Make the Hard Choices

 Ezra 9:1-10:18 (Focal Passage:  Ezra 9:1-3, 10:9-14) 

I don’t like this passage of scripture.  That’s probably not what you expect to read from a “preacher’s blog” – but I can’t help it.  I don’t like this story.  For me it is one of the most troublesome passages in the Bible.     If you don’t find it a little perplexing and disturbing, I suggest you’re just not reading it right.

The focus of the story is clear.  Under the leadership of Ezra, the men of Israel realized that they had been unfaithful to God during the exile.  How?  They had taken non-Israelite women to be their wives – a violation of the covenant.

The text declares, “The people of Israel, including the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices….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)

The whole point of the exile, from Ezra’s perspective, had been to teach the people to be obedient to the covenant.  Evidently, the exile had not served its purpose.  While under captivity, the Israelites had continued many of their sinful practices.  They broke God’s commandments.

The solution, according to Ezra, was for these men to separate themselves from their foreign-born wives.  It is the solution that I find troublesome.  It seems like overkill – like cutting off one’s foot because of an ingrown toenail.  It seems too radical.  It makes me uncomfortable.

 I would imagine that this story probably makes many people in the contemporary church feel uncomfortable.  In an age when it is so popular to talk about the “family values” and the “sanctity of the marriage covenant,” it is difficult for us to hear a God-ordained minister (like Ezra) advocating the end of a marriage and the destruction of a family.

The men were instructed to banish from their tribe all foreign-born wives and their children with no apparent provisions.  I think it would be safe to say that these men wouldn’t have been good candidates for membership in Promise Keepers.  They had broken the covenant they had made with God.  Now they were ready to break the covenant they had made with their wives and the children they had fathered.

Try as I might, I have not been able to find an easy resolution to these things that trouble me about this passage.

Maybe that’s a good thing.  Perhaps there are some passages in the Bible that better serve the faith by raising questions rather than answering them.  We have been conditioned to look for religious instruction that provides easy answers, simple solutions and pleasant platitudes.

 Perhaps we find this disturbing because it reminds us that genuine faithfulness is often difficult and requires from us the kind of trust that is willing to blindly step into the dark.  Sometimes faith is like that.  It requires that we make hard choices.

We have seen those who have had to struggle with difficult choices in life.  There is the young woman who hears the call of God to become a pastor but she knows that obeying such a call will put her at odds with her church because it does not support women in ministry.

 There is the middle-age man who has God calling him to leave his job, attend seminary and eventually enter the mission field.  Unfortunately, his wife and family are unwilling to move.

There is the teenage girl who finds herself pregnant and intends to give birth to her child, even though her family advocates a quiet abortion in order to save face.

When the time comes for you to take a difficult step, will you be ready?

It will require some hard choices.  It will not be easy.  Remember the words of Jesus who said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.”  (Luke 14:26)

Okay, this ends the blog.  I still don’t like this Bible story.

2 Responses to “Make the Hard Choices”

  1. Laura Elliott says:

    Isn’t marriage also a covenant with god ? I don’t get the story either.

    • billnieporte says:

      I think – in defense of the Hebrew men – that these marriages were a break in their covenant with God. They had married outside the covenant community. So Ezra gave these instructions on this account.

      Doesn’t make me feel any better. Kicked out. No provisions. No alimony. Hard choices.

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