Ezra prays a sermon against intermarriages
Complaint about Jews marrying non-Jews1Some Jewish leaders later came to me with a complaint. They said,
“Many of our people ignore our laws. Even some priests and Levites are living like they come from some other abominable culture: Canaanite, Hittite, Perizzite, Jebusite, Ammonite, Moabite, Egyptian, Amorite.
2Some of our men have married non-Jewish women. And some of our women have married those men outside the Jewish faith. We’re supposed to plant holy seed here, but we’re throwing our seeds in a weed patch when we intermarry like this. Our officials are some of the worst offenders.”
Ezra’s disgust3When I heard this, I got so angry that I ripped my robe and cloak, I tore hair right out of my head and off my beard, then I dropped to the ground and sat there appalled. 4I sat there until the evening sacrifice. Word spread about my reaction, and many who shared my concern for God’s laws came and sat with me.
Ezra’s sermon in a prayer5When it came time for the evening sacrifice, I rose and stood there in my torn clothes. Then I dropped to my knees and prayed to God.
6“My dear God, I kneel here because I’m too ashamed to stand and face you. My people are in over their heads. They’re drowning in sin.
7This is nothing new. We’re serial sinners who have been guilty since the time of our ancestors. That’s why we ended up conquered, captured, and exiled to foreign lands ruled by pagan kings. Even our kings and priests were humiliated, robbed, and exiled or killed. Now here we are, once again utterly ashamed.
8Yet even now, my dear LORD and God, you show us a moment of kindness. We are the tiny remnant of Israel you allowed to survive. You’ve brought us back here, to this holy land. You’ve opened our eyes and you’ve supplied all we’ve needed in our continuing slavery. 9There’s no doubt about it. We are slaves, ruled by others. But our God hasn’t abandoned us here. We see his kindness even in this slavery. For our rulers, the kings of Persia, have supported us in our work of rebuilding our Temple, repairing the ruins of Jerusalem, and replanting us back in Judah.
“Prophets warned against intermarriage”10But dear God, what can we say for ourselves? We have broken your laws. 11These are laws you gave us, delivered by your prophets. You told our ancestors, “I’m bringing you into a land polluted with terribly sinful people. The disgusting stench is everywhere. 12‘Don’t let your daughters marry these men. And don’t let those foreign women into your families, married to your sons. Not if you want to live in peace and prosperity as a strong nation and pass your land onto your children.’
13After all we’ve done and the sins we’ve committed, we got off light. You punished us less than we deserved because you let this tiny part of Israel live.
“Is it time for God to wipe us out?”14Are you going to let us continue breaking your law? Will you let us keep on marrying these outsiders who sin in horrible ways? Or will you finish the job of wiping us out?
“Is it time for God to wipe us out?”14Oh LORD, God of Israel, you’ve been more than fair with us. Your kindness is why we’re still alive, a tiny part of what used to be Israel. Yet we kneel here in our guilt because we can’t stand and face you.”
This is a who’s who of worst offenders pulled from early Israelite history (Deuteronomy 7:1). A parallel might be to say the people were acting like Nazis or Al-Qa’ida terrorists. Many of the nations listed in the complaint were considered so hopelessly sinful that Moses told the Israelites to exterminate them. Today, many would call that genocide. But Bible writers report it more as a thinning of the human herd, cutting out the spiritually diseased. It’s perhaps a bit like the Great Flood, in which God seems to take a do-over because sin had gotten that far out of hand.
These were common ways people expressed extreme levels of anger, grief, fear. The list of negative feelings goes on and on. If it was an over-the-top negative feeling, ripped clothes and clumps of pulled-out hair is what followed.
Priests sacrificed every morning and evening. “From now on, every day I want you to sacrifice a pair of one-year-old lambs. Sacrifice the first lamb in the morning and the second lamb at dusk” (Exodus 29:38).
Jews did not return from exile to an independent and free Judah or Israel. They returned to the Persian province of Judah. Persians selected the governors of Judah. Though the first were Jews, they reported to Persian bosses—officials in authority over them.
Ezra seems to be quoting Deuteronomy 7:3 and applying the situation to a thousand-year-old law about Israel’s invasion and conquest of what was then Canaan. Prophets warned about the dangers of marrying pagans who worshiped other gods. But they didn’t forbid marriage to all non-Jews for all time. And they certainly didn’t order the breakup of marriages, which is what Ezra demands in 10:11.
To students of Christian history, Ezra’s prayer might sound a bit like Jonathan Edwards’ sermon in 1741, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It reportedly terrified the congregation with descriptive threats of hell: “Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God.” As in, it’s now or never forever.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.