Worshiping the Right God
A Sermon for September 4, 2022
Veterans Memorial Chapel
By Ch Jim Odell
This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for September 4, 2022. I am hitting most the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
As we continue the saga on the life of the returned exiles from Babylon, we come to the next chapter, Ezra 9. It is with a bit of fear and intrepidation I approach this text. This is one of a few passages in Scripture which has, more often than not, been intentionally misinterpreted in American and European preaching to support the so-called doctrine of “a pure race,” or a “favored race.” That is not what this passage is teaching! I want to demonstrate that from the Bible this morning. I first want to apologize to everyone on behalf of my Anglo-Protestant ancestors who propagated this misinterpretation, even though I personally never taught or believed t. It has caused much division in the church through the ages. I wish I could say that was a thing of the past. But “race” and superiority of a race is again showing its ugly head in Western Civilization. Please be patient with me as we look at this passage. As we read and go over this passage, I will attempt to lead you through it and proclaim the “truth” being taught there.
The Scripture Reading today is Ezra 9:1-6a.
Ezra has come from Babylon, where he was born and raised, to Jerusalem. By this time, some of the Jewish families had lived in and about Jerusalem for 81 years. Many were born in Judah and knew nothing firsthand about Babylon. Over time, the “returned exiles” have endured hardship to get recognized as a “city state” and as a religious center. But, also, over time they became accepted by their neighbors and began to prosper, especially in the international olive and olive oil trade. This familiarity with their neighbors led to partnerships and some of which were sealed by “arranged marriages” with those who worshiped other gods. In the past, intermarriage with “pagans” was a primary evil which led pre-exiled Israel to move away from God and follow the sins of their pagan neighbors. This ultimately led to God exiling Israel from the Promised Land.
Remember the story of King Balak, the Moabite king, who invited Israel to his Pagan festival. That in turn led to the Israelites sinning at Peor, even before they ever got into the Promised Land (Num 25). This also introduced a disease in Israel which plagued them for several generations.
Also recall how the foreign wives of King Solomon led him into the worship of idols. Let’s read 1 Kings 11:1-4. See how the false gods of his wives turned his head away from God to these other gods.
Notice closely in these passages, it was not “bloodlines,” or skin color, or foreign music, foreign clothes, or hair styles which moved Solomon and/or Israel away from God. It was the influence of the pagan religion! This is what God was warning against throughout the OT. The Old Testament has many references to “godly” foreigners who had come to believe in the Jewish God and followed Him. They were accepted in Israelite society. Rahab in Joshua, Ruth in the book named for her, the half breed “Syro-Phoenician” widow who fed Elijah, Naaman the Syrian general, just to name some of the leading names.
The reason for the “marriage prohibition” was not for a “pure race,” but for a “godly line” of true worshipers of the True God. It was not about race, it was about religion!
Right in Ezra 9:1 it says, “they (intermarried Israel) have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples and their detestable practices.” Please note clearly, it was not the race that mattered, it was the practices.
And what exactly are these practices? It was not music styles, hair styles, dress styles, food preferences, etc. So often we throw our own preferences and backgrounds into the mix of the “spiritual lifestyle,” so called. Thus we think, “if you are not like me, you are not in.” Not so.
The things God finds an “abomination” (term used over 1300 times in the OT) are all associated with false worship. Turn with me to Deut 18:9-14. See what are listed as abominations: child sacrifice, divination and fortune telling, casting of spells and sorcery, “necromancy” which is contacting the dead or the spirit world. All of these are religious practices central to pagan worship.
In other prohibition passages, “abominations” of paganism (or Israel behavior) are connected with abnormal sexual activities outside marriage. This includes “cross dressing” (Deut 22:5), homosexuality (Lev 20:13), bestiality (Lev 18:23), all sexual “uncleanness” (Deut 18:27).
Very often, “abomination” is used in connection with idolatry or an idol itself. Prohibition to worshiping anything “created” in the place of God is the essence of the first two of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:2-4). False prophets are also referred to as “abominations” (Deut 7:25). So is injustice (Deut 25:13-15). We could go on, but I think I have made my point.
The bottom line is this: The prohibition in Ezra 9 is not about “racial mixing.” It is a prohibition to mixing the religious practices of idolatry with the worship of the True God. Such mixing draws us away from a “godly” lifestyle into practices which God has declared sin. God is interested in passing “truth” down through the family and the Temple (we would say the Church today) to future generations. This happens best when “believers” marry “believers” and bring up a “godly seed” who, in turn, repeats the process to their next generation. That is what this passage is talking about.
Next time we meet we will see how Ezra faces this challenge of “unbelief” and brings about a revival. See you then.
God Bless you,
CH Jim Odell