Assimilation: Assimilation Under Ezra

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.

After the death of Solomon the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two parts: the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Both Kingdoms quickly apostatized from God’s revealed Word and were ultimately dealt with by means of the judgment of deportation to a foreign land. The Northern Kingdom was exiled to Assyria in approximately 700 BC (II Kings 17:6). The Southern Kingdom was exiled to Babylon under the rule of Nebuchadnezzer in approximately 600 BC (II Kings 24:25).

During the period of the Babylonian exile the dominant prophet to the people of God was Jeremiah. He prophesied to the Church in the Old Testament for a period of 70 years, throughout the Babylonian captivity (Jeremiah 25:12). The period of captivity came to an end by means of the Decree of King Cyrus (a Persian King, the Persians having supplanted the kingdom of the Babylonians) that was declared in 538 BC. Under the terms of his decree, the exiled Jews were permitted to return to their original homelands. Some Jews were happy staying where they were, but a small band set out to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple of God.

The Temple (a significantly less splendid version of it when compared to the Temple of Solomon) was rebuilt and dedicated in 516 BC. In 444 BC Nehemiah presided over the rebuilding of the walls around the city of Jerusalem. Ezra was sent by the Persian King Artaxerxes to Jerusalem in 458 BC. Ezra was returning to the Promised Land as a “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). Ezra the priest was given broad authority by King Artaxerxes to collect taxes from the “provinces beyond the River” (Ezra 7:21) in order to fund the Temple sacrifice and to appoint magistrates and judges to judge the people according to the Law of God. Indeed, Ezra had the full power of the sword to enforce the Law of God in the land to the point of the use of the death penalty (Ezra 7:26).

Ezra was dismayed upon his arrival in Jerusalem when he discovered that “the people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 9:1). Ezra ran straight into the problem of assimilation, in this case with the “Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.” The primary evidence of the assimilation of the Jews into the indigenous culture was the fact that “they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 9:2). Ezra bemoaned the fact that the Israelite leaders, who should have been preventing intermarrying, were “foremost in this unfaithfulness” (Ezra 9:2).

The response of Ezra the priest to this assimilation was “I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled.” (Ezra 9:3) Ezra had the eyes to see the assimilation of the Jewish people. The people did not see their assimilation. The leaders did not see their assimilation. It took a man “skilled in the Law of Moses” to see what was going on. This dramatically illustrates that during periods of time of biblical illiteracy, it is virtually impossible for Christians to become aware of their own assimilation. Unless a Christian is steeped in the Word of God, it is highly unlikely he will ever avoid the sin of assimilation. It takes an expert in the Law of God to point out the assimilation of God’s people to an indigenous culture.

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