Good morning! Today we finish the book of Ezra with chapters 9-10. This final section reveals the core of Ezra’s concerns for purity and the extent to which they govern official Hebrew practice after the exile. Ezra has such fear that the seedling of recovering Hebrew culture would be corrupted or choked out by others in the land that he leads a movement to split up marriages between Jews and non-Jews throughout Judah. There are parallels to this in anti-Jewish and anti-Black laws of the last century, and many still today consider marrying outside one’s faith sufficient grounding for severe disapproval. Ezra expresses a very contemporary sentiment, with families being severed because some members are deemed “unworthy” by others, who put ideology before blood.
Ezra discovers and laments the “problem” of intercultural marriage in chapter 9. Much of the tone here about protecting the Hebrews from “the holy seed” mixing with others brings to mind codes from Leviticus against mixing fibers, animal breeds, and the like. Intermarrying has a long pedigree in Israel—going back at least to sexual relations between Hebrews and Moabites in Numbers 25. It’s also one of the things for which King Solomon is criticized. Nevertheless, Ezra is “appalled” at this behavior among the returned exiles, who of all people should have known better since they had the law, scholars and leaders with them in Babylon. The chapter finishes with Ezra’s groveling prayer to God lamenting the intermarriages and pleading for divine forgiveness.
Ezra’s demonstrable prayer gets the people’s attention. Their reply to the problem is to seek a new covenant that excludes foreign wives and their children. (I wonder why the idea is not put in Ezra’s voice directly, but comes from another leader who calls upon Ezra to do his duty.) What ensues is a panicked mass migration, first of Hebrews throughout Judah who assembled at Jerusalem in three days, as called—imagine the panic for their property that must have compelled people to drop everything and show up. (Remember that Ezra apparently has the ear of Artaxerxes, with all the wealth and might that implies.) Because circumstances have the Hebrews gathering outdoors in a monsoon season, Israel’s leaders propose that judges be sent to each town to hear the case of the families there. These ancient parallels to immigration courts result in what sounds to me like a witch hunt for anyone with connections beyond the Hebrew people. As a result, Jewish men are forced to cast off their non-Jewish wives and children, plus make offerings to assuage the guilt. The book ends on a distressing image of many women separated from their support networks, sent off with their children. We’ll get another version of what happened in Jerusalem after the exile tomorrow, with Nehemiah. “Happy” reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Nehemiah 1-4. Thanks for reading!