Fifty-eight years have passed since the return of the first group of Jewish pilgrims to their homeland. The throne of Persia transferred from Xerxes to Artaxerxes, the latter being as favorably disposed to Jewish return to Jerusalem as was Cyrus, who initiated the migration of the Jews back to their homeland. A pious Levite named Ezra approached the king with a proposal that would empower him to lead a delegation to Jerusalem, a proposal that was enthusiastically endorsed by the king (note the official decree recorded in Ezra 7:11-26). Ezra readily acknowledged that these events were all made possible because “the good hand of his God was upon him” (7:9). The circumstances surrounding the dangerous 1000-mile trip and the events that transpired upon his arrival in Jerusalem are recorded in Ezra, chapters 7-10.
Samuel Shultz, The Old Testament Speaks (Pg 266)¸has given a helpful summary of the chronology of the events recorded in Ezra 7:1-10:44.
Nisan (first month)
1-3 – encampment by the river Ahava
4-11 – preparation for the journey
12 – beginning of the journey to Jerusalem
Ab (fifth month)
1st day of this month they arrive in Jerusalem
Kislev (ninth month)
Public assembly called in Jerusalem after Ezra is informed about mixed marriages
Tabeth (tenth month)
Beginning of examination of guilty parties and ending of the 1st day of Nisan
Upon his arrival, Ezra joyfully entrusts the provision for the Temple to those already leading the Temple activities (8:24-30) along with the distribution of the royal edict that empowers the community to reinforce Temple worship. All is well until the opening scene of chapter 9, when Ezra discovers a serious breach of the Law of Moses that threatens the very existence of the Jewish community. The Jewish people have intermarried with foreigners. One need only to reflect back to the beginning of the problems of Israel to understand how abhorrent this practice was. When Solomon married foreign wives, they turned his heart away from God and he began to worship false gods and practice idolatry. God’s people had just survived a 70-year exile as discipline for rampant idolatry. Now, the reorganized community, fragile as it was, dared to tread these waters again!! Ezra was appalled and he called the community to prayer and fasting. An examination of the people revealed a list of priests, Levites, and laity, totaling 114, was guilty of intermarriage. Among the eighteen guilty priests were close relatives of Joshua, the high priest, who had returned with Zerubabbel 50 years earlier. In fact, a comparison of Ezra 10:18-22 with Ezra 2:36-39 revealed that none of the orders of returning priests were free of intermarriage. Ezra reacted with such self-castigation and confession, that included himself as being among the transgressors, that his behavior became contagious throughout the community.
Representatives from the community initiated a resolution to this situation, which was enthusiastically affirmed by the community as a whole, and the marriages were annulled. A few comments on these events are appropriate.
First, a wise pastor once said, “Lumber stacked in a lumber yard begins to rot at the top.” With this comment he implied that the weakening and eventual disintegration of the community of faith usually begins with its leaders. Leaders, beware!
Second, grass-roots involvement in reform is necessary to bring about change. Leaders who impose their “clout” seldom accomplish their goal. It has been rightfully said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Again, leaders beware.
Third, leaders who lead by example do not need to ask people to follow. Their godly behavior will be all that is needed. Identification with the community, even in its sin, brings about commitment in repentance. Finally, leaders, take note.