Reading the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, it is very evident that God chose His people to be separated.
Jesus refers to His people as a city set upon a hill (Matthew 5:14), so it’s obvious that He wants His people to be known and to be examples to those around Him. In John 17, Jesus prays to God the Father for His disciples, saying: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)
The beginning of Ezra is very exciting, because the Israelites are able to return home and rebuild the temple. There is some crying by older Israelites who realized that it didn’t compare with the old temple during Solomon’s time (Ezra 3:12-13), but it was still a time of celebration.
But later Ezra becomes very upset to hear that the Israelites have begun to mingle and marry with people from other countries, a complete prohibition from God. In fact, this was the cause of Israel’s downfall in the first place.
The end of the book of Ezra deal with a very tough confession of their wrongdoing and the long, arduous process of separating themselves now.
The book of Nehemiah is focused on building a wall so Israel can protect and separate themselves from their neighbors. This may seem unloving and harsh, but it was required for their protection.
Being a city on a hill can be difficult. You don’t want to be so far removed that no one hears about you. But you also require some degree of separation.
A “city set upon a hill” needs to be an example to others, but it needs to be very careful of who it comes into contact with and who it mingles with. To many, this will seem discriminatory and at times even harsh. But this is necessary to maintain the integrity of the proverbial “city” and to allow it to continue to be special and exemplary.