In our study of Ezra chapter nine, we will look at the importance of obeying God's word in marriage. We will look at the effects of disregarding God's instructions on marriage and the importance of taking His word seriously.
After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, 'The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.'
At the end of chapter eight, we saw all of Israel offering sacrifices in worship of God. Now, we see that they had been living in disobedience to God's instructions regarding marriage. In Deuteronomy 7:4, God had instructed them to drive out the people living in Canaan and to remain separate from them. They were even told that it was for their own good as the Canaanite women would lead the men to worship other gods (commit idolatry). Solomon married one of these women and the result was the division of the kingdom. Now, all of the people (even the priests and servants of God) had disregarded the instructions of God. The same type of thing is happening even more today as we even have people marrying others of the same sex even though God says it is wrong. It is sanctioned by governments and even religious leaders are joining in but it directly contradicts the words of God. Israel did not take His words seriously and so were judged for it. Do we think that we are any different as a nation or world?
When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
Ezra's reaction to this was complete amazement. The people had been sent into captivity and had been spared and allowed to come back to Jerusalem and yet they ignored the words of God. His reaction was to immediately go into a state of mourning over the condition of the people. We must ask ourselves if the condition of the world around us bothers us enough to do the same thing or do we simply go with the flow?
Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed: 'O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.'
Ezra then went to God in prayer. We see that he had his "hands spread out" as a sign that he was not holding back anything or trying to hide anything from God. He went on to identify with the people in their sin and claim it as his own even though he had not married one of these women. As priests of God, Christians cannot distance themselves from what is going on in our society. We must identify with the sins of the people just as Ezra did and take it to God. We notice that he did not make excuses or try to change God's mind about the sin but simply confessed it and cried out to God. Today, the problem is that many Christians have decided that God's definition of sin is not true. Instead of crying out to God as Ezra did, we tell the people that God loves them and would never judge them. Although this is what they want to hear, it does not change the fact that God is the Creator and owner of all things. Therefore, He is the only one who can define sin and His definition has not changed.
'From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today. But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage.'
The prophet recounts the fact that the people had a history of turning from God and facing exile at the hands of foreign kings. He acknowledges that it is only the grace of God that has brought them back to Jerusalem. As with them, it is only the grace of God that restores our relationship with Him.
'Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.'
Ezra tells of God's mercy on His people and the fact that He has blessed them with the opportunity to rebuild. He also recounts how God protected them when they did not have a wall around the city.
'But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: "The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance."'
Ezra shares his frustration at the fact that the people have turned away from God's instructions even as they received His mercy. He recounts God's instructions for His people to remain separate when they first entered the land and yet they have now intermarried with those same people. In our world today, it seems that marriage is not taken seriously as people are even marrying their own sex. But, here, we are reminded of how seriously God takes purity in marriage and how it affects the next generation.
'What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this. Shall we again break your commands and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor?'
You can almost feel the anguish as Ezra admits to God that it is crazy to continue to fall into the same sin and expect God to overlook it. He acknowledges the fact that God would be right in completely eliminating them for their continued disobedience.
'O Lord, God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.'
Without making excuses, Ezra admits their guilt and calls out to God. In our world today, we do not want to acknowledge our sin as sin. Instead, even leaders in the church, want to change the definition of sin to justify our behavior. We must be like Ezra and acknowledge the fact that we are guilty and He is righteous.