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This chapter describes Ezra’s public prayer and the reaction of the people. The issue of intermarriage with foreigners was the key problem that needed to be addressed in reconstituting the religious community of Jerusalem. Ezra invited those in these marriages to expel their foreign wives and children. Many took an oath to do so, and a long list of these individuals concludes the book.
Ezra 10:1–5. Non-Israelites put away
As Ezra began praying in front of the Jerusalem temple, a large crowd of Israelites gathered around him and wept. One spokesperson from the crowd acknowledged their sin of intermarrying with non-Israelites and covenanted with God to expel the foreign women and their children. Note that this passage implies matrilineal descent as a marker of Jewish or foreign identity. The spokesperson continued by exhorting Ezra to take action, which Ezra did by putting all the priests and Levites under oath to do according to his word.
A similar story of a prophet’s praying in public resulting in a crowd gathering around him is found in Helaman chapter 7, where Nephi prayed from his garden tower. He also lamented the wickedness of the people and called them to repentance.
Ezra 10:6–8. Proclamation to gather or forfeit property and risk separation
Ezra left the temple and went into the house of Johanan, where he fasted and mourned the people’s trespasses. A proclamation was sent out for everyone to assemble in Jerusalem or risk being cut off from the congregation and their property being confiscated.
Ezra 10:9–14. Confessions of husbands of foreign wives
The people gathered in Jerusalem near the temple to hear Ezra’s words. Ezra castigated the men for marrying foreign women and exhorted them to confess their sins to God and separate themselves from the peoples of the land and the foreign women they had married. The congregation acknowledged that they needed to do what Ezra required but asked for a delay so that people would not be put out during the rainy season and because it would take a while to sort through so many families. Assigned leaders would stay behind and meet with those in intermarriage relationships.
Ezra 10:15–17. Husbands of foreign wives recorded and examined
Some of the priestly leaders studied the legal tradition related to marriage and began listing the names of those who had brought home foreign women.
Ezra 10:18–44. Catalogue of husbands of foreign wives
The book of Ezra ends with a lengthy list of those who had married foreign women. It also includes the acknowledgement of their guilt and their resolve to expel their wives and offer sacrifices as part of their repentance. Priestly leadership and other temple functionaries were included in the list.
While this list may seem like an odd ending for the book of Ezra, in Hebrew tradition the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are often combined, and this list is merely the segue into the continued issue of intermarriage that Nehemiah will pick up.
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