We have a tall tree on our property. It is a towering spruce. I’ve thought about cutting it down – or having someone cut it down for me. It’s too big for me to handle.
I want to cut it down because the soil has eroded around its base, largely because of a driveway that it stands beside. Part of its root system is exposed. I envision it falling some day. It would create quite the mess.
Its footing is weak. It reminds me a bit of our house, actually. There’s portion of our house where I can feel just a bit of a slope in the floor. You probably know what that feels like. It’s not a significant slope, but I notice it.
And over time, I envision our house – like that tree – collapsing. Hopefully, it will be a long time from now! Having a good foundation is important. The collapse may take a long time to materialize, but it’s coming.
The people of Israel had made a mistake. Actually, I counted 111 men who made mistakes – marrying women from other nations. God had commanded the nation of Israel to remain pure, to not blend in with the nations around them – specifically by not intermarrying with the people of those nations.
The survival of the nation as a holy people depended on measures such as these. Intermarriage would result in idolatry. The nation eventually would turn to the gods of the people around them.
There was no real choice in the matter, and Ezra knew that. And so he humbled himself and cried out to God for mercy. And the people took notice. They gathered – probably a little grudgingly on a dreary day – and heard the news.
It was a crisis in the life of the nation, and it was a crisis in the lives of those 111 families. Ezra’s job was to unwind those unrighteous relationships.
This strikes me as harsh. It probably should strike us as harsh. No one would want to see this happen – to see families broken up like that. I guess we should see it as harsh.
But then again, I suppose each of those 111 men had a choice in the matter. They could have taken their foreign wives and children and walked away from Israel. But if they were to remain part of this nation – this nation that was in a covenant with the One True God – this nation that God intended to use to bless the whole world – they had to make some difficult decisions.
I suppose if a person builds his or her life around outright disobedience to God, then a collapse is probably on the horizon. What did Jesus say at the end of the Sermon on the Mount? “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:26-27).
In Israel on that rainy day in front of the temple in Jerusalem, the people were experiencing one of those “great-was-the-fall-of-it” moments.
Have you ever tried to be holy? You know, that’s what we’re supposed to be as Christians. We might even say that’s what we are. We are a holy people. The Apostles’ Creed calls us “the holy catholic church.” I suppose that comes straight from Jesus. Also in the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “You therefore must be perfect (holy), as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
The apostle Paul added about the church, “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17). And the apostle Peter wrote, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15).
I find it very difficult to be holy. I find it outlandish, even. Me? Holy?
Some of the people of Israel must have found it that way, too. And they must have been sobered as they understood the consequences at their unholiness.
But the Law of God – so important in the second half of the book of Ezra – was what kept the people in relationship with him. The Law was supposed to be a sweet thing, preserving the nation in times of hardship as they walked with the Maker of heaven and earth. The Law was supposed to be a sweet thing – unless you violated the Law. Then it was your judge.
For the Israelites, it was pretty simple. If they wanted to be a holy nation and to receive God’s blessing, they had to build their lives on the foundation of God’s Law. And, in the end, they failed. At least, sort of.
The people could not meet God’s standard of holiness. They tried. Actually, they tried hard. Ezra tells the story of their striving to live out God’s Law. After failing and being banished from the Promised Land, they tried again. They came back to the land. They rebuilt the temple. They began worshiping God as he called them to worship.
But 111 men put the whole thing in jeopardy.
And so Israel failed. Sort of. There would be one Israelite man who got it right. All it takes is 111 men to ruin it? And all it takes is one to save it? I guess so. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
Jesus carried out the Law perfectly. And so for Christians, we build our lives on the Law of Christ. He’s our foundation. He’s the rock, not the sand. The law of Christ is based in grace, of course – one perfect Israelite man died for all who would believe. The nation of Israel really has become one that would bless the whole world. And we’re holy because he is holy.
Think on these things.