a peg" in His holy place, a small support on which to hang their confidence, to have enlightened eyes to discern more clearly the truth of God, to be in some measure revived, though still in bondage.For verse 9 is rightly translated, "we areslaves."In spite of this, God had not forsaken them in their bondage, but had extended mercy in the sight of the kings of Persia, that they might at least be lifted in spirit above their circumstances, to have the temple of God repaired and the wall of Jerusalem rebuilt.Does this not show us that, even in a sadly confined state, God is able to provide grace to rightly worship Him (of which the temple speaks) and also to be in some true measure separate from the world (which the wall pictures)?
But now, after God had shown such grace, Ezra says, "We have forsaken Your commandment." God's command to them had been accompanied by His warning to Israel against idolatry and against giving their daughters as wives to the inhabitants of the land they entered(v. 12).
Ezra continued his prayer with the reminder that God had warned Israel against intermarrying with the nations of the land, and even against their seeking the peace of those nations, that is, to make them comfortable in the fact of living together. This is a warning for believers today, not to intermarry with unbelievers and not to make unbelievers feel as though there is no difference between us and them.Today, however, we have a positive gospel to unbelievers, to seek to win them to the Lord, that they may be saved, by which means they may be blessed with the same blessings we have.
After all the disobedience and guilt of Israel, Ezra considered that God had punished them less than their iniquities deserved (v. 13).It was true that God had punished them, but with the purpose of driving them back to Him, not with the mere object of punishing them. Then He had wonderfully delivered them from the rigor of that punishment by restoring them to their land.
After such kindness shown by God, Ezra asks, "should we again break Your commandments and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations?This he realized to be a most ungrateful way of responding to God's grace, and therefore he expected God to intervene in anger, to consume Israel so that no remnant at all would be left (v. 14).
Let us observe that Ezra does not ask for forgiveness of the people, but simply confesses Israel's guilt before the Lord, leaving God to do as He sees fit with them.He declares that God is righteous in having left the few Jews only as a remnant, but because of God's righteousness, no one of the remnant could stand before Him on account of their guilt (v. 15).
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Ezra 9". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany