If Ezra expects to retain the support of the Persian king, he has to obey Artaxerxes’ four commands. Within five months, Ezra completes the first two demands—he leads the Jews to Jerusalem, and he delivers all the offerings to the temple. His obedience to Artaxerxes is matched by the governors’ obedience: they agree to support financially the Jews’ efforts at reestablishing their nation.
Now that Ezra has addressed the religious situation in Jerusalem, he can tend to the legal situation as Artaxerxes requested. Ezra still needs to investigate how the Jews are practicing the law and appoint judges and teachers for the nation.
9 1-2 After we had returned to Jerusalem, made our offerings to Him, and begun to settle, the leaders notified me of a legal problem.
Jewish Leaders: The Israelites, priests, Levites, and even our chiefs have intermarried with the daughters of non-Jews and adopted the cultures of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. By mixing our families with theirs through marriage, our lineage is no longer pure, and the officials and rulers have been the worst offenders.
The law does not forbid foreign marriages to keep bloodlines pure; it forbids them for religious reasons. David’s own ancestor, Ruth, was a Moabite. This marriage was blessed because Ruth converted to the religion of Israel and was no longer considered an outsider by God. In spite of this success, Israel’s history is a strong precedent against foreign marriages because more often than not, foreign marriages end badly. The great King Solomon was influenced by his Egyptian bride; Ahab (of the Northern Kingdom) completely dissociated himself from God in favor of his wife, Jezebel, and her gods. Such marriages tend to lead God’s followers away from His path—and that is the real tragedy.
3 When I heard their story, I mourned for the Jews as if the nation were dead: I ripped my clothes, I ripped hair from my head and chin, and I sat in stunned silence 4 until the evening offering. All those who obeyed the True God of Israel’s words and recognized the unfaithfulness of their neighbors joined me.
5 At the evening offering, I stopped mourning with the people and turned my attention to God. In my torn garments, I knelt before Him and stretched out my hands to the Eternal God.
Ezra’s Prayer: 6 O my True God, witness my shame and embarrassment as I appeal to You. My True God, our sins are so great that they have flooded over us, and they have reached to the heavens. 7 Our people are chronic sinners, our sin is greater than we could have imagined, and You have tried to correct our behavior by subjecting our kings and our priests to death, captivity, theft, and shame by foreign rulers. Those pagans continue to rule us today. 8 Even though You, our Eternal God, have shown Your grace by preserving a remnant and by giving us a secure hold in Your holy place, may You, our God, brighten our eyes and grant us assurance even in our bondage to the Persian rulers. 9 We are still their slaves. In this bondage, You, our True God, have not forgotten us; Your loyal love inspired the kings of Persia to allow us to rebuild Your house and the walls to provide protection in Judah and Jerusalem.
10 But in spite of Your love, we have abandoned Your commands, and we have no excuse. 11 You warned us through Your servants, the prophets, that the land of Canaan was polluted with pagans, that their evil actions had removed anything pure or good there, even filling up the land from end to end with horrible practices. 12 You warned us not to marry our children to theirs, to seek treaties with them, or to covet their prosperity so that we would remain strong as a nation and as individuals, eating good foods from the earth and leaving that earth to Your children always.
13 In spite of Your mercy toward us—You, our True God, did not punish us as much as our obvious guilt and our evil actions required and have freed these exiles— 14 once again we have ignored Your commands. We married pagans and have taken on their horrible practices, knowing that Your anger would motivate You to destroy every last Jew without leaving any remnant people.
15 Eternal God of Israel, You are righteous and justified in everything You do. Today we are nothing but the preserved remnant who escaped Your wrath, and today we confess our guilt. None of us should be able to stand and be acquitted before You.