Many of the distinctions found throughout Chronicles is also found in Ezra. As we saw when we read Chronicles, Ezra also begins to exchange the terms “Judah” and “Israel”. We see that the focus within Ezra is exclusively Judah and we see a bias against the remnant of Israelites (now Samaritans) living in the land (Ezra 4:1-3).
We also see how Ezra, like the Chronicler, is concerned with maintaining a proper heritage by tracing their genealogical records. In fact, at one point we read:
These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. – Ezra 2:62
This tells us a bit of the process those from exile went through. They searched their family records to prove their heritage, and if they could not there were consequences.
Near the end of the book we are told that many of those who returned from exile married women already living in the land. This caused Ezra and many leaders of Judah to render their “tunics” and to pull out their hair and beard. Ezra saw the root cause of the exile as a result of intermarriage with pagans because doing so always results in worshipping their gods. Compromise (Ezra 9:2).
So the book concludes with the people repenting and putting away the foreign women they married (Ezra 10:19). Does this mean, if we can for a moment apply this situation to our contemporary context, that divorce is encouraged by the scriptures if a Christian marries someone who does not share their faith? Is being “unequally yoked” such that it can be said that God has not “joined together” them and therefore they can be separated?
Well perhaps, when considering Christian ethics in marriage, this is the reason Paul encourages new converts who are already married to someone who is not a believer remain with them unless they choose to leave, then let them go (2 Corinthians 7:12-16). Does God validate that separation so that the Christian can remarry? Or here’s a difficult one, if a Christian marries someone who does not profess the faith, has the Christian sinned as the Judeans at the time of Ezra (I do not believe Paul addresses this scenario). Is the Christian to repent for yoking themselves unequally and thus called to “put away” these “foreign” (i.e. non-Christian) men or women? These are difficult issues.
Anyways, there is one more thing to bring out of the book of Ezra of significance for the grand themes of the scriptures: even after the return, the descendents of Israel remain in exile. Notice this in Ezra’s prayer:
From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today… though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage. – Ezra 9:7-9
The point to be had here is that, though Israel returned from exile naturally speaking, they remained in “captivity” and “bondage” even in their own land. That is, the exile had not really ended. God was not really yet their King as long as they remained subject to foreign kings and this became even more pronounced by the first century.
A key theme in the biblical narrative.