Ezra the priest was horrified. The people committed to his care were involved in a grave sin: “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites…have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” (Ezra 9:1a,2 NLT).
Throughout history, God had often warned Israel to separate themselves from the people of the land: “When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters…” Deut. 7:2,3 NLT).
This wasn’t because intercultural marriage, of itself, is bad; rather, it was because we have been warned: “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers.” (2 Cor. 6:14a NLTL). Why? Because, “How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14b NLT).
This was what was happening in Ezra’s day. The women from the foreign cultures brought with them the religious practices they had been raised with, and the men adapted them: “They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites.” (Ezra 9:1b). These women were turning God’s people away from God, and when the returned exiles of Israel disobeyed God by taking foreign wives, they proved that they loved these women more than they loved God Himself.
Fortunately, following Ezra’s heartfelt prayer (See Ezra 9:6-15), the people were convicted of their sin: “…Then the whole assembly raised their voices and answered, ‘Yes, you are right; we must do as you say!'” (Ezra 10:12 NLT). Not only did they admit they are wrong, but they put a plan into place for dealing with the problems: “So this was the plan they followed. Ezra selected leaders to represent their families, designating each of the representatives by name….By March 27, the first day of the new year, they had finished dealing with all the men who had married pagan wives.” (Ezra 10:16a,17 NLT).
I’m afraid that the church, world-wide to some degree, but most poignantly in North America, is also guilty of the same sin as the returned exiles of Jerusalem: We’ve taken “foreign wives”.
I’m not referring to marrying unbelievers, here. Rather, by “foreign wives”, I’m refering to our love of the American dream and our pursuit of personal happiness. These “loves” have succeeded in causing us to pursue the wordly passions of materialism, self-advancement and covetousness. We’ve completely lost track of Godly, selfless love, and as a result of becoming lovers of the world, we cannot be effective servants of God. Jesus Himself said, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt. 6:24 NLT). God calls us to love one another as we love ourselves; but if we are lovers of the world, how can we truly obey this command?
Like Israel of old, we are called to put away our “foreign wives” and return to right living. We are called to return to God’s ways, to love selflessly, the way God loves us. Only then can we become a force that the devil will be afraid to contend with. Only then will we be able to completely and thoroughly live our lives the way God intended them to be lived. Only then will we be the fruitful witnesses that Jesus commands us to be: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20 NLT).
But wait. It’s easy to say we’re complacent, to admit that we don’t love selflessly, that we’ve blinded ourselves to the harsh realities of this world; but how do we break out of this pattern?
The answer is two-fold: First and foremost, we must, on a personal basis, reconnect ourselves to the Vine (See John 15). We need to spend time with God. We need to confess our sins of apathy and complacency. We need to ask God to help us learn to love the way He loves, to flow His pure, selfless love through us to a lost and hurting world. It is only by fixing our eyes upon Jesus, our ultimate example (See Heb. 12:1), that we will be able to put off our “foreign wives” of apathy, of materialism and self-advancement, of complacency; that we will be able to live lives completely devoted to God; that we will become the effective witnesses for Him that He calls us to be (See Matt. 28:18-20).
Once we, ourselves, have put off our “foreign wives” by renouncing our own pursuite of riches and worldly happiness, we must do what Ezra did when he heard about the sin of the people: “At the time of the sacrifice, I stood up from where I had sat in mourning with my clothes torn. I fell to my knees and lifted my hands to the Lord my God. I prayed…” (Ezra 9:5,6a NLT), and Ezra 9:6b-15 goes on to record Ezra’s heartfelt prayer for the people.
Will you join me in purifying your own lives and in praying the Ezra prayer for the church? Please email me if you will.
In His love,
Lynona Gordon Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two, Author — “Aboard God’s Train — A Journey With God Through the Valley of Cancer”, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries. Follow Lyn on Twitter @lynchaffart.