During the course of their captivity in Babylon, the young priests grew to adulthood and became disillusioned with their role and with their God. When they were taken captive, the older priests had been left behind in Jerusalem, thus, they had few encouragers/teachers who could guide them.

These young priests were angry at God about the life they had been forced to live while in captivity in Babylon. Rather than seizing upon the examples of Ezekiel and Ezra, who loved the Lord, these young priests no longer loved, nor honored the Lord. They had even taken pagan Babylonian wives.

Ezra was the second of three key leaders to leave Babylon for the reconstruction of Jerusalem. Zerubbabel reconstructed the temple (Ezra 3:8), Nehemiah rebuilt the walls (Nehemiah chapters 1 and 2), and Ezra restored their worship, a far greater challenge than today’s worship leaders face.

Ezra was a scribe and priest sent with religious and political powers by the Persian King Artaxerxes to lead a group of Jewish exiles back from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:812).

Ezra condemned mixed marriages and encouraged Jewish men to divorce and to banish their foreign wives, who would turn their children toward pagan gods. This created a dicey problem, for the Lord also hates divorce. Why did Ezra choose the decision to encourage them to divorce?

Ezra’s Decision

Ligonier Ministries addresses this issue: “This raises a dilemma, since it seems at first glance contrary to other biblical instructions regarding marriage to unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:12–16). So, what should we think of the community’s solution? First, let us note that this is a narrative portion of Scripture, and the actions of people in biblical narratives are not always praiseworthy. The community may have erred in these divorces (Ezra 10:6–17). Given Ezra’s positive portrayal, however, it seems more likely that the divorces were right. If so, why was divorcing unbelievers allowable in that day when Paul would later advise otherwise (1 Cor. 7:12–16)?”

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. And a proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the returned exiles that they should assemble at Jerusalem, 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.

16 Then the returned exiles did so. Ezra the priest selected men, heads of fathers’ houses, according to their fathers’ houses, each of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to examine the matter; 17 and by the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women (Ezra 10:6-17 ESV).

How do we reconcile this with Scripture?

Considering the era in which these divorces occurred will help us. The only special revelation Ezra and the postexilic community had was the Old Testament, particularly the Mosaic law. While the law warns the Jews not to marry pagans, it does not explain what to do if such marriages occurred (Ezra 10:1–3; see Deut. 24:1–4).

However, the law does address the conduct of non-Jews (in this case, the pagan spouses and children) in the promised land. That is, foreigners were not required to adopt the entire Mosaic law, but they had to refrain from its capital crimes. For example, divination and child sacrifice required capital punishment under the Mosaic law for pagans and Israelites alike. For such impenitent sins and others, the pagans were to be executed or driven from the land (Lev. 18Deut. 1318:9–14).

[My note: This is why the Lord was displeased with their ancestors, the line of pagan Jewish kings who had mixed worship of Yahweh with pagan gods simultaneously.]

The text doesn’t explain the entire situation, but perhaps the pagan wives and children refused to abide by the Mosaic laws that still applied even to them. If this was the case, the Jews would be in a predicament. They could not inflict capital punishment or exile their wives and children from Canaan as the law required. They could, however, try to obey the law by divorcing themselves from their pagan wives. While we do not know entirely, Ezra’s and Shecaniah’s hearts seemed to be set on following the Mosaic law inasmuch as they were able in their day.” (Source, Ligonier Ministries)

Sorting it out . . .

Today’s passage is difficult, so we are thankful that we have more revelation under the new covenant with respect to marriage and divorce. In the New Testament, if a believer’s spouse does not trust in Jesus, he or she should not divorce the unbelieving spouse if he or she is willing to stay married and allows the believer to practice their faith (1 Cor. 7:12–16).

It would impact their children strongly to have both parents believing Christians, practicing their #Faith, and especially if an unbelieving parent accepted Christ. This happened in my marriage. Click To Tweet

It would impact their children strongly to have both parents believing Christians, practicing their faith, and especially if an unbelieving parent accepted Christ. This happened in my marriage. He accepted Christ eight months after we married. By then we had a baby. I was a young believer who had fallen away from the Lord, and had fallen in love with an unbeliever. It was thrilling when he received Christ. I had never been baptized properly, and so we were both baptized together.

If we trust in Jesus, we study these things—and the rest of the Scriptures—so as to learn how to do our Lord’s will in all things.

Ezra renewed the celebration of festivals and supported the rededication of the temple and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall. Ezra 7:10 describes a shaping of the community in accordance with the Torah. Ezra’s goal was to implement the Torah, and his impeccable priestly and scribal credentials allowed him to remain the model leader.” (source)

538 B.C.

It was now time to return to Jerusalem. The new temple had been built, “Zerubbabel’s temple.” The priests were needed. They walked home with the others, a long journey of more than half a year.

What do you think?

How were the young priests to learn to love the Lord and to honor Him as is His due?

What challenges might they have faced regarding marriage to an unbeliever?

What type of example did Ezra and Nehemiah set?

A lesson in honoring God seems overdue, for the sin committed wasn’t only these marriages. Like ancient believers, do we forget to focus on the goodness of God and all His blessings as we see Christianity crumble in our nation?

Are we ourselves seeking the Lord, living a life pleasing to Him?

Like ancient believers, do we forget to focus on the goodness of God and all His blessings as we see Christianity crumble in our nation? Are we ourselves seeking the Lord, living a life pleasing to Him? #Faith Click To Tweet