June 15 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” ~Ezra 9:6

The worshipping community’s cycle of rebellion, forgiveness, and deliverance turns once again—a theme we have witnessed throughout the people’s history. A generation after the temple is rebuilt (perhaps 60 years or so) some of the people are back to their old ways. In this case, their sin is intermarriage with pagan people, which is forbidden not on racial grounds, but on religious ones.[1] (Interracial marriage is nowhere forbidden in Scripture.) God’s dream was to create a people totally devoted to Him, free of pagan influence and committed to raising their children and their children’s children to love the one true God (Deut. 6).

Think about it: the person you marry will have a greater influence in your life than any other person in the world. In addition, he or she will tremendously influence the lives of your children. The danger of intermarriage is that the unbeliever competes with God for the affections of the God-worshipper and can compel the spouse to a different lifestyle over time. This happened frequently in Israel, and it happens today.

The general teaching of Scripture is that God-worshippers should marry other God-worshippers (see also 2 Corinthians 6:14). The principle underlying this biblical instruction is wholehearted devotion to the Lord—to love Him above all things (Deut. 6). As such, the most influential person in your life should never compete for your affections but rather should compel you to worship God. If you have already sinned in this regard, see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. God can use your failure for your good and for the good of the unbeliever in your life, although there is no guarantee that he or she will be saved through your influence.

The larger point of today’s narrative is that God-worshippers should respond with heartfelt repentance when they realize they have done wrong. Of course, I’m not recommending that we mimic Ezra’s garment rending and hair pulling, but we should be grieved (Ezra 9:3). Indeed, the God-worshippers stood outside in the torrential rain mourning their disobedience to His Word. And they responded by separating themselves from their sin. This is true repentance—sorrow over sin that results in a change of direction. May God help us to grieve when we have wronged Him, to seek forgiveness, and to abandon our sinful ways. In the words of the Psalmist, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

[1] Ezra’s policy of separation (divorce) in this situation is difficult to reconcile with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. The teachings of both Jesus and Paul forbid divorce in all situations expect two: when one spouse is unfaithful (Matt. 19:9) and when an unbelieving spouse instigates divorce (1 Cor. 7:15). Forgiveness and reconciliation are preferable in either case, but the latter is not always possible. A peaceful end is the desirable outcome whenever possible. Ezra’s drastic move falls under neither proviso, which is why it is perhaps best to view the situation as an ad hoc policy. The radical measure is employed for this particular situation to preserve the small remnant of God-worshippers in Jerusalem.

Lectio Divina is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.