“O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (v. 15).
That Ezra was sent to Jerusalem in order to teach God’s law to the Jews implies that in his day (c. 458 BC), there was a lack of understanding of and obedience to the Lord’s commandments (Ezra 7–8). Today’s passage proves this, revealing one of the sins of that generation of the postexilic community.
We see in Ezra 9:1 that some of the Jewish leaders approached Ezra regarding the problem of intermarriage with various non-Jewish peoples (v. 1). Ezra’s response and prayer show that this was a serious sin (vv. 2–15), so we will have to explore the reasons why. We must first note that the problem was not that they were mixed-race marriages. Scripture never forbids intermarrying with people merely because they are of different racial or cultural backgrounds. In fact, mixed-race marriages appear in biblical history. For example, Moses, an Israelite, was married to the Midianite Zipporah, and there is no hint that God was displeased with that relationship (Ex. 2:16–22).
If the problem was not that the marriages reported in Ezra 9:1 were between different races, why were these marriages sinful? Note that the verse says the Jews had not “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations.” The issue was not merely keeping peoples separate but with the Jews’ remaining free from the abominations—the false moral and religious beliefs and practices—of pagan peoples. We find confirmation of this when we consider that Ruth the Moabitess married Boaz the Judahite and was incorporated into the royal line (Ruth 4:13–21). This would not be possible if the problem with intermarriage was racial or cultural. Ruth as a Moabitess was ordinarily forbidden to marry a Jew (the Moabites could not enter the assembly of the Lord; Deut. 23:3), but all that changed when she converted to the worship of the God of Israel (Ruth 1:16; 2:12). The Jews in Ezra’s day had intermarried with impenitent pagans; that was the sin.
Having discovered the sin, Ezra prayed, offering no excuses for the people’s behavior (Ezra 9:5–15). In this, he gives us a model for true repentance wherein we, “with grief and hatred of [our] sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience” (WSC 87). The prayer also admits that the sin of intermarriage proves that the Jews did not learn the lesson of the exile and return. A more dramatic act of God’s saving power would be needed to bring in the full restoration blessings for the Lord’s people (Luke 2:22–38).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
The problem with the mixed marriages in Ezra’s day is that the Jews had yoked themselves to people who denied the one true God. We cannot think that marrying people who are not believers will be good for our spiritual health. Thus, if we are single, we must seek to marry only in the faith. If we are married, we must encourage our Christian friends and family members who are not married to marry only fellow believers.