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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 10

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


2. The solution to the problem ch. 10

This chapter shows that we should respond to sinful conditions by praying to God and by doing everything in our power and in God’s will to change the situation.

Verses 1-4

The proposal of Shecaniah 10:1-4

The writer did not list Shecaniah among those who had married foreign wives (cf. Ezra 10:18-44). He appears to have been another faithful Jew like Ezra. The present situation distressed him. He too, though faithful, identified with the unfaithful.

Shecaniah proposed divorce, not separation. The Hebrew word translated "put away" (Ezra 10:3) is the same as the one translated "leaves" in Deuteronomy 24:2 where divorce is in view. "According to the law" (Ezra 10:3) probably refers to the law specifying the procedure for divorce in Deuteronomy 24 (i.e., with a certificate of divorce). In Deuteronomy 24:1 God permitted divorce for "some indecency" in the wife. Perhaps Ezra viewed these pagan women’s beliefs and practices as indecent. [Note: Howard, p. 296; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, p. 142.] In the ancient Near East, mothers received custody of their children when there was a divorce (cf. Genesis 21:14). However, in Greece they went with their fathers. [Note: Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 669.]

"Foreign women were married contrary to the law of God. The marriages were illegal from the outset. The sending away of the women is to guard the exiles against the continuation of an illegal act. With their foreign wives they lived in sin. It is thus clear from Ezra 10:4 that there is a strong legal background against which Shecaniah has formulated his proposal. The dividing line between the permissible and impermissible is strongly emphasized. 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." [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p. 135. Cf. Merrill, in The Old . . ., pp. 352-53.]

Even today, some Jewish leaders view intermarriage with non-Jews as the major threat to the continuation of Judaism.

"Therefore, the greatest danger to Jewish survival outside Israel today is not anti-Semitism but assimilation, epitomized by the threat of intermarriage . . . [and it] is a direct threat to Judaism, for without Jews Judaism cannot exist." [Note: Dow Marmur, Intermarriage, p. 2.]

". . . the situation described in Ezra 9, 10 was a classic example of one in which the lesser of two evils had to be chosen." [Note: Kidner, p. 71. See also A. Philip Brown II, "The Problem of Mixed Marriages in Ezra 9-10," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:648 (October-December 2005):437-58.]

Verses 5-8

The assembling of the people 10:5-8

Ezra first secured the cooperation of Israel’s leaders (Ezra 10:5). The Eliashib of Ezra 10:6 was not the same Eliashib who was the high priest in Nehemiah’s day (Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 13:4; Nehemiah 13:28). [Note: See Kidner, pp. 153-55.] Ezra executed the power over the exiles that he had received from Artaxerxes (Ezra 10:8; cf. Ezra 7:26).

Verses 9-15

The cooperation of the people 10:9-15

This general assembly took place in late November or early December of 458 B.C. The people who were guilty agreed to divorce their foreign wives and to do this in various local towns that were convenient to their homes in the weeks and months that lay ahead. The Feast of Dedication fell on the twenty-fifth of this month. Perhaps they made their commitment to God then.

"Since such marriages led to the introduction of foreign cults, Ezra’s drastic solution is along the same lines as Joshua’s Shechem assembly with its commitment to putting aside foreign gods (Joshua 24:23)." [Note: Blenkinsopp, "A Theological . . .," p. 29.]

God sent rain (Ezra 10:10; fertility) when His people got right with Him. He had promised to do this in Deuteronomy 11:10-17.

Israel’s leaders permitted divorce on this occasion because of the unlawful marriages of the Israelites. They had married contrary to the Law of Moses. Even though God hates divorce (Malachi 2:10-16), He permitted it (Deuteronomy 24) to achieve the larger goals of maintaining Israel’s distinctiveness-so she could fulfill His purposes for her in the world (Exodus 19). His purposes for the church are not the same as His purposes for Israel. Furthermore, the church is not subject to the Mosaic Law. Therefore it is inappropriate to appeal to the Jews’ action on this occasion as a precedent that Christians who are married to unbelievers should follow (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-13).

Christians who believe that God does not permit divorce for any reason find this passage very disturbing. Obviously Ezra was following the Law very carefully, and he permitted divorce. I believe that the biblical revelation is that God hates divorce and does not want people to practice it. However, He does permit them to practice it in certain situations. Similarly, God does not want anyone to perish but wants everyone to experience salvation (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Nevertheless He permits people to perish.

Verses 16-44

The completion of the proceedings 10:16-44

The people were able to complete the divorce proceedings in three months (Ezra 10:9; Ezra 10:17). A total of 113 Israelites had married and now divorced their foreign wives, only a small fraction of the total number of Jews then living in Judah. Of these, 16 were priests and 10 were Levites, about 25 percent of the total 113. Perhaps no Jewish women had married any Gentile men. A more likely possibility is that since women could not divorce their husbands in Israel, the Jewish women who had married Gentiles did not get divorces.

Was this plan one that God approved? The text does not give any statement from a prophet or other representative who spoke for God either way. However, for the reasons explained above-and since the writer devoted two chapters in this inspired book to the record of this incident-I think it was God’s will.

". . . although the law in general was known to the exiles, the finer distinctions and the interpretation of certain stipulations could have escaped them. Ezra was sent to teach them these distinctions and to interpret the law for them (Ezra 7:10). It is this lesson they had to learn in order to realize that their marriages to foreign women were wrong." [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p. 143.]

This reformation resulted in the continued racial, and more significantly, spiritual purity of Abraham’s descendants for another generation. However, Nehemiah faced the problem of mixed marriages again only a few years later (Nehemiah 10:30; Nehemiah 13:23).

"The Book of Ezra-Nehemiah presents Ezra as a strong personality. He did not emphasize the law as an end in itself; rather, he was convinced that the covenant community needed to return to God by taking seriously his revelation and applying it to every aspect of life." [Note: Breneman, p. 58.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezra 10". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ezra-10.html. 2012.
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