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.” (Ezra 10:1-4)
Convicted By The Word
The captivity of God’s people had come to an end. After seventy years of bondage, the word of God came to Cyrus, king of Persian, to return the Hebrews to Jerusalem. The returning exiles under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua began the rebuilding of the House of God. Faced with resistance, it would take nearly two decades for the temple to be completed. The scribe and priest Ezra came to Jerusalem to instill in the people a religious reformation to restore the holiness of God’s character over the land. He faced a formidable task. The leaders came to Ezra and confessed the people of God had mixed with the peoples of the lands in marriage. They had taken some of the daughters as wives for themselves and their sons. Worse yet, the leaders and officials led the way in this trespass.
Ezra was distraught beyond measure. He tore his garment and his robe, plucked out some of the hair of his head and beard, and sat down astonished. The people came before Ezra and waited for him to speak. They trembled with fear. Ezra remained unmoved until the evening sacrifice. Afterward, the man of God lifted his voice to God in prayer, seeking the grace and mercies of the Lord to save the people. Throughout the crowd, hearts were heavy, for the people wept bitterly. They knew what they had done was an abomination to God. Marrying pagan wives was forbidden under the law. Ezra prayed fervently for the people. The word of God was clear, and the word convicted the people of the Lord. Their weeping and broken hearts were not enough. They knew they had to do more.
Shechaniah spoke up and confessed on behalf of the people how they had transgressed the word of the Lord. They had taken pagan wives in contradiction to the Law. Their marriages were special to them, but the people’s hearts were more convicted by the word of the Lord. They made a covenant that day to do something incredible. Shecahaniah declared they would put away their wives for the glory of God and His word. There was no financial gain to put away their wives. It would not be for political reasons to divorce their wives. The notion of ending an unlawful marriage had no merit in the eyes of the pagan world and seemed foolish. What changed in the hearts of the people was the willingness to obey the word of the Lord. Nothing else mattered. When the final list was given, it was noted that some of them had wives by whom they had children. It did not matter. Obeying the word of God did matter.
The word of God will only convict the honest heart. Is it possible to be so convicted by the word of the Lord to become a eunuch for the kingdom of God’s sake? There is a false notion that people have that God wants them to be happy. The Lord never promised happiness, but He does demand holiness. Jesus acknowledged that many would not heed the word of the Lord and, like the rich young ruler who came seeking eternal life, will go away desiring the pleasures of this world than the eternal glory. What is enjoyed here is but for a short time and what is experienced in eternity is without end. Shechaniah, speaking for the people, made a bold and courageous statement to allow the word of God to rule, not the pleasures of life. The people gave their promise that they would put away their wives. Showing their repentance and being guilty, they presented a ram of the flock as their trespass offering. Repentance produced sacrifice, first in giving up their pagan wives; secondly, in worship to the Lord. A ram died that day for their sins because they were willing to obey God. Jesus died so that we can obey His word – whatever the cost. What are you willing to give up? How will the word convict you?