Ezra’s first message uncovered a huge sin in the returnees. They had broken faith with God and disobeyed His will yet AGAIN.
Ezra is heartsick over the actions of the people. His message had dealt with the sin of intermarrying with the people of the land. God had commanded them to be separate. NOT out of some superiority complex but because intermarrying with the other nations opened the door for them to bring in their gods. This was proven to be so on MULTIPLE occasions. And when the other gods came in so did their detestable practices and turning away from the One True God.
The intermarrying was a ‘gateway sin’ that opened the gates to MANY other sins. It was the beginning of the ‘slippery slope’ and strictly forbidden by God. Because He knew where it would lead.
We left Ezra pouring his heart out to the Lord in the Temple. What he had heard broke him. God had just rescued a portion of the people from captivity and here they were stepping right back into sin again. With stepping back into sin came real punishment, again. Ezra was afraid their sin would eventually wind up making God wipe them all from the face of the earth. Let’s join him again and see how things are going.
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Ezra is pleading the case of the returnees before the Lord. As he is crying out the people are being broken too. He can hear the wailing of the people as it rises in intensity and number. The people recognize their own sin. Ezra’s prayers have pierced their hearts and left them laid bare before the Lord.
Shecaniah and Jehiel, the chief priests approach Ezra. They speak the people’s hearts. They kneel down next to Ezra to plead their case.
“We have broken faith with our Bod and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law…” Shecaniah puts out his hand to Ezra. “…Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it” (verses 2b-4).
Ezra rose and looked the two priests straight in the eyes. “You must vow this to the Lord. I am not the one you have sinned against but God Himself. The people must agree to this same oath; that you will indeed put away your foreign wives and their children.”
With one voice the people answered; “We swear this day before the Lord our God that we will do as He commands.”
Ezra nodded once then turned his back on the crowd and made his way into the chambers of Jehohanan, one of the priests. Here he sat, spent and still mourning the sins of the people. He refused all offers of food and drink. While he sat he thought about the oath the people had made. Would they keep it? Would they find a ‘reason’ not to? Would some keep it while others refused to obey? He knew that not all of Israel was in attendance this day. Would those who were absent refuse to abide by the Law and thus damn Israel again?
While Ezra continued in his mourning a proclamation was written by the chief officials and elders. It would go out to all the people at first light. This proclamation called for ALL the returned exiles to assemble at Jerusalem within three days. There were to be NO exceptions or exemptions. ANY who failed to come would lose their property and be banned from ever being called and Israelite or Jew again. They would no longer be part of the congregation of the exiles.
Morning broke and messengers left the city at top speed. They would visit every city, town and village throughout the land of Judah. Ezra was still mourning at the time they departed. He had not seen the proclamation before it was sent.
A knock sounded on the door to the chambers where Ezra stayed. He rises slowly to open it as he has if the heaviness of his heart also presses upon his shoulders. At the door is the group of elders who helped pen the order.
“May we enter” asks their leader. “Or would you prefer to walk with us?”
Ezra looks around the room and notices how small it is. There is no way that the group would fit within its walls. But neither does he feel groomed enough to emerge from the room. He shakes his head as he answers. “Please, you alone, for there is not room enough for you all.”
The leader bows his head in acceptance of Ezra’s request and steps through the door. He does no close it though so that his fellows can bear witness to the exchange.
“I have brought something you may like to read. We penned it late last evening and it was dispatched this morning to every citizen in Judea.”
Ezra looks to the scroll that the official is holding out towards him and finally takes it. He moves to the window where a small table sits. He opens the scroll and begins to read. He sees the sincerity in its words to address the sin of the people. He also notes the firmness of the demand. He has no doubt that this will draw ALL the people together where they can address this serious issue. He is also pleased with the timeline as it demonstrates commitment to immediate change.
Ezra nods his head and re rolls the scroll. “Thank you for showing this to me. Indeed, it is medicine to my aching heart.”
“Will you join us in breaking the fast of the morning my lord?”
“I will. But I will continue in prayer for the people until this matter is resolved.”
“We would expect nothing less. And our prayers will be with yours.”
“Allow me sufficient time to wash and change my robes, then I will join you at table.”
The officials withdrew and allowed Ezra the time he needed. Ezra arrived at the community table of the priests and found that none had started eating prior to his joining them. This show of respect touched his heart. He sat down in the place prepared for him and the meal began. It was a simple meal but was filling and comforting for all.
The three days went by quickly. People who had come to hear Ezra’s first message continued on in the city and in campsites set up around it. Others began arriving the following day. By the third day the hillsides were teaming with life. Tents covered every available flat spot. Cloaks were strung up as shelters wherever tents would not sit. Community cook fires sprung up wherever safety permitted. People huddled under cover as rain poured down on them, waiting for the assembly to be called.
Finally, the ram’s horn was sounded. The men emerged from their tents and shelters and gathered in the open square before the courtyard of the House of God. The women and children remained either in their tents or at home as this was a matter for the husbands. Here they stood, pressed together in a sea of humanity. Ezra and the priest stood before them. The priest motioned with his hands for them to sit. All complied. Together they sat, trembling in the pouring rain. Most suspected they knew the reason they were all called together for many had witnessed Ezra’s distress and passed the story on to those who came later. Fear of what he would demand only added to their trembling and discomfort.
Ezra looks out over the crowd. “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do His will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” (verses 10b-11).
A shout rose up from the assembly. “It is so; we must do aw you have said” (verse 12b).
One of the elders rose to his feet to address Ezra and the people. “My lord, I agree that we must do as you have said. ‘But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two,…’” He spread his hands wide to indicate the broad reach of this sin. “’…for we have greatly transgressed in this matter…’” He held his hand out towards the officials who stood to one side of Ezra. “’ …Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us’” (verses 13-14).
Heads among the elders began to nod in agreement with the elder. Those who agreed outnumbered those who were for a swifter resolution. To ensure that the matter did not get completely set aside, Ezra selected men, heads of their fathers houses, and called them out by name. They would be held personally responsible to ensure that their family complied with this task. Only after all were named and appointed did the assembly break up, each man returning to his tent or shelter to share the news with their families who waited.
Ten days would pass before the first group stood before Ezra and the elders from the first city. The number of men was so great that it took two full months to work through them all. To ensure that the foreign wives and children had indeed been separated from the people.
(to be continued)
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I have a question here. What happened with the foreign wives and children? I’m sure they weren’t killed but what happened to them? Were they sent back to their own countries? Did they receive support from the men of Judah? Did some of the men choose being banned over being separated from their wives and children? This move essentially made ‘widows and orphans’ out of these families. Talk about a mass divorce decree. What happened with any woman who was divorced? As a woman this troubles me a LOT.
Father God, thank You that I’m not living under the Law. I would be ‘put away’ as a divorced woman and unacceptable marriage material. Divorce didn’t scar the man like it did the women. THANK YOU that You cared about the women, even under the Law. They weren’t invisible to You. Even these women and children, though not of Israel, still were seen by You. I have no idea how You dealt with their broken lives but I trust that You didn’t just abandon them, especially those who had begun to seek You and learn of You from their husbands. Not a sparrow falls or a flower fades that You don’t notice.
Thank You for noticing me. For tending to my wounds. For setting me apart from evil. Keep me searching Your word Father and following Your will.