ACTIVE REPENTANCE EXPRESSES SORROW TO GOD WHILE COMMITING TO CORRECTIVE ACTION
This is a classic passage demonstrating the difference between mere remorse for sin and genuine repentance. Sorrow for sin lies at the heart of any spiritual response to conviction. But the active nature of repentance is featured here in the covenant commitment to change behavior and to put away the foreign wives with their children. There certainly are some surprising and disturbing aspects of this community divorce pact. But the emphasis must be on the need of God’s people for holiness to maintain their testimony as the distinct witness to God’s glory. Embracing the aberrant practices of false religions is an abomination to God and a disgrace to His name. Effective leadership enlists community buy-in to take the radical steps needed to stamp out apostasy and recover from such unfaithful relationships. Sadly, this revival did not last for long.
Loken: Ezra’s leadership technique in this book largely involved leadership by spiritual example. In this passage, you can see how effective this style of leadership can be. Not all leaders have to be aggressive with the people placed under their care. Allow the Holy Spirit’s conviction to work in your favor. Model the life of Christ, and your followers will be encouraged to do the same.
McConville: It was the godliness and commitment of Ezra, testifying more powerfully than any harangue to the reality of God, of right and wrong and of judgment, that brought others to repentance.
Andrew Swango: Ever since 7:27, Ezra has been writing in first person. This marks a return to third person. It is very probable that Ezra 10 was written by someone else. It could have been a later historian. Or, I believe it is more likely that these are the official historical documents of the province.
William Nicoll: Ezra’s narrative, written in the first person, ceases with his prayer, the conclusion of which brings us to the end of the ninth chapter of our Book of Ezra; at the tenth chapter the chronicler resumes his story, describing, however, the events which immediately follow. His writing is here as graphic as Ezra’s, and if it is not taken from notes left by the scribe, at all events it would seem to be drawn from the report of another eye-witness, for it describes most remarkable scenes with a vividness that brings them before the mind’s eye, so that the reader cannot study them even at this late day without a pang of sympathy. . .
Whatever opinion we may form of the particular action of Ezra, we should do well to ponder gravely over the grand principle on which it was based. God must have the first place in the hearts and lives of His people, even though in some cases this may involve the shipwreck of the dearest earthly affections.
I. (:1-5) ACTIVE REPENTANCE EXPRESSES SORROW FOR SIN
VIA CONFESSION AND COVENANT COMMITMENT
A. (:1) Corporate Penitence – Weeping / Praying / Confessing
“Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women, and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly.”
Williamson: It has already been noted in chap. 9 that Ezra’s prayer was both a genuine confession of sin to God and at the same time aimed at giving a lead to the people so that they might respond out of conviction rather than coercion. In this latter purpose Ezra clearly succeeded. Drawn by the wailing of those who had already gathered, and no doubt sensing that a long-standing problem was nearing its climactic solution, a large crowd gathered expectantly. The qualification “men, women, and children” draws attention to the unusual size and comprehensive composition of the crowd. It also introduces a note of tragic gravity as it reminds the reader of the possible social consequences of the proceedings about to be initiated, a point recapitulated in the last verse of the chapter.
B. (:2-4) Covenant Proposal – Put Away the Foreign Wives and Children
1. (:2) Unfaithful Yet Still Hopeful
“And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said to Ezra, ‘We have been unfaithful to our God, and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.’”
Williamson: Shecaniah belonged to a family (Elam) that had returned to Judah from Babylon at the first opportunity (cf. 2:7). Since it was this group that was primarily involved in the mixed marriages, he was well qualified to act as spokesman. He is not, however, included in the list of offenders in vv 18–44. Unless this is the result of editorial abbreviation (which would seem improbable in this case), we will have to understand his following confession as representative, just as Ezra’s was.
2. (:3) Ultimatum
“So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children,”
a. Based on the Counsel of Ezra and the Penitents
“according to the counsel of my lord
and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God;”
b. Based on the Law
“and let it be done according to the law.”
Williamson: a pledge or binding agreement with one another to a specific plan of action related to acceptable marriages.
Fensham: Even the children born from the illegal marriages must be sent away. This proposal is harsh in the light of modern Christian conceptions. Why should innocent children be punished? We must remember that the religious influence of the mothers on their children was regarded as the stumbling block. To keep the religion of the Lord pure was the one and only aim of Ezra and the returned exiles. As a small minority group, the repatriates lived in the Holy Land among a large population of influential people who were followers of various polytheistic religions. Against such larger numbers they had to defend themselves and their religious identity. Thus the drastic measures are understandable.
3. (:4) Urging Ezra to Take the Lead
“Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you;
be courageous and act.”
Gary Smith: The people recognized Ezra as an authority on God’s law and knew that he would know best what to do.
C. (:5) Commitment Promise – Taking the Oath
“Then Ezra rose and made the leading priests, the Levites, and all Israel, take oath that they would do according to this proposal; so they took the oath.”
Loken: Upon hearing the words of Shecaniah, Ezra immediately rose from his knees. He made the elders of the Jews take an oath that they would follow the advice of Shecaniah. Once again, the Jews are divided into three groups, i.e., the priests, the Levites, and the laity (cf. e.g., 9:1). The taking of oaths was customary in the Ancient Near East (cf. Josh 6:26; Judg 21:5; Neh 6:18).
II. (:6-8) ACTIVE REPENTANCE EMBRACES BOTH PRIVATE ANGUISH AND PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY
A. (:6) Private Anguish
1. Seeking Solitude
“Then Ezra rose from before the house of God
and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib.”
2. Mourning Unfaithfulness
“Although he went there, he did not eat bread, nor drink water,
for he was mourning over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.”
B. (:7-8) Public Accountability
1. (:7) Proclamation to Assemble
“And they made a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem
to all the exiles, that they should assemble at Jerusalem,”
2. (:8) Penalty for Failing to Appear
“and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the leaders and the elders, all his possessions should be forfeited and he himself excluded from the assembly of the exiles.”
III. (:9-16a) ACTIVE REPENTANCE URGENTLY RESPONDS WITH CORRECTIVE ACTION
A. (:9) Public Assembly – Trembling Multitude
1. Urgent Assembly
“So all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem
within the three days. It was the ninth month on the twentieth of the month,”
2. Unmasked Guilt
“and all the people sat in the open square before the house of God,
trembling because of this matter and the heavy rain.”
Loken: The text notes that the exiles sitting in the open square of the temple were trembling. Two reasons for this phenomenon are provided. First, the exiles were trembling because of the sheer magnitude of this matter. Clearly, they understood the significance of the occasion. Many of their lives were about to be forever changed. Many were going to lose wives and children. Perhaps even many feared for their lives, knowing that Ezra had the authority to put them to death (cf. 7:26). Second, the remnant was trembling because of the heavy rains. These rains would have been not only extremely heavy but also bitterly cold. The crowd was thus experiencing both an internal emotional anxiety and an external physical distress. Hays remarks, “Even the weather seems to cast judgment on the people: as the people wait outside the temple, they are trembling, not just because of the gravity of the matter, but ‘because of the heavy rain’ (10:9). If this is not intended as a direct sign of God’s displeasure, it is at least intended to intensify the pathos of the situation: the Bible does not tend to report weather conditions idly.”
B. (:10-11) Prophetic Appeal – Commanding Confession and Corrective Action
1. (:10) Idolatrous Indictment
“Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have been
unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel.’”
2. (:11) Required Response
“Now, therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers,
and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land
and from the foreign wives.”
Gary Smith: The moment of truth and real leadership had arrived for Ezra. It was time to take a difficult but courageous step of obedience that might be controversial and divisive. Ezra had probably never encountered a similar situation while living in Persia, but now the expert on interpreting the law of God had to decide how the community should proceed in implementing God’s will in this practical matter. The problem was that there is no explicit information in the law about how to proceed in such a situation. So Ezra needed to firmly but sensitively construct a process that would be true to God’s ideals and acceptable to his audience. Ezra had to act while the people were under conviction and willing to cooperate with him.
Rata: Confession of sin must be followed by doing God’s will and not one’s own. “Separate yourselves” points to the heart of God’s holiness. To be holy means to be set apart from the world and for the purposes of God. Ezra’s exhortations “do His will,” and “separate yourselves,” point to the dual aspect of holiness. To be holy means to be set apart from the world, but it also means to be set apart to God—to do His will and work. One cannot do one without the other. One must separate from whatever causes one to be profane rather than holy. In the case of the returnees, this meant separation from their foreign wives and the local population who were worshipping foreign, dead gods. Holiness then, is not just more important than the closest human relationship, but it is the most important since it focuses on one’s relationship with a holy God.
Loken: As the masses huddled under the driving rain, Ezra rose to speak to the assembly. His speech was short but powerful. It is composed of four key elements.
– First, the scribe accused the exiles of being unfaithful to the Lord by marrying foreign women.
– Second, Ezra explained that their personal sin had communal implications; it added to the guilt of the nation. The entire nation could be exiled as a result of the sins of a few.
– Third, the scribe called on the people to “give praise” to the Lord. This phrase was probably a popular idiom for expressing heartfelt repentance. Before a person can truly praise the Lord, he must first repent and make confession. Therefore, the idiom used here refers to the entire process.
– Fourth, Ezra commanded the remnant to do the will of God, namely, to separate from foreigners, especially the foreign wives.
Andrew Swango: Confess and do. This is what repentance is all about. It is recognizing that sin has occurred and being remorseful over it. But that is just the first half of repentance. For repentance to be complete, a person must also do the will of God. In this case, Ezra explains what they are to do: separate themselves from their foreign wives and surrounding people. The same thing happened at Pentecost when Peter preached his first sermon. The people were cut to the heart, recognizing that they had sinned and were remorseful. Then the people asked, “Brothers, what must we do?” We see that as another great example of repentance becoming complete.
C. (:12-14) Prudent Arguments Regarding Deliberate Process
1. (:12) Approving the End Goal
“Then all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice,
‘That’s right! As you have said, so it is our duty to do.’”
2. (:13) Adjusting the Timeline to Complete the Process
“But there are many people, it is the rainy season,
and we are not able to stand in the open.”
“Nor can the task be done in one or two days,
for we have transgressed greatly in this matter.”
Fensham: The role of the leaders is fully recognized in Ezra, and here on behalf of their people they produced three arguments why on that very day the investigation into the marriages with foreign women should not proceed. First, the people gathered there were a large crowd, and it would take a long time to organize the crowd. Second, it was raining and they were standing in the open without any protection. The situation was not favorable for a calm investigation; tempers could flare up easily. It would not be easy to decide on such a personal matter and nothing should stand in the way of a calm investigation in favorable circumstances. Third, a great number of cases had to be decided. Some of them might be problematical. It was thus unwise to draw hasty conclusions and to commit an injustice to people. In the situation there in the open, with a large crowd assembled, the reasonableness of these arguments was beyond cavil. But they also had a solution for the problem. This shows that their arguments were not an escape from the problem of intermarriage. They proposed that the chiefs must substitute for the congregation. They must organize the whole investigation. On appointed times those that had married foreign wives had to come to Jerusalem for the investigation. But they should not come on their own. Their local leaders and judges who knew their circumstances were to accompany them. This last proposal is very important. The people wanted a fair investigation in which every case would be carefully scrutinized with the aid of leaders who had an intimate knowledge of the circumstances.
The proposals were concluded with a religiously motivated clause, namely, the important aspect that the anger of God must be averted. The prayer of Ezra had made a lasting impression on them. Because of the marriages to foreign women the whole congregation was contaminated. Now they must purify themselves. Judges refers probably to the local judges in towns and not to state judges.
3. (:14) Advising Regarding the Next Steps to Take
a. Representative Approach
“Let our leaders represent the whole assembly”
b. Righteous Adjudication
“and let all those in our cities who have married foreign wives come at appointed times,
together with the elders and judges of each city,”
c. Redressing Divine Anger
“until the fierce anger of our God on account of this matter
is turned away from us.”
D. (:15-16a) Popular Assent
1. (:15) Minimal Opposition
“Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, with Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supporting them.”
2. (:16a) Maximum Compliance
“But the exiles did so.”
Breneman: Since the Hebrew literally says “stood against” (or alongside of), it has been suggested that it does not mean they were opposed. However, the normal reading of the verse is that these men did oppose the decision. The text does not say why they opposed it; they may have objected to taking the time the assembly requested. However, the sense of the verse is that they opposed the whole decision to put away the foreign women. The emphasis here is on the unity of the community with little opposition.
Derek Thomas: Meshullam, in verse 15…if you glance down at verse 29, you’ll see that he is named, implying perhaps if it’s the same Meshullam, that he had married an unbelieving wife. Understandable, then, that he didn’t like the plan.
IV. (:16b-44) ACTIVE REPENTANCE COMPLIES WITH OPEN INVESTIGATION AND VERIFIED FINDINGS
A. (:16b-17) Open Investigation
1. (:16b) Selecting the Investigators = Heads of Households
“And Ezra the priest selected men who were heads of fathers’ households for each of their father’s households, all of them by name.”
2. (:16c) Conducting the Investigation
“So they convened on the first day of the tenth month
to investigate the matter.”
3. (:17) Finishing the Investigation
“And they finished investigating all the men
who had married foreign wives by the first of the first month.”
Loken: The proceedings took almost three months, thus revealing how deeply this sin permeated the community. The investigations began on the first day of the tenth month and were completed by the first day of the first month.
B. (:18-44) Verified Findings
1. (:18-19) Sons of the Priests
a. (:18) Relatives of Jeshua Identified
“And among the sons of the priests who had married foreign wives were found of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah.”
b. (:19) Response of Compliance and Sacrifice
“And they pledged to put away their wives, and being guilty,
they offered a ram of the flock for their offense.”
Rata: The list has no title and includes seventeen priests, six Levites, three gatekeepers, one singer, and eighty-four laity. Just as in the days of Eli (1 Sam 1–3), even some sons of the priests have committed the sin of intermarriage. The fact that the list starts with the priests highlights the fact that religious leaders and their families are not exempt from sin. However, they obey Ezra’s command and “pledge themselves to put away their wives.”
2. (:20-22) Sons of Leading Men
a. (:20) Sons of Immer
“And of the sons of Immer there were Hanani and Zebadiah;”
b. (:21) Sons of Harim
“and of the sons of Harim:
Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah;”
c. (:22) Sons of Pashhur
“and of the sons of Pashhur:
Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.”
3. (:23) Levites
“And of Levites there were Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (that is, Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.”
4. (:24) Singer
“And of the singers there was Eliashib;”
5. (:24b) Gatekeepers
“and of the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.”
6. (:25-43) Sons of Israel = Laity
“And of Israel,”
a. (:25) Sons of Parosh
“of the sons of Parosh there were Ramiah, Izziah, Malchijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malchijah, and Benaiah;”
b. (:26) Sons of Elam
“and of the sons of Elam:
Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah;”
c. (:27) Sons of Zattu
“and of the sons of Zattu:
Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza;”
d. (:28) Sons of Bebai
“and of the sons of Bebai:
Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai;”
e. (:29) Sons of Bani
“and of the sons of Bani:
Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth;”
f. (:30) Sons of Pahath-moab
“and of the sons of Pahath-moab: Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh;”
g. (:31-32) Sons of Harim
“and of the sons of Harim: Eliezer, Isshijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, 32 Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah;”
h. (:33) Sons of Hashum
“of the sons of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei;”
i. (:34-42) Sons of Bani
“of the sons of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, 35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, 36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 37 Mattaniah, Mattenai, Jaasu, 38 Bani, Binnui, Shimei, 39 Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, 40 Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 41 Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, 42 Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.”
j. (:43) Sons of Nebo
“Of the sons of Nebo there were Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.”
7. (:44) Summary
“All these had married foreign wives,
and some of them had wives by whom they had children.”
Derek Kidner: As the margin indicates, the last half of this verse is obscure, and most modern versions rely on the parallel in 1 Esdras 9:36, which not only makes sense but is informative, showing that the policy advocated in verse 3 was adopted.
On this painful note the story of Ezra’s ministry breaks off. It is appropriate enough. His mission was to apply the law to his people (7:14), and the law brings the knowledge of sin. But a postscript will follow, when Ezra will present the positive and festive aspects of the law: its gift of light to the mind (Neh. 8:8), and its witness to God as liberator and provider (Neh. 8:9–18).
Until that moment, some thirteen years beyond the events of this chapter, Ezra will disappear from the record. Meanwhile further trials will overtake the Jewish settlers, until Nehemiah arrives to transform the scene.