“There Can Be No Intermingling of Good and Evil”
Ezra 9-10

History seems to have a way of repeating itself. When will we ever learn? 

Chapter 9 opens with the discovery by Ezra that the Israelites who have been living in Jerusalem have intermarried with the idolaters in the land. You think they would have learned that bad women are bad ideas. Maybe it’s a generational thing? When Israel came up out of Egypt, in Numbers 22-24, Balak hired Ballam to curse Israel. Ballam attempted to curse them, but was unable, so he talked with the king of Moab and convinced him to send immoral women into Israel’s camp (Numbers 25:1-5; Revelations 2:14). Guess what? That worked! And Israel suffered. I wish I could say that was the only instance of such behavior, but it wasn’t. 
When Israel entered the Promised Land, the first time, with the assistance of Yahweh, they were able to take over the land, you can read about this in the book of Joshua. When they started to settle down, Israel disobeyed and chose not to get rid of the Canaanites. Guess what, it was just a matter of time and they began acting like the Canaanites. Not good! Because of this, they suffered, you can read about how they suffered in the book of Judges. 

You can bet Ezra remembered these instances because his immediate response was to tear his tunic and cloak, pull out hair from his head and his beard and sit down appalled. As if there weren’t enough struggles just trying to survive the physical circumstances. Sexual relationships with the Canaanites, Hittities, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites and Moabites. Not again? What to do? 
This list of nations was familiar, the Pentateuch repeatedly forbids intermarriage with these peoples (Exod 34:11-16; Deut 7:1-4; 20:16-18). The reason? Well, their form of worship involved prostituting themselves with their gods (Exod 34:15-16;Deut 7:3-4; 20:18). 

Look at verse 4, Ezra wasn’t alone. We read,

“Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles.”

Obviously Ezra had brought new focus to the words of God. Notice, it wasn’t Ezra who proclaimed this finding. The leaders who had been listening to Ezra teach and proclaim God’s Word came to Ezra with this news. The eyes of those who had been in Jerusalem had been opened and they realized the severity of their circumstances.

The command in the Pentateuch not to intermarry with non-Israelites was not racism. There were significant people in the Old Testament who married non-Israelites. Moses married a Midianite woman (Exodus 1:16-22). Boaz married Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 4). The difference was these women chose to be faithful to Yahweh. This was not the circumstance Ezra was viewing. We can tell by the phrases, “have not separated themselves,” and “with their detestable practices,” found in verse 1 of chapter 9. Then in verse 2 it reads, “they have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them,” and the intermarrying was called, “unfaithfulness.”

This demonstrated the problem with the intermarrage was not ethnicity but religion. The foreigners had not converted and were not following Yahweh. 
What had happened was the Israelites had forgotten their identity and grown accustomed or tolerated the abominations practiced by the inhabitants of the land. 

Ezra’s response was appropriate for someone who walked in a close relationship with God. Ezra was able to see clearly the exchange that these Israelites who married idolaters had made. They had chosen to walk away from a relationship with God to embrace a sinful human. In other words, they chose to forsake the Almighty for one of His creatures who turned them against Him, and who was unable to save them from His judgment. God is our great treasure and such sin brings great bankruptcy. Ezra’s way of thinking was to disobey in this way was worse than turning down clean water so that you may drink from a filthy toilet. It was repulsive. 

What made it repulsive, was the idolaters had chosen to believe lies and the lies they were believing involved abominable behaviors. To begin with, the idolaters denied that Yahweh was the one true and living God, Creator of heaven and earth and had given instructions of morality in order to promote and protect abundant life. Instead, these idolaters chose to follow demons masquerading as attractive deities with destructive appetites. Paul put it this way to the Corinthians in chapter 11, verses 

“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

The reality was, God was denied the glory He deserved, and that glory was given to those who didn’t deserve it. 
For those who made these choices, their lives were ruined. Ezra felt their pain. And because of God’s Word, so did some others. Notice how these others were described, verse 4,

“Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles.”

These people trembled because their eyes had been opened and God’s Word reminded them of who God really is. God’s Word is powerful. 

A lot can be said about one’s reaction to this situation. 
Do you side with Ezra? 
Do you immediately think of dropping to your knees, seeking mercy? 
Or do you think to yourself, “What’s the big deal? 
They really didn’t do anything that terrible, they just married a non-Israelite. Your response reveals what you think about God. If you side with Ezra, like him, you love God, and God is God to you. If you think it’s not big of a deal, perhaps you need to check and see how much God does matter to you and if His Word has significance. 

Ezra and those convicted sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. At that point, Ezra began to pray and he started by confessing sin, notice he used first person pronouns. He joined his brothers and sisters in their muck. 
Verses 5-7, The Message,

“My dear God, I’m so totally ashamed, I can’t bear to face you. O my God—our iniquities are piled up so high that we can’t see out; our guilt touches the skies. We’ve been stuck in a muck of guilt since the time of our ancestors until right now; 
we and our kings and priests, because of our sins, have been turned over to foreign kings, to killing, to captivity, to looting, and to public shame—just as you see us now.”

What an excellent example Ezra gives us. We could all say these words, we have all done things that should shame us and make us blush to lift our faces to God. Our sins may not have caused captivity and pillage, but they have caused pain and separation. 

After confession of sin, Ezra continued his prayer by confessing God’s faithfulness. God’s grace has followed Israel throughout their existence. Their existence was at this point just a remnant of some 50,000, out of the over 600,000 men that had come out of Egypt, but they still existed. Ezra stressed that God did not forsake His people and has allowed them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild His temple. 
Again, Ezra offers us a wonderful example. Ezra was told of the sin of his people and his response was to confess his own sin and the sin of his people. Then he shifted his focus from the faithlessness of the people to the faithfulness of God. When we recognize the sin in our lives, we should confess it, then humbly look to God, seek Christ and reflect on His mercy and faithfulness.

Ezra concluded his prayer by stating the obvious. What more could he say?

“And now, our God, after all this what can we say for ourselves? For we have thrown your commands to the wind, the commands you gave us through your servants the prophets. They told us, ‘The land you’re taking over is a polluted land, polluted with the obscene vulgarities of the people who live there; they’ve filled it with their moral rot from one end to the other. 
Whatever you do, don’t give your daughters in marriage to their sons nor marry your sons to their daughters. Don’t cultivate their good opinion; don’t make over them and get them to like you so you can make a lot of money and build up a tidy estate to hand down to your children.’
“And now this, on top of all we’ve already suffered because of our evil ways and accumulated guilt, even though you, dear God, punished us far less than we deserved and even went ahead and gave us this present escape. Yet here we are, at it again, breaking your commandments by intermarrying with the people who practice all these obscenities! Are you angry to the point of wiping us out completely, without even a few stragglers, with no way out at all? You are the righteous God of Israel. We are, right now, a small band of escapees. Look at us, openly standing here, guilty before you. No one can last long like this.”

It’s plain to see, the very survival of Israel was at stake. Ezra had studied God’s Word and he knew that Yahweh did not owe mercy and he also knew that Yahweh would uphold justice. Israel was guilty. Verses 10-12 told us exactly what Israel had done, and verses 13-15 describe how God had punished Israel for this kind of thing in the past. Now that they have done it again, Ezra does not want God to finish the job of judging Israel completely.

We should be identifying with Israel right about now. We are all guilty and the truth be told, we can make no claims to God’s mercy. Regardless of how “good” we may be, we have no righteousness to plead before Him. Romans 5:8,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Back in chapter 7 Ezra set out to change the world by studying the Bible. In chapter 9, the Bible exposed Israel’s sin. In chapter 10, Ezra brought about Israel’s repentance by praying and confessing sin before God, verse 1.

“While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.” 

The people joined Ezra, they got it, they felt the same revulsion Ezra felt. Enough so that we read in verse 2, 

“Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, 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.”

Ezra’s re-direction to the Word brought about confession and a clear understanding of how God works. Shecaniah understood there was always hope for those who would turn away from sin,  verse 3, 

“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 of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.”

One of the leaders, Shecaniah, proposed a solemn covenant which included a full repentance. A complete separation from the sin. No compromise. Follow the Torah, to the letter, this time. He didn’t make excuses and he didn’t try to keep the wives they had with a promise to take no more. He proposed they bring their lives into line with what God had written, period.

Check in time. Is this what repentance looks like in your life? Clear, full confession, sincere sorrow for the sin, recognizing God’s justice and His mercy, followed by a clean and complete break from the sin you’ve committed?

I want to emphasize the part about God’s justice and His mercy. God is not merciful because we can pray to Him and talk Him into being merciful by explaining our behavior. God is merciful because He is merciful and He is the one who decides to whom He will give mercy. We come in hopes of mercy, with a humble and contrite heart, trusting His Word, not our explanations. 

After confessing and giving his suggestion, Shecaniah implored Ezra to act, verse 4, 
“Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”

Ezra didn’t need to be asked twice, verse 5, 

“So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested.”

In verses 16-17, their sin was taken care of. It took three months to work through all the cases. Then we read a list of those who married foreign women. The priests were listed first, then the Levites, then singers, then the remaining Israelites. Sadly we read that some of these women had children. The foreign wives who practiced abominations were sent away. Upon reading verse 21 in chapter 6 where it spoke of non-Israelites who joined the returnees by separating from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land of celebrating Passover, we can assume that those wives who chose to worship Yahweh remained. 

This account illustrates one way our devotion to our spouse or children can sometimes take precedence over our devotion to God. If our spouse or our children are more important than God, then we are idolaters. We have exchanged the Creator for a creature. 

This brings us to the end of the book of Ezra. The remnant of God’s people made it back to Jerusalem. They experienced threats from outside the community and threats from within. The greatest threat seemed to be the one that came from their own sin. 

Were we honest, we could state the same. Although some opposition to being a Christian exists, life in America allows us little external opposition. Even if we were to die for our faith, we would be raised and God would get the glory, as we died the honored death of a martyr. 

However, in Matthew 10:28, Jesus taught His disciples,

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The challenges in our lives are real, but the greatest challenge we face is to be faithful to God. 

Are you harboring sin in your life, or are you repenting and following through on your repentance the way Ezra and Israel do here? Notice the list of those who had married sinful wives started with the priests, and worked its way through the leadership down to the congregation. None of us are immune. It was when the people returned to reading and studying the Word of God, they were convicted of their sin. 
The first place to start in recognizing the sin in our lives is by reading and meditating on God’s Word, daily. Also recognize they supported each other in confessing and making things right again. They didn’t work it out all by themselves. We often we sin secretly but not really, God knows, to quote Matthew West in “The Truth be Told,” 
And when it’s out of control I say it’s under control but it’s not
And you know it
I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it
When being honest is the only way to fix it
There’s no failure, no fall
There’s no sin you don’t already know
So let the truth be told
Finding a Christian brother or sister who you know will love you no matter what and walk with you through the pain of removing the sin is imperative. 

The book of Ezra teaches us that when God’s people fail to be faithful there is still hope. 
We need to respond with:
Confessing our sin
Confessing God’s faithfulness
Recognizing God’s justice and mercy and
Praying for God’s assistance and for assistance from our brothers and sisters in Christ to completely remove the sin.
Then do what is right.
To quote Shekaniah son of Jehiel, “But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel.”

Let’s pray.