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9:1–2 […] The problem voiced by the chiefs (9:1a) relates to the intermarriage of Israelites, including primarily or initially some of their fellow chiefs (9:2b) with the “peoples of the land” (9:2). That such a practice represents “faithlessness/sin” (9:2) in their own eyes is explained by their association of the “peoples of the land” (i.e., those who were not identified with the returnees) with the abominations of a list of nations that is generally familiar from the Pentateuch (e.g., Gen 15:19–20; Exod 3:8). The tradition assumed here seems to be drawing upon a combination of Deut 7:1–3, which proscribes intermarriage with the usual seven nations indigenous to Canaan, and Deut 23:2–7 which excludes from the community Edomites and Egyptians up to the third generation and Ammonites and Moabites altogether. […]
9:3–5 […] If he had offered instruction on the passages of which the chiefs seem to be aware, but was himself -unaware of the scale or existence of the problem, Ezra’s dramatic reaction here may well be intended to suggest the strength of his own personal shock and dismay. If, however, as is perhaps more likely, Ezra was already specifically aware of the problem, the strength of Ezra’s response here will be primarily for the benefit of galvanizing the community into the appropriate response.
Much like the term “Quakers” of the more recent past, “all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (Ezra 9:4; Isa 66:2, 5) evidently became a way of referring to a party within the returnees distinguished by their particular reverence for and interpretation of the Torah (Ezra 10:3). Their sympathies may well have been wholly or partly prompted by Ezra’s ministry, but their solidarity with him is unmistakably expressed here by their sitting “appalled” with Ezra, in much the same manner as Job’s friends do (2:13).
9:6–7 Now that others have expressed their solidarity with him, Ezra commences his confession by identifying with the community’s sin (“our iniquities”) in spite of his own individual innocence. It is precisely because the community’s sins and iniquities have “climbed to the heavens” (9:6) that Ezra is ashamed to “show [lit., lift] his face” (Job 22:26) to the God of the heavens (Ezra 1:2; 5:11–12; 6:9–10; 7:12, 21, 23). […] Ezra here insists that the sins of his own generation have added height to the tower of trespasses already erected in the preexilic period.
9:8–9 The guilt of Ezra and his contemporaries is all the greater, he admits, because of the grace that the “remnant” (i.e., the community associated with the returnees) has experienced “for a brief moment” (i.e., since the edict of Cyrus). The “givenness” of this grace is expressed in the gift of “a stake” (NRSV; lit., “a tent peg”) in the holy place, which likely intends a contrast to the nomadic transience of exile (see, e.g., Isa 33:20). […] . While Ezra’s prayer acknowledges that the “bondage” (Ezra 9:8–9) of exile is not ended, God’s graciousness is seen in the extension of love to them, such that their Persian overlords (as in 7:28) have in turn allowed them a minirevival (9:8–9) defined in terms of restoring the ruins of the temple and setting up a “wall” in Judea and Jerusalem. […]
9:10–15 […] Like the prayers of lament found in the Psalms, Ezra’s prayer displays a profound awareness of the problem in the relationship between God and his people. […] Ezra’s prayer includes features such as a request for attentiveness, a historical recital/reflection, and rhetorical questions toward its conclusion. Given Ezra’s role and activities as described earlier in his memoir, it is hardly surprising that even when praying, he is also preaching/teaching Torah (primarily as mediated by Deuteronomy). 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 26-27.
1 After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” 3 As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. 5 And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God, 6 saying:
“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. 8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. 9 For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.
10 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 11 which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’ 13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, 14 shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? 15 O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.”
Questions to help us go deeper
Ezra 9:1-2, 10-14
- What was the Israelites’ crucial mistake? In what ways have I “not separated [myself] from the peoples of the lands with their abominations”? How is God warning me through this passage?
- What is especially tragic that “in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost“?
- Based on this passage, what are the components of genuine repentance? What is the proper posture when coming into the presence of God?