04 Ezra 9-10 Ezra Leads Spiritual ReformEzra, Nehemiah, & Esther: Restore, Rebuild, & Redeem
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Once again, I have extensively used and copied from the Truth for Today Commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, written by my friend and former colleague at Heritage Christian University, Coy D. Roper, Ph.D. I highly recommend it!
Roper: In the last two chapters of the book, Ezra is seen not only as one who taught the law of God, but also as one who enforced it, although his enforcement procedures relied more on persuasion than on force. These chapters deal with one subject: the problem of marrying idolaters. In chapter 9, the problem was reported to Ezra, with the result that he mourned and publicly prayed a prayer of confession and penitence. In chapter 10, the people responded to Ezra’s concern by putting away their foreign wives.
How do Ezra’s reforms relate to those of Nehemiah? According to the usually accepted chronology, Nehemiah went to Judah thirteen years after Ezra but still had to deal with the problem of pagan wives (Neh. 13:23–29). The seeming incongruity of that fact has led some to believe that Nehemiah went back to Jerusalem before Ezra. However, it is possible that Ezra could have initiated the reforms described in Ezra 9 and 10, and then, after about ten years, some Jews were guilty of the same sin.
04 Ezra 9-10 Ezra Leads Spiritual Reform
Ezra 9 – The Dilemma of Pagan Wives
Ezra 9:1-2 – The Leaders’ Report
The events of chapter 9 occurred about 4-1/2 months after Ezra reached Jerusalem. The reforms that followed took another 3-1/2 months (including time to select the leaders; 10:9, 16) and were completed “by the first day of the first month” (10:17), exactly one year after Ezra and those who accompanied him had left Babylon (7:9).
The princes approached me. Took the initiative. Took responsibility to address the sins of others. Saw the danger to the entire community of not confronting such sin.
Not separated. God’s people to be distinct, set apart, a “holy nation” (Ex 19:6). Constant warnings.
Dt 12:28 “Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God. 29 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ 31 “You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.
Is 52:11 Depart, depart, go out from there, Touch nothing unclean; Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, You who carry the vessels of the Lord.
the very skies.
2 Cor 6:14-18
Je 51:45 “Come forth from her midst, My people, And each of you save yourselves From the fierce anger of the Lord.”
Abominations: things abhorrent, repulsive, disgusting to Yahweh.
Taken wives …
Intermarriage forbidden: Ex 34:11–17; Deut 7:1–6
Influence of a mate on their spouse, children, and others in their circle.
Danger of idolatry and syncretism.
Also possible that Jews had put away their Jewish wives to marry pagans.
Gen 6:1-7 – Sons of God and daughters of men. 1 Kgs 11:1-13 – Solomon.
Others: Num. 25:1–5; Judg. 2:10–16; Neh. 13:26
Holy race – Main concern not hateful racism or arrogance, but the preservation of holiness. Marriages and families that would continue and strengthen the “set-apart” nature of God’s people rather than compromising it.
Racism and bigotry? Jewish arrogance? Much more was involved in the Jewish leaders’ rejection of mixed marriages than mere prejudice or feelings of superiority. “The holy race intermingled.”
Leaders foremost – seems that one group of leaders was concerned about other leaders guilty of this sin, or that these same guilty leaders were conscience-stricken.
Leaders calling out leaders, holding each other accountable.
When leaders compromise and sin, they give permission to others to do the same.
Purpose – to avoid contamination from the abominations of these peoples.
Already we’ve seen that Gentiles could join the Jews by committing themselves.
The peoples of the lands – non-Israelites and those descended from mixed marriages. Eight nations listed here: the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. This list is similar to, but slightly different from, the lists of nations who dwelt in the land before Israel’s conquest of Canaan (Gen. 15:19–21; Ex. 3:8, 17; 23:23; 33:2; 34:11; Deut. 7:1; 20:17; Josh. 12:8). These nations should be seen as representative of all Israel’s neighbors. They had one characteristic in common: They were guilty of abominations, a concise way of referring to idolatry and the abominable practices that accompanied it.
Ezra 9:3-4 – Ezra’s Reaction
Why would Ezra be so upset by this news?
God’s people, having suffered exile because of their past idolatry and immorality, were now repeating and reverting to their old ways! Having been rescued from destruction, they were again committing the same sins that had led them toward destruction!
Trembled at the words … Discuss reverence for the Word of God and the part that such reverence plays in one’s attitude toward obedience and sin.
Ezra 9:5-15 – Ezra’s Prayer of Confession
9:5 Ezra’s Approach to God
My humiliation – Hebrew term related to a verb meaning to be afflicted or to humble oneself. Sometimes applied to fasting (Ps 35:13; Is 58:3, 5).
9:6-7 Ezra’s Confession of Continual Sin and Deserved Judgment
Shame and embarrassment.
Overwhelming sin, above our heads, even up to the heavens.
Continual, since the time of our fathers. Cf. Acts 7:51-53.
9:8-9 Ezra’s Gratitude for Yahweh’s Recent Grace
For a brief moment.
A peg in his holy place.
Enlighten our eyes.
Grant us a little reviving.
We are slaves in (Persian) bondage.
Yet the Persian rulers have allowed us to rebuild the temple and a wall (protection).
9:10-14 Ezra’s Confession of Specific Sin
What can we say? No excuse. Having received grace, then choosing to forsake God’s commandments.
How do we see that happening today? Rom 6:1-11.
Prophets – Even when preachers preach the truth, they cannot force or guarantee compliance.
Ex 34:15 otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.
Dt 7:3 “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.”
Requited us less – Though Israel’s sins were grievous, God spared the remnant.
Shall we again break your commandments? Shall we go on sinning? Rom 6:1-11.
Destruction … no remnant – Further sin … anger God to wipe out even these few.
9:15 Ezra’s Acknowledgement of God’s Righteousness
15 “O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.”
Admission: “You are right, and we are wrong.” That’s the first step!
Coming clean with God – Nothing can improve when people are in denial.
Why didn’t Ezra specifically ask for forgiveness? Because repentance and restitution had to come first.
Takeaways from Ezra 9
Marrying Within the Faith – By intermarrying with pagans, the Jews ran the risk of being drawn away from single-minded devotion to Yahweh and toward idolatry. As a result, the holy seed – in a religious, spiritual sense – would be contaminated. Gentiles were to be allowed into Jewish marriages only if they committed themselves to keep the faith pure.
History had already proven, with kings such as Solomon, Ahab, and others, that this danger was real. In fact, the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile might have been avoided except for the influence of pagan idolatry and its effects on marriages and families.
In my judgment, not shared by all, the New Testament teaches that devout Christians are to marry devout Christians. “Do not be unequally yoked” (2 Cor 6:14) applies to other compromising relationships also, but it is hard to see how the principle could not apply to marriage. Paul made it clear, for example, that if he had married, he would have chosen a sister in Christ to be his wife (1 Cor 9:5).
To marry outside the faith is to invite difficulties on many levels. These include involvement in worship, Bible study, evangelism, and other ministries. Financial stewardship, child rearing and discipline, and other matters are affected. The best marriage is one in which a “Colossians 3” man marries a “Colossians 3” woman. Read that chapter and notice the radical differences between those who have been raised with Christ and those who have not.
However, Christians who are married to unbelievers are to remain in their marriages, seeking to win their mates to the Lord (1 Cor 7:12-16; 1 Pet 3:1-2). The Christian provides a sanctifying influence in that home that would otherwise be absent.
Reporting the Sins of Others – Is it ever right to tell a third party about the sins of others? We don’t want to be “tattle-tales,” gossiping about those who are absent to gain prestige for ourselves. However, the informer or whistle-blower may save a life, a family, a company, or even a nation! In fact, the laws of our land require that we report matters in which lives are at stake.
The key is the motive for revealing others’ sins. If one’s aim is to please the Lord, obey the law, benefit society, and truly help the person who has done wrong, one can and must tell the proper authorities what the wrongdoer has done.
Ezra 10 – Separation from Evil Influences
Ezra 10:1-4 – The Solution Proposed
A very large assembly – Ezra was not alone in his weeping. A huge crowd of heartbroken, penitent Israelites joined him and shared his godly sorrow for sin. Perhaps his example prompted their response.
Shecaniah – Problem. Sin. Hope. Proposal. Support.
Put away the foreign wives and their children – It is perhaps hard for modern readers to understand and appreciate the apparent necessity of such drastic action. It is quite natural to feel a sense of sympathy and compassion for these women and even more for these innocent children. After all, wasn’t it the Israelite men who had disobeyed God? Shouldn’t the men, not the women and children, be the ones penalized?
However, let’s describe the danger of these pagan marriages in a way that we can all understand. If someone in your family were to bring deadly poison into your house, and serve it to all on the kitchen table, what would you do? You would take decisive, immediate action to remove the poison and its source!
If we could see pagan idolatry as spiritual poison, as an abomination to our holy God, which he will not allow in his presence, we could begin to grasp the urgent crisis that Israel faced at this time.
These women were not innocent victims! They were idolaters whose religious practices defied the living God! And these children, being raised by these mothers in these mixed marriages, would potentially grow up with a weakened, compromised view of the one true God.
What about the men? Are they “getting off” while only the women and children suffer? Not at all. These actions were not taken by hard-hearted men to mistreat women and children. Rather, they were taken by broken-hearted men to try to rectify their disobedience to God. These men also suffered greatly, having to give up women that they loved and children that they treasured.
Again, we must not assume that this is an example of men painlessly, easily, and comfortably blaming women for what the men themselves did. These were not domineering, mean, harsh egotists, as some men no doubt are. They were intent on repentance and getting right with God. The cost would be enormous for them, as well as for their wives and children.
Also, very importantly, we need not assume that these women and children would have no homes and no means of support for the future. Though we are not told what provisions were made for them, we must not assume that no provisions were made. As Schoville writes, “The women would have returned to their paternal families with their children. With them they would have taken their dowries and any other property they had brought into the marriage or acquired.”
According to the law – Beyond the emotions and difficulties that the Israelites may have felt at this time was their conviction regarding the commandments of God.
“Arise!” Ezra must take the lead. For him to do so will require courage. The steps he must take cannot be delegated or assigned to others.
“We will be with you.” Ezra can lead effectively only because others (opinion leaders and influencers) will follow.
Ezra 10:5-11 – The Solution Presented
Ezra accepted Shecaniah’s proposal. He called on the religious leaders and all the people to take the appropriate oath, and they did. He entered Jehohanan’s chamber, a side room attached to the side of the temple. He fasted, unable to eat or drink because of the sin of the exiles.
The proclamation, sent throughout the land, required all the exiles to meet in Jerusalem within three days. Anyone who refused would lose his possessions and his “membership” in the exiles’ community.
This meeting occurred in the ninth month on the twentieth of the month. This was about 4-1/2 months after Ezra reached Jerusalem (cf. 10:9; 7:9). During those 4-1/2 months, Ezra was doing what he came to do: study, observe, and teach.
The people were trembling for two reasons: (1) because of this matter, that is, the seriousness of the unfaithfulness that was evident in their breaking the law of God, and (2) because of the heavy rain. The assembly took place late in the “ninth month” (Kislev), which would have been sometime in the month of December. This was during the “rainy season” (10:13); Jerusalem tends to be cold and wet at that time of year. Standing in the rain was uncomfortable, so they had both spiritual (or emotional) and physical reasons to feel discomfort.
Ezra confronted the people, specifically calling out their sin. He exhorted them to confess their sin and do God’s will by separating themselves from the pagan peoples and their pagan wives.
Ezra 10:12-17 – The Response Given
“That’s right!” Admission of sin is the first step toward recovering from it.
Our duty – Literally, “[it is] upon us.” Personal responsibility is crucial. Those who blame others for their sins will never be free of their sins.
Logistics – In light of the rain (cf. 10:9) and the extent of the transgressions, the people requested an adjustment. They would go home and apparently schedule times for the accused men to come to Jerusalem, along with the elders and judges from their cities, to have their cases examined. By following through with this approach, the people hoped to turn the fierce anger of the LORD away from Israel.
Four men opposed the plan for some unstated reason. However, they must have then submitted to the majority’s decision. “But the exiles did so.”
The investigations allowed each Jewish man the opportunity to give evidence that his wife was not foreign but was instead native-born or a proselyte (Gentile convert). Other witnesses who knew the couple could either affirm or deny his claim.
The reforms that followed took another 3-1/2 months (including time to select the leaders; 10:9, 16). The process was completed exactly one year after Ezra and that group had left Babylon.
Ezra 10:18-44 – The Offenders Listed
Details – The inspired author recorded the actual names of people involved in the events he was reporting. This fact testifies to his concern to guarantee the historicity of the account. He did not speak in generalities but included particulars.
The list includes about 110 names of men who put away their foreign wives. This number represents less than 1 percent of the total population. Perhaps those listed here are only the sons of the priests (10:18) rather than the entire group.
Takeaways from Ezra 10
Congregational Sin – In Ezra’s day, intermarriage with pagans had become “normal.” Ezra led the people to admit the sin, weep over it, pray about it, and turn from it. His own mourning and his boldness formed a powerful combination. He worked with and through the influencers and opinion leaders. He connected with the hearts and consciences of the people. He took serious action. In a similar way, note how Paul addressed the congregational acceptance of sin in 1 Corinthians 5. The church responded well, and so did the man involved in sin, so that forgiveness resulted (2 Cor 2:6-8).
God’s Authority – God is often blamed for being too strict, harsh, or rigid. Someone I know challenged God and accused him of fault in Ezra 9-10. After all, this person asked, doesn’t God care about women and children in a situation like this? How could he do this to people? How unfeeling!
In fact, God is not at fault here; people are. God did not mistreat these women and children; people did. When people choose knowingly to disobey God, and they then face consequences as a result. If I commit a crime and go to prison, my wife and children lose their husband and father. It’s not the court’s fault; it’s mine. My family suffers the consequences of what I chose to do.
Costly Obedience – Submission to the will of God can be difficult, especially when my will conflicts with his will. Obedience becomes even more challenging when one’s spouse and family members are not committed disciples. Jesus said in Luke 14:26-27, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Faithful Leadership – Dr. Coy Roper notes that Ezra demonstrated at least three principles that church leaders can use:
Seek a consensus of opinion when trying to work out difficulties in the congregation.
Do not hesitate to ask members to make the hard choices required to avoid sin or to gain forgiveness.
Be patient with people and respond positively to reasonable requests.
In addition, Ezra’s work illustrates what a church leader should be and do today:
Be a model whom other members can follow, just as Ezra modeled how the people should react to the sin of Israel (10:1).
Be a teacher, as Ezra apparently taught the people the truth about marrying idolaters before Shecaniah suggested a solution to the problem (10:1, 2).
Seek input from the congregation, as Ezra took the advice of Shecaniah (10:2–5). In fact, if ideas come from people within the congregation, they often are more likely to be accepted and acted upon than if they originate with the leaders.
Be a motivator. A large part of a leader’s job consists of motivating the people to want to do God’s will.
Share and delegate responsibility. Ezra shared responsibility in solving the problem of foreign wives. He delegated responsibility by appointing a group to investigate cases of intermarriage that were presented to them (10:5–8).
Sometimes, simply require people to obey God’s law (10:10, 11). when church leaders issue such a decree, it will likely be accepted if (maybe only if) they have done the other things previously mentioned—for example, if they have modeled godly behavior, taught and motivated the people, sought to build a consensus, and shared responsibility.
Church leaders are to be somewhat like Paul, who became “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22). They need the kind of wisdom that only God can give to understand what is required in a certain situation at a certain time.