Today: [Ezra Chapter Ten] The Radicalized Obedience of Ezra. In this chapter Ezra stands before the city of Jerusalem and falling on his face lapses into a paroxysm of intercession. The sin of the city has pushed him past his composure. He is beside himself and he lays before thousands of curiosity seekers shrieking in intercessory spasms. Before he can regain his composure one of the princes of the city stands up and repents before the entire throng – and commands that a most dire solution be implemented that if you were called upon to do so today would find it almost impossible!
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[Ezr 10:1-44 KJV] 1 Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore. 2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, [one] of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. 3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 Arise; for [this] matter [belongeth] unto thee: we also [will be] with thee: be of good courage, and do [it]. 5 Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware.
In the previous chapter Ezra arrives from Babylon with a second group of returnees. He finds the city in disarray and the people lapsed into idolatry. The greatest challenge is that after 70 years since the first return the people including the Levites have intermarried with surrounding nations and adopted their pagan lifestyles. Today we live in a culture that holds cosmopolitan values of tolerance and diversity almost above all else. To be insular in your boundaries or borders is considered parochial and out of step. Yet throughout scripture – including the New Testament there is a clear theme of “come out from among them and be separate”. Separation from defined sinful elements is one of the highest values in scripture. In our culture this is almost impossible to all but the most determined believers and sadly many times only arises from a lapse into religious legalism which only denigrates the cause of Christ.
In Ezra’s situation the challenges are most dire. The princes of the city – the descendants of Zerubabbel himself – have dropped the totality of the problems in the city directly into Ezra’s lapse in effect saying “we have no answers – you deal with it …” He falls on his face and pulls out his hair crying out to God for answers. Thousands of people come out and gather around Ezra as he gasps and moans on the steps of the temple crying out to God in desperation. His prayer was so astounding that all the city was moved and stood silent and astonished before him. This was no “kum bye ya” prayer. This was heartfelt and soul wrenching intercession. In today’s world Ezra would have been put in a psychiatric ward for such a display but it wasn’t a mental break he was suffering from. The pangs of the Spirit of God were upon him in his compassion for the city and his love for God and the people.
Finally one of the men speaks up without Ezra doing one thing to point out the most egregious problem – as Ezra lay gasping in the paroxysms of intercession Shechaniah comes forward and says “we understand the problem Ezra – we will as an entire city put away our foreign wives and the children born to them…” Can you imagine standing at the outskirts of that crowd with your wife and children. The city leader is speaking for the whole crowd. He insists before a shrieking zealot prone upon the ground that to placate him in his emotional outburst that every man in the city will divorce his foreign wife and put their children away from them. You turn to look upon your wife and see the terror in her face and look at your little ones clinging to her skirts. Could you possibly do this? What right had Ezra to demand this of them? Make no mistake – this was no easy decision – after all doesn’t God hate divorce? Then to your further shock and astonishment Ezra suddenly stands up and dusts himself off and looks you and the entire crowd of thousands in the eye and says “swear to it that you will do this!”
6 Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib: and [when] he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away. 7 And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; 8 And that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away. 9 Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem within three days. It [was] the ninth month, on the twentieth [day] of the month; and all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of [this] matter, and for the great rain. 10 And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. 11 Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. 12 Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do. 13 But the people [are] many, and [it is] a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without, neither [is this] a work of one day or two: for we are many that have transgressed in this thing. 14 Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let all them which have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us.
Ezra stands up and holds the people bound by an oath to put away their foreign wives and the children born by them. To enforce the matter Ezra goes on a hunger strike until the thing is done. Elders are appointed and under threat of destroying all their property every citizen of Judea in and out of the city is commanded to come within three days and do this dreadful deed. Here we see the awful consequence of sin and the weighty, crushing demand of the law of Moses. Hearts will be broken. Make no mistake women and children will starve to death. Families will be uprooted. Lives will be forever changed. Children will grow up hating a father who made such a drastic decision at the behest of a shrieking zealot named Ezra.
We read these verses in our comfortable modern lifestyle and gloss right over the reality of what actually took place. Centuries later Jesus no doubt thought of these passages when He said:
[Mat 10:34-38 KJV] 34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes [shall be] they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
What does this mean for you. What changes would you make in your life to come into alignment with how the Holy Spirit might apply this in your circumstance? No one can dare say. There is no Ezra whose prayers are bringing the city to a halt on the steps of city hall. You can only tremble and realize that the vapid hypocrisy of modern Christianity would never survive the rigors of Ezra’s challenge before the people. It gives us pause and we look in vain for some sign that truly God is not requiring of these people what he obviously is exacting from them.
15 Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah were employed about this [matter]: and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them. 16 And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, [with] certain chief of the fathers, after the house of their fathers, and all of them by [their] names, were separated, and sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. 17 And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month. 18 And among the sons of the priests there were found that had taken strange wives: [namely], of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren; Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and Gedaliah. 19 And they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and [being] guilty, [they offered] a ram of the flock for their trespass. 20 And of the sons of Immer; Hanani, and Zebadiah. 21 And of the sons of Harim; Maaseiah, and Elijah, and Shemaiah, and Jehiel, and Uzziah. 22 And of the sons of Pashur; Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethaneel, Jozabad, and Elasah. 23 Also of the Levites; Jozabad, and Shimei, and Kelaiah, (the same [is] Kelita,) Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer. 24 Of the singers also; Eliashib: and of the porters; Shallum, and Telem, and Uri. 25 Moreover of Israel: of the sons of Parosh; Ramiah, and Jeziah, and Malchiah, and Miamin, and Eleazar, and Malchijah, and Benaiah. 26 And of the sons of Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Eliah. 27 And of the sons of Zattu; Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, and Jeremoth, and Zabad, and Aziza. 28 Of the sons also of Bebai; Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, [and] Athlai. 29 And of the sons of Bani; Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah, Jashub, and Sheal, and Ramoth. 30 And of the sons of Pahathmoab; Adna, and Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezaleel, and Binnui, and Manasseh. 31 And [of] the sons of Harim; Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchiah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, 32 Benjamin, Malluch, [and] Shemariah. 33 Of the sons of Hashum; Mattenai, Mattathah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, [and] Shimei. 34 Of the sons of Bani; Maadai, Amram, and Uel, 35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Chelluh, 36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 37 Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasau, 38 And Bani, and Binnui, Shimei, 39 And Shelemiah, and Nathan, and Adaiah, 40 Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 41 Azareel, and Shelemiah, Shemariah, 42 Shallum, Amariah, [and] Joseph. 43 Of the sons of Nebo; Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jadau, and Joel, Benaiah. 44 All these had taken strange wives: and [some] of them had wives by whom they had children.
No doubt when Ezra came from the banks of the river in Babylon he had no intention of walking into the city and becoming a part of such a monumental circumstance and situation. There was in Ezra’s case no opportunity to count the cost before hand to see if he was really willing to go all the way with God. In our world today we are the soul of compromise. Sacrifice and radicalized obedience is the last refuge of unstable minds and uninformed zealots. We hold ourselves to be citizens of the world – after all God is love He would never expect of us anything that would exact so great a cost! Yet in our haste to escape and shut out of our ears the shrieking moans of a downcast Ezra before an astonished people – the words of Jesus come to our ears:
[Mar 8:34-38 KJV] 34 And when he had called the people [unto him] with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
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