So how does it happen that the men of Israel who returned from captivity in Babylon rushed so quietly right back into the same kind of sin that God had told them for their entire history to avoid?
Simple: they spent their whole day working for God.
Most of these men were Levites, at least; some, priests. And even for those who weren't, Ezra tells us that the problem was particularly pronounced among the leadership of the people - the Levites and priests and perhaps a couple of governor-types.
They returned from exile to rebuild the Temple of God. They were working on the wall around Jerusalem, the city of God. They were putting together everything they would need to offer sacrifices to God. They were surrounded by the sacred objects of God. Their lives were centered around all of these holy things that they were doing all the time, and, well, if you want to be pleasing to God, just make sure the majority of your work is for His glory, right?
That's the trap that they were falling into. That's the trap that we fall into. We fill our calendars and our schedules very deliberately with "Christian" things - church services, small group, community service projects, midweek Bible study, nightly prayer, praise band practice, and whatever else we might have volunteered for this month, and we convince ourselves that we've satisfied our obligation to God. We convince ourselves that we are thoroughly "Christians." Especially if we add a little financial giving on top of that.
Then, we go home and we curse at our children. We yell at our spouse. We drink a little bit too much. We look at pornography on the computer. We start scheming and planning on how to get things that we want that aren't ours - be they physical possessions or intangibles, like that promotion at work. We gossip. We sabotage. We betray those who have put their trust in us.
But hey, we're thoroughly Christian. I mean, just look at all the stuff on our calendar.
This is what the Levites were doing, Old Testament-style. They were working all day for God, working in the service of the Temple, working on the rebuilding of the Temple. They came back to Jerusalem with this really prestigious title on their shoulders - everyone knew they were the Levites. Everyone knew they were the chosen few servants of God. They knew they were the chosen few servants of God.
And they figured with as much as they were doing during the day, all day, with trowels in one hand and swords in the other, there was never going to be any question - on earth and certainly not in heaven - about what kind of men they were. They were God's men!
Somehow, that convinces us that we don't have to live thoroughly godly lives. That because we are already holy, we don't have to live holy all the time. That because we fill our schedules and book our days with service to God and overt acts of worship, there's no question about what kind of men we are. Thus, it doesn't matter much what we do with our non-God time. It doesn't matter what we do in the privacy of our own homes. It doesn't matter what we do "after dark."
As long as in the light, everyone sees and knows what kind of men we are. We are Levites! We are the chosen few holy servants of God.
Of course, that never means sin isn't sin, and it doesn't get us off the hook for the ungodly things we do with the "empty" spaces on our calendar, but it's the sin the Levites fell into, and it's the one we keep falling into even today.
What's also interesting, though, is that even Ezra, the leader of the returning exiles, the interim governor of sorts of the land, didn't even notice what was going on. He was in charge of all of this, and he didn't notice the massive number of foreign marriages that were happening right under his nose. How is that possible?