THE PURSUIT OF SPIRITUAL RESTORATION
“Put Away Your Sin” Ezra 10
Many years ago I worked for ‘Norton Surgical Supply’. I delivered hospital equipment to homes for people who needed it but were no longer staying in the hospital. Hospital beds, wheelchairs, and oxygen tanks, were regular delivery items. To this day I am still impacted by a group of people whom I delivered oxygen due to emphysema and other smoking related diseases. Two incidents stand out. One was the weekly delivery of oxygen to a lady who in spite of her disease would still smoke while she sat in front of the afternoon TV watching soap operas, drinking a coke, and eating cheetos. I would take the empty tanks, leave her full ones and she kept smoking. Another is an older man, a smoker most of his life, had a tracheotomy, and needed oxygen for emphysema. Each three or four days I showed up he would be puffing away. On one hand, you mite say so what, the damage is already done—let them have their cigs. But could they not have stopped several times before their inevitable demise? The same is true for the Returnees in Ezra. Ezra already concluded the inevitable demise of the Returnees due to their unfaithfulness to God marrying idolatrous foreign women (9:14-15). This brought inevitable spiritual danger to the husbands and then the children—the households the wives and mothers influenced. Knowing the danger, they did it anyway, and would then face annihilation and judgment from God. This was the present danger. But we do see a remedy that, if followed, would not destroy all hope for the future.
YOUR UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD CREATES DISTRESS FOR GOD-FEARERS
1. Returnees had decided to intermarry non-Jewish idolatrous wives. They had placed the entire community of returning exiles in jeopardy by this blatant and defiant decision.
2. This amounted to unfaithfulness to God, abandoning His commands. Three times in this chapter is says they were ‘unfaithful’ vss 2, 6, and 10. The root of their problem then for whatever reason, is their willful sin.
3. The unfaithfulness to God, was marrying foreign women—who were unclean, committed abominations associated with idolatry (9:11-12; Deut 7:1-11)-which God specifically commanded them not to do! Their spiritual adultery is repeated 7 times underscoring the severity of their sin.
4. Drastic measures will be required to bring a corrective and remove the inevitable demise of this remnant. We see these measures are acted on through the distress of God-fearing Jews who demand a remedy.
These God-fearing Israelites initiate the plot to figure out a solution and then apply it to the situation before it is too late 1-6. We had an initial response of the faithful in chapter 9 but now an additional comment about Ezra’s weeping and falling down with the people weeping as well vs 1. So we see the deep distress revealed over the unfaithfulness of their fellow returnees. Entire families are weeping bitterly because of the loss of hope for the future with the inevitable consequence of this sin in Israel. There is nothing more bitterly to swallow than no hope!
A possible solution is brought forward in vs 2—one that is characterized, as ‘yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this’. This would certainly get the Faithfull’s attention. Hope? The very thing they had lost. The first step to restoring this hope was to reestablish their relationship with God. This is where it has all gone wrong for them. This is where the problem is and it must be addressed vs 3. The solution is to repent and obey God’s Law. Repentance is not just agreeing with God about the sin—that is confession. Repentance is correlating my actions with God’s will. Not just agreement about my disobedience but corrective measures that orient my life back toward the will of God. In this case, the proposal is making a covenant to put away all of these foreign wives and their children separating themselves form these according to the law!
This solution reveals a number of things. First, this solution emphasizes the significance of holiness—separation—and obedience to the Word of God. Instead of identifying with the unfaithfulness of their predecessors and their judgment, the Returnees can move from the guilt of the past and annihilation to a genuine hope for the future. Second, the faithfulness that God requires from His people demands that any idolatrous alliances be severed! God will not tolerate any rivals for the devotion of His people. Third, the law legislated that if a man’s wife entices him to idolatry he was not to spare her before the people but to stone her—both Solomon and Ahab refused to do so. In other words God regards faithfulness to Himself more important than these marriage relationships. Separation then provided a merciful remedy, which removed the inevitable spiritual danger to their households that jeopardized the entire community’s existence.
Ezra’s mournful paralysis is broken and encouraged to apply this remedy, he rises and requires all Israel to swear that they will comply vss 4-6! The distress of unfaithfulness to God leads to corrective decision to come back in to the will of God.
TURN FROM YOUR SIN AND RENEW YOUR COMMITMENT TO HOLINESS
This next scene recounts to elders’ proclamation of an assembly that all members of the congregation must attend under threat of banishment vss 7-8. This is the most serious situation and the people need to understand how serious. If not, then it will be as if you are exiled from the congregation, stripped of your possessions and left out on your own. I would suggest that this is the best way to always look at your sin. It is the most serious situation and requires drastic action to separate us from it. Jesus even says if your hand causes you to stumble cut it off and throw it away from you or if you eye causes you to stumble pluck it off and throw it away from you for entering life crippled or blinded is better than cast into eternal fire whole (Matt 18:8-9). The point is that sin has drastic consequences and we should take drastic action to deal with it by forcing physical, social, mechanical, relational, change in our lives that makes us deal with it. Just what these exiles are going to do about their sin!
Only four months had passed before the Returnees sin had come to light vs 9 informs us. Ezra addresses the people in a heavy downpour. The address is terse and to the point hitting several key themes in this episode. He addresses their blatant unfaithfulness having married these foreign wives vs 10. He mentions the adding to Israel’s guilt before God as a consequence. Obedience and separation are the other significant themes mentioned. They must confess their guilt to God and then do His will by separating form the peoples of the lands and their foreign wives vs 11. Their can be no holiness without separation from idolaters and this will hold out hope for the people.
The congregation unanimously affirms Ezra’s indictment vs 12-15. The condemnation of marriage with the peoples of the land united the returnee’s commitment to follow the will of God in this matter and through the repentance and separation renew the hope for the remnant to survive in the land and know the favor of God once again. The congregations assessment that their rebellion had brought the fierce anger of God upon them reinforces Ezra’s same conclusion at the end of his prayer in 9:14-15. Three months later the community is purified vss 16-17. The final verse 18-44 names over 100 men who married these foreign women and are filed by as the story concludes. This list serves as a permanent display of those who abandoned God. It is the literary equivalent of stringing them up before the public eye as a testimony to the seriousness of their sin. These were the guilty ones vs 19. Interesting that whereas in the first return, priests were forbidden to function until their lineage could be proven to be in compliance with the law, by the second return, priests head the list of those who had married foreign idolaters 10:18.
1. The supreme importance of holiness. Holiness is absolutely essential to the continuance of and well being of the Returnees. Like them, we must maintain our separation from the sinful practices and ways of our neighbors or we can expect God to discipline us today. It is one thing to have friendships with unbelievers but it is quite another to participate in their sinful ways.
2. Holiness is more important than even the closest human relationships like family and marriage. This is why the Bible stipulates that we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. It makes no sense for marriage between believers and unbelievers since the potential for disagreement is inevitable. Even so, an unbelieving spouse may be sanctified though the believing spouse, not saved, but is ‘being set apart’ and such a home is not Christian in the full sense but it is superior to a home totally unbelieving.
3. Holiness is an aspect of obedience to God’s Word. Separating from foreign idolatrous wives was in accordance to Gods Law. Holiness is, therefore, not primarily a matter of how one behaves on Sunday or whenever you gather together with other believers, but how one lives in every area of life. Your holiness, your separation from sin and sinfulness, is paramount to your spiritual life.
4. Holiness or unholiness of each person affects the entire body of Christ. Others will have to live with the consequences of your sin. What 113 men had done brought the entire community under the wrath of God. Our individual holiness is essential to keep the larger body of believers from living with those consequences. Your holiness contributes to the greater encouragement and spiritual vitality of those around you. Holiness in not just a corporate thing, it is an individual thing.