Series: Thru the Bible
Ezra leads in sending away Israel’s pagan wives
“(1) Now when these things had been completed, the leaders approached me and said, “The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the local residents who practice detestable things similar to those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.
(2) Indeed, they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has become intermingled with the local residents. Worse still, the leaders and the officials have been at the forefront of all of this unfaithfulness!”
Now that the leaders and officials were at the forefront of this IS both horrible and somewhat expected.
Horrible in that they should have known better and had the kind of heart that would not do it.
Expected in that so far as the scriptures seem to reveal, there was never a biblical limit on how many wives a man can have, only that IF he has more than one wife his provisions for each of them must be independent. There were also laws regarding the treatment of the children.
Deut. 21:15-17, “(15) Suppose a man has two wives, one whom he loves more than the other, and they both bear him sons, with the firstborn being the child of the less loved wife. (16) In the day he divides his inheritance he must not appoint as firstborn the son of the favorite wife in place of the other wife’s son who is actually the firstborn. (17) Rather, he must acknowledge the son of the less loved wife as firstborn and give him the double portion of all he has, for that son is the beginning of his father’s procreative power – to him should go the right of the firstborn.”
Therefore, only men of prominence who had more money and resources than the average man ever married more than one woman. Of course for a king those resources would be all but unlimited – thus David and Solomon had multiple wives. Contrary to modern spins of their meaning, concubines in Israel were not only legal, but were actual marriages. They were considered wives, though of a lesser rank than one’s primary wife.
The point being that only men of prominence could afford multiple wives and because they could – they did, thus making their accounts of marrying women of foreign nations greater than the common man.
The problem however, was not how many wives they had, but rather that some of them were foreigners who worshiped other Gods.
Consider this passage in Kings…
1Kings 11:1-3, “(1) King Solomon loved many foreign women in addition to Pharaoh’s daughter: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women (2) from the nations that the LORD had told the Israelites about, “Do not intermarry with them, and they must not intermarry with you, BECAUSE they will turn you away from Me to their gods.”
Solomon was deeply attached to these women and loved them. (3) He had 700 wives who were princesses and 300 concubines, and they turned his heart away from the LORD.”
“(3) When I heard this report, I tore my tunic and my robe and ripped out some of the hair from my head and beard. Then I sat down, quite devastated.
(4) Everyone who held the words of the God of Israel in awe gathered around me because of the unfaithful acts of the people of the exile.
Devastated, I continued to sit there until the evening offering.
(5) At the time of the evening offering I got up from my self-abasement, with my tunic and robe torn, and then dropped to my knees and spread my hands to the LORD my God. (6) I prayed,
“O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to You, my God! For our iniquities have climbed higher than our heads, and our guilt extends to the heavens.
(7) From the days of our fathers until this very day our guilt has been great. Because of our iniquities we, along with our kings and priests, have been delivered over by the local kings to sword, captivity, plunder, and embarrassment – right up to the present time.
(8) “But now briefly we have received mercy from the LORD our God, in that He has left us a remnant and has given us a secure position in His holy place. Thus our God has enlightened our eyes and has given us a little relief in our time of servitude. (9) Although we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our servitude. He has extended kindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, in that He has revived us to restore the temple of our God and to raise up its ruins and to give us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem.
(10) “And now what are we able to say after this, our God? For we have forsaken Your commandments (11) which You commanded us through Your servants the prophets with these words:
‘The land that you are entering to possess is a land defiled by the impurities of the local residents! With their abominations they have filled it from one end to the other with their filthiness. (12) Therefore do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons, and do not take their daughters in marriage for your sons. Do not ever seek their peace or welfare, so that you may be strong and may eat the good of the land and may leave it as an inheritance for your children forever.’
(13) “Everything that has happened to us has come about because of our wicked actions and our great guilt.
Even so, our God, You have exercised restraint toward our iniquities and have given us a remnant such as this.
(14) Shall we once again break Your commandments and intermarry with these abominable peoples?
Would You not be so angered by us that You would wipe us out, with no survivor or remnant?
(15) O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant this day. Indeed, we stand before You in our guilt. However, because of this guilt no one can really stand before You.”
God designed marriage is a serious thing. It represents God and His relationship to mankind as well as His nature of provision, protection, love, faithfulness and so many other attributes of God.
God’s rules regarding marriage are not that many or even that hard. God commands that marriage be between members of the opposite sex and the Bible VERY CLEARLY only recognizes 2 genders as does biology!
After the fall and the flood, when sin and therefore death was in the human genome, God further restricted marriage to people who are not immediate next of kin.
God also requires of His people to marry ONLY those who are devoted to God and in covenant with Him.
This was so that the offspring would be dedicated to God as well.
Gen. 17:5-7, “(5) No longer will your name be Abram. Instead, your name will be Abraham because I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. (6) I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you, and kings will descend from you. (7) I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
Deut. 7:1-4, “(1) When the LORD your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy and forces out many nations before you – Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you – (2) and he delivers them over to you and you attack them, you must utterly annihilate them. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy! (3) You must not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, (4) for they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will erupt against you and he will quickly destroy you.”
1Cor. 7:13-16, “(13) And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is happy to live with her, she should not divorce him. (14) For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husband. Otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. (15) But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound. God has called you in peace. (16) For how do you know, wife, whether you will bring your husband to salvation? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will bring your wife to salvation?”
That is why the only provision for marrying a woman who is a foreigner was when Israel fought against a land and the Lord allowed them to return with captives. Even then she had to be “naturalized” into Israel and become his legitimate wife and thus, brought into and under the covenant. (Deut. 21:10-14).
These Israelites had not been in a war and had therefore not been able to bring any women home in captivity. These marriages were simply out of desire for foreigners and this was NOT allowed!
THIS is a HUGE and pivotal point! Because they were not allowed in the first place, we will see that God does not recognize them as real marriages at all. He DID NOT join them together – as such, they were not truly married in the first place!
It could easily be argued that such applies as much today as it did then since God’s laws are based upon His character and He never changes!
“Marriages made between some prohibited persons; as suppose, between a father and his daughter, a brother and a sister, are not only unlawful, but void marriages, and ipso facto null, by the political laws of civil nations. And therefore these marriages with idolatrous and heathen women, being expressly and severely forbidden by God, might well be disannulled.”
“(1) While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself to the ground before the temple of God, a very large crowd of Israelites – men, women, and children alike – gathered around him.
The people wept loudly.
(2) Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, from the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra:
“We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the local peoples. Nonetheless, there is still hope for Israel in this regard. (3) Therefore let us enact a covenant with our God to send away all these women and their offspring, in keeping with your counsel, my lord, and that of those who respect the commandments of our God. And let it be done according to the law.
(4) Get up, for this matter concerns you. We are with you, so be strong and act decisively!”
(5) So Ezra got up and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath to carry out this plan. And they all took a solemn oath.
(6) Then Ezra got up from in front of the temple of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he stayed there, he did not eat food or drink water, for he was in mourning over the infidelity of the exiles.
(7) A proclamation was circulated throughout Judah and Jerusalem that all the exiles were to be assembled in Jerusalem. (8) Everyone who did not come within three days would thereby forfeit all his property, in keeping with the counsel of the officials and the elders. Furthermore, he himself would be excluded from the assembly of the exiles.
(9) All the men of Judah and Benjamin were gathered in Jerusalem within the three days. (It was in the ninth month, on the twentieth day of that month.) All the people sat in the square at the temple of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the rains.
(10) Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them,
“You have behaved in an unfaithful manner by taking foreign wives! This has contributed to the guilt of Israel. (11) Now give praise to the LORD God of your fathers, and do His will. Separate yourselves from the local residents and from these foreign wives.”
(12) All the assembly replied in a loud voice: “We will do just as you have said!
(13) However, the people are numerous and it is the rainy season. We are unable to stand here outside. Furthermore, this business cannot be resolved in a day or two, for we have sinned greatly in this matter.
(14) Let our leaders take steps on behalf of all the assembly. Let all those in our towns who have married foreign women come at an appointed time, and with them the elders of each town and its judges, until the hot anger of our God is turned away from us in this matter.”
(15) Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah were against this, assisted by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite.
(16) So the exiles proceeded accordingly. Ezra the priest separated out by name men who were leaders in their family groups. They sat down to consider this matter on the first day of the tenth month, (17) and on the first day of the first month they finished considering all the men who had married foreign wives.
(18) It was determined that from the descendants of the priests, the following had taken foreign wives:
from the descendants of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah. (19) (They gave their word to send away their wives; their guilt offering was a ram from the flock for their guilt.)
(20) From the descendants of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah.
(21) From the descendants of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah.
(22) From the descendants of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.
(23) From the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (also known as Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.
(24) From the singers: Eliashib.
From the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.
(25) From the Israelites: from the descendants of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah, and Benaiah.
(26) From the descendants of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah.
(27) From the descendants of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza.
(28) From the descendants of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai.
(29) From the descendants of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth.
(30) From the descendants of Pahath–Moab: Adna, Kelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh.
(31) From the descendants of Harim: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malkijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, (32) Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah.
(33) From the descendants of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei.
(34) From the descendants of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, (35) Benaiah, Bedeiah, Keluhi, (36) Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, (37) Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu.
(38) From the descendants of Binnui: Shimei, (39) Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, (40) Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, (41) Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, (42) Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.
(43) From the descendants of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.
(44) All these had taken foreign wives, and some of them also had children by these women.”
Some closing thoughts on this matter…
As we saw, Ezra arose, and made the leaders of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear an oath. It is both right and significant that Ezra began with the leaders; he expected them to make things right with God first.
Whoever would not come within three days . . . all his property would be confiscated, and he himself would be separated from the assembly:
EVERYONE came. They sat in reverence to the point of trembling – even in the pouring rain.
This was an act of humility and contrition – which means it was evidence of the moving of the Holy Spirit among them.
Guzik in his commentary on this offered a more recent example of it. He said,
“This response has been seen again as the Holy Spirit has moved upon the people of God. In March of 1859, at the beginning of a great move of God that would bring more than one million souls to conversion in Great Britain, some unordained men with a passion for revival preached at the First Presbyterian Church in Ahoghill, Northern Ireland.
There was such a large crowd at that meeting that they had to dismiss the meeting out of fear that the balconies would collapse under the weight of so many people.
They took the meeting to the street right outside the street, and in the freezing rain James McQuilkin preached to 3,000 people in the streets, with many of the listeners falling to their knees in the wet and muddy street because they were so moved by the conviction of sin under the preaching of these laymen.”
In his book ‘The Second Evangelical Awakening’, Dr. J. Edwin Orr quoted the observations of a high-ranking army officer upon the work of the Spirit in his Scottish town:
“Those of you who are ease have little conception of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man’s eyes to see the real state of heart. . . . Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people . . . have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven.”
William Newton Blair, the author of a book describing the great Korean revival, declares:
“We may have our theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine, but I know that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.”
But this was a law given by God to the Jews. So far as we know these women entered into these marriages in good faith and without that knowledge, and certainly the children can not be held accountable. So what about them?
Well this is modern dilemma – when we consider how it affects others when we obey God. Jesus clarifies our moral compass by saying that if our love for God is in ANY WAY eclipsed or even challenged by that of a legitimate family member, we are in no way worthy of Him.
Yes, this would adversely affect these women and children, but only so far as the marriage went. By setting an example of humble submission to the law they were also placing a bar before these foreigners who themselves could choose to come into and under the covenant even as foreigners.
If they had NOT separated from them – their earthly partnering would be saved but their souls lost. If they obey, their earthly agreement would be lost, but a standard would be held before them by which they could be saved if they chose.
Furthermore, to some degree these women bore responsibility, for according to the law they could forsake their foreign allegiances and come under the law and the covenant thus rendering this sentence unnecessary.
NO ONE is saved by lowering the bar!
Also, knowing as we do Jewish laws these women and children were undoubtedly not sent away empty handed.
It is more than appropriate to assume that each of them received an allotment according to the abilities of their Jewish husbands, and their children were not turned away desolate either. Most likely each had such a provision as their necessities required.
Also and amazingly, it seems that God’s mercy saw to it that there were relatively few children born to them and thus very few were affected (Ezra 10:44).
Neither was this a simple blanket decision. Individual situations and circumstances were examined, considered and decided upon one by one – a process which took them over 3 months to complete.
As I indicated earlier, one of the reasons for this questioning was because they upon examining each case, some of these wives might have desired to genuinely serve the Lord and forsake her native land and religions.
To the end of the chapter, there is a list showing that only about 114 of these pagan wives refused to embrace the God of Israel and had to be divorced.
In the end, it has been calculated that less than one-half of one percent of the people were guilty of foreign marriages and therefore had to divorce their wives. This implies that a great number of the foreign wives forsook their lands and religions and devoted themselves to the God of Israel.
So in the end a very small percentage was affected and that by their own decision, but it HAD to be dealt with a strong hand.
In the New Covenant, we as believers are commanded to marry only other Christians as well.
Marriages to unbelievers are condemned (2Cor. 6:14) and widows (as one example of the unmarried) are directly commanded to marry within the faith (1Cor. 7:39).
Paul specifically addresses marriages to unbelievers, commanding that if the unbeliever desires to stay with you, you should not leave them, but if they desire to leave, we are to let them go and we are not under any marital obligation to them or the law of God, but are free to remarry in most cases.
I believe however that this is a provision for those who were married BEFORE coming to Christ and therefore find themselves in a divided marriage. I do not think God honors willful disobedience. If a child of God knows NOT to marry an unbeliever and does so with full knowledge, I doubt very much if God honors that marriage at all, but rather views them as living in fornication or adultery depending on their former marital status if any.
In such cases it would seem this example in Ezra might apply, but like in Ezra it would need to be dealt with before the Elders of one’s local assembly on an individual basis.
Again – we gain nothing by lowering the bar except a loss of reverence and fear of God. We CANNOT honor the creation or any of its relationships higher than our love, devotion and obligation to God!
Truth is, we’d understand this even in marriage if the players were different. If, for example, a married man were to have a mistress on the side, MOST people would consider that unfaithfulness and wrong. That his first commitment, that to his wife, should be honored and he should forsake this foreign relationship in favor of his first and most important commitment. Yet, when that first commitment is God, we conveniently assume it’s okay to continue in sin against our commitment to Him. That somehow, confessing the sin, but not forsaking it is all that is required – but we would be wrong!
This is just another way in which the world and its broken and self-centered ideologies have infiltrated the church and corrupted its moral base. Sadly, few and far between are church attenders who even KNOW these scriptural mandates and that is largely due to them not being taught or upheld by the elder/pastors of the assemblies.
In closing, you remember that before all of this happened regarding the mixed marriages, we had covered 3 of the 4 commands issued by Kings to rebuild and restore the temple, but not the 4th which was to rebuild and restore Jerusalem.
This fourth and final decree, which was issued by Artaxerxes I was given to Nehemiah in 445B.C. 13 years after the one given by King Artaxerxes in 458B.C. and is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8. So we will see this command when we read through Nehemiah.