Easier to Prevent than to Fix

Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.” (Ezra 10:2–3, NIV)

Today’s account will probably upset some people. In contemporary Western society, we couldn’t just “send away” our wives and children in an effort to purify ourselves… although the text is clear. The Israelites sinned their traditional sin — taking wives of the children of the land — and by Ezra’s time, it had become apparent that this sin had yielded its prophesied fruit. God’s people had begun worshipping idols.

The issue is that God wanted his people to remain a “pure seed” — and he gave warnings to that effect. Nevertheless, they intermarried against his direct instructions. So — and before we lay the ensuing social disaster upon God — let us be clear that he ordered them not to intermarry, and furthermore, he described the unavoidable results of such a trespass and promised punishment for the violators! So, their eyes were open going in, but they “knew better” than God… and now… look at the mess!

What could society do with those people who were dependent by definition — like wives and children — when the father “sends them away?” Could their society absorb such an influx of the newly disinherited? What parentage might the children claim in a world where such things were carefully tracked? Could the children still call those men, father? … and as you play out the scenarios, life becomes messier and messier the further we travel down the road.

But ultimately, the people grieved over their trespasses and desired to do the best repairs that they could for the Lord. But repairs are repairs; they never constitute pristine perfection; they merely restore some level of function.

In the physical world, we learn from faulty systems and try to design better ones. But — and as Israel found out over and over again — you cannot design around an evil heart because everything that flows from it (which is all the issues of life [Proverbs 4:23]) shall be corrupted.

Where did these problems start? Back at the initial crossing of the Jordan, I suppose. God knew the potential problems of intermarriage, and he gave them detailed warnings about what would happen. In fact, he implemented a kind of time travel… sending them back to the Exodus… hoping they would remember the miracles. But they did not.

The resultant mess is not unlike that of a polluted stream. Preventing the pollution is easier than fixing it. First, it can take decades of remediation before the waterway is acceptably recovered. But second, although the water body may be cleaned up, it will never be virginally pristine… and separation from the polluting elements of the world had great symbolic importance for Israel.

The world has a saying, “Pay me now, or pay me later” … the implication being that “now” is always less expensive than “later.” It works that way in God’s kingdom, too. But, when we do things “later,” the best we can hope for is ritual acceptability. That’s all we have left when virginity is off the table. 

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