Today we revisit a recurring theme in our journey through the Old Testament. Back in Deuteronomy 7, Moses warned the people,
“Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.”
In the book of Judges this problem got the people caught up in a cycle of pain that ended up in their acquiescing to establishing a king over Israel. The kings stumbled in this area, and due to Solomon’s gross violation of this directive, ultimately led the people into exile.
Now, in Ezra, the people are returning from that very exile. The Jerusalem in which they live still lies in a pile of rubble as a visual testimony to the destruction that intermarriage can bring. And yet, they did it again.
Why? Why was marrying foreign wives such a powerful temptation? There are a few reasons why the men of Israel may have found themselves seemingly helpless against the women of Canaan.
Sexual temptation. The Canaanite worship was very sensual and sexual. It was ancient world erotica. It pulled upon the animal-like nature that can be so easily ignited in the heart of a male. Perhaps this was their equivalent to the struggle with pornography that plagues so many Christian men today.
Political Fear. In the ancient world marriage was more about politics than it was about love and romance. Perhaps the newly returned men of Jerusalem realized how vulnerable they were to attack, since they were living in a broken down city with no walls and no army. Perhaps they felt that the only way that they could protect themselves and be safe would be to make “politically correct” alliances through marriage. Today we are constantly tempted to do the same thing. The ways of God stand in stark contrast to the value system of our contemporary culture. When we make a stand for things like morality, the sanctity of life, and the sacredness of marriage we will be singled out as a threat to society, and perhaps persecuted. It would be much easier and safer to “marry” into the culturally accepted ways of thinking, and, in so doing, insure the safety of our children.
Whatever the cause, the effect was the same; disastrous.
Ezra was a priest and a teacher of the Law that was sent by God to confront the people and nip this downward cycle in the bud.
Notice the progression of events that Ezra went through when he confronted the people.
1. He wept. He was truly broken and grieved over the sin. This demonstrates a tender heart, which is vital when taking on confrontation.
2. He first brought his own baggage to the Lord. Ezra poured out his heart to God in a gut-wrenching, soul-searching session in which he confessed his own sin as well as the sin of the people. As Jesus taught us, we must remove the plank from our own eye before we endeavor to remove the speck from another’s.
3. He demonstrated, rather than condemned. There is an old saying that more is caught than taught. Had Ezra rushed out and spewed forth venomous, attacking accusations against the people, he would have probably met with great resistance. Instead, he publicly went to the Temple and poured out his heart to God in confession and repentance. This is what the people needed to do, so he did it himself and allowed people to observe. Through their observation of this authentic outpouring they were convicted and fell on their faces as well.
4. He was not afraid to take decisive action. Once the people’s hearts were on board, Ezra was not afraid to speak the truth boldly and make no compromises. The wives had to go. He made a plan for the purging, and was not afraid to enforce the plan. Many times in our churches we are good about verbalizing regret and pseudo-repentance, but we are afraid to actually implement a plan to eradicate an area of sin in our lives. We would rather talk about getting rid of it on Sunday when we are together, and then roll around with it all week. We need to take courage and support one another to send away our “foreign wives.”
In what ways have you married into the destructive patterns of our world. Are you willing to send them away? It is important that every person in our church has at least one person with whom they can be “mutual Ezras” and hold each other accountable to do more than talk about repentance, but to actually move away from the destructive patterns that still hold onto our hearts.