This chapter forms a unit with the previous chapter. The problem that was introduced in Ezra 9 will now be resolved in Ezra 10.

Ezra 9

Ezra 10

The Problem: Intermarriage with people of the land

The Solution: Divorces from those wives

Prayer of Repentance

Proposal of Divorce

To understand the actions described in this chapter, we must first understand that the problems faced by Ezra and the nation were very real. The Mosaic Law had expressly forbidden the Israelites to intermarry with the people of the land (Deuteronomy 7:2-3).

1. An Unequal Union.

The Scriptures explicitly warn against being unequally yoked together with an unbeliever.

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (1 Corinthians 6:14-16).

This passage does not specifically mention marriage. It speaks instead of any kind of tie by which we might be bound to another person. As such, it could apply to many of the different types of relationship into which people enter.

There is no closer tie that can bind two people together in this life than the tie of marriage. When a man and a woman enter into marriage, they become a single, unified entity. They become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

For a believer to enter into such a relationship with an unbeliever is the height of foolishness. And yet, I have seen such an unhappy union take place again and again.

2. This issue of Idolatry.

The people who had been resettled in the land of Canaan were a people rooted in idolatry. Polytheism was the order of the day. People generally worshiped a wide variety of gods.

These pagan people had heard of the Lord. They had heard that Yahweh was the name of the God of the Jews. And so, they reasoned that perhaps Yahweh was a god who had influence in this land. For this reason, they added the name of Yahweh to the long list of gods that they worshiped. This was pluralism at its worst. They reasoned that the God of Israel was only one among many such gods.

Archaeologists in recent years have found evidence of people of the land engaged in this sort of pluralistic worship. They have found indications of Yahweh-worship mixed in with the worship of other pagan gods. It is a bit like the fellow who wears a cross along with a Star of David and a rabbit’s foot. He is treating the Lord as though He were nothing more than a good luck charm.

The returning Jews under Zerubbabel had resisted the invitation of these people to be involved in the rebuilding of the Temple, even though it meant the arousal of their enmity and open hostility. But now something much worse has taken place. The Jews have taken many of these unbelieving pagans into their own families. There is an entire generation of Jews who are being raised by pagan mothers.

There is a principle here. It is the principle of the primacy of spiritual parents. If you are a parent, then the question of whether the next generation will be Christian or pagan depends upon you. This is not to deny the sovereignty of God in salvation, but the Lord works out His plans through His people and parents are very often the means through which He works.

Ezra looks at this and realizes that the entire nation is in danger of being led into apostasy. What is at stake is nothing less than the salvation of the world. If there is no believing generation, it will not be long before there is no Israel. And if there is no Israel, then there can be no Messiah. And if there is no Messiah, then there will be no salvation and the entire world will remain in its sins.



Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. (Ezra 10:1).

The author now switches to the third person. This does not negate the fact of a unified authorship, Ezra may have wanted to focus upon the issue at hand or else he might have been using notes which were originally penned by another.

No sermon has been preached. No legislation has been passed. No decree has been issued. Yet a great assembly gathers and goes into mourning. Why? Because a single man PRAYED.

An entire nation is brought to its knees beginning with the prayer of a single man. There is a principle here. It is that prayer works.

This principle has some important ramifications. It means that if you have a problem with another Christian, you should never neglect praying for him.



Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, "We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.

"So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord 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, but we will be with you; be courageous and act." (Ezra 10:2-4).

The situation was serious. As we have pointed out, the spiritual future of the entire nation is at stake. The drastic situation calls for an equally drastic solution. The question that we must ask is whether this was the correct solution. Were the Israelites right in divorcing their pagan wives? The passage does not specifically say and there are arguments for either side.

The Plan was of God

The Plan was a Mistake

The absence of condemnation indicates approval, especially in light of the fact that Ezra closes on this note.

There is no editorial confirmation. If Nehemiah is seen as the continuation of Ezra, then it is possible that this was merely a problem along the way which was not satisfactorily resolved at the time.

Ezra agrees to the plan after a long time of prayer.

The Lord did not reveal the plan to Ezra as a prophecy; it was suggested by someone who was not a prophet.

The nation was in danger of falling into idolatry and Deuteronomy 7:2-3 specifically forbids such intermarriage.

It is never right to do wrong so that good may come of it. Malachi 2:14 contains a scathing indictment against Israel for its practice of divorce.

Nearly the entire nation agreed to the proposal.

Majority opinion is no guarantee of righteousness (an example is the case of the 10 spies who gave a report at Kadesh Barnea).

The actions of Ezra and the nation marked a return to the observance of the Law.

The New Testament confirms that believers are to remain married to an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).

There was already a new generation growing that would have pagan roots.

1 Corinthians 7:14 tell how maintaining such a mixed marriage can have a positive effect upon the children.

The book of Malachi was written only a few years following the decisions that were made within this chapter. It therefore can be considered to be a commentary upon the actions of which we read.

Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god. (Malachi 2:11).

This is an indictment of the very condition that is described in this chapter. Apparently the problem did not immediately disappear following the mass divorces at the end of this chapter. Nehemiah 13:23 tells us that the same pattern of intermarriage with pagans began to be adopted by some of the Israelites in Nehemiah’s day. Nehemiah’s reaction was not to order the same mass divorces, but instead, to urge the people to stop entering any future marriages with pagan Gentiles. He also deposed the high priest who had become a relative through marriage to one of the pagan enemies of Israel (Nehemiah 13:28).

Malachi goes on to address the particular problem of divorce.

This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from the Lord.

Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.

But no one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.

"For I hate divorce," says the Lord, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the Lord of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." (Malachi 2:13-16).

This passage could almost be taken as a direct indictment against the decision and decree of Ezra. Under the cover of their tears of repentance, fraught with weeping and with groaning, the Jews made a grave decision to divorce their Gentile wives, even though they had entered into those marriages by covenant (2:14).

It is in the midst of such actions that the Lord stands as a witness against them, proclaiming in no uncertain terms that He hates divorce and that one who proceeds with such a divorce is doing it quite apart from the leading of the Spirit.

In conclusion, we must cite two possible interpretations:

Viewed in this regard, the Malachi passage would then point out a problem which the next generation saw as they used the divorces of the previous generation to participated in unwarranted divorces.



Then Ezra rose and made the leading priests, the Levites and all Israel, take oath that they would do according to this proposal; so they took the oath.

Then Ezra rose from before the house of God and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib. Although he went there, he did not eat bread nor drink water, for he was mourning over the unfaithfulness of the exiles. (Ezra 10:5-6).

Notice how Ezra begins his program of reformation. He approaches first the leading priests ( ), then the Levites and finally all of Israel.

Do you want to see reformation in the church? Then pray for reformation in your leaders. As go the leaders of a church, so will go that church. The same principle is true of nations.

Do you want to see reformation in the this nation? Then pray for reformation in your leaders. As go the leaders of a nation, so will go that nation.

Liberalism crept into the church through the doors of the seminary. Seminaries began teaching that the Bible contains historical errors and the next generation of pastors were a generation who did not believe the Bible to be the Word of God.






The same process is at work here in the book of Ezra. It is the same process that takes place in the family.







Parents lead by example. That is an iron-clad rule of life. Your children will learn a lot more from what you DO than they will from what you SAY.



They made a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the exiles, that they should assemble at Jerusalem, 8 and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the leaders and the elders, all his possessions should be forfeited and he himself excluded from the assembly of the exiles. (Ezra 10:7-8).

So important was the situation that Ezra made it mandatory that all should attend. To overcome the possible apathy that he might face, he tied the meeting in with economic ramifications. Ezra had been given a great amount of authority from the king of Persian and now he did not hesitate to utilize this authority.



So all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month on the twentieth of the month, and all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and the heavy rain.

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel.

"Now therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives."

Then all the assembly replied with a loud voice, "That’s right! As you have said, so it is our duty to do.

"But there are many people; it is the rainy season and we are not able to stand in the open. Nor can the task be done in one or two days, for we have transgressed greatly in this matter.

"Let our leaders represent the whole assembly and let all those in our cities who have married foreign wives come at appointed times, together with the elders and judges of each city, until the fierce anger of our God on account of this matter is turned away from us." (Ezra 10:9-14).

It was November. The cooler weather had set in around the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. And it was raining as well. The people gathered in the cold rain. It was a somber mood. As Ezra got up to address them, the climate matches his words. There are two parts to his speech:

1. What They Have Done.

They have been unfaithful. This is the issue. It is not so much the means of their unfaithfulness, but the fact of their unfaithfulness that is at issue. God said not to do something and they disobeyed.

2. What They Are To Do.

Confession involves agreeing with God that you have sinned and that you stand guilty and condemned and without excuse. How different this is from the spirit of this age that says, "I didn’t do anything wrong and I promise not to do it again."

Repentance involves more than a mere change of mind. It involves a commitment to turn from sin and to turn toward righteousness. As the hymn reminds us, we are called both to trust and to obey.

We are to separate from that which hinders our spiritual walk. Jesus said that such a separation means that we are to place the Lord before children or spouses or parents. He is to be the object of our first loyalty — a loyalty of such magnitude that anything else would be abject hatred by comparison..



Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, with Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supporting them. (Ezra 10:15).

There were some who opposed this plan. It is difficult to read their hearts. Was their opposition based upon a worldliness? Or was it that they felt that divorce in any case was wrong and to be avoided? Did they feel that the solution was worse than the problem? We do not know.

I am reminded of a particular instance when the elders of my church were making a difficult decision. There were not unanimity in their thinking and, when the vote was taken, there were two dissenting voices. They were gracious in their disagreement and agreed to go along with the decision of the majority, but they could not in good conscience vote in the affirmative. At this point, I saw a remarkable thing. The entire body decided that they ought to table the matter until they could all be in agreement. And when they came together the following month, after having contemplated and prayed on the matter, the entire group found itself following the wisdom of these two dissenting votes. I should add that this was not and is not today the normative practice, neither should it necessarily be the case. But we should realize that there are times when the minority view is the correct one.

I have already indicated that I am not entirely certain as to how we should judge the actions of this passage. But I do find it curious that there were voices of opposition and that there is nothing negative said of them. Furthermore the words of Malachi concerning divorce would seem to be in support of this minority view.



But the exiles did so. And Ezra the priest selected men who were heads of fathers' households for each of their father's households, all of them by name. So they convened on the first day of the tenth month to investigate the matter.

They finished investigating all the men who had married foreign wives by the first day of the first month. (Ezra 10:16-17).

These investigations took place over a period of two months - from November to January. The fact of these overly long investigations might lend some credence to the speculation that not all of these mixed marriages ended in divorce. Each case seems to have been treated individually. Otherwise they could have been completed in a day or so. Following the examples of Rahab and Ruth, the Jews may have concluded that a Gentile wife who demonstrated faith in the Lord was now a genuine member of the covenant community with a marriage that could be appropriately sanctioned by the national leaders.

At this point, we come full circle in the story. We began with the report of this intermarriage that had taken place. These last verses now close with the solution to that problem.

Report of the problem of intermarriage (9:1-2)

Ezra’s public mourning (9:3-4)

Ezra’s prayer (9:5-15)

Shecaniah’s confession and request for action (10:1-4)

Ezra’s exhortation & the people’s oath (10:5)

Ezra’s private mourning (10:6)

Resolution of the problem of intermarriage (10:7-44).


All these had married foreign wives, and some of them had wives by whom they had children. (Ezra 10:44).

There were not only wives who were affected in this situation; there were also children. This brings up a principle. It is that sin is never private. It invariable involves others. A sin between two "consenting adults" never remains solely between those adults. It inevitably overflows and spills into the lives of others.

Shakespere wrote, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." In the same way, we weave a tangled web when we sin.

Ezra 10 is one of the saddest chapters in the Bible. There are no winners here. It is a lose/lose situation. This sin hurt everyone. It hurt the husbands, it hurt the wives, and it hurt the children. Our sin today does the same thing to us. We might not always see the consequences so clearly and it might not always be so obvious but sin separates us from God. It leaves us in total despair. The stain of our sin follows us the rest of our lives and we can never be like we were before.

But there is hope. God has made a way of escape. The death of Christ paid the penalty for our sin. The blood of Jesus has washed away the stain of our sin. We can be made pure and holy. In His arms we find a new beginning.


About the Author
Return to the John Stevenson Bible Study Page
Have a Comment?