Summary: See Ezra's prayer of confession. We acknowledge God's righteousness, submit to His judgement and agree with God concerning His view of sin. We trust in God's forgiving grace.
Ezra 8 – Return to Jerusalem (from Babylon).
Ezra returned with 4000 to 5000 people. Initially there weren’t any Levites among them and Ezra made an extra effort to gather them
• He knew that he would need the Levites if he is going to teach the Law of God to the people. Ezra managed to get 258 of them (add the numbers in 8:15-20).
7:9 tells us they left Babylon on the first day of the 1st month, and arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the 5th month – a four month journey, over 1500km.
• Not long after they settled down, the leaders came to Ezra and gave him a report of what was happening in the community. READ EZRA 9:1-15.
The people has fallen away from being the “holy race” committed to worshipping God, into committing detestable practices with their pagan neighbours.
• How come? They had married the Gentile sons and daughters.
When Ezra heard this news, he had only been around for 4½ months.
• 7:9 says he arrived first day of 5th month and 10:9 when the people gathered before the house of God, it was 20th day of 9th month.
• So from his arrival to this point, it’s about 4½ months.
• Most likely the intermarriages were committed by the generation that had returned with Zerubbabel, over the span of the 60 years after the completion of the Temple.
• The people disregarded the Word of God and mingled themselves with the pagan people around and adopted their practices.
God had warned Israel not to intermarry with the foreigners. This wasn’t something new. Ezra knew the Word and was appalled by it.
• The Lord first said it in Exodus 34:15-16.
15"Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
• Moses repeated it in Deut 7:3-4. 3Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.
Clearly the problem with marrying the peoples of the land is not racial, not cultural, and not social; it’s spiritual.
• Israel will be enticed to follow their practices, and that would mean not, just moral corruption but eventually idolatry.
It might not mean they will drop JEHOVAH (because they will still go to the Temple routinely), but they’ve merged all other beliefs together (we call this syncretism).
• Some today do not blatantly deny Christianity; they just add to this faith the beliefs and practices of the world.
• They become virtually indistinguishable from the world in their thinking and the way they live.
• This is still idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exo 20:3)
God’s warning has proven to be true because their forefathers committed idolatry and were exiled.
• It was for this reason that the nation has fallen and taken into captivity, as the Lord so said.
• Ezra confessed it (9:7), “Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.”
And now they were repeating the same sin (that caused their downfall).
• And they were doing this AFTER their return from exile, AFTER having experienced God’s grace and goodness.
• And the priests and Levites were with them (9:1). And other leaders and officials were ‘leading the way in this unfaithfulness’ (9:2b). They were modelling it!
No wonder Ezra was appalled. From history they ought to have understood.
• The reason for not allowing them to intermarry with the pagan neighbours was good.
• It was God’s protection for His people, from being misled to false gods, false worships, false practices that cannot bless.
I like to believe they could have started well. Ezra 6 tells us after the completion of the Temple and they had their first Passover celebration.
• 6:21 “So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbours in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.”
• Not sure if this ‘all who had separated themselves’ indicates a nationwide thing or just among a small group, but it was a good start.