By Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell (Guest Blogger)
Scripture Readings: Ezra 6-10
Key Scripture Verses: Ezra 9:13-15 (NIV, Life Application Bible)
“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 deserved and have given us a remnant like this. Shall we then break your commands again 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? Lord, the 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.”
Ezra was a priest who truly lived by his faith and the profile of him in the NIV, Life Application Bible indicates that he was so faithful that he probably didn’t even realize how successful he was—he did it to the glory of God. And, yet, as good as Ezra was, he was not perfect. He offered honest prayers before God, praying on behalf of the people and on his own behalf, admitting that he had also sinned, saying (Ezra 9:6-7), “ ‘I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors 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.” Ezra’s prayers led the people to confession of their sins in marrying pagans against God’s will—a “detestable practice.”
At this point in the history of the Jews, the people had rebuilt the temple and a remnant of the exiled Jews had come home. Ezra had just brought back another group of exiled Jews whom the king had permitted to return home. But many of these Jews had intermarried with pagans and adopted their pagan worship. This was a serious spiritual problem.
God was willing to forgive the exiled Jews, but their marrying pagans and having children with them was as if they had taken “devil worshippers as wives” (NIV, Life Application Bible commentary)—these pagans had corrupted them and this was not acceptable to God. Ezra’s prayers helped the people to honestly search their hearts and to confess their sin.
The people decided to make a new covenant to God in correction for their sins and said to Ezra, “‘We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and those who fear the commands of our God.’” They left it up to Ezra to help them do this, and, in their renewed faith in God, they sent their pagan wives and children away.
This seems so harsh, but intermarriage with pagans was strictly forbidden by God—it introduced them to idol worship and evil practices. In order to preserve the nation of Israel as God intended, they had to purge themselves of the evil influences.
In their renewed faith, they followed God’s will. If they had obeyed God to begin with they would not have had to face this.
Marriage is a sacred relationship and the two spouses are said to become one in marriage—we need to be spiritually congruent to be right with God. We need to be especially careful of the relationships we form with others, particularly our marriage relationships.
Since marriage was given to us as a loving covenant between two people and with God himself at the center, we should honor and respect this gift as it is intended. It is the most important human relationship we have. If we honor God in our marriages, as God has taught us and intended for us, we may just realize the wonders of his love in this most special of relationships.
May we ask God to bless all of our relationships, especially our marriages.