A Devotional Journey
The importance of God’s standards is clear in this section of Ezra.
led by Dr. Gene Pearson
Thru the Bible in a Year
The situation regarding intermarriage with non-Jews may relate to the prophesy of Malachi (given about the same time) in which he condemns some of the Jewish leaders for divorcing their wives in order to marry daughters of influential landowners in the area (Malachi 2:10-16). Some of the Jews probably married the pagan inhabitants of the region due to a shortage of Jewish women. The danger in such arrangements can be seen in the history of the Jewish community of Elephantine, Egypt which existed about the same time. There, the Jews intermarried and began worshiping the gods of their foreign wives. Over time,. the entire community was absorbed and virtually disappeared. The eight groups of non-Jewish people mentioned in 9:1, represent the original inhabitants of Canaan before its conquest by the Israelites; however, according to 2 Chronicles 8:7-8, only the Ammonites, Moabites and Egyptians were still living there after the exile of 586 B.C.
The fact that the community leaders have led the way in this intermarriage and departure from God’s will causes Ezra to tear his clothes in a common gesture of distress. Nehemiah, rather than tearing out his own hair over such circumstances, tears out that of the offending parties (Nehemiah 13:25)! It should be noted that Ezra asserts no personal authority in this matter: his appeal is strictly religious and moral.
Ezra prays for the forgiveness and safety of his people and identifies himself with their sin – even though it is not, in fact, his own. The solidity of the covenant community is a common theme both in the Old and New Testaments. The response of the people is immediate: there is weeping and repentance. A committee is set up to investigate the matter, and after three months it is reported that 111 men in the community have inter-married with the local inhabitants. They include 17 priests, 10 Levites and 84 others.
People’s own choices and mistakes are not to be allowed to corrupt the community as a whole. As a result, the guilty parties and everyone affected by their guilt (in this case their families) must pay a price. In a world where our individual rights
are given paramount importance it is difficult to understand the subjugation of such rights to the greater interest of the community; yet that is precisely what God does.
How important is it to you to be able to do your own thing?
How important to you are the feelings and needs of others? Are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness at points for the sake of others?
Today, ask God to show you
anything in your life which causes you to selfishly disregard the needs of others and help you change. Ask Him to show you ways in which you might be called to put others first.
© A. Eugene Pearson 2010