Ezra 9-10 (The Daily Walk Bible).

Sending away wives and children? What do we make of that? First we have to realize that the big issue with all this is idolatry, and it is especially grievous because priests were involved. Ezra 9:1 says that those involved “have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites.” The nation (and the priesthood) were trying to rectify a wrong. Did they go to far? There is no condemnation, and it seems that there is even tacit approval. However, in the age of grace, things are a little different. Here’s what Hard Sayings of the Bible has to say:

“Even before Israel had entered into the land, they had been warned not to intermarry with the inhabitants (Ex 34:11–16; Deut 7:1–5). Such intermarriage would inevitably result in idolatry. Though there were many intermarriages throughout Israel’s history, apparently many of these involved proselytes. The outstanding examples, of course, are Ruth, Rahab and Moses’ Cushite wife. But many others cannot be explained as converts; they often appear to be tolerated and left in the midst of God’s people. Ultimately, this was one of the factors that led to God’s judgment and the Babylonian captivity.

What did Ezra do with these wives? The word translated “to send away” or “to cause to go out” in Ezra 10:3 is not the usual word for divorce. Nevertheless, that is what appears to have happened. Even more surprising, their solution is said to agree with the law!

Divorce was permitted under certain circumstances in Deuteronomy 24:1–4. Could it be that Ezra unlocked the meaning of that mysterious phrase “for something unseemly, shameful” or, as the NIV translates it, “he finds something indecent about her”? This could not refer to adultery, as the law provided the death penalty in that case (Deut 22:22). Thus it had to be something else that brought shame on God’s people. What could bring greater shame than the breaking of the covenant relationship and the ultimate judgment of God on all the people? Perhaps Ezra had this passage in mind when he provided for the divorce of these unbelieving wives.

There are many questions that remain. Were the ostracized children and wives provided for? Were any attempts made to win them to faith in the one true God? No direct answers are given to these and similar questions, perhaps because these matters were not germane to the main point of revelation.

Those attempting to show that Ezra rendered a questionable decision say he lost his prestige and influence in the community as a result of this decision. However, when the chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah is restored to its proper sequence, according to the textual claims and the most recent historical studies, Ezra was once again before the public during the revival of Nehemiah recorded in Nehemiah 8.

Are we left then with an argument for divorcing unbelieving spouses today? No! In fact, 1 Corinthians 7:12–16 says that if the unbeliever is willing to continue living with the believer, then they must not divorce, for the unbelieving partner is sanctified by the believer! However, should the unbeliever finally and irremediably desert the believer, the believer “is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace” (1 Cor 7:15). The object is to win the unbelieving spouse to Christ. But when an unbeliever chooses to desert his or her partner and marriage vows, then reluctantly the believer may let that one go, that is, sadly accept the divorce, with the right to be married to another.”

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