In our reading today we come to a very tough passage. Ezra is now on scene in Jerusalem. King Artaxerxes’ has sent Ezra back to be a leader of the people. In doing so he gave magnificently to Israel and to God. I love that along the way Ezra acknowledges God presence with them … “Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem this way.” (Ezra 7:27 NIV) This is a lesson we would be wise to practice as we go through life.
When Ezra returns the Temple is built and worship and sacrifices are complete; it is brought to his attention that many men who returned from exile have married women who were not Israelites. This was a grievous problem. The Law of Moses, which Ezra is an expert in, strictly forbids this practice. The reason for this is the invitation of foreign pagan worship amongst the people as well as the mothers worship influence upon their children. In complete and total mourning, Ezra is given a solution from within … lead the men to divorce their wives.
An assembly of the people took place three days later and it was decided that over the next several months
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Dr. James Smith offers some help in understanding the difficulties of this account …
“First, the major problem being addressed was the religious influence of the mothers on their children. Second, sending away the children with their mothers was less cruel than forcibly separating them from their children. Third, keeping the religion of the Lord pure was the one and only aim of Ezra. Fourth, only by insulating themselves from the sea of pagan influence around them could the religious identity of God’s people be maintained.” [i]
Regardless of the reasons this is still a difficult thing for us to understand. We must remember that spiritual purity is an incredibly important aspect of Jewish life at this point. We can also find some conciliation that there is widespread belief in the academic community that each situation was investigated. That is the reason for the marriage tribunal that was created. Many believe they reviewed each case and if the wife had truly turned to God and rejected her pagan practices she remained as a wife. It was only those who held on to their pagan god’s that were removed from Israel.
The scariest part of all this is that the leaders had the worst percentage of offences. Twenty-seven priest and Levites were found to have pagan wives who did not convert to God. That is twenty five percent of the people. This is a huge grievance. If the leaders could not follow God, how could the people they were leading? It is important that leaders set the stage for everyone else. This not only held true in Ezra’s day, but in our day as well.
This passage is hard to read. It is hard to fathom that many heartbreaks taking place. But it was necessary. God needed purity. God needed these people to bring the Messiah into the world. A severe action had to take place. We would be wise to think things through before embarking on a destructive path that will only bring heartbreak.