Day 108—The Elephant in the Room—“Measuring Faith” Ezra 7:1 – 10:44
April 18, 2021, 6:17 AM

Day 108—The Elephant in the Room—“Measuring Faith” Ezra 7:1 – 10:44

So much excitement! Moving in day at the Temple! We have a letter of praise and permission from King Artaxerxes, the people fasted in preparation, and then the officials approach Ezra to tell him that there is a serious problem—some of the men of Israel have intermarried while they were in exile, and they have had children with those foreign wives, creating an impure people group that now return to Jerusalem.

Ezra’s response after hearing this news is to act as though someone has died: he tears his garment, pulls his hair out of his head and his beard, and acts like a man in grief, which he is. Ezra, who is a Scribe and a priest, has high standards for the people coming into the renewed Jerusalem, and purity is one of those standards. We have seen a man die for touching the ark of the Covenant as it seemed to slide off the cart it was on. We have read of strict laws that govern skin diseases, and stories about clean and unclean foods. This is part of the whole purity system, but it is now of greatest importance for two reasons:

  1. The people who were originally chosen by God were the Hebrew people whom God rescued and saved from slavery. The people who now return to their homeland in the book of Ezra are the descendants of Abraham, and they are charged with the restart and repopulation of the Promised Land and of the city of God. After reading stories about genealogies and families that are meticulously traced, it should not surprise us that Ezra is in grief over the mixing of blood with those who do not worship the God of Israel. Ezra knows that worship practices will change, that just as had happened with Solomon, the foreign wives would have brought their gods and their pagan worship practices with them and the men, who are leaders, will turn away from God.
  2. Many of those who had taken foreign wives were priests, Levites, gatekeepers and singers (read Exra 10: 18-44)—these are men who served directly at the Temple or in the Temple and they were held to the highest standards, particularly as they were about to begin once again to offer worship in the newly refurbished Temple

One scholar figured out that there were 22 clergy people and approximately 85 lay leaders who had taken foreign wives. Out of a population of approximately 30,000 who returned, that constitutes a sizable proportion whose descendants would have been what we called “mud bloods” in Harry Potter—mixed genealogies that created difficulty in establishing a new city of God’s chosen people.

Here are some possible results of intermarriage that Ezra was aware of:

  • The passing of land from God’s chosen people to those who did not worship the God of Israel. The requirements for owning land were guided by purity laws.
  • The possibility that the children would not be exposed to the Jewish practice, and may not even speak the language of the Jewish people because their mothers did not speak it.
  • Ultimately the worry was that worship of,  and worship practices for, the God of Israel would be watered-down, discarded and ultimately forgotten.

Ok. I am NOT agreeing with this practice, but we have to take off our 21st Century glasses of judgment. We simply cannot put our current, Western viewpoint onto this story or we miss the point. In fact, in many places of the world, people are still not allowed to intermarry. I read a story from the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times that referred to a pandemic relationship between a practicing woman of one faith tradition, and a man who had no religious affiliation. She told him that he would have to convert in order to marry her, and the relationship ended. This happened this year.

I know that everything in us rages against this, but we also need to keep in mind that people in ancient times did not marry out of choice or for love—at least not as their primary motivation. Even Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s parents, were part of an arranged marriage agreement that their families may have agreed to as early as Mary’s birth! Marriages were agreements and covenants of family names and inheritance. The idea of love was certainly important, but not as a reason for marrying a specific person.

We are allowed to hate this idea as we read it, and to feel uncomfortable with it, but we need to understand it. That’s why we are reading our bibles straight through. Intermarriage was conceived of as a direct threat to the worship of the One God, and the people had to sacrifice everything in order to maintain a proper covenant relationship with God.

Please notice that God does not have any commentary in this situation. Ezra simply knows the possible outcomes, he remembers the agreements they have made, and he requires great sacrifice of the families who have defied God’s. We will hear more about this in the next book which we will start tomorrow—Nehemiah.

For today, be thankful that we are not bound by such constraints, that love can win the day, and that God can bless us in surprising ways through the covenant of marriage, no matter who it is we are married to.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,

ML

 

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