Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Have you ever been deeply moved by what someone said and how he said it? When the people see and hear Ezra praying his heartbroken prayer—the Hebrew text indicates that he repeatedly threw himself down in earnest prayer—it has a profound effect on the people. They gather around him and weep bitterly (Ezra 10:1), and Shekaniah, one of the leaders, steps forward to move the people from confession to restitution.
Shekaniah sees a way out; the depth of the people’s confession gives him hope that the right steps can be taken in response to God’s mercy and the work of the Spirit (v. 2). What he suggests is not an easy measure, especially to modern ears: he asks the people to make a covenant to put away their foreign wives and children.
Some have found this to be harsh. Why not, they wonder, ask the foreign wives to convert to the ways of the Lord? But would this have worked? Would this have preserved Israel’s religious faithfulness? Most scholars accept that asking the foreign wives and children to leave was probably the most appropriate action. Bible scholar Adam Clarke suggests that the women and the children (it was better for the children to be with their mothers) were sent away with sufficient provisions: “Humanity must have dictated this, and no law of God is contrary to humanity.”10 Also, it must be noted that there were probably not many children from such marriages (v. 44). It may also be that the Jewish men who had married foreign wives could have either divorced their Jewish wives or their actions may have created the problem of many unmarried Jewish women.
After Shekaniah expresses support for Ezra, the latter takes action (vv. 4–5). That Ezra is still deeply affected by the sinfulness of the people and their disregard of God’s law can be seen in how he withdraws alone to one of the rooms in the temple and continues to fast and mourn (v. 6). He is close enough to God to feel God’s grief so deeply.
Christians may not take sin seriously, but it affects their lives and the churches they attend (see 1 Corinthians 5:1–5). “To fear the LORD is to hate evil,” notes Proverbs 8:13. God not only hates sin, but is also grieved by it. We need to draw close to God so that we can feel the way He feels about sin and disobedience. Along with that, we are to feel compassion for repentant sinners and find ways to help them be reconciled with God. Also, restitution and amends must be made where necessary. A repentant thief must return the stolen goods, while a converted liar should ask for forgiveness and clear the air with those who have heard his lies.
Why do you think church prayer meetings are often poorly attended, even though we know revivals are always accompanied by heartfelt prayer and confession? How can we pray together in such a way that we are deeply moved by the Spirit?
Why is it important for restitution to be made for sins committed against God and others?