Ezra and Nehemiah Reading the Torah

Ezra Reads the Law to the People – Gustave Dore

Ezra was soon confronted with the problem of intermarriage of some Judeans with women from the neighboring nations. Reasoning that the Torah forbade such unions, Ezra forced these men to divorce their wives.

9-1 When this was over, the officers approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the land whose abhorrent practices are like those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, 55 the Egyptians, 56 and the Amorites. 2 They have taken their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy seed has become intermingled with the peoples of the land; 57 and it is the officers and prefects who have taken the lead in the trespass.”

3 When I heard this, I rent my garment and robe, 58 I tore hair out of my head and beard, and I sat desolate. 4 Around me gathered all who were concerned over the words of the God of Israel because of the returning exiles’ trespass, while I sat desolate until the evening offering. 5 At the time of the evening offering I ended my self-affliction; still in my torn garment and robe, I got down on my knees and spread out my lands to the Lord my God, 6 and said, “O my God, I am too ashamed and mortified to lift my face to You, O my God, for our iniquities are overwhelming and our guilt has grown as high as heaven. 7 From the time of our fathers to this very day we have been handed over to foreign kings, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to humiliation, as is now the case.

8 “But now, for a short while, there has been a reprieve from the Lord our God, who has granted us a surviving remnant and given us a stake in His holy place; our God has restored the luster to our eyes and furnished us with a little sustenance in our bondage. 9 For bondsmen we are, though even in our bondage God has not forsaken us, but has disposed the king of Persia favorably toward us, to furnish us with sustenance and to raise again the House of our God, repairing its ruins and giving us a hold in Judah and Jerusalem.

10 “Now, what can we say in the face of this, O our God, for we have forsaken Your commandments, 11 which You gave us through Your servants the prophets when You said, ‘The land that you are about to possess is a land unclean through the uncleanliness of the peoples of the land, through their abhorrent practices with which they, in their impurity, have filled it from one end to the other. 59 12 Now then, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or let their daughters marry your sons; 60 do nothing for their well being or advantage, then you will be strong and enjoy the bounty of the land and bequeath it to your children forever.’ 13 After all that has happened to us because of our evil deeds and our deep guilt—though You, our God, have been forebearing, [punishing us] less than our iniquity [deserves] in that You have granted us such a remnant as this—14 shall we once again violate Your commandments by intermarrying with these peoples who follow such abhorrent practices? Will You not rage against us till we are destroyed without remnant or survivor? 15 O Lord, God of Israel, You are benevolent, for we have survived as a remnant, as is now the case. We stand before You in all our guilt, for we cannot face You on this account.”

10-1 While Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the House of God, a very great crowd of Israelites gathered about him, men, women, and children; the people were weeping bitterly. 2 Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel of the family of Elam spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God by bringing into our homes foreign women from the peoples of the land; but there is still hope for Israel despite this. 3 Now then, let us make a covenant with our God to expel all these women and those who have been born to them, in accordance with the bidding of the Lord and of all who are concerned over the commandment of our God, and let the Teaching be obeyed. 4 Take action, for the responsibility is yours and we are with you. Act with resolve!”

55. The people who were displaced by the Israelites when they entered the Land of Israel.

56. The Egyptians were representative of their former overlords, and their practices, such as the cult of the dead, polytheism, immorality, etc. were to be shunned.

57. This passage indicates that Jewish descent was already traced through the mother in this period.

58. As a sign of mourning.

59. Cf. Lev. 18-24-30.

60. Cf. Deut. 7-1-3.