God’s Commands or the World’s Ways

Ezra 9:1-3 – 1 After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” 3 As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled.

In the book of Ezra, we watch as exiles return to the land of Judah. We see the great faithfulness of God as the Lord motivates a foreign king to send captives home. We see the stunning provision of God as he moves the king to fund the reestablishment of the temple in Jerusalem.

But when Ezra, who shows up in the book baring his name in chapter 7, finally arrives in Jerusalem, he finds unfaithfulness. Dealing with that unfaithfulness is the sort of closing climax of this half of the Ezra-Nehemiah scroll.

Not long after things were up and running in Jerusalem and in the temple, Ezra found out that many of the people of Judah, including those who were in positions of community and spiritual leadership, had married foreign wives. And that news rocks Ezra’s world.

We need to be careful not to misunderstand the issue here. This is not an issue of racism. It is not that Ezra would not dare have one of God’s people marry someone of a different skin color. It is an issue of the promises of God on the one hand and faithfulness to God’s commands on the other.

Dealing with God’s commands, we need to remember that the Lord commanded that the people of Israel not marry outside of their nation any who were not willing to embrace the faith. God would not allow the people of Judah to corrupt the faith so that the commands and promises of God would be lost. If God forbad idolatry, but a man married a woman who brought idols into the house and the family culture, there was a major problem. Besides, God’s promises included the bringing of Messiah, the promised one, from a particular family lineage. This must not be lost by so intermingling the nation of Israel with other nations that the Messianic line is no longer recognizable.

So, what Ezra found as he examined the community around him was a few things. First, the people were not at all concerned with God’s promise to bring Messiah through his holy people. Second, the people were not concerned with obedience to the simplest of God’s commands. And, third, the people were willing to compromise the ways of the Lord so as to enjoy the pleasures of the world.

While all this is a fun history lesson, we should see at least a challenge or two for ourselves. Where are we willing to ignore the things of God for the pleasures of the world around us? Where are we willing to compromise the commands of God because we want to be like the world, favored by the world, or simply have the benefits of the world? Where do we allow ourselves to embrace the abominations of the world? And why in the world do we do so?

For sure, a reader of Ezra 9 and 10 should recognize that no follower of God should enter into a marriage with someone who is not similarly saved and committed to the worship of the Lord. Christians marrying outside the faith is forbidden by the word of God.

But the truth is, we should be even more circumspect than to only marry believers. WE should also be circumspect in how we allow our lives to function. We need to be fully devoted to our Lord and his ways. That means that there are worldly partnerships and worldly benefits that we should never embrace. We cannot share the world’s values. We cannot agree with the world’s sins. We must not shape our lives so that they look devoted to the same things as the lost. We live for someone and something different than they do, not because we are better naturally, but because we are saved, adopted, and committed to his Lordship.

Christians, let Ezra’s work remind you that there is a regular temptation to turn from the things of God. There are temptations to embrace things that God forbids. There are temptations to rationalize your desires. But the people of God are devoted to Jesus Christ as Lord. This means that we must not assume that we can live in any way that we choose, in any way that matches the world around us, and all will be acceptable. Surrender to God’s commands. Center your life’s focus on the Lord’s ways and word. And do not bring compromise into your life and into your home.