Ezra 10

EZRA CHAPTER 10

The People Confess Their Sin

      • While Ezra was praying and confessing, crying and throwing himself to the ground before God’s house, a very large crowd of Israelites- men, women, and children- gathered around him. The people wept bitterly. Then Shekaniah, whose father was Jehiel, one of Elam’s descendants, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the local peoples. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to send away these foreign wives and their children, in accordance with my lord’s counsel, and that of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Get up, because it is your duty to tell us how to proceed in setting this straight. We will support you, so be strong and take action.”

        • Some commentators point out that the word used for “married” here, is not the usual word for married, and from there speculate that these may not have been “proper marriages.” ESV Archaeology Study Bible addresses that claim, “The word translated married means literally ‘we have given a home’: some suggest that this implies that these were not actual marriages, although that conclusion is unlikely.”

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “Ezra’s own report of the events (7:27-9:15) now gives way to a different narrative voice, though the account continues without a break. Under God, Ezra’s public prayer and demonstration of grief bring a large number of people to repentance, as shown by the statement that they wept bitterly…Shecaniah speaks for the whole gathering, perhaps by prearrangement…Shecaniah’s own father may have had a mixed marriage…Shecaniah’s belief that ‘there is hope for Israel’…is dependent on making a covenant with God, meaning in this instance a solemn and binding promise to put away the foreign wives and their children. As with the term for ‘marriage,’ this is not the usual expression for ‘divorce’…The word means simply ‘bring out.’ In effect, this meant excommunicating them from the community of returned exiles. The text does not make clear any other details concerning matters of ongoing support and protection for these wives and their children (cf v. 44), or concerning what happened to them…In Ezra’s context, members of God’s people had defied God’s law in taking these wives…Ezra may have already outlined a plan for taking care of the foreign wives and their children, even though it is not recorded here.” On Shekaniah’s charge to Ezra to “be strong and take action,” the same source continues, “This is like the charge to Joshua at the first entry of Israel into the land (Josh 1:6-7), and relates both to overcoming enemies and to keeping the law.”

        • On Shekaniah’s statement to Ezra that it is his duty to tell them how to proceed, NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “As an expert in the law (see 7:10), Ezra was responsible for leading the people to a God-honoring solution to the problem of intermarriage. Because the law of Moses did not contain explicit directions for divorcing pagan wives, Ezra needed to develop a plan consistent with the requirements of Scripture and fair to the participants.”

        • On divorcing the foreign wives: “…since the law of Moses, as interpreted by the Rabbis, allowed divorce ‘for every cause’ (Matthew 19:3), the remedy suggested was feasible, though scarcely one which the civil power could enforce.”

        • On sending the children away with the mothers: “‘Filii matrem sequuntur’ was a maxim of Roman, and, apparently, also of Jewish law. Young children require especially a mother’s care. Older ones might be already tainted with idolatry. It was best, Shechaniah thought, to make a clean sweep, and dismiss the children as well as the mothers.”

        • Guzik’s commentary cites Kidner, who draws attention to an additional factor, “One fact to be borne in mind about the issue as a whole is that divorce was permitted in Israel (Deuteronomy 24:1); and broken marriages had been rife at this time for the very opposite of the present reason: i.e., there had been a scandalous number of Jewish wives abandoned in favour of heathen women (Malachi 2:10-16).”

        • Grievous abuse can occur when leaders misunderstand these passages and institute them in modern-day contexts to which they do not apply. We’ve already addressed one misunderstanding revolving around these passages in Ezra which was rampant in previous decades- the view that interracial marriage is a sin. Now we have another- the view that believers should divorce an unbelieving spouse. That is why NLT Illustrated Study Bible’s section explaining why these measures are certainly not prescriptive for NT believers is so vital:

          • Ezra’s solution is not prescriptive for believers today. In the new covenant under Christ, the faith of a believer sanctifies his or her marriage and children, so marriage to an unbeliever does not threaten the identity or purity of God’s people (1 Cor 7:14-16). The apostle Paul realized that divorce might occur when believers and unbelievers married, but he did not encourage believers in that situation to seek a divorce (1 Cor 7:10-13). Certainly, the wise policy to avoid these problems is to heed Paul’s advice not to marry an unbeliever in the first place. God’s people need to remain separated from what is unholy: ‘How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever?’ (2 Cor 6:14-15). But those who are married to an unbeliever today have God’s assurance that he can use that difficult situation for his glory (see also 1 Pet 3:1-2).”

      • So Ezra arose and made the leading priests, the Levites, and all Israel take an oath to do what had been suggested. So they took the oath. Then Ezra left from in front of the house of God, and went to the room of Jehohanan, who was Eliashib’s son. While he was there he did not eat any food or drink any water, because he was in mourning over the exiles’ unfaithfulness.

      • Then a proclamation was issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem that all the exiles were to assemble in Jerusalem. Anyone who failed to appear within 3 days would forfeit all of his property, in accordance with the decision of the officials and the elders. Furthermore, he himself would be expelled from the assembly of the exiles.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “As the territory of Judah had been much reduced, all could travel to Jerusalem ‘within three days.’ The borders were Bethel in the north, Beersheba in the south, Jericho in the east and Ono in the west- about 35 miles north to south and 25 miles east to west.”

        • ESV Study Bible adds, “Anyone who refused to participate in the plan to renounce the foreign wives and children would share their excommunication.”

      • Within the 3 days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. On the 20th day of the 9th month, all the people were sitting in the square in front of God’s house trembling- both because of this matter and because it was raining.

        • On the 9th month, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Kislev (November-December); it is in the middle of the rainy season, which begins with light showers in October and lasts to mid-April. The Hebrew (using a plural of intensity) indicates heavy torrential rains.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible says, “This was likely the outer court of the large temple compound. As with the Haram esh-Sherif in Jerusalem today, it likely had an extensive open square around the temple to accommodate the large crowd shivering in the cold and heavy December rain. Such incidental remarks suggest the authentic report of an eyewitness.”

      • Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful by marrying foreign women, and have increased Israel’s guilt. Now then, make a confession to Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, and do His will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the lands and from your foreign wives.

        • There is some variance in how v. 11 is rendered. ESV Study Bible explains, “Make confession is based on Hebrew words that could also be translated in other contexts as ‘give thanks or praise’ (Hb natan + todah; cf Josh 7:19 and ESV footnote). Some overlap in these meanings is not surprising because rightful confession is itself a kind of worship of God.”

      • Then the entire assembly answered with a loud voice, “You are right. We will do just as you have said. However, there are many people here and it is the rainy season, so we can’t stand out here in the open. Furthermore, we have greatly sinned in this matter, it can’t be resolved in a day or two. Let our leaders represent the entire assembly. Let all those in our cities who have married foreign women come at appointed times, together with the elders and judges of each city, in order to avert the fierce anger of our God concerning this matter.”

      • Only Asahel’s son Jonathan and Tikvah’s son Jahzeiah opposed this, and they were supported by Meshullum and Shabbethai the Levite. So the exiles proceeded with what had been proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family leaders, each designated by name, to represent their ancestral families. They convened on the 1st day of the 10th month to consider the matter, and by the 1st day of the 1st month they had finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “It is unclear why these four people opposed the plan. Perhaps they wanted a stricter penalty, or perhaps they or members of their families did not want to divorce their foreign wives. That there were only four dissenters shows the overwhelming support the policy had gained among the rest of the exiles. Sadly, a few years later, a similar problem of intermarriage with pagan wives created another crisis within the community (Neh 9-10).”

        • ESV Study Bible weighs in, “This probably means that these men oppsed the entire resolution to put away the foreign wives. But the verse contains some ambiguity in Hebrew, and some interpreters think these men opposed the proposed means of proceeding because they wished to act more swiftly.”

Those Guilty of Intermarriage

        • ESV Study Bible notes, “The list of around a hundred names is surprisingly short, and may suggest a more limited problem than one might have expected. Either the list has been abbreviated or in fact those involved were few. In the latter case, the severe reaction of Ezra and the community recognizes the extreme danger that the whole community could face by the actions of only a few in this fundamental area of its covenantal life (compare the notion of purging ‘evil from your midst,’ Deut 17:7). The list is divided, typically for Ezra, into priests (Ezra 10:18), Levites (v. 23), and Israel (vv. 25-43). The guilt offering (v. 19) was presumably to be brought by each person in the list. The extensive inquiry must have considered each case separately. In some cases, a wife and her children might actually have adopted the religion of Israel, as anticipated and permitted in 6:21. The inquiry might have come down to an examination of such people’s beliefs. Those who were turned away probably returned to their non-Jewish families.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds “Later Jewish records seem to suggest that Ezra and Nehemiah were mostly successful in these reforms. Contemporary parallels to Ezra’s reforms have been noted; however, these other reforms were usually for racial or economic reasons, not spiritual ones. For example, in Rome prior to 445 BC, patricians (those of the ruling class) were not allowed to marry plebeians (other free citizens). Similarly, in Athens in 450 BC, the statesman Pericles limited citizenship to full-blooded Athenians, forcing other residents into slavery.”

      • It was determined that from the descendants of the priests, the following had married foreign women:

        • From the descendants of Jozadak’s son Joshua and his brothers:

        • Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah. They pledged to send their wives away, and being guilty, they offered a ram from the flock as a guilt offering.

        • From Immer’s descendants: Hanani and Zebadiah.

        • From Harim’s descendants: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah.

        • From Pashhur’s descendants: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.

      • From the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (also known as Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.

      • From the singers: Eliashib.

      • From the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.

      • From the Israelites:

        • From Parosh’s descendants: Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah, and Benaiah.

        • From Elam’s descendants: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah.

        • From Zattu’s descendants: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza.

        • From Bebai’s descendants: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai.

        • From Bani’s descendants: Meshullum, Malluk, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth.

        • From Pahath-Moab’s descendants: Adna, Kelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh.

        • From Harim’s descendants: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malkijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, Benjamin, Malluk, and Shemariah.

        • From Hashum’s descendants: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei.

        • From Bani’s descendants: Maadai, Amram, Uel, Benaiah, Bedeiah, Keluhi, Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu.

          • NET Bible points out here, “The name ‘Bani’ appears in both v. 29 and v. 34. One of these names has probably undergone alteration in the transmission process, but it is not clear exactly where the problem lies or how it should be corrected.”

        • From Binnui’s descendants: Shimei, Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, Maknadebai, Shashai, Sharai, Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.

        • From Nebo’s descendants: Jeiel, Mattithaiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.

      • All of these had married foreign women, and some of them had also had children by these wives.

        • NET Bible remarks, “The final statement in v. 44 is difficult in terms of both its syntax and its meaning. The present translation attempts to make sense of the MT. But the passage may have undergone textual variation in the transmission process. One proposal is that the text should be emended to read ‘and they sent these wives and children away’ (cf. NAB, NRSV, TEV, CEV).”