The Word Made Fresh
1While Ezra prayed and confessed, weeping and throwing himself to the ground before the house of God, a lot of the people gathered around him from out of Israel, and they also began to weep. 2Shechaniah son of Jehiel of the family of Elam said to Ezra, “We have disobeyed our God and have married women from the foreigners who live among us. But there is still hope for Israel. 3We will agree with our God to send these women and their children away if that is what you say we must do. We will obey the law. 4So, act! It is your duty, and we are with you. Take courage and do what must be done.”
5Then Ezra stood up and ordered the priests and Levites and all the Israelites to swear they would do what they said, and they swore. 6Then Ezra left the house of God and went to the apartment of Jehohanan son of Eliashib where he spent the night. He did not eat or drink because he was in mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles.
7Then an order was sent throughout Judah and Jerusalem to gather in the city. 8Anyone who did not come within three days, by order of the elders and leaders, would lose their property, and they themselves would be banned from the gathering of the exiles. 9So, all the people of Judah and Benjamin gathered in Jerusalem. On the twentieth day of the ninth month, they sat in the open square before the temple of God, trembling because of the weight of the matter and because of the heavy rain. 10Ezra the priest stood before them and said, “You have broken the law and married foreign women and have piled guilt upon Israel. 11Confess to the LORD God of your ancestors and separate yourselves from the people of the land and the foreign women you have taken.”
12All the people answered, “Yes, you are right, and we will do as you have said. 13But there are a lot of us, and we cannot stand in the open in the heavy rain. This isn’t something that can be accomplished in a day or two because there are a lot of us who are guilty of this. 14Let our leaders organize this and summon all those in the towns who have married foreign women to come at a time appointed for them before the elders and judges of each town, until all is accomplished and God’s anger is turned away from us.” 15Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah were against this, and the Levites Meshullam and Shabbethai were the only ones who agreed with them.
16Then they proceeded to do so. Ezra the priest selected men from each family that had returned from exile by name, and on the first day of the tenth month they sat down to work out the process, 17and by the first day of the first month they had dealt with all the men who had married foreign wives. 18Among the priests descended from Jeshua son of Jezadak and his brothers Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah there were found some who had married foreign women, 19and they promised to send their wives away, and each sacrificed a ram of their own flock as a guilt offering. 20Hanani and Zebadiah, descendants of Immer, did the same. 21So did the descendants of Harib; Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah; 22and the descendants of Pashhur; Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah. 23The Levites Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer followed suit, 24as did the singer Eliashib and the gatekeepers Shallum, Telem, and Uri.
25Among the Israelites, these put away their foreign wives:
Ramiah, Izziah, Machijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Hashabiah, and Benaiah, who were descendants of Parosh.
26Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah, descendants of Elam.
27Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza, descendants of Zattu.
28Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai, descendants of Bebai.
29Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth, descendants of Bani.
30Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh, descendants of Pahath-Moab.
31Eliezer, Isshijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shemeon, 32Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemaiah, descendants of Harim.
33Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei, descendants of Hashum.
34Maadai, Amram, Uel, 35Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, 36Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 37Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu, descendants of Bani.
38Shimei, 39Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, 40Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 41Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, 42Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph, descendants of Binnui.
43Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah, descendants of Nebo.
44All these had married foreign women, and they were sent away with their children.
1-5: Ezra’s very public demonstration draws the attention of the people, who begin to gather before the temple. One Shecaniah speaks out and offers that they will send away their foreign wives and the children they have borne. He encourages Ezra to make a general decree and assures him that the people gathered there will stand behind him. (By the way, Shecaniah is not listed among those who have married a foreign woman – see the list at 10:18-44.)
6-8: Ezra retires to the house of Jehohanan, who is probably the high priest, where he continues prayer and fasting. They order the returned exiles to assemble in Jerusalem or forfeit their properties, so I suppose the attendance is pretty good that day. Note that the summons may only relate to those who are property owners, though, and may not include everyone.
9-15: The people gather in Jerusalem on a day when it is raining heavily. Ezra levels the charge against them that many of them have married foreign women, and commands them to end those illegal marriages. They readily agree (it is raining heavily, after all), but offer a proposal by which the illegal marriages may be dealt with systematically. Ezra accepts the proposal and everybody is in agreement except for four men (who are probably the only ones with umbrellas). Interestingly enough, of the four only one, Meshullam, is included in the list (10:29) of those who are found to be in violation of the marriage laws.
16-17: Ezra selects family heads to meet and address the matter, and six weeks later they do so. It takes them two full months, but they finally arrive at an agreed upon list and process.
18-22: The priests are treated first, and the fourteen who have married foreign wives agree to send them away, and they each make a guilt offering of a ram to atone for their transgression.
23-24: The Levites, singers and gatekeepers, ten in all, are listed next.
25-44: The remaining violators are listed. About half the family names are in the list in chapter 8 of those who returned with Ezra. The other half are names of those who had returned earlier with Zerubbabel, as listed in chapter 2. They all send away their foreign wives with their children. The list of violators contains only 84 men in all, which is surprisingly small, but some have suggested that only the leaders of the community, those who own property, are involved in the purge. We are not told what becomes of these women and children, but according to their own laws the Israelites have to provide for the needy, so perhaps they do not fare too poorly. It would be altogether too great a tragedy if they are simply sent away empty-handed. After all, their situation is not of their own doing.
So, the people are re-establishing the nation they lost many years before, and upon Ezra’s urging begin a process of making the blood line secure. They have not yet discovered that God’s establishment of Israel is for the purpose of blessing all the people of the world. It will take more centuries, more wars, and a crucifixion to finally get that point across.