5 So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath.6 Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.
7 A proclamation was then issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem. 8 Anyone who failed to appear within three days would forfeit all his property, in accordance with the decision of the officials and elders, and would himself be expelled from the assembly of the exiles.
9 Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”
12 The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: “You are right! We must do as you say. 13 But there are many people here and it is the rainy season; so we cannot stand outside. Besides, this matter cannot be taken care of in a day or two, because we have sinned greatly in this thing. 14 Let our officials act for the whole assembly. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a foreign woman come at a set time, along with the elders and judges of each town, until the fierce anger of our God in this matter is turned away from us.” 15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite, opposed this.
16 So the exiles did as was proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family heads, one from each family division, and all of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to investigate the cases, 17 and by the first day of the first month they finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women.
(Ezra 10:5-17 NIV)
As we pick up from our last few times together, we see Ezra leading a national movement of repentance over the sin of intermarrying with non-Jewish women. This repentance then led to revival across the land, not by force, but by Ezra’s example.
Shecaniah, one of the Jewish leaders, agrees with Ezra and wants to see the nation obey the Lord and enjoy peace and blessing restored. Shecaniah makes a proposal to end the unlawful marriages and cut their ties with the ungodly people around them. Sheacaniah also prompts Ezra to lead the people out of sin and back into right relationship with and obedience to the Lord.
In today’s passage, we see Ezra respond to Shecaniah’s request. Ezra ends his emotional cry before God, gets up, and prepares to put the proposal into action (v. 5). Verse 6 tells us that Ezra is still fasting as a sign of mourning over the nation’s sin.
The first thing Ezra requires is an oath (a promise) from all the people that they will obey the Lord and stick to the plan of separating themselves from their non-Jewish wives, children, and the non-Jewish neighbors around them. The people agreed.
Ezra then retreated to one of the side rooms of the Temple. The religious leaders then drafted and sent out a proclamation that a national “town hall” would be held in Jerusalem in three days. Attendance was mandatory; the penalty for not showing up was forfeiture of all land, possessions, and banishment from Jewish culture (v. 6).
In verses 7-8, the proclamation went out, and in verse 9, the people gathered in Jerusalem. Ezra records that the attendees gathered in the open area in front of the Temple, and were trembling because of the nature of the meeting as well as the rain.
Can you see this scene in your mind’s eye? The leaders have called everyone together to address this terrible sin of the nation. All the returned exiles are here, standing in the mud, shivering from the cold, and in the pouring rain, trembling on the inside, waiting to hear their fate.
In verses 10-12, Ezra addresses the crowd, admonishes them to obey the Lord, and separate themselves from their non-Jewish wives and their relationships with the non-Jewish community around them. Remember, this was not an ethnic or racial separation – this was a spiritual separation.
The people reply in agreement (vv. 12-14); however, they ask to amend the process to be carried out at a community level. They ask that a thorough investigation will be made to ensure compliance is one hundred percent to avert God’s hand of judgment. Only four people objected; the proposal carried the day.
Ezra agrees to the people’s request; people return to their homes and Ezra names a responsible person from each of the family heads to carry out the investigations. The detailed review began in each family group in their respective towns and villages across the land, with local officials overseeing the process. The entire process took 3 months to complete. Ezra records the dates according to the Jewish calendar; using our modern calendars, the process started in January and finished in March.
Today’s passage is a grim reminder that sin weighs us down and causes great heartache. The writer of Hebrews reminds us to avoid the entanglements of sin that prevent us from running the race that God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Today’s passage is also an incredible example of the power of godly influence – not by force, but by example. Ezra lived his life fully engaged – “all in” – for the Lord. When confronted with the sin of the nation, he wept openly and repented before Almighty God. The people saw Ezra’s heart, turned to the Lord in repentance and prayer, and a revival was born.
May we live “all in” for the Lord as Ezra did.
Watch and see what God does around us when we give Him our all.