While preparing for the Sunday School lesson that became this mini-series of articles, I ran into a challenge as I sat down to write up the lesson: the webpage containing the class material was down. As a result, I didn’t have the specific suggested Scripture texts to teach from for the next day’s lesson. As a backup, I often write the next week’s lesson text in the previous week’s material, but in this case, it was several miscellaneous verses from Ezra chapters 7, 8, and 10. So, I had spent time in those chapters during my devotions that week, but teaching three entire chapters in a single lesson would be quite a lot!
The good news is that there’s no pre-defined rule about what must be taught to fellow Christians on a given Sunday, and all of God’s Word is His. The reference material that I use is just a suggestion (often with good supplemental ideas that I can work into the lesson). So, we still ended up having a good class, even if it wasn’t limited to the expected text. However, I learned to not tie myself to the Internet specifically for future lessons. (Don’t get me wrong: I like to use online references when studying the Bible for teaching and writing, but I still teach from a printed Bible because – as I tell the class – I’ve never had to reboot one of those!)
After Ezra and some other Israelites had joined a previous group of returned exiles in Jerusalem, he gets some disappointing news.
After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 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.”
Ezra 9:1-2 NIV
Ezra learns that the Israelites (including priests and Levites) have intermarried with secular peoples in the area. Ezra is pretty appalled at this, since not doing this was a requirement of holiness for God’s people.
To appreciate why this was important for the Israelites from the time of Moses to Ezra’s day, let’s consider some other guidance in this regard. 2 Corinthians 6:14 (part of a larger section in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18) is a commonly-cited passage on this topic, about not being “yoked together with unbelievers”.
In the ancient Promised Land, those of other nations worshiped other gods, and this trend was somewhat normal and expected. As a result, avoiding intermarriage with other nations protected the Israelites from false gods, idol worship, and some other really ugly practices. (Regrettably, Israelites still bought into some of these evil choices during certain parts of their history, and it got them overthrown and exiled.) By Jesus’ day, at least, it is my understanding that others could join the Jewish faith, but that still seems different from bringing in a spouse who was still actively committed to another god.
So, it is my belief that both the Israelites in Ezra’s day and Christians in the current day (i.e., those under the Old Covenant and the New Covenant) were/are to keep themselves separate – where they can – from close relationships with those who would draw them away from God.
Today, followers of Jesus can reach out to those who are far from God (meaning God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the great I AM), but we would do well not to engage in close partnerships (like marriage, closely-linked business relationships, and perhaps even other kinds of allegiances) with those who are opposed to God and His instructions. If we do, our faith and someone else’s non-Christian practices are likely to collide over time: Unless one or both parties are pretty indifferent about what they believe, this can leads to conflict. How can it not, if the Christian’s faith truly influences all that they do, and the non-Christian’s faith is specifically opposed (or indifferent, which is about the same thing) to the teachings of God?
As I learned from preparing this lesson, technology may let you down, but God will not. And, His Word is better than any study guide, devotion, or Sunday School text. So, let us remember His wisdom when we consider who to put our trust and confidence in, and as we determine who to connect our life’s journeys to. God knows that trying to mix a close partnership (including marriage) between someone who seeks to follow Him and someone who seeks to follow anyone – or anything – else is not likely to turn out well. That other person might be attractive (or, if it’s a business partner, they might seem like they know how to make a lot of money), but God doesn’t give us instructions for no reason. Even when we don’t believe it, He has good things in mind.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 22, 2023
- The Lookout, January 22, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.