Many years after being taken into Babylonian exile, God moved his hand to miraculously allow some of the Jews to return and rebuild the temple (cf. Ezra and Nehemiah). Once again, an adjustment of mindset was required among those who re-entered the land.
Before being taken off into captivity they were to think of themselves as a theocratic army, commanded to be separate from the world. During their time in exile, they once again thought of themselves as tolerated sojourners. For this reason, toward the end of this exilic period they had become well versed in all that it meant to interact with the culture of the world.
It is for this reason that we are not surprised to hear what was told to Ezra as they started to resettle in the land.
“The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations…. (Ezra 9:1–12)
Ezra, of course, is horrified. But, we might ask, were they not simply being obedient to Jeremiah’s instructions? Were these peoples and abominations really any worse than those of Babylon? Ezra’s prayer provides the answer to these questions.
“And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 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. (Ezra 9:10-11)
Note that Ezra has in mind the commandments concerning taking possession of the land and not those of being in exile (away from the land). Were the abominations any worse or different from those of Babylon? No! What then was the difference? In Babylon they were exiles. In Canaan they are commanded to take possession. Or, in keeping with the theme of this series, another way to say that is this: In Babylon they are under a pilgrim principle, in Canaan they are under a land/theocratic principle.
As Ezra continues then, note the contrast between these instructions, and those given earlier through Jeremiah:
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.’ (Ezra 9:12)
That is exactly the opposite of what Jeremiah told them to do! But is there a contradiction in God’s Word? No, it merely highlights the very issue we have been talking about all along. Ezra is vexed because he knows that as soon as they had re-entered the land, they had once again moved from life under the pilgrim-principle, to that of life under the land-principle.