Ezra 9-10

No Longer Set Apart.

“For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” – Ezra 9:2 NLT

When Ezra began his survey of the spiritual condition of the people living in Judah, he was shocked at what he found. Conditions were worse than he probably expected. He was told by the Jewish leaders, “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites” (Ezra 9:1 NLT). The Hebrew word for “separate” means to be distinguished or set apart. The people of God were no longer distinct. They had broken the law of God and intermarried with the people living in the land and, as a result, had begun worshiping their false gods. They were no longer worshiping God alone, blatantly breaking the first of the Ten Commandments. The very action that had resulted in their exile to begin with was still going on after they returned to the land. Ezra receives the appalling news that “the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages” (Ezra 9:2 NLT). The Hebrew word for “holy” means set-apartness or separateness. Instead of living set apart and distinctly different than the nations around them, the Jews had “polluted” themselves by intermarrying with non-Hebrews. They had lost their distinctiveness.

Ezra is shocked by what he saw. He didn’t take it in stride or excuse it as understandable under the conditions. No, he was an expert in the law of God and knew that they were blatant disobedience. As a result, Ezra mourns and prays. He asks God for wisdom in how to handle this situation. In his prayer recorded in verses 6-9, Ezra includes himself in the sins of the people. He knew this was a corporate issue. He confesses on behalf of all the people, acknowledging their guilt and asking God’s forgiveness. He appeals to God’s mercy. Ezra knew what they deserved from God for their actions, and he knew that God would be just in whatever punishment he meted out. “O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence” (Ezra 9:15 NLT). As Ezra prayed, weeping and lying face down in front of the Temple, a huge crowd gathered and listened to his words. They became convicted and began to confess their sins before God. They appeal to Ezra to get up and do his job. They beg him to help them make this right. They want to do whatever they have to do to restore their relationship with God and avoid His righteous indignation. After another night of prayer and fasting, Ezra calls a sacred assembly in Jerusalem, requiring every Israelite to be in attendance or face permanent expulsion from the land. As they stood trembling in the rain, Ezra addresses the people and commands them to confess and repent, but then he gives them the most difficult step of all. They must separate themselves from the women they had married. This is the same Hebrew word used earlier. They were to do what they should have been doing all along, set themselves apart and live distinctively different from the world around them. To do so, they were going to have to make some painful decisions and take some difficult steps. Not only were they going to have to separate themselves from their pagan wives, they were going to have to walk away from the children they had fathered with them. We read this and are appalled at the unfairness of it all. We are shocked that a loving God would require such a harsh treatment of these women and their children. But we have to remember that sin always has consequences. And OUR sins always impact the lives of others. Sin is never committed in a vacuum. The men who had chosen to rebel against God and marry foreign women were endangering the lives of those they purportedly loved. To make things right, they were going to have to go through the painful process of cleaning house and purging their lives of the vestiges of their sin. Now, we have to be careful here that we don’t try and build a biblical case for a man divorcing his non-Christian wife. That is not what this passage is teaching. It is simply a reminder that God has called us to live lives that are set apart and separate from the world. We are not to “fall in love” with the things of this world and allow them to draw us away from God. Ezra knew that as long as these men kept their pagan wives, their faithfulness to God would be compromised and the nation would suffer as a result.

The real difficulty of this passage is having to consider what we have “married” ourselves to in our day that is drawing us away from God and compromising our worship of Him. What have we fallen in love with and allowed to replace our devotion to Him? Are we willing to confess it and then take the painful step of removing it? Does our sin bother us enough to cause us to repent, but then also remove what is offensive to God? Spiritual renewal and revival would not come until the people of God repented and took steps to remove the things that were offensive to God from their lives. How badly do we want revival in our land?

Father, we live in a constant state of spiritual compromise, loving the things of this world and having ongoing relationships with those things that You have called us out of and away from. Too often we live lives that are no longer separate and set apart. We have become polluted by the world. Open our eyes and convict us of our sin. Lead us to repentance and give us the strength to remove from our lives whatever is offensive to You so that we might live holy and set apart unto You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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