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ISRAEL'S PUTTING AWAY OF THEIR FOREIGN WIVES AND CHILDREN;
THEY ACCEPT SHECHANIAH'S PROPOSAL
"Now while Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and bowing himself down before the house of God, there was gathered together unto him out of Israel a very great assembly of men and women and children, for the people wept very sore. And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have married foreign women of the peoples of the land: yet now there is hope for Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to 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. Arise; for the matter belongeth unto thee, and we are with thee: be of good courage, and do it."
Two things in this paragraph are disputed: (1) Shechaniah is identified by Hamrick as the son of the violator (Jehiel) mentioned in Ezra 10:26, but Williamson denied the certainty of that identification, writing that, "Jehiel is a common enough name to preclude certainty of identity, even with a single extended family." Keil wrote that, "This Shechaniah is a different person from the descendant of Zattu (Ezra 8:5), nor is Jehiel identical with the individual of that name mentioned in Ezra 10:26."
(2) "Let us make a covenant ... according to the counsel of my lord" (Ezra 10:3). The words `my lord' are given in the ASV margin as `my Lord'. Some scholars consider them as a reference to Ezra; others view them as a reference to God. Williamson's comment is that, "Shechaniah here refers to `the advice of my lord,' Ezra"; and, based upon this, there is a postulation that Ezra had already discussed the matter previously with Shechaniah. However, there is absolutely nothing in the text which supports a proposition like that. We believe that the Douay Version properly translates this verse, "Let us make a covenant ... according to the will of the Lord, and of them that fear the commandment of the Lord our God." Keil also agreed that in this passage the Hebrew text has, "According to the counsel of the Lord," and that "there is no critical authority for changing it." It appears that translators have been too much influenced by the LXX.
"And let it be done according to the law" (Ezra 10:3). This was part of Shechaniah's proposal to put away the foreign wives and their children. Deuteronomy 24:1 gave instructions for the divorcing of a wife; but, "According to the teaching of the Rabbis, divorce was allowed for every cause (Matthew 19:3)." Thus, there would have been no legal impediment to the adoption of Shechaniah's proposal, a proposal which on that occasion was received by the vast majority of the people present. Some phases of the implementation of this drastic remedy are not mentioned in the text.
Ezra, however, very wisely moved at once to require all the people to swear that they would accept and execute this requirement to put away their foreign wives and their children.
THE OATH OF THE PEOPLE AND EZRA'S FAST
"Then arose Ezra, and made the chiefs of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they would do according to this word. Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of the son of Eliashib: and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water; for he mourned because of the trespasses of them in the captivity."
"By making the people to swear to follow the suggested course of action while feelings were still running high, Ezra ensured that there could be no turning back at a later stage."
In Ezra 10:6, "The reference to Johanan the son of Eliashib has featured prominently in discussions of the date of Ezra." However, Williamson in his award-winning commentary, after several pages of discussions regarding the bearing this passage is alleged to have regarding the date of Ezra, concluded that, "The issue is too uncertain to be admitted as evidence for the dating of Ezra." In his conclusion Williamson affirmed his preference for the early date of Ezra.
Bowman identified the arguments from this passage that are alleged as excuses for dating Ezra after Nehemiah as, "One of the strongest arguments for doing so"; and in the weakness of this argument we are assured that the traditional date of Ezra prior to Nehemiah is correct. Also, the Jewish conviction on this is paramount. They were the divinely appointed custodians of the Scriptures, not the current crop of critics.
Ezra's fast, which was secretly observed in one of the rooms of the temple, assures us of his sincerity. Furthermore, his prayer was not a mere pretense ostentatiously exhibited, "To produce an effect on the audience rather than upon God, like many other public prayers," as some critics have alleged.
ALL ISRAEL SUMMONED TO ASSEMBLY IN JERUSALEM
"And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; and that whosoever came not within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the assembly of the captivity. Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem within the three days (it was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month); and all the people sat in the broad place before the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain."
"All his substance should be forfeited" (Ezra 10:7). This was indeed a great penalty, and, besides that, those refusing to appear within the three days would also lose their status among God's people. "The forfeiture of substance here was not its destruction, as described in Deuteronomy 13:13-17 (for a city fallen into idolatry), but the appropriation of the offender's substance to the benefit of the temple, as described in Leviticus 27:28)."
"All the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themsieves together unto Jerusalem" (Ezra 10:9). This apparently means all Israelites living in those areas and does not exclude members of other tribes who might have been among them. Yet, the number of the Ten Tribes who returned might have been so insignificant that the whole nation of returnees might well have been known merely as the "men of Judah and Benjamin."
"(It was the ninth month, the twentieth day of the month)" (Ezra 10:9). "This was the month Kislew, corresponding to our months of November-December." Whitcomb identified this date as Dec. 8,457 B.C. It was the rainy season in Jerusalem, and the weather at that time could be very cold.
"All the people sat in the broad place before the house of God" (Ezra 10:9). "This was a stone-walled enclosure, about 500 feet long and 150 feet wide, which might have afforded sitting room for 20,000 men. Deducting the aged, the infirm, the sick, and those under twelve years of age, and all the women, the whole total of men returning from captivity would scarcely have reached that number." "This broad place was an open area in front of the watergate at the southeastern corner of the temple court." The first order of business was an address by Ezra, which happily, due to the severe conditions, was rather brief.
"Trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain" (Ezra 10:9). The addition of this detail assures us that this is an account by an eye-witness. The urgency in which Ezra and the princes and elders viewed the matter of Israel's intermarriage with foreigners is emphasized by their calling such a general meeting at that unfavorable time of the year.
EZRA'S ADDRESS BEFORE THE PEOPLE
"And Ezra the priest stood up and said unto them, Ye have trespassed, and married foreign women, to increase the guilt of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto Jehovah, the God of your fathers, and do his pleasure; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the foreign women. Then all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said concerning us, so must we do. But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without: neither is this a work of one day or two; for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. Let now our princes be appointed for all the assembly, and let all them that are in our cities that have married foreign women, come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God be turned from us, until this matter be despatched."
"The crowd readily agreed to Ezra's decision; but the implementation of it was far too complex and complicated a thing to be accomplished immediately while they were standing there shivering in the cold from the wintry rain."
A commission was appointed, as the people suggested; and the people were called before it in small groups, accompanied by their fellow-citizens, thus giving time and opportunity to work out the problems one by one.
OPPOSITION TO EZRA'S SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM
"Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah stood up against this matter: and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them."
This verse indicates that there was some oppostion, of course, to such a drastic course of action; and the fact of there being some opposed to it is not nearly so remarkable as the insignificant number of the opponents - only four people out of some 20,000 men, or more!
AND THE CHILDREN OF THE CAPTIVITY DID SO
"And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, with certain heads of fathers' houses, after their fathers' houses, and all of them by their names, were set apart; and they sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. And they made an end with all the men that had married foreign women by the first day of the first month."
The opposition did not delay the repudiation of the foreign wives. Only about a week elapsed between the decision to do so and the first session of the commission appointed to execute it. "The case of each city (or village) was taken separately. The male inhabitants of full age attended, and the `elders and judges' heard each case separately. The neighbors of each person investigated were available for questioning; and when a mixed marriage was proved, the wife was repudiated. In 112 cases, the commission decided that the foreign wives and the children born to them were to be sent away." An emendation in the RSV results in the number being reduced to 111.
In any case, the number is surprisingly small. Out of at least 20,000 men, only a few more than a hundred were guilty of having violated God's law in this matter. However, the importance of it was greatly intensified and augmented by the high social position and importance of the violators. If these had remained unpunished, or if their unlawful marriages had been allowed to stand, there is no way that Israel could have continued to maintain their distinction as a separate nation. Ezra's listing the violators as to their distinction as priests, Levites, etc., doubtless had this very fact in focus. The whole project was completed in three months' time, which allowed the better part of a whole day for the investigation of each one convicted.
THESE ARE THE NAMES OF THOSE WITH FOREIGN WIVES
"And among the sons of the priests there were found that had married foreign women: namely, of the sons of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and his brethren, Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and Gedaliah. And they gave their hand that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their guilt. And of the sons of lmmer: Hanani and Zebadiah. And of the sons of Harim: Maaseiah, and Elijah, and Shemaiah, and Jehiel, and Uzziah. And of the sons of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nathanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.
"And of the Levites: Jozabad, and Shimei, and Kelaiah (the same is Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer. And of the singers: Eliashib. And of the porters, Shallum, and Telem, and Uri.
"And of Israel: of the sons of Parosh: Ramiah, and Izziah, and Malchijah, and Benaiah. And of the sons of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jerimoth, and Elijah. And of the sons of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, and Jerimoth, and Zabad, and Aziza. And of the sons of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai. And of the sons of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah, Jashub, and Sheal, Jeremoth. And of the sons of Pahath-moab: Adna, and Cheial, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, and Bennui, and Manasseh. And of the sons of Harim: Eliezer, Isshijah, Malchijah, Shemiah, Shimeon, Benjamin, Malluch, Shemariah. Of the sons of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, Shimei. Of the sons of Bani: Maadai, Amram, and Uel. Benaiah, and Bedaiah, Cheluhi, Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu, and Bani, and Binnui, Shimei, and Shelemiah, and Nathan, and Adaiah, Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, Azarel, and Shelemiah, Shemariah, Shallum, Amariah, Joseph. Of the sons of Nebo: Jeiel, Matithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Iddo, and Joel, Benaiah. All these had taken foreign wives; and some of them had wives by whom they had children."
Whitcomb's count of all these violators found, "Seventeen priests, ten Levites, and eighty-six others; and each of these put away his foreign wife and offered a ram as a guilt-offering.' Some of the versions support this count of 113 in all.
Drastic as this solution of the problem assuredly was, "A comparison of Nehemiah 10:30 (12 years later) and of Nehemiah 13:23 (30 years later) shows that the evil was not permanently eliminated. Long association with heathen neighbors made such a separation difficult."
One thing that modern readers will wonder about is what provision, if any, was made for those wives and children which were expelled from the Jewish community. Jamieson has this: "Doubtless an adequate provision was made for the repudiated wives and children, according to the means and circumstances of the husbands." Abraham had also made provision for Hagar when he put her and Ishmael away.
We conclude this study of Ezra with the following relevant comment of Williamson:
"Israel's mission could make headway only if she maintained the servant identity that separated her from the nations to which she was commissioned to reveal God's will. In exactly the same way, Christians individually, and as the Church, are called to be `light' and `salt,' elements that function effectively precisely because of their difference from the setting in which they are placed. `But if the salt has lost its savor ...?' (Matthew 5:13-16)."
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezra 10". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12