Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ezra: Put away your wives

the marriage of non-believer and believer
This week my daily reading through the scriptures took me through Ezra in the Old Testament and I Corinthians 7 in the New Testament. There is a relevant reference concerning unbelieving spouses in both passages which is significant. When Ezra was informed that the holy race had intermingled through marriage with the people of the land he was appalled. He called on Israel to follow his proposal and to put away those foreign wives. (Ezra 9 & 10) It is a fair question to ask if what Ezra commanded was pleasing in the sight of the Lord. Ezra and Nehemiah, as priests, understood the importance of not only reading the scriptures, but working to explain the law to the people. The scripture notes that there were children involved in some of those marriages which were dissolved. Here are some brief observations with the primary focus on Ezra. I hardly think my observations are new or original.

The scripture notes that Ezra was learned (Ezra 7:6) in the scriptures and was devoted to the word of the Lord. Certainly, this is commendable and praiseworthy. There are other matters which are mentioned. There is a noteworthy contrast between Ezra and the group which accompanied him to Jerusalem and the group mentioned earlier in the book in which included the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1, 2) group who supported them. Ezra noticed that although there were priests among those who journeyed with him to Jerusalem there were no Levites. Hence, he sent word back to Casiphia for Levites to be sent to him. It is also noted repeatedly that Ezra sought out leading men (Ezra 7:28, 8:16, 17, 24, 29) among the priests and Israel. While Ezra did not call for prophets to be sent to him, nonetheless there were prophets among the remnant which had returned to Jerusalem.

There are some significant attitudes which are revealed from the Jews whom God had just reprieved and repatriated back to their homeland, both towards themselves as the “holy race” and the inhabitants of the land. There are two showcase examples of these attitudes. The first appears when the Jews who had began the work of rebuilding the temple shun and reject the offer of the “enemies of Judah and Benjamin” to help with the rebuilding of the temple. (4:1, 2) The second appearance of this attitude, and which is the focus of this article, is in regards to the Jews who had formed intermingled mixed marriages.

two replies
There are two different replies involving these attitudes of the Jews. Both reveal mostly decisions in reply to the situations with notions as to what they thought was the will of the Lord and what the scriptures stated. The reply, or rebuff, to those who offered to help with the rebuilding of the temple revealed a forgetfulness concerning the part of the Sidonians and Tyrians with Solomon in the building of the temple.

The second reply to the matter concerning the intermingled mixed marriages also reflects what appears to be a greater shortfall towards the scriptures. Although Ezra was learned in the law of Moses there is nothing to indicate that he referred to the law. Also, although there were prophets in Jerusalem he did not seek them out as Hilkiah the priest and his great grandfather (Ezra 7:1) had done at a much early time when he inquired of the Lord through Huldah the prophetess. (II Kings 22) The testimony of Sanballat, albeit hostile and distorted, attests to the presence of prophets in Jerusalem.

a commentary
The commentary on the decision of Ezra to dissolve the mixed marriages may be the book of Nehemiah in which Ezra also appears. Nehemiah (13:23-27) also records the mixed marriages. The scripture notes his anger and reaction to the situation by cursing and striking some of them. Nehemiah did refer to the scriptures in the matter of King Solomon who took foreign wives who then turned his heart away from the Lord. However, Nehemiah does not record a decision, proposal or declaration by him for the Jews to put away their wives. It appears that it was the priests on whom Nehemiah focused his attention and to whom he limited the dissolution of marriages. He purified the priests. Nehemiah, like Ezra, had prophets in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Nehemiah, like Ezra, is not known to have consulted the prophets. Both men were prayerful and prayed to the Lord for guidance in their work. (Nehemiah: I consulted with myself) It is true that God had strongly admonished Israel not to intermarry with the people of the land. Yet, there was no more a command for King David to put away Bathsheba whom he had taken through adultery and the murder of her husband Uriah anymore than Solomon was commanded to put away his foreign wives. The consequences of those intermingled mixed marriages would come and it would bear its fruit eventually.

As much as some saints in Christ would like impose, and some actually do impose, the burden on those who call upon the name of the Lord to put away their second or third wives their zeal is not unlike that of Ezra. The admonition by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7 is not unlike the admonition of Moses for Israel to not intermarry with those who are outside the faith and covenant with God, but that when one does intermarry there was not under the law of Moses nor in Christ for one to put away their spouse. Jesus declared what Paul also affirms that each one is given, as in a gift, as to how they respond towards choosing to remain single or to marry or remarry. (Matthew 19) Please note that Jesus said, Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. (Matthew 19:11) The point being that it is neither for your nor me to decide who can accept or to whom it has been given. Even the admonition by Paul towards those who remarry that they do so “in the Lord only” (I Corinthians 7:39) is not a law as Ezra and some Christians have understood from the scriptures. Christians are declared to be holy (I Corinthians 7:14) and are called to be holy in no less than Israel and it was not then nor is it now a matter of race. This was and is true regardless of whether or not they were married.

This is not to dismiss as wrong the decision and action determined by Ezra. However, given the contrast between Ezra and Nehemiah there are lessons for our learning concerning new believers who come into the Lord as well as believers who marry outside of the faith. Yes, as the people of God we are holy. However, let’s be leery so as to not mistake or equate our notions of superiority, holiness and piety above the written testimony of the word of God.

Peace to all.

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