We’ve completed our preliminary vision test and are now ready to begin our journey down into the murky and hidden underbelly of Scripture. But before we go, some disclaimers are in order.
As I said before, this trek is not for the faint of faith, nor for those who need their theology all wrapped up with a nice little bow, but for those not afraid to deepen their faith through faithful questioning.
I will also state upfront that I firmly believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture (but the question will be, in what way is it inspired?) I will try to keep us on good theological footing, but it’s not a well-traveled path so it may appear dangerous at times. Finally, the purpose of this adventure relates to the main thesis of my blog—that God is a good Father—although it may seem like we’re going down a rabbit trail at first (pun intended!) My hope is that the purpose will become more apparent as we go.
Flashlights ready…here we go!
We’re going to look into an incident recorded in the book of Ezra. As we do, here’s an admittedly provocative question I want us to ponder:
Was Ezra following God’s directive or was he just xenophobic?
We pick up the story after Ezra returns to Jerusalem for the second time. Upon arriving, his cohorts approach him with some disturbing news (emphasis mine):
When these things were done, the leaders came to me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, with respect to the abominations of 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 as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass.” (Ezra 9:1-2 NKJV)
Okay, we need to pause here and talk about these “abominations” and “holy seed.”
From the text, the “abominations” appear to be the pagan wives themselves (vs. 2). And what about this “holy seed“? Here’s a couple heroes of the faith for test samples: Joseph took the daughter of an Egyptian priest for his wife; Moses’s second wife was Ethiopian. Then there’s Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, David’s great-great grandmother, and Ruth, a Moabite woman, his great-grandmother…which, by the way, makes them direct ancestors of Jesus!
Ezra’s pious response to the news is to tear his garment, pluck out his hair, and sit down in astonishment. He prays and fasts and cries out (emphasis mine):
O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.” (Ezra 9:6 NKJV)
My quirky Baby-boomer mind goes straight to the old Hee Haw TV show song, “Gloom, Despair, And Agony On Me…”
I thought we might need some comic relief… 🙂
Back to Ezra’s lament…what guilt? What iniquities?
There’s nothing in the Law of Moses expressly forbidding intermarriage with foreigners (just don’t take up their idol worshiping ways). The only other possibility is Deuteronomy 7:3 (we’ll get to that story next time). But in Deuteronomy 20:14 and 21:10-13, God expressly permits the Israelites to intermarry with women from other regions and religions. In Numbers 31:18, 35, God orders Israel to take 32,000 Midianite virgins to be integrated into the tribes of Israel. By the way, these “innocent” virgins were brought up in Baal worship.
Of course, we’ve never done anything like that in our history. And we would never even dream of ostracizing any ethnic group, or try to keep those practicing “dangerous” religions out of our country, right?
But I digress…back to our story…
Funny thing is, according to the prophetic voice, God didn’t seem all that impressed with Israel’s “holy” genes…
“Are you not like the people of Ethiopia to Me,
O children of Israel?” says the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
The Philistines from Caphtor,
And the Syrians from Kir? (Amos 9:7 NIV)
Jesus and Paul take this same argument up with the Judaizers of their day (John 8:37-47; Rom.2:28-29; Gal.3:16,28-29).
However, after praying, fasting, and interviewing all the leaders who had intermarried (and had children), it’s decided that breaking up these mixed families would be the best way to make amends and honor God:
3 Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law…. (Ezra 10:3 NKJV)
Okay, time out…this is the counsel? God will be pleased by your penance when you abandon your families? Huh? Apparently, God forgot about all those other times He encouraged intermarriage with these same people!
Let’s summarize. Ezra is sent by the Persian government to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Upon his arrival, and much to his disgust and dismay, finds Jews married to foreigners. He prays and fasts and cries out to God, then decides he’s serving God by breaking up their presumably happy marriages and making their children homeless and fatherless. The end. “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Amen.
But we should honestly ask ourselves, does this sound like what God would want…you must abandon your wife and kids so you don’t contaminate yourself and mix your holy seed with their naughty genes (genes that came from…Me).
And, for us, does this pass the “just like Jesus” test? Jesus Christ, who is the “exact representation” of God and Father? (John 14:7; Heb.1:3), the One who explains what God is really like to us? (Matt.11:27; John 1:18)
Two things I would like you to consider (and hopefully comment on!):
- What is your gut reaction to this incident? In other words, what would you honestly think if you turned on the evening news and heard about some religious cult leaders’ ethnic cleansing in the Levant, annulling marriages and forcing fathers to abandon their children?
- How would you respond to this theologically? Is this a case of religious xenophobic zeal, or were they truly following God’s perfect will on this? And, if the latter, how so? And what does that say about God as a Father?
I told you to bring your flashlight… 🙂