This post originally appeared over at the BIGBible Project.
‘I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.’ (Ezra 9:4b)
Ezra doesn’t do things by halves. The vivid descriptions of the text show just how upset he was – can you imagine him, clothes ripped, chunks of hair pulled out of his head, sitting there while he comes to terms with what he has heard. Then more – wailing and throwing himself down in front of the new temple.
There’s no doubt about it. He is seriously upset.
Why the reaction?
Ezra has devoted his life to studying and teaching the Law (7:10) and is charged by Artaxerxes to ensure the Law is upheld (7:25-26). Now he’s discovered that a number of the Israelites who have chosen to return have done the unthinkable – married foreign women, and had children by them.
His reaction seems odd and uncomfortable to us – new covenant people, who live in a far more individualised culture. But Israel was called to be distinct. It was her indistinctiveness that set loose the chain of events that led to Exile. This distinctiveness was so important that it was symbolised in very specific ways – such as not wearing mixed fabrics (Leviticus 19:19). In fact, I talk about this in an earlier #digidisciple post!
Marriage meant a deeper coming together – the two partners brought with them their culture, their beliefs, their gods. By marrying outside of their people, the Israelites were opening up the path again – the path where they were led astray by the belief, cultures and practices of the other peoples. Practices which Yahweh detested. Ezra, committed student and teacher of the law, would naturally hit the panic button.
What do they do?
The people of Israel who gather round Ezra are moved by his distress. They take drastic action and all the ‘foreign wives’ with their children are sent away – back to their own lands? How distressing was this deliberate breaking up of families? How strong were the ties that needed breaking? Were they co-wives with other Israelite women, or in committed monogamous relationship?
We don’t know so many things, and the story stops so abruptly it’s hard to fathom the impact. But whatever else this action was, it demonstrated how repentant the Israelites were – how keen they were to try and match the fresh start of the new temple by starting again in other ways. These were huge changes, both at the macro and micro levels of their lives.
What about us?
This takes quite a lot to get our heads round. What can we glean from this story? How can we relate it to our own lives?
Perhaps we could ask some questions of ourselves:
- How important is it for us to be distinctive today?
- How do we practise being distinctive online?
- Where might we need to take drastic action to get back on track in our lives of faith?