We are continuing our walk through the Bible hunting out the word “hope.” The third mention is found in Ezra 1:1-3:
“Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly.
Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.
“So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.”
I’m amazed first of all at the moving of the Holy Spirit within the people to bring repentance. Did it start with one person? Did it start with several people? Or maybe everyone at the same time? You just don’t hear too often of a mass of people having a spiritual revival. It certainly has happened in history but not often. And what creates that? Of course the Holy Spirit. But it would be fascinating to know how that happens. And how can we help it to happen around us? And in us?
But what’s all this talk about “put away all the wives and their children”? Can that possibly be something God would want? It sounds cruel. Why do they need to do such a hard thing?
The background is that contrary to God’s commands, the Jews have intermingled in marriage with those who weren’t Jews and who didn’t believe in Jehovah God. Bonding themselves with unbelievers was a sign of their disobedience and disbelief in God. If a Gentile wife or child decided to believe in God and follow the Jewish laws and commands, they would no longer be considered in that category. That would be fine. But evidently these Gentiles had not converted and this was preventing God’s blessing upon all the community. And it was so grievous a sin that the only way to repent and surrender was to get rid of the unconverted wives and children. Sometimes the repentance has to be that extreme.
I do not believe for a second that a Christan married to an unbelieving spouse should “put away” that spouse. In fact, the New Testament says that shouldn’t be done. There is hope for that unbeliever as he or she is surrounded by Christian love.
This Old Testament story though is a powerful example of how important it it is to God that we align ourselves with only believers for marriage. The New Testament says that and this story backs it up in a powerful way. There just can’t be the blessings of God upon “unequal yokes.” And ask any Christian married to an unbeliever and they will confirm that. Usually their whole heart longs to have the fellowship of a believing spouse. It’s just not the same.
But the important phrase in these passage is: “yet now there is hope.” And that phrase is for every single one of us who need hope. Yet! But! Regardless! Nevertheless! In spite of! Contrary to!
Whether we have sinned and need hope of forgiveness. Whether we are sick and need hope of healing. Whether we have strayed from God and need reconciliation. Whether a loved one is unsaved and need hope of salvation. The list goes on and on. As grievous as the Israelites’ sin had been, yet there is hope. If they would repent and surrender and put away the reason for their sin, they would be reconciled with God and then His blessings would flow.
Because the sin of the Israelites was so deep, so extensive, so representative of a pervading disbelief in God, the fact that there is hope for them surely gives us hope for us. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. There is no sin that is too bad to be forgiven. There is no straying from God that can’t be called back to the path. There is no illness that can’t be healed. There is hope for God’s best in our lives, regardless of how “bad” we believe we have been. God did it for the Israelites and He wants to do it for us.
Surely, that shows His incredible love and His desire to give us hope..