The Plan for Ending
1While Ezra was down on his knees in front of God's temple, praying with tears in his eyes and confessing the sins of the people of Israel, a large number of men, women, and children gathered around him and cried bitterly.
2Shecaniah son of Jehiel from the family of Elam said:
Ezra, we have disobeyed God by marrying these foreign women. But there is still hope for the people of Israel, 3if we follow your advice and the advice of others who truly respect the laws of God. We must promise God that we will divorce our foreign wives and send them away, together with their children.
4Ezra, it's up to you to do something! We will support whatever you do. So be brave!
5Ezra stood up and made the chief priests, the Levites, and everyone else in Israel swear that they would follow the advice of Shecaniah. 6Then Ezra left God's temple and went to spend the night in the living quarters of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. He felt sorry because of what the people had done, and he did not eat or drink a thing.
7-8The officials and leaders sent a message to all who had returned from Babylonia and were now living in Jerusalem and Judah. This message told them to meet in Jerusalem within three days, or else they would lose everything they owned and would no longer be considered part of the people that had returned from Babylonia.
9Three days later, on the twentieth day of the ninth month, everyone from Judah and Benjamin came to Jerusalem and sat in the temple courtyard. It was a serious meeting, and they sat there, trembling in the rain.
10Ezra the priest stood up and said:
You have broken God's Law by marrying foreign women, and you have made the whole nation guilty! 11Now you must confess your sins to the Lord God of your ancestors and obey him. Divorce your foreign wives and don't have anything to do with the rest of the foreigners who live around here.
12Everyone in the crowd shouted:
You're right! We will do what you say. 13But there are so many of us, and we can't just stay out here in this downpour. A lot of us have sinned by marrying foreign women, and the matter can't be settled in only a day or two.
14Why can't our officials stay on in Jerusalem and take care of this for us? Let everyone who has sinned in this way meet here at a certain time with leaders and judges from their own towns. If we take care of this problem, God will surely stop being so terribly angry with us.
15Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah were the only ones who objected, except for the two Levites, Meshullam and Shabbethai.
16Everyone else who had returned from exile agreed with the plan. So Ezra the priest chose men who were heads of the families, and he listed their names. They started looking into the matter on the first day of the tenth month, 17and they did not finish until the first day of the first month of the next year.
“These men divorced their foreign wives, then sent them and their children away” (10:44). I know some of the psalms are awfully bleak but this has to be one of the saddest endings to a biblical book.
This is a tough passage to get your head around, and with the implications to the children involved, it brings a certain emotional element to it.
You’re just left thinking, “Well, who is going to look after these woman and children, how is this the most loving decision?”
A few thoughts…
Ezra 9 explains how distraught Ezra is with the sin of God’s people. He is on his knees begging for their forgiveness and help for their repentance. Interestingly in chapter 10 it would appear that everyone is sharing Ezra’s longing for revival. “You’re right! We will do what you say” (10:12) is the response of the people to Ezra’s rebuke. They are on-board for drastic change, to implement brave obedience.
We know from King’s Solomon’s story that marriage with foreign wives who worship false gods is dangerous (1 Kings 11:2). I’m assuming that the dangers are even more real for the multitudes who are following Solomon’s waywardness.
The text doesn’t tell us the spiritual conviction of the wives but I would like to think that they have been given the opportunity to turn to God (Judaism) as Jews could marry Gentiles as long as they converted. Maybe they wanted to remain worshipping false gods and so the drastic change then had to happen.
As Ezra did the right thing, other people must have felt hurt. I trust in a good God that didn’t abandon those women and children when they left.
But the emphasis is on Ezra and God’s desire for a holy people to worship him. I’m moved by the obedience of Ezra to renew God’s people to their true calling. It must have taken courage.
Thank you, God, for the book of Ezra, for the life of a bold and obedient prophet. Thank you for never giving up on your people. As we sit in the tension of things we struggle to understand we ask for more faith as we trust in a good and loving heavenly Father.