“And Shechaniah … spoke up and said to Ezra, ‘We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law’” (Ezra 10:2-3).
During the time of Ezra, God’s people had accomplished some great things as they returned to Israel following 70 years of Babylonian captivity (cf. Jeremiah 29:10). Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the children of Israel had rebuilt the temple (Ezra 6:15). As God’s good hand had been upon him, Ezra had led another group of Israelites back to the Promised Land bringing with them many of the articles of the temple which had been previously carried away by the Babylonians (Ezra 7:9-8:36). Ezra had come to do a great work for God: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
However, as Ezra is teaching the Law of the Lord, he runs into a problem because God’s people had been living in ways contrary to God’s laws. Ezra describes what happened: “When these things were done, the leaders came to me, saying, ‘The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands…For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass’" (Ezra 9:1-2). God’s people had violated God’s laws by entering into marriages with pagans (Deuteronomy 7:1-4).
Ezra is highly distressed when he hears the news of this: “So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard and sat down astonished” (Ezra 9:3). Ezra pleads with God on behalf of his people (Ezra 9:5-15). The people weep bitterly about this matter (Ezra 10:1). However, the people were not sure how to solve this problem in which they had gotten themselves. What was the solution?
Then, as the opening verses above indicate, Shechaniah acknowledges the wrong they have done in marrying these pagan wives but adds “yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this”. The solution he says was to have the courage to put away these foreign wives and the children born unto them (Ezra 10:2-4). In other words, the people needed to repent of what they had done. The only way to repent was to put away these foreign wives. The people follow this advice and put away their foreign wives despite the difficulty in doing so (Ezra 10:5-44).
As I read these verses, I am reminded of the terrible mess I get myself into because of sin. I also learn that repenting of sin is not always easy. In this case it required these people to put away their pagan wives. I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for them to do. However, it was the only way for them to realign their lives with what God’s Word had taught (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). In addition, from these verses I am also reminded that no matter how grave the sin I may have committed, there “is still hope in spite of this” if I am willing to repent and get my life realigned with God’s Word and my relationship with Him restored. Today, I rejoice that God extends to me the hope to have my relationship with him restored when I have gotten myself into a mess by falling into sin!
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).