1. Exposition

Why were the people of Israel living in sin?

Ezra 9:1–2 (ESV)

1 After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.

In Ezra 7:1–28 we learned that Ezra wanted to go back to the city of Jerusalem and that the Persian king sent him to ensure proper worship was taking place and the people were living in obedience to God’s law. However, the question of why Ezra had to return to the city was not explicitly answered. There were already priests and Levites in Jerusalem (Ezra 2:36–63). These men could teach God’s law to his people. So why was it necessary for Ezra to be sent to the city?

Ezra 9:1–2 provides us with an answer. It’s been fifty-seven years since the completion of the second temple, and in that time the priests and the Levites drifted away from the teaching of God’s Word. The men who were responsible for teaching God’s Word were leading God’s people into sin.

It’s easy to imagine how such a situation came about. The exiles are a small group of people scattered over a wide area. They have come back into a land that is inhabited by men and women who come from outside of Israel. Moabites, Edomites, Egyptians, lots of people have been displaced from their traditional homelands. Jerusalem is most probably a cosmopolitan city. As a result, there is a lot of pressure on the people and the leaders especially to adjust their teaching and practices to be more and more inclusive. The Israelites want to get along with their neighbours, they want to fit in with the world around them, they want to show everyone just how relevant and enlightened they are. No one wants to look foolish in the eyes of the world, no one wants to be labelled as a fundamentalist. What normally happens in such a situation, unless God graciously intervenes, is that the leaders find a way of adjusting God’s Word to fit in with the trends of the day.

The exiles living in Jerusalem were being led astray by the priests and the Levites. Thankfully, however, the Lord intervened. With the arrival of Ezra, a man who had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to do it (Ezra 7:10), it has now been four months in which God’s Word has been carefully and faithfully explained. Gradually, God’s people have been exposed to God’s truth. Ezra has been teaching them from the law of God (Ezra 8:25), he has been establishing magistrates and judges, and in this process a group of officials has come to realize its sin.

Maybe Ezra had recently preached to them from Deuteronomy 7:1–26, where God says that there is no room for mixed marriages. God wants his people to be holy; they must marry only in the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:39; ?). This does not mean they can only marry people who look like them. The focus of the commandment is not on ethnicity but religion. The people of Israel must separate themselves from ungodly pagan practices, they must not be yoked together with those who hate the Lord. (The same principle remains true for Christians today: Christians believers must only marry other Christian believers.)