About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Ezra’s Prayer About Intermarriage  (ch. 9:1 - 15)


After the celebrations of the last chapter, the leaders that Ezra appointed came to see him with some very disturbing news.  They told Ezra that the Jews, including the priests and Levites did not separate themselves from the practices of the pagan community that surrounded them.  Verse 2 gives one example of this, but I’m not sure it’s the only practice that the Jews didn’t separate themselves from.  The word “practices” is plural, so it appears to me that there was more practices that the Jews had willfully adopted.   Of course this is the mixture that we see over and over again in God’s people, whether Jews or Christians.  Allowing the world around us to shape our thinking and practice is extremely upsetting to God.


Verse 2 states that one of these practices the Jews had indulged in was the men marrying women who were not Jews, but were pagans who practiced their pagan religion. 


The way the leaders put this to Ezra was that the leaders led the way in this sinful practice.  This would be doubly upsetting to God.  The leaders who were to lead the people in the right way were actually leading them astray.  These leaders were no different than the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. 


The text says that these leaders “mingled the holy race with the people around them”.  The KJV uses the word “seed” instead of the word “race”.   The Jews were the race in which Jesus was to be born, and these people were polluting the race in which their Saviour would be born from.  So when we think of Jesus humbling Himself by coming into the world as a man and as a servant as Paul puts it in Phil. 2, it’s even more humbling to know that Jesus entered not only sinful humanity but a sinful race of people. 


In verse 3 we see Ezra’s response to this disturbing news.  It is clear that when he left Babylon , he had no idea of what was happening in Jerusalem.  He literally tore his clothes and ripped some hair out of his head and beard.   Then he just sat down and was appalled. I can picture it in my head.  Totally upset, disturbed, and discouraged, he sat down with his head between his knees. 


We should have the same response as Ezra when we see such mixture in the church, but we don’t.  The modern church is just the opposite.  We embrace this mixture as a form of tolerance.  How sad.  We are in the same boat as the Jews In Ezra’s day, but we’re not repenting as they did.


We must remember that those people who were marrying pagan’s for the most part were the first, or second generation of Jews that had left Babylon with the first exodus of exiles.  It is very difficult to pass one’s faith from one generation to the next.  Each generation must discover God on their own.


In verse 4 we see that Ezra sat there, along with a few others “who trembled at the Word of God”.    They sat in despair until evening.  Notice the word “tremble”.  This is how these people thought and felt about the Word of God.  They certainly did not take God’s word lightly. 


In verse 5 we see that evening has now come.  Verse 5 introduces Ezra’s prayer. He falls to his knees with his hands spread towards His God.   The verse also speaks of his “self-abasement”.  This is what humbling one’s self before the Lord is all about.  Actually the word humble might well be a mild word.  Self-abasement is more like it.


Ezra’s prayer begins with “O my God”.  He personally acknowledges that God is his God.  The word “O” suggests the deep emotional state he was in.  He continues by saying that he is too ashamed and disgraced because of the sins of Israel .  Ezra might well have been a teacher of God’s word, but he was praying like a prophet in his prayer.  Although he had not sinned, like the prophets of old, he associated himself with sinful Israel by saying the words “our sin”.  This should also be the way we pray when we pray for God’s wayward people.  We might not well be participating in the sin, but we are a part of God’s people who are.


Ezra uses very descriptive language to state the severity of Israel’s sin.  He says that their sins are higher than their heads and their guilt reaches the heavens.  He is clearly very serious about this matter of sin.


In verse 7 we note that Ezra views Israel’s present situation in its historical light.  He says that Israel has consistently wandered and strayed from their God since its foundation.  This is not a new thing, and he is right about that.  The same is true with the church.  From the second generation of Christians, we have strayed from our Lord. 


It’s interesting to note how Ezra views the history of Israel.  Israel had been captured, beaten with the sword,  pillaged, and humiliated.  Ezra views this as God’s judgment.  Ezra is not a Deist.  He does not believe that God created Israel with Abraham and has stepped back and allowed Israel to evolve as she wishes.  Israel’s good times and bad times, its rise and fall, are all a result of God dealing with Israel and her sin.


In verse 8  Ezra prays that God has given the Jews “a brief moment” of grace.  In comparison to the long history of Israel and their failures, now in the “brief moment” God is gracious in allowing them to rebuild the temple and providing a remnant whose hearts are given to their God.  The word remnant reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 9 through 11.  He speaks about a remnant of Jews in the last days that will all be saved.  God always has a remnant of people, no matter what generation it may be.  As in this case, 50,000 people started out with God’s blessing.  Their hearts were for God and His purpose.  They were the remnant.  Yet they and their children slipped away, and now when Ezra comes to Jerusalem the remnant is roughly 1,514 people. 


Also in verse 8 Ezra says that God gives light to their eyes.  Usually such language in Biblical terms speaks of the light of understanding.  That is, understanding God‘s word. 


Ezra goes on to say that God has given them “a little relief in their bondage”.  Israel is not the nation they once were.  They’re not even a nation.  They are simply a group of  people in the Persian Empire . The glory years of Israel are over, and have not yet returned, even unto this very day.  Yet in their bondage God is with them.  This is important for Christians to know.  God does not necessarily free us from bondage. Paul knew this.  Paul was in chains and in bondage, but for different reasons than Israel.  Yet God was with Him in his bondage.


In verse 9 Ezra continues on in this thought of God being with Israel in their times of bondage and slavery.  Ezra says they are slaves, yet in this bondage, the king of Persia has shown them mercy in the fact that he has allowed them to rebuild the temple.  This action by the king is seen by Ezra to be of God.  It’s not just something the king has dreamed up.  The King of Kings is behind the king of Persia’s actions.  We should understand history in the same light today.


At this point in verses10 and 11 Ezra pretty well just shrugs his shoulders.  He says, “what can we say after this?”  Israel has no defense, and as stated in verses 11 and 12, they’ve disregarded the commands of God.   God once told Israel that the land they were entering  was occupied with corrupt people who polluted the land with all sorts of impure practices. God strictly forbade Israel to participate in these practices.


In verse 12 we see the nature of the situation here again.  Jewish sons and daughters were marrying into these pagan families.  Something else they were doing was to “further” the pagan’s “welfare and prosperity”.  Israel was joining forces with their pagan neighbours in financial ways as well as marriage.  This is all mixture.  This is weakening and polluting the very nature of who God’s people were to be.  They were to be a separate and distinct people, living a holy lifestyle as God’s representatives to the rest of the world.  Instead, they became like the world and this representation of God was lost.


The version of the NIV I’m am using is the 1984 edition.  The newer editions use the word “treaty” in verse 12. The implication is that the Jews were signing treaties, or making business and social agreements with their pagan neighbours.   The result of this was the loss of a whole distinct society of Israel.  It’s interesting to note that in 70 AD, in judgment, God sent the Jews to all corners of the earth, as to say, “if you want to lose your distinctness, then I’ll help you go all the way”. 


In verse 13 Ezra states that God’s punishment towards Israel at this time is not as harsh as it should be.  Their sins deserve greater punishment.  The reason why Ezra is saying this is that God has provided, once again, a remnant, a fraction of the people, whose hearts were right in the eyes of God.  As I’ve said before.  God always has a remnant of people that are truly His in every generation.


In verse 14 Ezra asks God two questions.  Simply stated, Ezra asks God if Israel should continue on in this sin.  He then asks God if He should destroy Israel altogether, leaving not even a remnant.  The obvious answer to these questions is, no Israel should not sin.  They should not intermarry, and that God does have the right to totally annihilate Israel.


Verse 15 ends Ezra’s prayer.  Ezra states the facts as they are.  God is righteous, and they are complete sinners and cannot stand in the presence of their God.  This is truly the state of all mankind, not just the Jews in Ezra’s day.  This is what Paul speaks about in the opening chapters of Romans.  He states that both Jew and Gentile are sinners, and that no flesh can stand in the presence of the Lord.  This is the fundamental truth that leads to repentance.  You must first understand your depraved nature before you can repent, and before you can fully embrace the saving grace of God.


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