Lesson 12

Dealing with Bad Decisions

(Ezra 9-10)
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Introduction: Our lesson this week is about a very specific issue - marrying those who do not share our faith. My wife told me that when she was young she prayed that God would lead her to the right man to marry. When I was dating I recall being very concerned about faith. I was not simply looking for someone who was a member of my church, I was looking for someone who shared my level of devotion. For example, for a while I was dating a friend who was active in the church program on Sabbath, and then she would spend her time after church visiting the elderly in nursing homes or something similar. That was too much for me! On the other hand, I did not want to date someone who didn't care about God's will. When I met my wife, she had the right mix of devotion and Sabbath rest. We are still married 45 years later. Let's explore what the Bible teaches us about this!

  1. Sin Consequences

    1. Read Nehemiah 13:23-24. What is the issue? (When you intermarry, your children may not speak your language!)

      1. In the United States, this is not much of an issue. English is the language of the nation, but we have many immigrants who speak Spanish. Christians, and specifically members of my church, speak both languages. Has this problem no application to us today? (My daughter married the grandson of a pastor. He was not a member of our church, but he said he was a Christian. After they were married, my daughter reported that despite his church attendance as a young man, he was Biblically illiterate. He did not even know the major stories of the Bible. They did not "speak" the same language.)

    2. Read Nehemiah 13:26. What point is Nehemiah making when he praises King Solomon? Why not just say that intermarriage made Solomon sin?

      1. When a person is serious about God, but in love with someone who does not share the faith, what do you think is the believer's goal if they marry? (The believer plans to convert the unbeliever.)

        1. Does that normally work?

        2. Is this the reason for highlighting Solomon's virtues? (I think so. A very smart, very wise, very talented man was led astray by his wives. He did not convert them.)

  2. Ezra's Complaint

    1. Read Ezra 9:1-2. What additional problem with intermarriage does Ezra report? (They "have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them.")

      1. What does that mean? Are you a member of a holy race? (Recall that God told Abraham ( Genesis 12:1-3)that He would make Abraham a great nation? God would bless other nations through Abraham. Ezra is referring to a unique problem - keeping the Jewish nation Jewish.)

      2. How extensive is this problem? (The leaders and officials were leading the way into this sin!)

        1. I thought the leaders were the ones who reported this problem to Ezra! What does this tell us? (That the leadership was divided on this issue.)

    2. Read Ezra 9:3. I've never done anything like this with regard to sin in the church? Have you? As I get older, pulling my hair out is the last thing I have in mind!

      1. Have you ever cried when a family member or close friend got in trouble with the law? Or, was seriously injured? (I have.)

        1. If you answered yes, but have never torn your clothes or cried because of sin in the church, why the difference? (My answer is this: Today we identify with family and close friends, but we have a feeling of independence from the church. We cry about friends, but not the church.)

        2. Is this feeling of independence from the church a problem?

    3. Read Ezra 9:4. What kind of people tremble at the words of God? (Those who fear God and recognize the importance of obedience.)

      1. Is that the real issue, rather than independence? Is the problem today that we do not "tremble" at the words of God? Are we too casual about obedience?

      2. Look at the emotion expressed by Ezra. He says twice that he sat there "appalled." Does anything done in the church appall you today? (I'm often appalled at what the pagan world does. But, when it comes to the church, I think "concerned" is a more accurate term.)

    4. Read Ezra 9:5-7. Ezra states that disobedience results in bad things happening to God's people. Is this fear of judgment behind the issue of "trembling" and being "appalled?" (It would be easy to say that Ezra served God through fear. We would then reject that as a reason to follow God. I think the reference in Ezra 9:6 to shame, disgrace and guilt gives us a better understanding. Ezra's people let God down.)

    5. Read Ezra 9:8-9. What other emotion is involved here? (Gratitude for God's love, care and kindness. All of these emotions come together in Ezra's reaction to this disobedience. It would not be fair to say Ezra served God because of fear.)

  3. The Remedy

    1. Read Ezra 10:1. We tend to debate what is and is not sin. What would happen if we simply publicly grieved over a particular sin? Would that be a stronger influence?

    2. Read Ezra 10:2-3. What do you think about Shekaniah's remedy? Why would he suggest splitting up families? (Note that verse three says that this is "in accordance with the counsel of my Lord." There is some dispute over whether "Lord" refers to God or Ezra. I'm going to understand it to be about God's counsel.)

    3. Read Ezra 10:9-11. What is the attitude of the group? (They are distressed. It is cold and raining. They are anxious. The whole thing makes them shiver.)

      1. Can you imagine the emotion of this moment? Both Ezra 10:3 and Ezra 10:44 indicate that children are also involved. Some might have been children that came along with the wives. But, some are clearly the children of the Jewish fathers.

        1. What kind of decision would your church make on a matter like this?

    4. Read Ezra 10:12 and Ezra 10:15. Although the nature of the opposition is somewhat obscure, it appears that there were two views on sending the wives and children away. What would the argument be for opposing this - not sending the wives and children away? (The children would grow up learning about the true God and following Him. The wives could be converted. Families would be kept together.)

    5. Read Ezra 10:13-14. What is the argument in favor of sending the foreign wives and the children away? (The repeated argument is that they have sinned. They have violated God's law. This must be fixed.)

    6. Let's go back to a subject that we previously discussed. Read Nehemiah 10:29-30. Recall that the people entered into a contract with God. The first term on the contract was that they would not intermarry. Do you recall at the time that I asked why would that be the first provision? Why would that be included at all? (This shows the importance of the underlying issue - keeping God's people pure from the influence of foreign gods.)

    7. Should this example apply today? If you have married someone outside the faith, should you send your spouse away? (Read 1 Corinthians 7:12-14. Paul gives just the opposite advice. He also says it is better for the children.)

    8. Read 1 Corinthians 7:15-16. Notice that Paul suggests that the unbelieving spouse may be converted.)

    9. How do you explain such radically different advice? Why do Ezra and Paul disagree? (The context is much different. In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, God's people were a small group who were God's "holy people" to keep His message pure. In the time of Paul, the gospel had been shared with Gentiles. Indeed, some of the members of the Church at Corinth were Gentiles. See 1 Corinthians 8:7. Marrying an unbeliever was still a bad idea, but it was no longer such a central issue.)

    10. Friend, if you are considering marriage, will you accept the counsel of the Bible and marry only within your faith?

  4. Next week: Leaders in Israel.

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Lessons on Ezra and Nehemiah

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