Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Have you been at a school assembly when errant students are asked to stand on stage while the principal scolds them publicly for their misbehaviour? It is an unpleasant experience, not only for those being reprimanded but also for the many others watching. In today’s reading, we see a similar experience. This third list of people in the book of Ezra is a roll of dishonour, an offenders’ list. All those guilty of having married foreign wives and who have to divorce them are listed. There are 17 priests, 10 Levites and temple workers, and 84 others, making a total of 111.
Heading the list are descendants of the revered high priest Joshua son of Jozadak (Ezra 10:18–19), who was co-leader with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2, 5:2; Haggai 1:1, 2:4), from the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem. Joshua was part of the generation that built the temple, and had himself led in the building of the altar and supervised the construction of the temple (Ezra 3:2, 9). One would have expected his immediate descendants to have led exemplary lives, but sadly, they did not.
To be a son or descendant of an illustrious man of God is not a guarantee of holiness. Just look at the wicked sons of Eli the high priest (1 Samuel 2:12–17), the corrupt sons of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 8:3), and the apostate grandson of Moses (Judges 18:30). These guilty descendants of Joshua promise to divorce their foreign wives and offer guilt offerings to seek God’s forgiveness and make peace with Him (Ezra 10:19). It has been observed that while priests made up 10 per cent of the returnees, here, they make up 15 per cent of the cases. As Bible commentator Derek Kidner observes, the priests are no better than the rest.13
The total number of offenders who have to divorce their foreign wives is a tiny fraction of the total population, which might lead us to wonder whether the fuss has been much ado about nothing. However, the reaction of Ezra and the leaders, and the strong measures they take, underline how sin cannot go unchallenged in God’s community; think of Achan in the Old Testament (Joshua 7) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). The book of Ezra ends on a rather sad note, emphasising Ezra’s efforts as a reformer. He will reappear in the book of Nehemiah.
Some lessons to consider: First, it is important for Christians to pass on their faith in Christ to the next generation. Every generation must learn to have faith in God and relate with Him directly; God has children but no grandchildren. Second, sin is a serious matter and must be dealt with, both in the individual and in the church.
In what specific ways can you pass on your Christian faith, insights, and experience to the next generation?
Why is it important to deal decisively with sin in the church (see 1 Corinthians 5)? What did Jesus teach about exercising discipline in the church (Matthew 18:15–17; Titus 3:10–11)?