Sin and Repentance – Ezra 9–10

Read the Passage: Ezra 9-10

Sin of the Nation (9:1–2)

When God first established Israel as a nation, He repeatedly warned the people about the dangers of intermarriage with pagan nations. At Deut. 7:1–5 God specifically forbid His people from marrying Canaanites, writing, “Nor shall you make marriages with [the pagans] . . . For they will turn your sons away from Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly” (Deut. 7:3–4). Indeed, the prospect of the Jews intermarrying with foreigners and being led spiritually astray is one of the reasons God gave for the so-called Canaanite genocide (cf. Exod. 34:10–16; Num. 33:55; Deut. 20:16–18). Furthermore, idolatry stemming from intermarriage with pagans was one of the reasons for the Babylonian captivity. It is understandable, then, that when Ezra learned that some of the Jews had intermarried with Canaanites, he was distraught.

News about the Jews’ intermarriage with Canaanites reached Ezra almost immediately upon his arrival in Jerusalem. While this information was very upsetting, even more disturbing was the fact that the priests and the Levites were participating in this sin (cf. Ezra 9:1). Indeed, Ezra 9:2 records, “The hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass.” As was noted above, one main problem with inter-spiritual marriage—whether among common people or the leaders—was the temptation to idolatry. However, an even greater problem in Ezra’s estimation was that “the holy seed is [being] mixed with the peoples of those lands” (Ezra 9:2). The concern here is that Israel was looking forward to a promised Jewish Messiah (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17, 19). Logically speaking, if all of the Jews intermarried and were assimilated into the pagan cultures around them, then there could be no Jewish Messiah. This is what concerned Ezra.

Reaction of Ezra (9:3–15)

Ezra’s reaction to news of Israel’s sin was dramatic. Ezra writes, “When I heard this thing, I tore my garments and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down in astonishment. . . . I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice” (Ezra 9:3–4). This outward reaction was an expression of inward mourning. As a part of his deep grief, Ezra offered a prayer of deep lament before God. There are four main sections to Ezra’s sorrowful prayer: first, Ezra’s adopted a posture of shame and humility (cf. Ezra 9:5–7); second, Ezra recognized God’s past mercy and grace to Israel (cf. Ezra 9:8–9); third, Ezra admitted the present sin and guilt of the nation (cf. Ezra 9:10–13); and fourth, Ezra uttered a heartfelt statement of helplessness and inability (cf. Ezra 9:14–15). This prayer of lament is noteworthy, as Ezra does not petition God for anything; rather, he appears simply before God in humility.

Sorrow of the People (10:1–44)

As was reported in the previous chapter, Ezra was distraught over the peoples’ sins. It is remarkable that while Ezra was praying, the transgressors appeared before him to repent. Ezra 10:1–17 records several acts that not only demonstrated that the peoples’ repentance was genuine on this occasion, but also are marks of repentance that can be emulated by all believers. Note, for example, the presence of contrition as the people wept over their sin (cf. Ezra 10:1); confession as the people admitted their sin (cf. Ezra 10:1, 11a); recognition, as the people admitted Ezra’s spiritual authority (cf. Ezra 10:4, 11b); restoration, as the people addressed the affects of their sin (cf. Ezra 10:3, 16–17); admission, as the people publicly recognized their sin (cf. Ezra 10:5, 12–14); and submission, as the people willingly listened to and placed themselves under Ezra’s spiritual care (cf. Ezra 10:7–10).

It is interesting to note that despite the widespread, public sorrow that is reported in Ezra 10:1–17, there was still dissent and resistance to repentance from some. In fact, Ezra 10:17 records the names of four men who disagreed with the plan to put away their foreign wives. Yet, the vast majority of those who had taken pagan wives did repent and separate from their wives. Indeed, Ezra 10:18–44 contains a list of 113 men—including priests, Levites, singers, and other leaders—who repented and put away their foreign wives. Observe that this act of “putting away” (Ezra 10:3, 19) pagan wives or “separating from” (Ezra 10:11) them was not divorce in the modern sense of the term, as unique words are used here. Indeed, it is likely that these men continued to care for their wives and children (cf. Ezra 10:44), the difference being that they ceased sexual relations to avoid mixing “the holy seed” (Ezra 9:2).

Application Questions:

  1. Given the good news of Israel’s return from exile, why does Ezra include several narratives about the sin and failures of God’s people?
  2. What is the difference between interracial marriage and inter-spiritual marriage? Was Ezra’s concern in this passage valid?
  3. What ought we to do when we are overwhelmed and simply do not know how to pray before God (cf. Rom. 8:26–27)?
  4. What is the difference between worldly sorrow that leads to death, and godly sorrow that leads to life (cf. 2 Cor. 6:8–10)?
  5. Given that God hates divorce (cf. Mal. 2:16), was the peoples’ plan to put away their foreign wives a good solution to the problem of inter-spiritual marriage?