Day 271: Israel's foreign wives
Ezra 9:1-15 Ezra soon learned that the people of Israel who had returned earlier from exile, including the Levites and priests, had intermarried with their pagan neighbors, an act that was forbidden by the Law. Much pained by the news, Ezra turned to the Lord in petition and offered penance.
Ch 9:3 Rent my garments: To tear one’s garment was an expression of outrage or mourning (cf. 2 Sm 1:11).
Ch 9:6-15 This prayer bears evidence of an increasing depth of intercessory prayer among the people of Israel as the Old Testament narrative continues. Scripture has usually spoken of the relationship of God and humanity as one of commandment and obedience. As the history of the Chosen People progressed, a more personal relationship between God and his people developed. This more intimate relationship was expressed not only in prayers of praise and thanksgiving but also in acts of contrition and in humble petition. This deepening relationship was part of the preparation for the coming of the Messiah, when Christ would become incarnate, thereby making God more accessible to the faithful than ever before. (CCC 2585, 2826)
Ch 9:8 Leave us a remnant: Particularly disturbing to Ezra was that those returning from exile were already acknowledged to be the small “remnant” of the people of Israel who had remained faithful to the covenant. The infidelity of even this special remnant threatened the very survival of the Chosen People.
Ch 10:1-44 Many of the Judeans repented of their error in marrying foreign women, and a decision was made that all the Jews with foreign wives would divorce them and send them back to their own peoples. An assembly of all Judeans was called to make the announcement, and the priests made the separations official under the Law over the next few days. Marriage to a non-Christian or to a non-Catholic Christian is not forbidden by the Church, but such unions can present certain problems to religious practice and to the transmission of the Catholic Faith to the children of these marriages. (CCC 1633-1637)
Zechariah 9:1-17 This chapter initiates the second part of this prophetic work, which consists of a series of poetic oracles rather than narrative text. The first oracle, which continues through to the end of Chapter 11, foretells the coming of the Messiah, the king for whom the Jews so long awaited and the restoration of Israel.
Ch 9:9 Your king comes to you…: This messianic prophecy is referenced clearly in the Gospels. Before his imminent death, Christ entered the last time into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, where the people proclaimed him king. This prefiguring reference also occurs in the Psalms (cf. Ps 24:7-10). (CCC 559)
Ch 9:10 He shall command peace to the nations: A sign of a good king and shepherd of Israel was the capacity to secure and maintain peace. Some of the kings did this to greater or lesser degrees, but the fullness of peace can only be found in Christ. (CSDC 378, 491)
Ch 10:1-12 The Lord strengthened both Judah and Samaria and reunited the two separated territories of Israel as the exiles and dispersed Jews continued to return to their homeland.
Ch 10:1-2 This passage instructed the people to present their petitions to the Lord only and not to any pagan deity. They were strongly prohibited from seeking recourse from those who dabbled in magic or other divinations. Such acts constitute offenses against the First Commandment.
Ch 11:1-17 The rejection of Zechariah as a shepherd is a clear prefigurement of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who also suffered rejection. This situation is unclear, but it appears that the rebuilding of Jerusalem had not gone well; when Nehemiah arrived from exile in 455 BC, he found the city in disarray (cf. Neh 2:11-18) even though the Second Temple, which was supposed to have united the people, had been completed sixty years earlier. Zechariah’s actions of breaking the staffs symbolize the people’s breaking of the covenant. Also striking is the matter of his wages: he was paid thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave, and promptly threw the money into the Temple as a sign that God had been rejected. In the Gospels, Judas was paid the same fee for having betrayed Christ, and threw it onto the Temple floor after realizing the evil he had done.
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
The Call to Wholehearted Faithfulness
The complex problem that Ezra faces upon arriving in the land stands out starkly against the backdrop of the new Exodus.
Some in the community had intermarried with Gentiles-a practice specifically forbidden in the Torah (Ex 34:13-16, Dt 7:3).
Since marriage in the Ancient Near East was a conventional act, mixed marriages would require the Jewish spouse to enter into that covenant by taking an oath in the name of a foreign god, which amounted to idolatry.
God’s warning against such marriages was ignored by Solomon, and the writer of 1 Kings makes it clear that it was marriage to his foreign wives that turned Solomon’s heart, costing his heirs and the entire nation their very kingdom.
King Ahab too fell prey to this, worshiping the Baals of his wife Jezebel and inducing all of Israel to do the same.
Thus, foreign marriages were the beginning of a slippery slope already trodden to disaster by earlier generations, and now at the very beginnings of this new Exodus, the people of God seem on the verge of rekindling that fire that had already scorched their history.
It is important not to miss the fact that it is the people who, on their own account, approach Ezra to inform him of the situation and who identify the requisite solution-separation from their foreign wives and the children born of them.
Those who have suffered exile and have now returned to the land are not like their forefathers.
Their commitment to the God of Israel, though imperfect, is deep and they are ready to take drastic measures for drastic times.
The response of the newly reconstituted community in Judah to put away their foreign wives and children seems a shocking measure to us who live on the other side of the cross of Jesus Christ.
But without the power of grace that makes fidelity possible, the community felt such actions necessary to protect their fragile faithfulness to the God to whom they were covenanted.
Later in the New Testament, St. Paul will direct Christians married to unbelievers not to divorce but to remain with one another, for the unbelieving spouse is consecrated through the believing spouse.
The difference between Ezra and St. Paul is the grace of Christ, which empowers the Christian to remain faithful to God and to be a channel of God’s grace.
Rather than rebuke the people, Ezra responds by leading them in prayer, fasting, and confession.
His prayer in Ezra 9:5-15 bears witness to his unflagging awareness of God’s faithfulness and mercy.
For Ezra, the return of his people to the Promised Land is the gift of a gracious God.
It was precisely this steadfast love of God that the people spurned in marrying foreign wives.
Having only just found their way home, the people realize they had become too comfortable with life in exile.
Only a full return to Yahweh’s steadfast love and his law will result in the faithfulness God desires.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
So we had some challenging readings today in Ezra and Zechariah
Here is Ezra who is part of the second wave that has come back to the Promised Land
He has discovered that there are many leading peoples
Not just your garden variety common folk
But even the priests, the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the land
They have INTERMARRIED
One thing that is VERY IMPORTANT to understand is THIS IS NOT A RACIAL THING
IT IS AN IDEOLOGICAL THING
IT IS A BELIEF THING
The Jewish people are the PEOPLE OF THE COVENANT
The people of the LAND
These are NOT the PEOPLE OF THE COVENANT
When God brought the Jewish people into the Promised Land, he said to DRIVE THEM OUT
He EXPLICITLY WARNED THEM against INTERMARRYING
We saw what happened about 100 days ago and more, when the Jewish people DID NOT KEEP THEMSELVES SEPARATE (If I link to EVERY page that discussed intermarrying into pagan cultures, that would surely break your printer. So just search for the term “intermarry” in that search button on the top banner of The Bible in a Year Study Guide 😁)
Remember, the word HOLY means SEPARATE
So there is THE PROFANE
AND THEN THERE ARE THOSE THINGS THAT ARE SEPARATE
THINGS THAT ARE OTHER
THINGS THAT ARE SPECIAL
THINGS THAT ARE SET APART
THINGS THAT ARE UNIQUE
THINGS THAT ARE CONSECRATED
THESE THINGS ARE HOLY!!
God said, “You are going to be my HOLY people in the midst of COMMON people. In the midst of a people that hasn’t been set apart. So you have to live differently.”
Ezra realizes that the people in the land have not been kept apart
They have intermarried
The PROBLEM with intermarriage is that it WEAKENS THE FAMILY
IT WEAKENS THE BONDS OF THE COVENANT
As we have seen, VIRTUALLY EVERY TIME the Jewish people intermarried, THEY LOST THEIR FAITH
THEY LOST THEIR FAITH IN THE LORD GOD
So Ezra finds this and sees this and IT CRUSHES HIM
You can imagine
He’s not just MAD, “Why did you people do this kind of thing?”
Ezra 9:6, “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.”
Think about that
OUR INIQUITIES HAVE RISEN HIGHER THAN OUR HEADS
Basically Ezra is saying, “WE’RE DROWNING!”
“WE’RE DROWNING IN OUR BROKENNESS”
“WE’RE DROWNING IN OUR OWN SIN”
“WE HAVE DONE THIS TO OURSELVES”
Ezra is not that prophet that is wailing his staff around and trying to smash everything
He is the prophet who sees this and he is SO DEMORALIZED
He sees this and he is SO BROKEN BY IT
Fr. Mike sometimes feels the same way and sees this when he works with couples who live together before they get married
It makes him genuinely sad
“Oh my gosh! What is happening?”
Ezra is experiencing the EXACT SAME THING
What happens next is VERY CHALLENGING
On the surface, it is backwards
Ultimately, we realize what is going on
Ezra says, “What about this...Ok if you intermarry, leave your family, leave your wife, leave your children.”
The interesting thing about this is the people then take this up
Everyone who has a foreign wife and children makes the resolution to leave
Ezra Ch 10 is The People’s Response
It is VERY REMARKABLE that this isn’t just some sort of decree or blanket statement
“Ok, that’s the deal. If Jim is married to Suzie, you gotta separate.”
IT IS NOT THAT!!
It is a CASE BY CASE basis
Ezra 10:16, “Then the returned exiles did so. Ezra the priest selected men, heads of fathers’ houses, according to their fathers’ houses, each of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to examine the matter; and by the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women.”
They took it on a CASE BY CASE BASIS
It was NOT a matter of automatically, they had to separate
It was a matter of, “Ok maybe your wife has become Jewish. Maybe your children are being raised Jewish. Maybe your family was brought into the Covenant rather than you being taken out of the Covenant. It could be the case that you raised your family up into this relationship with the Lord God.”
Remember the Moabite woman, Ruth? (If you don’t, maybe reading Day 90: Ruth and Boaz in The Bible in a Year Study Guide will jog your memory 😁)
She lived across the Jordan River
Her mother-in-law, Naomi, brought her across the river, well Ruth followed her, and she married Boaz
She becomes the great-great grandmother of DAVID!!
SO IT IS NOT THE FOREIGNER THAT IS THE PROBLEM
The good thing about Ruth is that she says to her mother-in-law Naomi, “Where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God.”
So there is this story of people CONVERTING TO THE GOD OF ISRAEL
THAT CAN HAPPEN!!
GOD CAN DO INCREDIBLE THINGS THROUGH THAT KIND OF CONVERSION, JUST LIKE HAVING KING DAVID!!
THE SAME IS IN THIS CASE TOO
We have to understand that what Ezra and the other heads of houses are doing is that they are NOT just making a BLANKET STATEMENT
They are doing it on a CASE BY CASE BASIS
Is this a GOOD RELATIONSHIP?
Is this a GOOD MARRIAGE in which the whole family is being brought into a COVENANT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Is this a marriage in which, to preserve the Covenant relationship with God, there is this breaking of the marriage bond?
IS IT GOOD?
IS IT PERFECT?
IS IT IDEAL?
That is where we find ourselves in the midst of a BROKEN AND SINFUL WORLD
Not even the solutions sometimes are PERFECT
Not even the solutions sometimes are GOOD
Some people argue that Ezra decides to do this and the interesting thing here is that it DOES NOT say, “The Word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Separate the husbands from wives.’”
THAT IS A VERY IMPORTANT POINT!!
There are a number of Bible scholars who will make the claim that Ezra just did this in his grief
That Ezra did this in his sadness over seeing this intermarriage so he declared that they needed to get divorced
That’s a decent thing to note
Maybe this didn’t come from the Lord
We are going to get to the Book of the Prophet Malachi and God says, “I hate divorce.”
Jesus even says, “It is unlawful to divorce and marry another.”
In a BROKEN WORLD we have A LOT OF BROKENNESS
Even sometimes the solutions are FULL OF BROKENNESS
Tomorrow we start Nehemiah
Onwards to Zechariah
Zechariah has his prophecies
Part of Zechariah’s prophecies is Restoration of Judah and Israel
SO MUCH GOOD!!
Remember when the prophets were all talking about doom and destruction and the death that was to come?
Here we have Zechariah who is talking about RESTORATION
RESTORATION OF JUDAH
RESTORATION OF ISRAEL
Zechariah 10:5-6, “Together they shall be like mighty men in battle, trampling the foe in the mud of the streets; they shall fight because the Lord is with them...I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them…”
At the same time, we recognize that there are Two Kinds of Shepherds
Zechariah talks about one type of shepherd that TAKES CARE OF THE SHEEP
The other type of shepherd that TAKES CARE OF THEMSELVES
IT IS SO SO IMPORTANT!!
There are so many prophecies in Zechariah about Jesus, the Messiah
Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.”
Remember, Jesus rides into Jerusalem ON A DONKEY on Palm Sunday
WHAT A GIFT!!
In Zechariah Ch 11 we have the THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, the price for which Jesus Christ was BETRAYED by Judas Iscariot
Zechariah 11:13, “So I took the thirty shekels of silver and cast them into the treasury into the house of the Lord.”
But another translation uses “cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.”
THE POTTER’S FIELD!!
The land that was purchased with the THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER that Judas threw on the ground after he realized what he had done
Now back to the shepherds
Zecheriah is pointing out that there are shepherds that CARE FOR THE SHEEP
There are shepherds that CARE FOR THEMSELVES
There is a saying, “Leaders eat last.”
Every person that is CALLED TO BE A LEADER
Maybe you’re single but you realize that there are people that you are responsible for
You need to be able to say, “Ok at what point, at what level, with these people around me can I be a GOOD SHEPHERD?”
THE TEMPTATION IS TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
The GOOD SHEPHERD takes care of the sheep
The BAD SHEPHERD takes care of themselves
There is a call for all of us to say, “Ok, who do I feed first? Who do I care for first?”
Because here is the Messiah, Jesus Christ Himself, prophesied who is going to be THE GOOD SHEPHERD, WHO LAYS HIS LIFE DOWN FOR HIS SHEEP
It’s been a long day today
BUT A GOOD DAY!!
WHAT A GREAT DAY!!
FR. MIKE IS PRAYING FOR YOU
PRAY FOR FR. MIKE
PRAY FOR EACH OTHER
Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and glory. We thank you so much for this day and thank you for every day. Gosh, Lord, our God! There is always, always, even in the midst of brokenness, even in the midst of suffering, even in the face of death, there is always something to give you thanks for. If we only had the ears to hear and the eyes to see, there is always something, Lord God, that you continue to pour out on us. And that is your Grace. That is your Love. And you never forget us. Help us to never forget you. Help us to not be blind to your high call. And help us to not only open our ears and open our eyes to hear and to see, but help us to open our mouths to praise you and to build the people around us up. Help us to be the kind of people who encourage those who are nearest to us today. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”