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Doctrinal Matters

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There is Still Hope for Israel

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Many years after God gave laws through Moses in Exodus 34:10-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-5 pertaining to marriage, the people were exiled in Babylon. When the Persians toppled the Babylonian Empire, the Persian king Cyrus issued a decree in 536 B.C. permitting Israelites to return to Palestine and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Zerubbabel led the first wave of Jewish exiles back to their homeland and eventually the temple was rebuilt by 515 B.C. (Ezra 1-6). Over 50 years elapsed when, in 458 B.C., Artaxerxes, then king of Persia, granted permission for Ezra to gather a second wave of exiles to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 7-10). Ezra was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses. It took him and his traveling companions five months to get to Jerusalem.

Ezra’s great purpose was to bring religious reform to the Jews in Palestine, to re-establish Mosaic institutions, and to revive the spirituality of a people who had degenerated socially, morally, and religiously. He worked feverishly to call them back to God’s written Word. Ezra sought to do what Jeremiah had tried to do: “ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16). Ezra was just the man for the job: “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). When God’s Israel today (cf. Galatians 6:16) grows lax and neglectful of God’s will, we, too, stand in dire need of men who know the truth and who will teach it to the church!

So in Ezra 8:15, Ezra began to tackle the enormous task before him, beginning by organizing the financial offerings as well as sacrificing burnt offerings to God. But then things got tough. Obeying God and bringing one’s self back into harmony with God’s wishes is often tough. Read carefully Ezra 9:1-­10:12 and notice the following six lessons to be learned:

  1. If a marriage relationship is unauthorized (i.e., not in harmony with God’s will), it must be dissolved. This proves that divorce or putting away is not always wrong, but is, in certain situations, God’s command.
  2. Even if children have been born to the illicit marriage union, the relationship still must bedissolved. Yes, submission to divine authority sometimes entails the sacrifice of human companionship to facilitate fellowship with God (Luke 18:29­-30).
  3. Repentance, in the case of relation­ships, entails more than simply acknow­ledging or confessing one’s sin. It includes the termination of that union in order for God to be pleased.
  4. We need more members of the church who will possess the deep sorrow and penitent shame that Ezra manifested, instead of excusing sin or proposing absurd quibbles or foolish arguments in an effort to dodge the stringency of God’s will. We need people who, instead of grasping for straws or scraping the bottom of the barrel in a frantic effort to justify adulterous unions, will just face and accept the truth like Shechaniah: “We have been unfaithful to our God.... Let it be done according to the Law” (Ezra 10:2-3).
  5. We need to understand that if there was hope for Israel then (10:2), there is hope for Israel now—not by expecting God to just look the other way, or wave His hand and make unrenounced sin go away. God has given “a little space” of grace (9:8). He has punished us less than our sins deserve (9:13). Our hope lies in our resolute decision to repent and turn from relationships that are out of harmony with God’s will. Then He will forgive and bless. Refusal to do so must be confronted with expulsion from the congregation (10:8; cf. 1Corinthians 5:13).
  6. We need to get ourselves back to “trembling at the word of the Lord” (9:4; 10:3).We’re just not too impressed by divine words anymore. We do not know what it means to “fear God” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) or to “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Ezra did. He asked rhetorically: “Should we again break Your commandments and join in marriage with the people of these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed, so that there would be no remnant or survivor?” (9:14). Ezra was right in step with the words of Paul: “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). He knew that there would be no substitute for straightforward obedience if, indeed, “the fierce wrath of our God is turned away from us in this matter” (10:14).

The Bible teaches us that, sooner or later, we will reap what we have sown. Jesus said there are only two possibilities—repent or perish (Luke 13:3). Let us never be reluctant or hesitant to bring our lives into conformity with God’s will, regardless of the hardship or difficulty involved. Let us love Him (1 John 5:3), for “there is still hope in Israel.”

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