Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

The Embrace, the memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, Boston Common, January 2023, created by Hank Willis Thomas, commissioned by the King Boston Initiative.

And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat
Ezra 6:21

This verse counters yesterday's reflection.1 As the theologian Derek Kidner has written,

"This is a crucial verse for correcting the impression one might gain from Ezra 4:1-3 of a bitterly exclusive reality we find that only the self-excluded were unwelcome. The convert found an open door, as Rahab2 and Ruth3 had done."

The term 'filthiness' is harsh, but refers more to the immorality of the Canaanite and the Babylonian habits, rather than to their actual level of cleanliness, which was likely no better or worse than anyone else of the time. Temple orgies, child prostitution and incest being among the unclean habits of the heathen, all anathema to Israel, as indeed they are to any civilised, righteous society. Those individuals ready to leave such practices behind them and give themselves completely to the God of Israel were welcomed into the fold. What was not welcome was a half-hearted approach to God, which was perhaps what the temple builders suspected when their adversaries came to them offering to help. It's complex, like most human relationships.

It is good to read the closing two verses of the first part of the book of Ezra, to hear of the open arms of Israel, after what appears to be the opposite attitude in the earlier verses. I was quick to judge without having the full story—a good reminder to listen more fully in future. This of course is the same lesson Jesus teaches us, that all sinners can be saved, all sin redeemed—even, I hope, the sin of unreasonable judgement!

1 Ostracism, 21/5/2021
2 Rahab's story is featured in Harlot, 1/3/2021
3 Ruth's story is featured in four reflections, 28-31/3/2021