10 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.2 Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. 3 Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. 4 Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
(Ezra 10:1-4 NIV)
By way of review, Ezra has been in his position as a teacher and religious leader in Jerusalem for 4-1/2 months when some Jewish people bring a serious matter to his attention. Some Jewish people were intermarrying with the local non-Jewish people, and the religious leaders (the priests and Levites) were among the worst offenders.
Ezra reacted strongly, weeping and repenting of the nation’s sins before a holy God. As we concluded chapter 9, we listened to Ezra’s prayer to the Lord.
As we begin chapter 10 today, we see Ezra switch from first person voice to the third person voice, as if someone else were narrating the remainder of the chapter. It will be important to watch the interaction between Ezra and the people.
In verse 1, notice how the repentance of one (Ezra) brings about the repentance of many (men, women, even children). Notice what Ezra was doing: praying, confessing, weeping, prostrating himself before God. Also, notice what Ezra was not doing: separating himself from the Jewish people, preaching hell fire and brimstone from a self-righteous perspective, or disregarding sin and God’s Law and saying it was OK.
Ezra’s repentant attitude initiated repentance in others, as we saw above. And that repentance in others then initiated action on their part. One man – Shecaniah – stepped forward to confess the corporate sins of the people before God and before Ezra.
Shecaniah sought forgiveness and reconciliation of the nation before God. Shecaniah knew God’s heart, and knew that if they confessed their sin and repented that God would turn His anger and judgment away from His people. Shecaniah saw hope for the nation, and that hope resided in God alone.
Notice that Shecaniah’s confession and desire for reconciliation with God was genuine and heartfelt. Ezra did not coerce or in any way force the people to take action; this was the real deal and was divinely prompted.
In verse 3, we see Shecaniah’s proposal. He recommended renewing the covenant with God in obedience to God’s Law, to send away (divorce) all the non-Jewish wives and any children from those unions. Shecaniah did not recommend this action as a means of avoiding trouble, but as an act of obedience to God’s Law (Deuteronomy 7:2-4). As we stated in previous sessions, this was not a matter of racial purity, but of spiritual obedience and worship of God alone.
Verse 4 is Shecaniah’s call to action with Ezra:
- the realization that they needed to change, and to do so quickly
- the request for Ezra to lead the Jewish people in this change
- the reminder that Ezra had the responsibility to lead
- the reassurance that the nation would follow Ezra’s lead and obey God
This is a difficult passage, to say the least. The idea of mass divorce seems uncharacteristic to the heart of God (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:3-9, 1 Corinthians 7:10-16). Yet, as we look at God’s commands, we see that these marriages were never sanctioned or even allowed by God in the first place.
As we try to understand the issues going on here, we must look back at the roll call of the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem. They seemed to be mostly men, while women and children were mentioned on a passing note. It appears as if the religious leaders tried to solve the problem of finding wives for their sons themselves, rather than seek God and depend on the Lord for the right thing to do.
So what would an alternative be? In Genesis chapter 24, Abraham was faced with the same dilemma. Abraham trusted God and sent his servant back to his homeland to find a godly woman for Isaac. Abraham did not bow to peer pressure from the ungodly locals, nor did he use the marriage of his son to make a treaty with those living around him. He chose to trust God with finding his son a godly wife.
So what do we need to send away from us that leads us away from following God? What are we substituting for our dependence on and satisfaction with the Lord? What are we putting ahead of God?
This is not a call to misery and self-deprivation, but to holiness and freedom and joy that is found in obedience to Christ alone.
May we walk with Him today, enjoying His company and the joy He offers despite our circumstances and hardships.