Ezra 8-10 Separation from the unclean

From Ezra 8-10

15 Laying foundations of temple


Ezr 8.1-14; Genealogy; Genealogy of Those Who Returned with Ezra
Ezr 8.15-20; Artaxerxes I; Ezra Sends for Levites
Ezr 8.21-23; Artaxerxes I; Fasting and Prayer for Protection
Ezr 8.24-36; Artaxerxes I; Priests to Guard Offerings
Ezr 9.1-15; Artaxerxes I; Ezra Prays About Intermarriage
Ezr 10.1-17; Artaxerxes I; The People Confess Their Sin
Ezr 10.18-44; Artaxerxes I; Those Guilty of Intermarriage

Passage and Comments

Ezra is about to leave for Jerusalem with donations from the king and the chapter readings begins with another genealogy which marks off the event as significant. Ezra takes with him a number of levites. But the journey is likely to be dangerous. Israel has many enemies. On his way to Jerusalem Ezra prayed for the LORD’s protection and the LORD graciously listened to their request. When they arrived at Jerusalem Ezra  assigns a guard for the silver and gold. Then they made numerous burnt offerings to the LORD.
The last two chapters of Ezra concern the returned exiles who have taken foreign women as their wives.

9 After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” 3 As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. (Ezr 9:1–4)

Deuteronomy 7.1-3 is fairly clear on prohibiting intermarriage with foreigners. Its probable they had not converted to the Jewish faith and posed an ongoing risk of renewed idolatry among the returnees. This is clearly a racial problem and it is also a spiritual problem. The holy race has mixed itself with unclean Gentiles and the Jewish leaders are the foremost offenders. Ezra is grieved that after the exile and their return they would still behave this way. Once again they have broken faith with the LORD. So Ezra comes before the LORD in prayer.

5 And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, 6 saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. 8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. 9 For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem. (Ezr 9:5–9)

Ezra includes himself in their sin. He does so, not because he himself has married a Gentile. He has done so because he has identified himself with his nation. He recalls all the sins in Judah’s past and how as a result of them the LORD has punished them and put them into captivity. He recognises the kindness of the LORD in bringing them back.

Yet he recognises they are still slaves. He means they are still under foreign rule, forced to pay tribute and honor another king. For Ezra the punishment of the exile still continues in part even though they have been allowed to return to Jerusalem. Ezra’s and we will later see Nehemiah’s perception that they are still in slavery highlights Judah’s awareness that they are still under the LORD’s punishment for their sins right up to the time of Jesus.

10 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 11 which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’ (Ezr 9:10–12)

Most of Ezra’s quotation does not appear in scripture. He must be referring to another source. However the end is identical to Dt 7.3. He says the land is impure because of the Gentiles. This is contrasted with the people of Judah being a holy race. However they are not acting in line with their identity here.

13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, 14 shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? 15 O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” (Ezr 9:13–15)

Ezra fears the LORD will wipe of these returned exile for their sin. He will call the people to repentance and they make the gut wrenching decision to separate from their wives and children. At the end of the book, those who married women from the impure nations were named and shamed in another record.

Story of Israel

00 OT Story Israel Jesus
Samson married a foreign woman much to his parent’s displeasure (Jdg 14.1-3,8,15). But I suspect he was so headstrong, wild and passionate no one could sway him from his course.
Boaz married Ruth. Why wasn’t he condemned? The significant difference here is that Ruth had adopted the Jewish faith. I assume she lived as a Jew when she returned, obeying the law, observing the festivals, purity laws, etc. While she was a Gentile she became a Jew. Note again she is included in Matthew’s genealogy of the Christ (Mt 1.5).
Solomon on the other hand married many foreign wives and they did not convert of Judaism (1 Ki 11.1-8). These women were his downfall (1 Ki 11.9-11).
As a general rule, foreigners lead the Jews astray from the LORD. There was a racial issue (holy race – impure people), but also a spiritual issue (they sinned).

Story of Jesus

Perhaps in light of this we can understand Peter’s reluctance on meeting the Gentiles when he was initially commanded to by the LORD. The LORD sent him visions and told him not to call common (or unclean) what God has made clean. The vision has racial implications for Jew Gentile relations. As a result of this vision and the LORD’s command Peter tells the Gentiles about Jesus life, death and resurrection (Acts 10.34-43). The Gentiles believe and receive the Holy Spirit.

11 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ (Acts 11:1–14)

We can see from Peters defense the issues at stake here for the Jews. The book of Ezra is strong against marriage with foreigners. But throughout Israel’s history it has been permitted provided they converted to the Jewish faith. In Acts they hear the gospel.

15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:15–18)

The Gentile converted to the Christian faith. Fellowship is now possible because the LORD has made them clean.

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