************ Sermon on Ezra 9:2 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 27, 2001

Ezra 9
Ezra 9:2

This week's issue of "Newsweek" magazine has a cover story on the changing face of the American family entitled "Unmarried, With Children." From our point-of-view as Christians the family is in crisis. Half of all kids will be spending part of their life in single-parent homes. Many people opt to live together and have children rather than get married and have children. And, then, after a few years they split up and someone new moves into the home. What happens is the average kid becomes confused as a succession of different adults serve as father or mother figures.

In the midst of this crisis and assault upon the family and family values we, as Christians, should uphold and honor marriage.

Ezra speaks to us this evening about choosing a marriage partner. He tells us what to look for in a spouse.

I No Marriage to Unbelievers
A Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in 458 B.C. His aim was to bring about renewal and reform in the spiritual life of God's people. From every indication this was badly needed.

Let's review for a moment the historical setting to the book of Ezra. In 586 B.C. the Lord God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar, for the third time, to conquer Judah because of His people's covenant disobedience. At that time the Temple and palaces were burned down, the wall of Jerusalem was torn down, and anything of value was either carried away or destroyed. The land was left desolate. Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile the royal family, the nobility, the religious leaders, the artisans, and the craftsmen. He left behind only the poor and uneducated.

Then in 538 B.C. Cyrus, king of Persia, issued a decree allowing all exiles in his kingdom to return to their countries and rebuild the sanctuaries of their gods (2 Kings 36:23; Ezra 1:2-4). However, not all the Jews took advantage of this opportunity to return to Palestine. For instance, the richest and most prosperous of the exiles, in disobedience to the covenant, stayed behind in their places of exile because they were satisfied with conditions, enjoyed a great amount of freedom, and did not wish to uproot their successful businesses. By and large, this meant that the returning exiles were those from among the lower levels of Jewish society: the poor, uneducated, and unskilled; this also meant that those who did return were too poor, ill-equipped, and ill-prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of rebuilding Judah.

When these Jewish exiles returned to the Promised Land they found, to their dismay, that the land was now populated by heathen foreigners. But because the returning exiles were so poor and ill-equipped, they were to a large extent dependent upon the help and good-will of these foreigners. They found it impossible to exclude all contact with them.

The pagan foreigners, of course, worshiped other gods and did not observe Jewish dietary rules, the Sabbath laws, and the like. In order to peacefully coexist with these pagan neighbors the temptation was strong for the returning exiles to compromise on their principles and to accept or at least go along with their pagan neighbor's way of life.

B One such compromise was intermarriage. The leaders of the people came up to Ezra and told him,
(Ezra 9:1-2) "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices ... (2) They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness."

Through Moses, God had instructed His people about intermarriage with the people of Palestine:
(Deut 7:3-4) Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, (4) for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (cf Ex 34:16)

This prohibition against intermarriage was true not only for God's Old Testament people but for His New Testament people as well: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers," says the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 6:14).
Topic: Marriage
Subtopic: Unequal Yoke
Index: 1620-1621
Date: 5/2001.101

The image here is of a double yoke under which two animals work side by side. A yoke is a wooden frame used to tie two animals together so they could pull heavy loads evenly. It is almost certain that the Spirit-inspired Apostle had Deuteronomy 22:10 in mind here: "Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together." Two animals as different as the ox and donkey just cannot work together as a team because they are different in temperament, speed, strength, and endurance.
The apostle is telling us that what is true for the ox and the donkey is also true for the Christian and non-Christian they can't be yoked together in marriage because they are so different from each other that there is no way they can work together as a team. Through the image of the yoke, then, the Christian is told not to have any permanent or close relationships with unbelievers. There are to be no deep friendships or relationships between the believer and the non-Christian and, this includes dating too.

C Ezra was "appalled" that some of his fellow believers married outside of the "holy race" and united themselves to unbelievers. As a sign of his distress and grief he tore his tunic and cloak and pulled hair from his head and beard. Ezra was appalled because this was in disobedience to God's commands. Ezra loved the Lord and was hurt when God's people ignored God's will for their lives.

Like Ezra, we too should be appalled at the sin of intermarriage. Certainly, Christian parents should never encourage it.
Topic: Marriage
Subtopic: Unequal Yoke
Index: 1620-1621
Date: 5/2001.101

I remember a mother in the first church of which I was a pastor; she didn't care who her daughters married whether they be in or out of the church, whether they be believers or unbelievers as long as they married someone with money.
I trust that none of the parents in this church have such a detestable attitude; I hope that all the parents here encourage their sons and daughters to consider only Christians as suitable marriage partners and that they pray about this.

D As the returning exiles found out, this does not mean there can be no contact with the unbelieving for that would mean total withdrawal from the world something not even the horse and buggy Amish have accomplished. Daily commerce and trade, trips to the grocery store, medical care, and so forth, all necessitate some contact. We also have to remember the command of Christ to the church to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). In obedience to this command God's people must have contact with the unbelieving. But this contact cannot be in the form of permanent, close, and deep relationships.

E God's people, then, are not to marry unbelievers. They are not to marry outside of "the holy race." Rather, they are to marry a fellow believer. This is true for Old Testament believers and it is true for New Testament believers as well. Again I think of what the Apostle Paul says:
(1Cor 7:39) A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.
Christian men and women are not free to marry or consider marriage to just anyone; only fellow believers are suitable candidates.

In choosing a marriage partner, many factors are considered. Of course background is considered for a lot of potential problems are eliminated if we choose someone from the same kind of background. We also look for someone we are attracted to, someone who will meet our needs, someone with whom we can love and be loved, someone we feel comfortable with, someone we wouldn't mind spending the rest of our life with. Most of all, though, we must look for someone who is a fellow believer.

When we look for a marriage partner, then, we have to look for a Christian, for someone who is in Christ, for someone who is a faithful member of the church.

II The Purity of the Holy Race
A Why does God forbid intermarriage between a believer and unbeliever? To answer this question we have to first understand the special place and function given by God to His people. In our text, God's people are called "the holy race."
Topic: Church
Subtopic: Analogies of
Index: 4142
Date: 5/2001.101
Title: The Holy Race

In his book on South Africa James Michner presented the Afrikaners as being "the holy race" a term used to forbid any intermingling of the races and to justify discrimination against blacks and coloreds. In South Africa, according to Michner, membership in "the holy race" was open only to those who could trace physical descent and blood lines back to the original Dutch settlers.
In the Bible, "the holy race" is not a physical but rather a spiritual description. Membership is open to anyone who believes and is not dependent on blood lines and physical descent.

At Mount Sinai the Lord pronounced His people to be "the holy race" when He said,
(Ex 19:5-6) Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, (6) you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
This indicates a people who are set apart. The Israelites are "the holy race" because of all the peoples on earth they alone have been called out by God to be His people.

Speaking to the New Testament people of God, the Apostle Peter uses similar language to describe their place or position:
(1Pt 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God ...
God's people, in other words, are set apart; by grace through faith they are called out of the world to be separate from all others. We are reminded of this every time someone is baptized. To receive the water of baptism on the forehead is to receive the mark of God; baptism shows that we have been set apart as being holy, as belonging to the Lord.

B God, of course, has a purpose in setting apart for Himself a people. Israel was "the holy race" in order to serve God, to carry His revelation, to be a light to the nations and peoples surrounding her (Is 42:6). As for the church,
(1Pt 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Why are we set apart? We have not been set apart to feel good about ourselves or our loved ones, nor have we been set apart for self-congratulation, nor have we been set apart so we can think we are better than others. We are set apart for missions, for outreach, for evangelism, for witnessing, to do the work of God.

This means that the group of exiles who had returned to Judah were an elect group with a special mission to serve the Lord.

C To carry out this mission as God's people it is necessary they keep themselves pure and uncontaminated. How can Israel be a light to the nations, how can the church declare the Lord's praises, if it is no longer separate and different from the world?

Jesus tells us that the church is the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (Mt 5:13,14).
(Mt 5:13) But if the salt loses its saltiness ... it is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
And, by definition, light is the opposite of darkness or else it wouldn't be light.
Topic: Worldliness
Subtopic: Warnings against
Index: 3914
Date: 12/1997.1497
Title: Keep Them Separated

A farmer went each week to the Farmers' Market to sell, among other things, the cottage cheese and apple butter made on his farm. He carried these in two large tubs, from which he ladled the cottage cheese or apple butter into smaller containers the customers brought. One day he got to the market and discovered he'd forgotten one ladle. He felt he had no choice but to use the one for both products. Before long he couldn't tell which was which.
That's the way it is when God's people lose their separateness and become like the world they no longer have anything to offer.

D The leaders of Israel came up to Ezra and told him the sad news:
(Ezra 9:1-2) "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices ... (2) They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness."

Do you realize what the leaders were telling Ezra? They were telling Ezra that the purity of God's people was at stake because of the intermarriage taking place. Through intermarriage, God's people were losing their identity and becoming exactly like the foreigners in the land.

Think of Solomon as an example here. He loved many foreign women. Scripture tells us that
(1Ki 11:3-4) He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. (4) As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.
Solomon's intermarriage turned him away from God. Solomon's intermarriage led him to lose his identity as one of God's holy, different, separate people.

Even worse was the affect of Solomon's intermarriage on the people. Following the example of their king, it became commonplace for the Israelites to intermarry with the nations surrounding them. These mixed marriages, as with Solomon's, made the people more and more unfaithful so they too were no longer holy, separate, and different. Eventually, the Lord punished His people for this by sending them into exile.

And now, after the Exile, the people were once again in danger of losing their identity. They were mingling the holy race with the peoples around them; they were engaging in intermarriage and contaminating themselves with the detestable practices of the neighboring peoples.

No wonder Ezra was appalled and pulled out his hair.

God's people, as His servants, must keep themselves pure and holy so they can be a light to the nations and the salt of the earth. They cannot form permanent attachments with those who do not know the Lord or else they contaminate themselves.

Young People, Adult Singles, widows what do you look for in a marriage partner? Parents what kind of marriage partner do you encourage your children and youth to look for?

Some marry only for money. Some marry only for looks. Some marry for prestige. Most of the time they are marrying trouble and heart-ache and divorce.

This past week I pulled alongside another cyclist at a stop-light on Mooney as I was biking to Exeter. I said hi and he said to me, "You're the pastor, aren't you?" All the way to Exeter, up and down Rocky Hill, up and down Capsu, and back to Visalia he told me about the pain and agony of his divorce, of rarely seeing his children, of what happens when you marry for the wrong reason." He knows better now. He has met someone special and hopes to marry again. I asked, "What is she like?" "She loves Jesus," he said. That's it. "She loves Jesus." For him that was the most important thing.

My prayer is that all of us can say that about the person we marry or hope to marry: "He (or she) loves Jesus."
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