Ezra, a priest who was dedicated to the Lord, was truly grieved by the sin of the people of God. They had become involved in relationships that the Lord had prohibited. He did not assume that this matter was none of his concern. He knew that the immorality of the leaders and the people of Israel would only bring more trouble upon the nation during this time when they were already very weak. He called out to the Lord with prayer and fasting and looked for God’s direction together with others who mourned for the sin of Israel.
An answer for them arose from those who had sinned against the Lord. They believed that there might be hope if they would divorce their foreign wives. They were ready to make a covenant with God based on this plan which they believed could be carried out “according to the Law.”
Ezra agreed and made the leaders take an oath accordingly. He called together all of Israel and pressed upon them the requirements of God’s Law, exposing their sin. He showed them a way back to sincere fellowship with God through confession of their sins and a determination to do the Lord’s will, specifically that they should “separate … from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”
The people agreed with Ezra that this was what needed to happen, though they understood that undertaking this repentance according to the Law would take time, presumably to insure that the divorced wives and their children would be provided for. Only a few leaders disagreed with this plan. It was accomplished within a few months.
Did they do the right thing? According to God’s plan for Israel as a separate people preparing for the coming of the Messiah, they did what was right. Joshua and his generation also did what was right when they slaughtered the people of the land. They lived in a special time. Neither the conquest under Joshua or these divorces under Ezra would be permitted in the New Testament era.
What has changed? With the death and resurrection of Jesus we are no longer under the ethics of a nation that was preparing for the coming of an eternal King. Now the King has come, and He has instituted His kingdom not through execution or divorce but through His own death. He Himself was cut off from the people of God for our sake. Through the cross a new kingdom has arrived.
Our King is now the husband of the church. His bride is made up of all who call upon the Name of the Lord from every tribe on the planet. Jesus divorces no one, and it is our sincere desire that we who love Him will stay with our spouses even if they should ever turn away from the Lord. We are explicitly taught this in 1 Corinthians 7.
We are also told that we are not free to marry people outside of the covenant community of faith. This moral duty has not changed from Old Covenant to New. Furthermore, when we are stuck in sin, we, like Israel in the time of Ezra, must still seek the Lord and turn away from sin according to His Word. Most importantly, Jesus will never put us away. He is a completely faithful husband. When He made His pledge toward us He was not making a rash decision. He will never regret the eternal commitment that He has made to love us with an everlasting love.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Great God, when all the noise of our lives is silenced by trial and disappointment, we are brought to remember why You have placed us on this earth. We have been distracted from the work of Your kingdom by obligations that we have foolishly chosen. We have joined ourselves to projects that are not consistent with our faith and our calling. Give us wisdom to know what must be done, so that we will follow in Your ways. What will we do in the day when we discover that we have greatly transgressed Your Law? Give us the clarity of Your truth not only to see our sin, but to see the way out that You have provided. Grant us then the courage to follow You. Bless us with unusual clarity so that we will not again be enticed into cares and responsibilities that would lead us away from Your perfect purposes for Your people. Help us to take responsibility for our mistakes and to repent as those who know You and remember Your Word. Bring blessing upon us again, for we have rediscovered the road that leads to fruitful service in Your kingdom. May we never forget the lessons that You have taught us at such a significant cost to ourselves, our families, and Your church.