Ezra 9

EZRA CHAPTER 9

Ezra Intercedes for the Holy Race (9:1 – 10:44)

        • ESV Study Bible, “Ezra discovers that the Jewish community has mixed with idolatrous non-Jewish groups in religion and in marriage, and he leads the community in an act of repentance and in a systematic separation from the foreign women and their children.”

Ezra’s Prayer Concerning Pagan Intermarriage

      • After these things had been completed, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the local residents whose detestable practices are like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. Indeed, they have married women from these people and taken them as wives for their sons so that the holy race has intermingled with the local residents. Worse still, the leaders and the officials have been at the forefront of this unfaithfulness!”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The events that follow took place approximately four months after Ezra’s arrival (cp 7:9; 10:9).”

        • On the “local residents” or as some translations render “the peoples of the lands,” ESV Study Bible explains, “They are further identified as idolatrous nations, for the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites…and the Amorites are among the seven nations that Israel was commanded by Moses to drive out of the land (see Deut 7:1-5). The Ammonites and Moabites were nations east of the river Jordan, outside the Promised Land, who were regarded as especially hostile to Israel (Deut 23:3-4). And in Lev 18:3, Egypt is regarded as morally equal to Canaan. The peoples of the land who keep themselves distinct from the returned temple-community are thus portrayed as the same in principle and in character as these ancient enemies. These are specifically wives (Ezra 9:2) of foreign nations who had not abandoned their worship of other gods, for 6:21 makes it clear that such people could join the people of Israel if they were willing to follow the Lord God alone…Their abominations…refers to these peoples’ worship of other gods and the associated practices that Yahweh, God of Israel, regarded as particularly wicked (Deut 12:31). It is implied that the foreigners’ religions in Ezra’s day were just as idolatrous as in ancient times, and thus it is clear that the issue is not ethnic purity (cf Ezra 6:21). Intermarriage with the indigenous population carried the danger of religious apostasy, and therefore was expressly forbidden by the law (Deut 7:3). The holy race…is literally ‘holy seed/offspring’ and alludes to the ‘offspring’ of Abraham, who bore the ancient promise of covenant and land (Gen 12:1-3; 15:5; 17:7-8). The ‘holy seed’ was also seen in prophecy as the surviving remnant that would be brought to life again after the terrible judgment of the exile (Isa 6:13). The involvement of all classes of the community- the priests, the Levites, and the people of Israel…, as well as the officials and chief men…shows that the problem included all the people. The term faithlessness (Hb ma’al…) is an extremely strong expression for abandonment of the faith, especially by leaders (see 1 Chron 10:13, where it is translated ‘breach of faith’).”

        • NIV Cultural Study Bible points out that, “The ‘peoples of the lands’ included the pagan newcomers brought into Samaria by the Assyrians, as well as the Edomites and others who had encroached on former Judahite territories. The eight groups listed designate the original inhabitants of Canaan before the Hebrew conquest…Only the Ammonites, Moabites, and Egyptians were still extant in the postexilic period (cf 2 Chr 8:7; Ne 9:8)…”

        • It is true that, historically, some Christians have incorrectly used these passages to support the unbiblical idea that interracial marriage is a sin. In light of that, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible also includes this very beneficial clarification section:

          • Marriage with foreigners as such was not prohibited in the Torah. Joseph was given an Egyptian wife, Asenath (Gen 41:45). Moses married both Zipporah, a Midianite (Ex 2:16-21), and a Cushite woman (Nu 12:1). Ruth, a Moabite (Ru 1:4), had an honored place in Jesus’ genealogy (Mt 1:5). There was, however, always the danger that marriage with non-Israelite women could lead to apostasy, as in the case of the numerous foreign wives of Solomon (1 Ki 11:1-3). Malachi, who prophesied in the early fifth-century BC, prior to Ezra’s mission, indicates in Mal 2:10-16 that some Jews had broken off marriage to their wives to marry women who worshiped a ‘foreign god’ (Mal 2:11).

        • The situation for the returning exiles was probably aggravated by demographic and economic factors. A large proportion of the newcomers returning from exile were males, who perhaps would have had difficulty finding Jewish wives. Though the actions of Ezra and later Nehemiah may strike some readers as harsh, the measures taken were more than racial or cultural; they were felt necessary to preserve the spiritual heritage of Israel. Both from the principle and from exceptions to the rule, warnings against intermarriage were clearly concerned not so much about racial intermarriage as about spiritual adulteration.”

      • When I heard this report, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked. Everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me, because of the unfaithfulness of the exiles, and I sat there appalled until the time of the evening sacrifice.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “Ezra expresses his deep dismay by performing ritual acts of mourning. His severe reaction results from the fact that the ‘holy race’ has compromised its newly won salvation by returning to the sins that had brought judgment in the first place.” On the phrase “trembled at the words of the God of Israel,” the same source continues, “An expression for pious eagerness to obey God, and respect for his holiness (cf Isa 66:2).”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The time of the evening sacrifice was around 3:00 PM.”

        • Guzik remarks, “Ezra had just finished a dangerous four-month journey from Babylonia to Jerusalem. He had perhaps over-romanticized the spiritual commitment of the return-from-exile pioneers and had expected to find something completely different than the culture of compromise that he found.”

      • Then, at the evening sacrifice, I got up from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, fell to my knees, spread out my hands to Yahweh my God, and prayed:

        • NET Bible notes, “The Hebrew word used here is a hapax legomenon. It refers to the self-abasement that accompanies religious sorrow and fasting.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible points out, “Ezra’s prayer (vv. 6-15) provides a model for intercessory prayer (cp Neh 1:5-11); Dan 9:4-19). It includes confessing sin (Ezra 9:6-7), remembering God’s past grace (9:8-9), admitting that the people have ignored God (9:10-12), and recognizing their unworthiness (9:13-15).”

        • O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, because our iniquities are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached the heavens! From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our iniquities, we and our kings and priests have been handed over to the kings of the surrounding lands, the sword, captivity, plundering, and humiliation- right up to the present time.

          • ESV Study Bible: “Ezra confesses sin on behalf of the covenant community, beginning with the historic sins of Israel that had led to the Babylonian exile. These two strong terms (Hb ‘awon, ‘iniquity,’ and ‘ashmah, ‘guilt’) are each repeated twice here. Ezra recognizes the justice of the punishment of the exile. The days of our fathers, that is, the time before the exile (see Zech 1:4). The terms sword, captivity, plundering, and shame sum up the disasters experienced by the people because they failed to keep the covenant, and bring to mind the covenantal consequences for disobedience noted in Lev 26:14-39 and Deut 28:15-68 (cf 2 Kings 17:20; Jer 24:9-10).”

        • But now, for a brief moment, Yahweh our God has been gracious in that He has left us a remnant, and a secure position in His holy place. He has brightened our eyes and granted us some relief from our bondage. Even though we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our bondage. He has extended His steadfast love to us in the sight of the Persian kings, in that He has revived us to restore the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and He has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.

          • ESV Study Bible writes, “Ezra refers to the time since Cyrus’s edict. This was nearly a century, but was short in the sweep of Israel’s history. The idea of a remnant could be attached to notions of God’s judgment, for it can refer to a small remnant left afterward, or to the subject of renewed punishment (see Isa 6:13a; 10:22; Jer 24:8). But prophets also spoke positively of a remnant who would repent and be restored after the purifying judgment of exile, and who would continue to bear the identity and destiny of Israel (see Isa 10:20-21; Jer 24:4-7 also has the idea, though not the term). Ezra applies the term to the returned exiles (as does Nehemiah [Neh 1:2]). [His holy place] refers narrowly to the temple and more broadly to the land and Judah. The idea that the exiles remain slaves is unexpected after their restoration to the land, but acknowledges that they are still under the foreign authority of Persia (see Neh 9:36-37). Therefore, the favorable view of Persia thus far does not prevent the exiles’ aspiration to complete freedom. Even so, even though they are under this foreign authority, God has shown steadfast love, the special quality of love that characterizes his attachment to Israel in the covenant, and that he expects in return (Hos 6:6).”

        • On Ezra’s reference to the Persian kings, ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “By now, most of Persia’s monarchs have shown favor to the Jews. For example, Cyrus II decreed that the Jews were to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple (Ezra 1), a decree repeated by Darius I (Ezra 6). The Elephantine papyri record how Cambyses II showed kindness to Jews residing in Egypt. Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) approved wide-ranging Jewish freedoms in his empire (Esther 8-10), and now Artaxerxes I has continued these practices (Ezra 7).”

        • On Ezra’s mention of the “protective wall,” NLT Illustrated Study Bible clarifies, “This phrase refers to God’s presence protecting the nation of Judah, not the physical walls of Jerusalem, which were rebuilt several years later by Nehemiah.”

        • But now, our God, what can we say after this? We have abandoned Your commandments which You gave us through Your servants, the prophets, saying: ‘The land that you are entering to possess is an impure land, defiled by the impurities of the local residents. They have filled it from one end to the other with their impurity and detestable practices. Therefore, do not let your daughters marry their sons, and don’t let your sons marry their daughters. Never seek their peace or their prosperity, so that you may be strong and eat the good things the land produces, and leave it as an inheritance to your children forever.’

          • On these verses (10-12) ESV Study Bible says, “Ezra alludes to Deut 7:1-5 and the present community’s breach of its prohibition of intermarriage. Ezra uses language from the ‘holiness’ vocabulary to stress the incompatibility of the indigenous people’s way of life and worship with that mandated by the holy God.”

          • HCSB writes, “Ezra’s recitation of scriptural injunctions is not a verbatim quote of a specific passage. But this should not be construed to mean that he didn’t know the precise language of the passages to which he referred. Nor should his loose wording be construed to mean that he didn’t believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture. The text gives no indication that Ezra though he was quoting a specific passage or that he was trying to. Ezra was expressing what he understood to be the meaning of God’s instructions regarding intermarriage. At times, he quoted God’s instructions verbatim. At other times he paraphrased them.”

        • Everything that has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt. Even so, our God, You have punished us less than our iniquities deserved, and have allowed a remnant to survive. Shall we then break Your commandments once again and intermarry with these peoples who commit these detestable practices? Would You not become so angry with us that You would destroy us, leaving no survivors? O Yahweh, God of Israel, You are just, because we survive as a remnant today. Here we are before You with our guilt, though no one can stand in Your presence because of this.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible points out, “God’s anger with sin is based on his justice and holiness.”

        • ESV Study Bible notes, “Ezra knows that God is both just and merciful…The very existence of the postexilic remnant proves his mercy; yet equally God would be justified in bringing renewed judgment on the sinful people. The prayer serves as a petition for mercy, and it prompts Ezra and his close associates to turn the people from their sin.”

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