Ezra and the world

The Jews were exiled to Babylon between 605 and 586 BC. The first deportation should have served as a warning to the nation, but their continued rebellion to God resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and final exile of the Jews by Nebuchadnezzar in 586.

Seventy years after the first deportation, in keeping with Jeremiah’s prophecy, the Jews began to return. This return and the subsequent rebuilding of the temple occupy Ezra 1-6. In rebuilding the temple, the Jews were enticed to cooperate with the Samaritans, descendants of the remnants of Israel and intermixed with other nations who worshipped the true God and many false gods as well. The leaders of the Jews in the first return strongly rejected this entanglement, though it cost them years in rebuilding the temple:

Ezra 4:3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.”

After 20 years, the temple finally was rebuilt. Another fifty-seven years passed. Now Ezra led a second return to the land. Did he find a holy people, separate from the world?

Well, no.

Instead Ezra discovered his people, throughout the whole society, had intermarried with the nations around them. This was from the priests, the leaders of the people, the Levites, and included the common people as well. There were so many of them that the resolution of each compromised family took three months. Each family situation was judged and resolved individually. You can read the account in Ezra 9-10.

The problem is described this way:

Ezra 9:1 Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites.

The accusation laid at the feet of Judah was that their entanglement with the people of the land was once again exposing them to ‘their abominations’. In other words, the risk was a renewed entanglement in the idolatry of the past, for which the nation had been judged by the Babylonian exile. How had this come about?

Ezra 9:2 “For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.”

The Jews involvement with the world in this case was at the level of their most intimate personal relationships – their homes and marriages.

The reaction of Ezra was swift and stern – the foreign wives had to be put away. For the sake of pure religion and separation from the corrupt culture of the world God apparently permitted divorce to take place under the leadership of his man, Ezra. I say apparently because we have no prophetic commentary concerning God’s will on the matter. We only have the fact that God saw fit to have these actions recorded in two chapters of inspired Scripture. We also have the fact that Nehemiah later confronted the same situation and asked God to remember him for good (Neh 13.31).

How serious was this matter? The book of Ezra closes with these sober words:

Ezra 10:44 All these had married foreign wives, and some of them had wives by whom they had children.

God takes worldliness so seriously that he suffered the breakup of homes with children in this case.

How seriously do you think we should take our entanglements with the culture of the world today?



  1. I’m going to play devil’s advocate. So we don’t marry unbelievers. That’s all that’s here, right?

  2. Oh yes, that’s all that’s here, just move along!!

    Well, no, that’s not the point. And I don’t think I want to create a Christian policy of divorcing an unbelieving spouse, either. (If they depart, that’s a different story, see 1 Cor 7.)

    The point is that God is teaching us by this example how much he hates entanglement with the idolatrous world system. The application for us would certainly include no marriage with unbelievers, but there are other ramifications. We should be serious about avoiding entanglements with the world, especially intimacy with idolatry.

    The idols of our world repay with the same thrills of the idols of Canaan – sex, wealth, cheap thrills from violence, etc. Where do we find the idols of our world? In the movie theatre, in the music world, in the culture of celebrity, in the sports arena, in all kinds of avenues. The spiritually minded Christian marks and avoids all kinds of entanglements here.

    Please note that I am not condemning all movies, all music, etc. But this is where the idols of this world reside and this is where the Christian needs to be most on guard and discerning.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3