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Commentary: Ezra 10
10:1–2 […] While Ezra’s initial reaction attracts an inner circle of sympathizers who sit in silence (10:3–4), his subsequent—equally emotional—outburst of contrition now draws a large cross-section of the community (“men, women, and children”) to the outer courts of the temple, where the people weep in solidarity with him (10:1). The community’s confession of marrying foreign women is voiced by Shecaniah, one of the sons of Elam from the first return. He himself is not named as an offender (10:18–44), nor would the implication of Jehiel (10:26) necessarily implicate Shecaniah or exclude him from the community, even if this Jehiel was his father (10:2). While echoing Ezra’s corporate confession of the community’s “faithlessness” (so the chiefs in 9:2), Shecaniah also suggests that there may yet be “hope for Israel.”
10:3–4 Shecaniah’s proposed solution is to enter into a “covenant” with God (see, e.g., 2 Chr 15:8–15; 29:10) and to “send away” all the women and their children—terminology that is atypical of Jewish divorce and possibility pejorative (see footnote to commentary on 10:1–2). Only now is it made clear that at some point in the preceding four months, Ezra had evidently pointed the way toward this solution. That this solution is in accordance with the counsel of Ezra and “the (Torah) Tremblers” is thus less surprising than Shecaniah’s insistence that it is also in accordance with “the law.” There is no legal requirement to divorce foreign wives, but if Deut 24’s provision for divorce in case of “something objectional” (24:1–4) is in view here, then the women might be eligible to marry again. If what is in mind is another more specific precedent or injunction instead, then this will be testimony to the evolution of the legal tradition within a particular stream of postexilic Judaism. In either case, while Shecaniah clearly hands the initiative back to Ezra (Ezra 10:4: “it is your task”), his additional encouragement (“we are with you”) suggests that the community’s continuing solidarity will be as important as Ezra’s willingness to “be strong.” […]
10:10–11 Ezra begins by clarifying the accusation that was already expressed in his prayer, before insisting on a confession that follows the form of “giving thanks/praise” found elsewhere only in Joshua’s exhortation of Achan to confess his sin (Josh 7:19). This further resonance with the exodus/ settlement/ conquest tradition foregrounds the conviction that the returnees’ sin, like Achan’s, has the potential not only to compromise the divine intention to install his people in the land, but also, as Ezra’s prayer indicates, to undermine the very existence of the community. That praise cannot be disconnected from—and indeed must be intimately connected to—practice is demonstrated by Ezra’s clarification of the requirement that follows from this confession: “do his will”—defined here as the separation from the peoples of the land and, more to the point, in the case at hand, from “the foreign wives.”
10:12–15 Like their forefathers at Sinai (Exod 24:3), the people respond (Ezra 10:12) clearly (“with a loud voice”), decisively (“we must do”), and apparently collectively (“all the assembly”). While they are conscious—and quite reasonably so—of the impracticality of a group so large trying to resolve the problem then and there, their awareness of the seriousness of the situation (“for we have greatly transgressed”) leads them to an alternative proposal. Given that the leaders have been engaged from the beginning (9:1; 10:5), it is not surprising that they are commissioned to form a representative committee to adjudicate the cases of intermarriage brought before them by those concerned, in the company of local authorities who might speak on their behalf. Once completed, it is hoped that the process will be sufficient to assuage the divine wrath that it is assumed will otherwise destroy the community (cf. 8:22; 9:14). […]
10:18–19 As is common in Ezra, the book here includes a list apropos of the foregoing narrative. Like the list of Ezra’s returnees, this one begins with the priests. Unsurprisingly, it is the sons of the house of Jeshua, listed in the first return (2:36), who are indicted, rather than the Aaronic priests who had only just returned to the province with Ezra. Also unsurprising, given the seriousness of the trespass, is that the sending away of the wives was accompanied by a guilt offering.
10:20–24 […] The absence of temple servants from the list suggests to some that intermarriage was more prevalent among the upper echelons of the community, where both the temptation and opportunity to secure the societal advantages of such matches may have been greater (cf. 9:2). Alternatively, it may be that the problem among the upper classes was not more prevalent, but simply more relevant to the writer—on the assumption that once the practice was addressed and eliminated among the so-called leaders, the rest of the community would soon follow suit. 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 27-29.
Bible Text: Ezra 10:1-15
1 While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. 2 And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. 3 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. 4 Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” 5 Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath.
6 Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles. 7 And a proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the returned exiles that they should assemble at Jerusalem, 8 and that if anyone did not come within three days, by order of the officials and the elders all his property should be forfeited, and he himself banned from the congregation of the exiles.
9 Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. 10 And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 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.” 12 Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said. 13 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, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. 14 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.” 15 Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supported them.
Questions to help us go deeper
- What does this passage show about the potential of one person’s response to sin clarifying the spiritual or moral dimensions of a situation for others?
- In what ways does this apply to me as I live out my Christian identity?
- What does Shecaniah’s statement, “But even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this,” reveal about their understanding of God? How do I view God when sins are exposed in my life?
- What can I learn from the response of the assembly?
- How do I respond when some sin is pointed out to me?