UNFINISHED HOPE | Week 7: Ruined Holiness - Restored Marriage
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ezra 9:1–10:44
Christopher Rich – November 5, 2017
UNFINISHED HOPE | EZRA-NEHEMIAH | Wk 7
Ruined Holiness – Restored Marriage | Ezra 9-10
Introduction | Ruined Holiness
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we continue UNFINISHED HOPE - Our Ruins His Restoration our sermon series looking at the books of EZRA-NEHEMIAH. Ezra is leading a mission of return and reforming to bring people back from exile to right relationship with God through covenant faithfulness. God’s people had three to four generations earlier made an initial return from earned exile because of the mercy of God. Earned because it was a just consequence of sin, mercy because it was God who saved them from captivity. That generation focused on restored worship directed to God, this one would focus on restored word from God. This was/is a necessary part of how God has set about renewal because we find that in the generations between Zerubbabel’s return to rebuild the temple and Ezra’s return to reestablish the gospel community the lives of the people did not line up with God’s word. God’s word, as it works for renewal through individuals and a community, begins to reveal areas of sin and miss alignment with God’s law He has given to His saved people for their flourishing. This can lead to complex situations when we see our lives are not being lived as God has intended. We find out God requires holiness and we are realistic about who we are. We know that because of sin in our lives and our story we have a Ruined Holiness
PART I | The Problem | 9:1-2
EZRA 9:1-2 | 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. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.”
Those who had returned with Zerubbabel 60 years earlier and some non-exiled leaders had intermarried with the “Peoples of the land”. This issue was revealed after 4-5 Months in Ezra’s work of reestablishing rhythms of studying, doing, teaching God’s word to the people is having an impact and effect. They have come to the realization they have acted in faithlessness to God and His word and the leadership has been the most egressions. We need the context of why this would be seen by them as an act of faithlessness. The Law said do not marry with other religions. This list is a veritable OT/ Exodus axis evil. These are hard core pagans with great idolatry, there were involved in slavery of God’s people, they were opponents of God’s ways, and some even participated in open child sacrifice. If there were clear “bad guys” early in the OT these were the guys. To be clear the issue is not one of the “holy race” being mixed but was one of purity of worship of God. This is not and should not every be taken to imply or apply that God and His people is somehow opposed to something as beautiful as interracial marriage. In fact, God has used in several occasions in the life of His people and the genealogy of Jesus to show His mission will be done through A people but is for the benefit of many peoples. You have Abraham with Hagar, Joseph with an Egyptian, Moses with a Midianite, Boaz with Ruth the Moabite, and King David. None of these guys are perfect but what you have is in each of these cases is relative “faithfulness” to the God of the Bible. They didn’t walk in the ways they had married into, they followed God and their brides followed them. According to Malachi, some of these guys had actually already divorced their Hebrew wives they had come from exile with and/or had as youth to “trade up” the economically more affluent daughters of the “people of the land”. So this wasn’t just a Romeo and Juliet forbidden love story, this is actually selfishness and sin pursuing short term happiness and/or gain at the expense of holiness and faithfulness. These men and leaders were about themselves and not God’s mission they had been called to. “Mixing” when leading to syncretism is what the spirit of the law is about. God’s law on this is for flourishing. A man and women in life long self-sacrificial commitment to one another as they worship the God who created them, has a great foundation for the flourishing in the lives of the two people, their kids/family, and out to the community. Conversely when you are misaligned on something so foundational as who is God? Who are we? How are we to respond to God in worship? It will lead to confusion and conflict for the couple, the kids, and can if not resolved have potential to impact the community. This plays out in instability and an ineffective mission.
Psalm 106:35-36 | 35 but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. 36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.
This is the issue the mixing wasn’t a racial issue but a worship one. The people who married with non-believers began to follow the unbelievers into wicked practice, false worship and death. This is what the leaders are coming to Ezra to confess. They’ve heard God’s word and see that The problem is sin.
PART II | The Reaction | 9:3-5
EZRA 9:3-5 | 3 As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. 5 And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God,
When the problem is sin, the reaction need to be serious. God takes sin very seriously. The destructive power of sin cannot be taken for granted. The pain caused from separation, brokenness is real. There is life, joy and flourishing lost from sin and death. Ezra takes sin seriously. There is a righteous anger and he is rightly appalled at the condition of God’s people. They have been saved to walk in new life and now they are walking in the same way that lead to exile in the first place. How leaders react to sin will impact how the rest of the people respond. Ezra’s response, while a bit demonstrative, is not contrived to get some great reaction but is deep and sincere. He identifies so closely with the people he’s called to lead that knowing they are walking in sin lead him to great pain. He tears HIS cloak, he pulls HIS hair and beard and sit appalled. He doesn’t go after them, yelling at them, attacking them, he grieves for them. How do you react to sin? Do you take it seriously? Do you grieve for and with people who are impacted by it?
PART III | The Prayer | 9:6-15
Ezra 9:6-15 | “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. 8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. 9 For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem. 10 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 11 which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’ 13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, 14 shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? 15 O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.”
This is a right and good prayer of confession. Ezra hasn’t participated in this sin but he does bear the pain of it for his people, like a good priest. Righteous guilt and shame for sin that is to lead to grief. Recognizes consequences for sin, we have been struck down, led by the sword into shameful captivity. We are now slaves, slaves to sin. Yet God is gracious to intervene to grant “reviving, repair of our ruins” and give us protection, brighten our eyes and give us some hope of a “secure hold within His holy place”. How have we responded? With more faithlessness, evil, rejection and rebellion. God is just, we cannot stand before a holy perfect God. We need His mercy and we need to repent. How do you pray when confronted with sin?
PART IV | The Solution | 10
Ezra 10:1-5 While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.2 And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. 3 Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. 4 Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” 5 Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath.
The sin confessed, still needs to be addressed. What actions need to be taken to move from faithlessness to faithfulness? They cannot simply say. Hey, we’re in sin here. Ok, sorry don’t do it again. There has to be a change. You have a very radical reaction and prescription that comes from those in the community.
Sin is complicated. Sin complicates what God has made to simple. No one likes complicated over simple. What’s your relationship status? “It’s complicated” I like “loved by Tara.” Sin breaks what has been made whole and it defiles what God has called to be clean. Sin cannot easily be undone so we as people, individuals, a community, and in leadership will face complex situations that have arisen because of sin in everyday life as we attempt to follow God in Holiness. This requires great wisdom, discernment, deep knowledge of God’s word both on meaning, intent, and application. All of this has to be done through a framework of the Gospel. That means that our pursuit of holiness cannot be one of graceless perfection, and our desire for happiness can cause us to have lawless license where we do what every we want.
In what ways has sin made your life more complicated where God has made it to be simple? Example, you drink to much, get a DUI and then have to blow into a breathalyzer to get your car started. Complicated.
Led by Shecaniah, there is a proposal on how to “fix” this. Only problem the solution was extreme. Shecaniah was given influence but he wasn’t one who would be affected by this decision. He wasn’t listed as one of the leaders who had intermarried. “Hey I know what those guys should do over there, they should have to divorce their foreign wives.” He was really serious about the sins of others, but there was a decided lack of empathy. His prescription values holiness (as God does) but doesn’t have mercy and graciousness as it’s leading values. He is really confident and black and white on something God’s word is not actually explicitly clear on. The Law doesn’t actually address this situation. It talks about not marrying in to other religions and ways in the first place, not what to do if you already have. To prescribe divorce was not explicit from the Mosaic law for these grounds in Deut 24 talks about spousal abandonment and/or adultery. There are always going to be situations cause by sin to that the law doesn’t explicitly address this means wisdom, counsel, prayer, empathy, and action are necessary. Their solution doesn’t lead to repair but more ruins. God’s mission is the restoration of relationship separated by sin. There is tremendous opportunity for the holiness of God and the purity of worship to be up held in ways that lead to great transformation of wives, spouses, children’s, families that have been outsiders to God’s people and work to experience what it means to be an “insider” of the people of God while remaining firm and clear on God’s commands, AND stays true to the Spirit of God’s mission in the world to and through His people.
They didn’t just do this haphazardly, they took time to sort this out, but they did execute this measure. There is this ominous scene of a great congregation of people sitting out in the early December rain trembling who have been drawn in/back to Jerusalem under threat of losing their property for the purpose of addressing what is now a community issue. They pray, Ezra’s desire is for holiness which is a good thing. They seek to know God’s word which is good, they adapt/apply in the context of community which is all good. People didn’t have to be coerced. They’re prayers of confession are genuine and humble. Motives and method of decision making are all good, but yet the outcome can still be a bit off and lacking. This happens. They make the value judgement collectively (with some objection from a few) that this is the lesser of two evils remain married and “unequally yoked” or divorce for purity of the people despite the violence and victims that will be caused. There is not a “thus says the Lord” and or “This is the will of the LORD.” This is important to understand that this narrative is descriptive in nature to what God’s people have done not prescriptive to what God’s people should now do. As we seek to take this as new covenant, Jesus people we need to see the greater context and teaching of scripture in any situation we may find ourselves in that is similar. How should we respond if we’re in marriage relationships with unbelievers?
1 Cor 7:12-15 | 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
Their solution didn’t lead to resolution or restoration, but greater regression. It didn’t led to “happily ever after” This affected real people! This chapter ends with a list of names, dozens of men who had lead their families but now have left their wives through divorce. Tears were shed, family legacies and communities impacted. The last verse hauntingly reminds us that children were rejected too. We need a better answer.
PART V | God’s Solution | Ephesians 1:7-10
Ephesians 1:7-10 | 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
We have to know who we are in the story. We’re the faithless husbands, and WE’RE the rejected wife and kids! We’re the perpetrators of AND victims of sin. God sees and knows the destruction, pain, and impact of sin in and on the lives of His people, His response in his perfect wisdom God knows God’s solution for sin is Jesus. God’s word to us in Jesus is to be the better perfect husband to the rejected and widow, and father to the orphan and the outcast. Jesus is the wisdom of God who both makes us holy and able to navigate everyday life with wisdom for holiness. God’s plan for the fullness of time is not divorce and separation but uniting us in holiness. God’s grace overrides the law so that we can be in renewed relationship with Him. We have ruined our holiness because of sin, God had restored it by Jesus bearing our sin in our place on the cross, and gifting us His righteousness. So God as He overrides the law is still just in fulfilling it. So we can now respond with confession of sin when necessary knowing that the greatest consequences of it have already been dealt with so we don’t have to fear separation but know confession leads to restoration. When there is sin our lives we can proceed with radical amputation and severance when necessary because we know that sin is serious and if not dealt with will destroy us. As we corporately and individually engage with complex issues that come from sin with no clear prescription from scripture we can respond with firmness and grace, through prayer, counsel, wisdom, and the word pursing charity and faithfulness always. We have great hope that our ruined holiness is not condemning us when we have our hope and identity not in our sin but how God has dealt with it for us In Christ.
There is one love that is good, perfect, holy, pure, brings joy in the midst of sorrow, never gives up despite our flaws, honors us created and crafted individuals and shapes us to be the better versions we've been intended to be, walks with us in trial, and gives self sacrificially, and most of all is a love that is relentlessly enduring. Jesus is the better and perfect husband to His bride (His people). He heals broken hearts, He endures our pain, He takes our rejection, He give us his perfection. He gives, hope, joy, and perfectly fulfills all His promises. He makes his bride the church Holy where we have been unholy so we Trust Jesus.