When Ezra returned to Jerusalem, the author described him as a man skilled in the law of Moses (Ezra 7:6). In addition, he said, “Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the LORD, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). And the returned exiles needed him. Upon arrival, Ezra was confronted by syncretism among the people. Their lifestyle resembled the previous generations whose sin led to the exile. In fact, the returned exiles had fallen into the same specific form of syncretism their fathers had committed as early as the days of Moses, when Israelite men intermarried with Moabite women. At that time, the Lord’s anger burned against Israel and Phinehas rescued them from the Lord’s wrath (Num 25:1-15; 31:13-17). Now it was Ezra’s turn.
Ezra was crushed when he heard the words of the leaders; the people, led by the priests and officials, had taken foreign wives (Ezra 9:1-2). Ezra was not alone in his despair: “Everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me, because of the unfaithfulness of the exiles” (Ezra 9:4). Ezra’s prayer in Ezra 9:6-15 demonstrated his heart as a leader. He acknowledged that the behavior of the returned exiles was no different than in previous generations—the punishment of which had resulted in the exile (Ezra 9:6-8). But God had been kind to His people. Ezra reminded them saying, “Though we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our slavery. He has extended grace to us in the presence of the Persian kings, giving us new life, so that we can rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:9). Ezra confessed that the people had sinned against the law of Moses, which warned the people of the dangers of intermarriage (Ezra 9:10-13; Deut 7:1-4). Ezra reminded the people that God’s punishment upon them was less than they deserved; they were without excuse before the Lord (Ezra 9:14-15).
Shecaniah joined Ezra in mourning but recognized that God had not yet sent a plague amongst the people nor commanded that the people be executed for their infidelity. Perhaps the brief moment of grace had not yet expired. Ezra thus led the people to renew their covenant saying, “You have been unfaithful by marrying foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. Therefore, make a confession to the LORD God of your fathers and do His will. Separate yourselves from the surrounding peoples and your foreign wives” (Ezra 10:1b-11). The problem was so pervasive that it could not be settled in a single meeting. Ezra had to arrange a schedule for these men to come before the family leaders and receive their sentence (Ezra 10:12-17). The priests, Levites, temple singers, and gatekeepers were the first required to settle the matter and in turn all the Israelites who had united themselves to pagan women.
The returned exiles took foreign wives because they had forgotten their special place in God’s plan; their sin was vertical before it was horizontal. While the people had erected a new temple and celebrated the Passover, their moral vision as God’s special people had been lost along the way. Paul confronted the Corinthians along the same lines. They were indifferent to sexual sin in their midst because they had only lightly esteemed their status as God’s special people in Christ (1 Corinthians 5-6)—and he challenged their behavior in light of the sacrifice of Christ, their Passover. Paul’s argument to the Corinthians concerning the immoral brother among them was thus grounded in the storyline of Scripture. In 1 Cor 5:6-8, Paul told the Corinthians that Christ, their Passover, had been sacrificed. They should thus walk in sincerity and truth, moral uprightness.
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, since you are unleavened. For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast, or with the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:6-8).