In ancient Jewish circles, the books Ezra and Nehemiah were viewed as a single portion of the Hebrew Bible, and for good reason. Both men were contemporaries who came back to Jerusalem to help restore this center of the Israelite community, not only physically (Nehemiah), but also spiritually (Ezra) and, to the extent possible, politically (Ezra and Nehemiah). One of the themes that to permeates the texts of Ezra-Nehemiah was discipline in a community of faith. Early in Ezra, the Samaritans, who were part-Israelite and still claimed to worship Yahweh, came to Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel, the governor under Persian authority, offering to help them build the temple. Because of the fact that they were not pure Jews, this pair who parallel Ezra and Nehemiah in role and function, denied them their request. This led to opposition by the Samaritans that culminated in almost complete separation with animosity in the time of Jesus. Two other matters of discipline exist in Ezra-Nehemiah: the case of the mixed marriages and the breaking of the Sabbath. Due to lack of space, we will deal only with the mixed marriages.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/sabbath-school/2019/desperate-drastic-discipline
Thank you, Jean Sheldon, for this most necessary comment on the topic of this week’s Sabbath school. The official study guide of the church for the bible discussion groups seems to be a bit out of control, i.e. it is lacking basic reflections and must have bypassed the peer review - be it by a lucid mind or a compassionate heart - that I had always taken for granted to be in place.
I was especially surprised to read this passage from wednesday December 18, 2019 in the Bible Study Guide, 4th quarter, lesson 12, 2019:
"The specific words used in [Ezra 10:11,19) for “separate yourself” (badal) and “put away” (yatza’) are not used anywhere else in the Scriptures for divorce. Ezra would have known the terminology regularly used for divorce, but he chose not to use it. Thus it is apparent that Ezra did not consider the marriages valid after it was discovered that they were in violation of the Torah command. In other words, the marriages were nullified because they were contrary to the law. The process was dissolution of invalid marriages.
Does the author of the Sabbath school Quarterly really insinuate, that Ezra rightly considered these marriages to be invalid and therefore their “dissolution” was a justified step? To see such a statement in an official Adventist publication getting spread through all our local churches without a critical comment is appalling. The suggested idea here that a marriage vow between persons of differing religious backgrounds is invalid and can get nullified without further consequences is neither an Adventist nor a healthy position at all.
I’m missing an approach to the text that considers the option that Ezra (and Nehemiah) may have committed and reported some mistakes that they did not notice (or admit) themselves, even though there are strong indicators in both books and in the later story of the chosen people for exactly that. Nothing keeps us from viewing their deeds with a critical eye. Old Testament authors often do not explicitly judge actions as right or wrong. Instead they leave this task to the reader. We are called to take into account the consequences that followed the decisions of the protagonists. Why did a first attempt of Nehemiah to install healthy religious practices fail (ch 13)? Why did he return to Babylon at all, wasn’t he supposed to stay in Jerusalem, from a true believer’s point of view? Why did he not sacrifice his convenient career at king Artaxerxes’ court and choose a life in the Holy land? Why did he, again in his final chapter, repeat three times the plea, that Gold may have mercy on his works? The gold standard for evaluating behaviour in the Bible is, for every Christian, the teaching of Jesus Christ, as we get to know best from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And the son of God made very clear what God thinks about “nullifying” marriage vows by legal tricks.
(PS: The son of God also made very clear what God thinks about public shaming, to mention a second distorted teaching of this week’s Quarterly).
I also thought the lesson author’s explanation of separation rather than divorce was disingenuous, so I spent a little time this morning with Strong concordance. Both Hebrew terms encapsulate the very same idea: divide asunder, sever utterly, drive away, cast off, put away. There could be nothing pretty about what happened to these families (no mention of husbands having to hit the road either). I view this story as a cautionary tale for avoidance of anything which will divert us from our devotion to our friend Jesus: people, stuff, wealth, houses, land, sports, entertainment, 401k, anything. Keep this stuff in the proper place and put God first, and be kind to self and others when mistakes are made.
I was scheduled to teach the lesson in church today. However, a few weeks ago they canceled all Sabbath School classes for today because of a different program in church at LSU Church today. I was glad to escape from this theme…
This Sabbath School lesson could have taken a broader view if it had included Malachi and how the issue was handled then as well as what Jesus did when handling difficult issues along the same lines of "marriage, multiple marriages etc. Not bringing up the issue of leaving the “wife & children” (possibly destitute) would never be considered a correct thing to do under rules given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy as just one example that the lesson was narrowed (in my opinion) to push an agenda of “rules meaning more than individuals”. Jesus example was kindness to individuals before rules not vice versa. Jesus did not belittle any individual just to make a “point”, train or teach a lesson.
The whole quarter was a little narrow minded. Not the best to look at events from another era and culture and trying to apply those principles to our reality in our times and culture.
I think Christians need to be smart enough to be pragmatic and able to filter principles that are adequate and effective for today’s reality.
As it is with our current GC leadership, Nehemiah and Ezra had no need to ask for God’s guidance as the circumstances fed to their culturally driven agenda. A critical reading of the story should point out that marrying outside of the tribe of Israel was not the focal point of the narrative but was the result of men losing their moral compass. Therefore blaming the consequences of men’s errors to the opposite sex is nothing else but externalizing an internal fault and fostering continued bad behavior.
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