Chapter 9 (ESV) - 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. 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.” As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. 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. 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, 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. 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. 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. 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.
“And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 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. 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.’ 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, 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? 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.”
Question to consider: What did these officials mean by “race” in this passage?
Today, when we use the word “race”, we think of skin color. This definition is very far removed from the expression of Ezra in this passage. So much of our society places too great an emphasis on external appearances when our goal should be to evaluate people by their character. At the time of Ezra, people groups were centered around the worship of their gods.
One of the groups mentioned above were the Moabites. I’m sure that Ezra knew that King David was a descendant of Boaz and Ruth. Ruth was from Moab, but when she agreed to move to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi, she said, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16) The moment that Ruth was baptized into Israel, she was no longer considered a daughter of Moab because she no longer worshiped their gods! Boaz did not say, “I can’t marry you because your skin is a different shade than mine.” In fact, her skin color was not even a consideration in his love for Ruth. Boaz took notice of Ruth because she worked hard in the field to care for her mother-in-law. His first interaction with her was, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:11-12)
The charge being presented to Ezra about Israel was that the people and priests were marrying those who still held to their heritage and the abominations of their lands. If Ruth had still aligned herself with the Moabites and continued to worship their gods, Israel would still have let her glean out of hospitality to a sojourner, but Boaz would not have considered her for marriage.
Israel had been judged by God through the Babylonians precisely because they allowed the worship of the surrounding nations to infiltrate the holy city and temple. This only occurred because the sons and daughters of Israel were allowed to marry people who worshiped other gods. Ezra recognized that though the people of Israel had offered praise and sacrifices to God for allowing them to come back into the land and rebuild the temple, they were already heading down the same road that led to judgment.
In Leviticus 26, God details the punishments He would give when Israel did these things, but each punishment was designed for them to turn back to God. If they instead continued in their sin, the punishments would escalate. However, God’s promise was that, “If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.“ (Leviticus 26:40-43) Ezra understood this promise and therefore interceded for the people.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for being merciful and showing loving-kindness to a thousand generations of those who love You. Now that we have been made Your people in Christ, please help us to walk in newness of life and teach our families to do the same. Amen.