(25)Returning Home with Ezra, Part 4: The Second Return
The New Testament speaks of traitorous men and women who refuse to keep their covenant with Christ. They are those who have not kept their faith (2 Peter 2:20), wrecked their faith (1 Timothy 1:19), and have not valued the gift of the Faith (Hebrews 6:4-6). Oh, the many nights Christian siblings spend grieving that they have not chosen to follow the path they promised to follow! Their choices create tears and suffering, and yet, their spiritual family longs to welcome them back.
The men of Israel married women they knew were godless and would remain godless. They married these women to make political alliances with other nations in the region. The cultural reasons for marriage during that time are vaguely understood in our culture. Today, we marry for love rather than to ally ourselves with peoples who will ensure protection and favor between nations. When a union is created between an official of one nation and the daughter of an official of other nation, it is then in the two nations’ best interests to work together. Using human wisdom, it sounds like a wise diplomatic move. But that’s human wisdom, not the act of a faithful, God-fearing child of Jehovah.
These alliances prove these citizens of God’s earthly kingdom do not trust their King to maintain the borders of Jerusalem and the region of Judah. These faithless exiles, whose fathers went through all the grief and struggle to reestablish their nation under God, undermine the laws of their treasured nation in hopes that these unauthorized family ties will cement their claim on Jerusalem. Some of them are priests–-government officials obligated to serve God.
And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have trespassed, and have married foreign women, to increase the guilt of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto Jehovah, the God of your fathers, and do his pleasure; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the foreign women. – Ezra 10:10-11
Some readers of this passage mistakenly look on this account of breaking up marriages and separating these families as being cruel and wrong. From a civil law perspective, governments even today have the God-given right to wield this authority over the marriage union. The marriage contract cannot break our nation’s laws and be legally recognized as a lawful marriage. This is why the officiant asks if there is any just cause why a couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony. The children of Israel were told in advance that marriage to an unbeliever was not a recognized union under God’s government. (See Deuteronomy 7:1-4, where God prohibits these alliance marriages.) So, it was not the act of dissolving these unlawful marriages that was cruel and wrong; it was the treason of making these marriages that was cruel and wrong. The pain the fathers, wives, and their children have to endure is a terrible, terrible consequence of that decision. It is a wrong that harms the entire nation. The effects of an alliance marriage later become a thorn in the side to Nehemiah, too, when building the wall of Jerusalem. Tobiah, an unbeliever related by marriage to men of Judah, schemes with Sanballat to hinder the builders. Some of Judah’s men even try to talk Nehemiah into trusting Tobiah because he is “family” (Nehemiah 6:17-19). It is a faithless wall Nehemiah has to tear down to build the real city wall.
Then all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said concerning us, so must we do. But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without: neither is this a work of one day or two; for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. Let now our princes be appointed for all the assembly, and let all them that are in our cities that have married foreign women come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God be turned from us, until this matter be despatched. – Ezra 10:12-14
The assembly agrees and stands behind Ezra’s declaration but asks for relief. Currently, they are shivering, unprotected, out in the heavy rain. They will have to do this day after day until the problem is resolved if Ezra doesn’t grant them a reprieve. This picture parallels how the whole assembly is left open and vulnerable while men in their number, some being their own leaders, corrupt their civil system.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Corruption like this in government hurts the citizens it is meant to protect. Bad alliances and hidden agendas expose the innocent and leave the people defenseless to attack. Even more crucial to consider are the children, the next generation, who will reap the consequences of cruel and treasonous diplomatic decisions. In relationship, this type of destructive behavior not only weakens the individuals, it handicaps the generations to come. They don’t learn from a good example; they lack knowledge of what a solid, healthy relationship looks like. The whole assembly, the nation, is made vulnerable because of the many individual compromises to true relationship.
It’s easy to believe, “I can bend the rules a little because no one is going say anything. What I will gain makes it worth it, and, anyway, it’s not going to hurt anyone.” Looking back at accounts like Ezra’s, one can truly tally up the exorbitant price of this type of ethical finagling. It destroys marriages, it destroys families, it destroys nations, it destroys relationship with God, and it destroys souls. That’s why they speak of God’s fierce wrath. God burns with anger for unrepentant law-breakers in the Bible because He sees people who are putting His sheep in danger. He cannot stand to see His people torn down from the inside—from the place where they are meant to find strength, solace, compassion, and protection.
Through the eyes of Ezra, God shows His long-suffering. He has waited for these faithless men to change. He has borne with their disrespect for the law and has watched His dear ones suffer under a corrupted system. And now, God gives the assembly mercy. They will not be forced to stand in the rain day after day. There will be officials appointed to see to the righting of these ungodly unions. This account exemplifies for us how our Father does know and He does care about His children. He has a purpose that will strengthen and renew His children.
Destructive and unlawful actions committed by the ones you love, and even by national and local leaders, cannot be corrected when everyone ignores it or condones it. As seen in Ezra’s situation, the seed will spread and affect everyone. The consequences will come, and unfortunately, most people try to twist the truth and blame God. They look upon Him as harsh and unloving when the way to right the wrong requires deep and painful measures. But Ezra teaches one to focus on the source of the trouble and carry out the actions that will set everyone free from those destructive elements that continue to plague healthy relationship. When broken relationship covenants cause everyone involved to suffer, it is vital to hold to the commitment by accepting the consequences and resolving to separate from the problem that is creating havoc in the heart. It is the only way to return home.