This is our last day in the book of Ezra and I keep thinking to myself, “Who is Ezra?” Yes, I have read the story. I understand some of it, but not all of it. I think there are many wonderful principals that apply to us, and some of the storyline seems harsh and perhaps falls into a cultural awareness category. Who is Ezra?
Ezra was a prophet who came to prominence after the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah (which we will begin tomorrow) were one book. In the Old Testament, they are divided into two books, but have a similar storyline and timeline. The books cover the period of the fall of Babylon to the second half of the 5th century. During this timeline there were three men, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbable who led mission efforts to restore Jerusalem, the Temple, and the faith of the people.
I think it is helpful as we read through the story of Ezra to think of the “heart” behind the problems. One of the main problems was that the Israelites had intermarried with other people groups, even though they were forbidden to do so. Lest you think this was a prejudiced decision, we need to examine the why behind this rule. In those days, the people groups were divided according to religion and family groups, more than physical distinguishing qualities. When they intermarried, they took on the religious beliefs of their spouse. They may have kept some of the faith of their forefathers, but they mixed it with the belief and practices of the spouse. They committed idolatry and worshipped false gods and became spiritually connected to a false religion. This command was not a prejudiced command, nor an isolationist command, but it was a faithfulness command—a faithfulness of worship command.
At first glance, it may appear that God wanted the people to be isolationists, which is not really the case. He did want them to be separate—different from the ungodly world around them—but most of all, He wanted them to be faithful to Him. He loved them with a jealous love—though not in a sinful sense, of course. And that jealous love for people is what prompted Him to send His only Son to die for those He so dearly loved. That was the only way they were ever going to be capable of faithfulness.
For it is by grace, you have been saved, through faith, and it’s not from yourselves, it is a gift of God. Ephesians 2:8
And though God wants us to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world (James 1:27), he wants us to love the world and all the people in it. If we are faithful to Him, we will faithfully love others. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. One day, we will see just how loving and un-prejudiced God is when this comes to fruition:
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!”