“Let us now make a covenant with our God to divorce our pagan wives and to send them away with their children. We will follow the advice given by you and by the others who respect the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law of God. Get up, for it is your duty to tell us how to proceed in setting things straight. We are behind you, so be strong and take action.”
So Ezra stood up and demanded that the leaders of the priests and the Levites and all the people of Israel swear that they would do as Shecaniah had said. And they all swore a solemn oath.
Ezra 10:3-5 NLT
It seems a collective deep breath would do us good right about now.
I briefly chatted with my husband about this final chapter of Ezra, telling him how harsh it all seemed. After all, our God is the One Who takes the side of the down and out. He is the Father of the fatherless, the Defender of orphans and widows. He even showed up to a previously-abandoned foreign mistress and her son who themselves had been “sent away”. He is the Creator of marriage, calling those who come together one flesh, making separation as difficult as cutting off a part of oneself.
So the exiles coming together and all sending away their pagan wives, and their children with them, is difficult to reconcile. My husband asked a couple of questions, then responded, “But were they supposed to marry these women to begin with?”
No, no they weren’t. In fact, that seems to be what breaks Ezra’s heart most. These former captives had just spent 70 years in exile, away from Temple and a city of their own, because of their disobedience to God’s law to not adopt the ways of those who do not know Him. We mentioned before how Ezra’s priestly lineage is important in our story line. This last chapter seems to be one of the most significant ways Ezra’s actions reflect priestly actions.
Priests were to be concerned with the purity of the worship of Covenant Yahweh. A priest’s role in Temple was to teach the Law and lead others to worship God, as they interceded for the people. Agreeing to make a covenant with the men to send off foreign wives is one way Ezra challenges the exiles’ loyalty to the Most High.
Much of what Ezra (and later Nehemiah) did had to do with building a community. An identity as God’s people, serving as a beacon of light amidst those whose hearts were not tender to Him. One site I read even suggested the reason the proceeding took several months was to give the women a chance to abandon idols and put their faith in Yahweh.
God’s heart is never dark. He is Light. His motives are as pure as the rising sun. And He has always welcomed foreigners who feared Him to be part of His people, including a pagan woman Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother. And when God-as-a-Man walked around on our broken planet, He treated women of all nationalities and walks of life with dignity and honor. And when the Pharisees tried to test Him, this God-Man took the side of women who would be left destitute by divorce.
So in texts like these, the best thing to do is trust. This is clearly not a prescription for what we as believers should do under the New Covenant. But there is a reason this happened to God’s people and it was recorded for us to read.
Like Ezra’s situation, there is much for us to weep over in ours. As we long for the New City and Perfect Government, let’s continue to weep in intercession. God is giving us all time to repent.