Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, 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. Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it.”
Then Ezra arose, and made the leaders of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear an oath that they would do according to this word. So they swore an oath. Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib; and when he came there, he ate no bread and drank no water, for he mourned because of the guilt of those from the captivity. And they issued a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the descendants of the captivity, that they must gather at Jerusalem, and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the instructions of the leaders and elders, all his property would be confiscated, and he himself would be separated from the assembly of those from the captivity.
So all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered at Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth of the month; and all the people sat in the open square of the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of heavy rain. Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.” Then all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice, “Yes! As you have said, so we must do. But there are many people; it is the season for heavy rain, and we are not able to stand outside. Nor is this the work of one or two days, for there are many of us who have transgressed in this matter. Please, let the leaders of our entire assembly stand; and let all those in our cities who have taken pagan wives come at appointed times, together with the elders and judges of their cities, until the fierce wrath of our God is turned away from us in this matter.” Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite gave them support. Then the descendants of the captivity did so.
And Ezra the priest, with certain heads of the fathers’ households, were set apart by the fathers’ households, each of them by name; and they sat down on the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. By the first day of the first month they finished questioning all the men who had taken pagan wives. And among the sons of the priests who had taken pagan wives the following were found of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah. And they gave their promise that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they presented a ram of the flock as their trespass offering.
Also of the sons of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah; of the sons of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah; of the sons of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah. Also of the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (the same is Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer. Also of the singers: Eliashib; and of the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri. And others of Israel: of the sons of Parosh: Ramiah, Jeziah, Malchiah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malchijah, and Benaiah; of the sons of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Eliah; of the sons of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza; of the sons of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai; of the sons of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Ramoth; of the sons of Pahath-Moab: Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh; of the sons of Harim: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah; of the sons of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei; of the sons of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluh, Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Mattenai, Jaasai, Bani, Binnui, Shimei, Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph; of the sons of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.
All these had taken pagan wives, and some of them had wives by whom they had children. (Ezra 10)
It Happened In A Heavy Rain
There are some remarkable stories in scripture. Few can measure to the incredible story found in the final chapter of Ezra. The people of God have been in captivity for seven decades. By the hand of God a remnant has been restored to the land. Through a great struggle the Temple has been rebuilt and the spirit of the people is turned to worship the Lord. As Ezra was in the house of God confessing, weeping and bowing down a multitude of people came before him with an amazing story. The hearts of God’s people had been touched with His grace and mercy and they had realized their need of repentance. This was not the sin of stealing or lying or profaning the Sabbath. The people came to Ezra and confessed they were in unscriptural marriages. Moses had clearly written in the Law God’s forbiddance to intermingle with pagan wives. The people trembled. They were afraid of what the Lord would do. They begged Ezra to assemble all of Israel and establish the covenant with God once again and they would put away their pagan wives.
A message went out to all Israel that in three days everyone would assemble. If any person refused the command their properties would be confiscated and they would be cut off from Israel. Everyone came. And it rained. The rain came down hard. It was a fearful time because of the commandment of the Lord and the intensity of the rain. But they did not move. They did not shirk their oath. Standing in a pouring deluge the people listened to the words of Ezra. He told them to confess their sins and to separate themselves from their pagan wives and the peoples of the land. The process began and the book of Ezra closes with the testimony of a righteous people following the command of Jehovah God. The people put away their pagan wives including the children.
There are some things to note in this story. The people came to Ezra. They wanted to change their lives and they admitted their marriages were displeasing to God. Whatever it took to reconcile their hearts with the Lord they would do – even putting away their pagan wives and children. They trembled at the word of God. Marriage relationships are so close yet their relationship with the word of God moved them with greater fear. Hope was in their sorrow over sin and willingness to change their lives totally for the Lord. A covenant of faith was established that day. The people did not condemn the preacher for their unlawful marriage but told him they would encourage him to help the people do what was right. When the day came the people sat in the open square of the house of God trembling at the word of God and the heavy rain. That was dedication of a contrite heart.
What a blessing it would be to find people like those in the days of Ezra. Read the last paragraph again and see if that would happen today with God’s people. Are you willing to stand before the Lord trembling at His word? Are you willing to stand in an open court in a heavy rain to fulfill the law of God? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to be pleasing to God – including your marriage? This is a remarkable story.
The word of God is a red-hot iron. (Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest, 1937)