Scripture reading – Ezra 10; Nehemiah 1

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* Today’s Scripture reading concludes our study of the Book of Ezra. This is the first of two devotionals. The second will introduce the Book of Nehemiah.

Overwhelmed with grief, Ezra understood the sins of the people had put the nation in danger of God’s judgment. Rending his robe and plucking out his hair and beard, Ezra had prayed and confessed the sins that polluted the land (Ezra 9:5-11). He charged the people to obey the law of God (Deuteronomy 7:1-3), separate from the heathen, and “give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever” (Ezra 9:12).

Ezra 10 – A Spiritual Crisis: Unequally Yoked Marriages

Ezra’s prayer before the Temple and his confession of the nation’s sins so moved the people that they “wept very sore” (Ezra 10:1). One of the men, “Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam” (whose family was guilty of marrying unbelieving wives, Ezra 10:26), answered Ezra and confessed, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing” (Ezra 10:2).

What hope could there be for a nation that had not only sinned against the LORD but compromised their bloodline by intermarrying with the heathen? There was only one path forward: to repent and turn from their sins to God. Nevertheless, the great wickedness of Israel required a radical separation that would inevitably divide families and sever relationships (Ezra 10:3).

A Spiritual Crisis: Unequally Yoked Marriages

The Severity of the Solution Suggested the Seriousness of the Sin. (Ezra 10:1-8)

Such wickedness could not be treated lightly, and Shechaniah proposed a covenant be established between the nation and God, saying, “Put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law” (Ezra 10:3).

Tragic, you say? Yes, but when believers follow a path of sin, they sacrifice more than their fellowship with the LORD; they also damage the heathen’s perception of God. Shechaniah continued to speak on behalf of the people and assured Ezra, “This matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it” (Ezra 10:4).

Ezra then made a proclamation that gave the nation three days to assemble in Jerusalem (Ezra 10:7-8). Those who failed to come before the congregation were warned they would forfeit their lands, possessions, worship, and fellowship with the congregation (Ezra 10:8).


Public Confrontation (Ezra 10:9-10)

Two of the principal tribes, Judah and Benjamin, assembled in Jerusalem “within three days… and all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain” (Ezra 10:9). Speaking honestly and sparing no words, Ezra confronted the people, “and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel” (Ezra 10:10).

Though heart-rending, there was only one solution to Israel’s compromise. Ezra then commanded, “Make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives” (10:11) Ezra.

Public Confrontation

Public Confession (Ezra 10:12-15)

The congregation agreed to Ezra’s challenge and answered “with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do” (Ezra 10:12). Yet, because of the rain and the significant number who had taken wives of the heathen, it was suggested that a committee of leaders be formed. They were tasked with the responsibility of searching out those who had taken wives of the heathen (Ezra 10:13-15).


Personal Separation (Ezra 10:16-44)

On the date appointed, the names of the guilty were presented to Ezra, who sat down and began to “examine the matter” (Ezra 10:16). Named among those culpable were “the sons of the priests,” even the sons of Jeshua, the high priest (Ezra 10:18-22), who “put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass” (10:19). Ten Levites had taken heathen wives, along with one Temple singer, and three gatekeepers of the Temple (Ezra 10:23-24). The list of the guilty also included 84 men of the congregation (Ezra 10:25-43), all who “had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children” (Ezra 10:44).


Closing thoughts –

God commanded the men of Israel to separate from their heathen wives for specific purposes. By marrying foreign women, the priests and Levites violated the priestly and Levitical standards. The priests and Levites who would tend to Temple duties could not be holy [set apart] if they were bound in unrighteousness. The term “stranger” applies to one who does not believe in YHWH as God. The men who took strange wives violated the covenant regarding marriage, thereby jeopardizing the nation’s holiness.

Reminder: Marriage is more than a physical union; it is also a spiritual institution sanctified and established by the LORD (Ephesians 5:25, 28-33; 1 Peter 3:7).

Copyright © 2024 – Travis D. Smith 

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