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Chapter 6: Holiness in Ezra: Separated From Uncleanness and Seeking the Lord

“The Mixed Marriage Crisis in Ezra,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (Oct-Dec 2005): forthcoming

The message of Ezra revolves around three focal points: God, the Returnees, and the relationship between them. Whereas the previous chapter developed Ezra’s narrative portrait of God, the focus of the present chapter is on the Returnees. The primary themes Ezra develops relating to the Returnees are continuity with pre-exilic Israel, the importance of holiness, and hope for the future. Of these three, this chapter delineates Ezra’s dominant concern for holiness.

The analysis of Ezra’s plot structure in Chapter Three identified five locations where the narrative develops the theme of holiness. The first four are in satellite events (2:58-63 ; 4:1-3 ; 6:20-22 ; 8:24-30 ). The fifth is the kernel event of the mixed marriage episode in chapters 9-10 . Each of these incidents illumines a different facet of Ezra’s concern for holiness.

Ezra 2: Priests Profaned from the Priesthood

The theme of holiness emerges first in Ezra 2:58-63 . Two groups of Returnees, one lay and the other priestly, were unable “to declare the house of their fathers and their seed, if they were from Israel” (2:59 ). Although the text gives no indication of what action was taken with regard to the lay group, the fact that they are included in the list implies that they were among the returning exiles.366 On the other hand, the priests367 who were unable to prove their lineage were regarded as profane and unfit to participate in the priesthood or to eat from the “most holy things.”368 This restriction was, however, limited until a priest (presumably the high priest) could pronounce judgment on their legitimacy using the Urim and Thummim.369

Within the framework of the narrative, this brief scene serves as a reminder of God’s requirement for those who serve Him as priests: they must be from the tribe of Levi, the house of Aaron.370 If they were not from the lineage of those whom God had separated unto Himself and sanctified to the ministry of the priesthood (Num. 8:14-19 ), they were not acceptable. In this way, this passage links holiness to obedience to God’s word as well as highlighting the importance of holiness in the priesthood.371 Since the priests were at the center of the nation’s spiritual life, that they meet the divine requirements for service was paramount. The denial of their right to participate in the priesthood also establishes the principle that holiness is more important than one’s livelihood.

Ezra 4: Syncretists Rejected

Having heard that the Returnees had started reconstructing the temple, the people of the land approach Zerubbabel and the “heads of the fathers” to request the opportunity to build with them (4:1-2 ). They buttress their request with the assertion that they both share the same orthodox heritage: “we are seeking your God and have been sacrificing to Him from the days of Esar Haddon, king of Asshur, who brought us up here” (4:2 ). The Returnees, however, were aware of the syncretistic nature of the Yahweh-worship practiced by these people. 2 Kings 17:24-41 describes the development of their syncretism in detail. Because they failed to worship Yahweh when they first entered the land, He sent ravaging lions among them (2 Kings 17:25 ). In order to appease “the god of the land” (2 King 17:26 ), they added Yahweh to their pantheon of gods. The author of Kings makes it unmistakably clear that there was no conversion, only assimilation. His repeated assertion is that those exiled to Israel by the king of Assyria “feared Yahweh and served their own gods.”372 Recognizing that participation by its very nature creates a claim to ownership and with it the right of use, the Jewish elders refused to permit the syncretists any part in rebuilding the temple (4:3 ). In so doing, they demonstrated that they had learned the lesson that 2 Kings sought to teach: syncretism must be avoided at all costs, for it was the sin that sent the northern kingdom into exile.

Besides providing the background to the long opposition faced by the Returnees, Ezra 4:1-3 exposes the Returnees’ concern for holiness and thereby reminds the reader of its importance. To compromise the pure monotheistic worship of Yahweh would constitute an implicit denial of His uniqueness. Not only must priests be holy, but the temple and its worship must be kept holy. Therefore, only those whose allegiance to Yahweh was pure and without syncretistic alloy would be permitted to rebuild the temple. The evidence accumulated against the people of the land in the verses that follow (4:5-23 ) emphatically supports the elders’ separatist decision. This scene implies that holiness must not be compromised to retain the good will of syncretistic neighbors regardless of the political consequences.

Ezra 6: Separatists Welcomed in Worship

Ezra 6:20-22 depicts the third incident that develops the theme of holiness in Ezra. A month after finishing the temple, the Returnees celebrate the Passover. Joining the “sons of Israel who had returned from the Exile” were “all those who had separated themselves unto them from the uncleanness of the nations of the land to seek Yahweh, the God of Israel” (6:21 ). This descriptive narratorial comment is perhaps the most important expression of the narrative’s conception of holiness, for it captures in a single statement the essential nature of holiness. Holiness is separation from all that defiles unto Yahweh. Holiness, therefore, involves both negative and positive separation.373

On the negative side, the incidents in 2:69 and 4:1-3 illustrated holiness requiring separation from the priesthood of those who did not meet the standard of God’s word or separation from those who were syncretistic in their worship. To these legal and religious applications of holiness, Ezra 6:21 adds the crucial moral component. Those joining the Returnees had separated themselves from the “uncleanness of the nations.” The phrase, “the uncleanness of the nations,” has primary reference to the immoral and idolatrous practices that characterized the nations surrounding Judah.374 Thus, separation from all sinful practices was a prerequisite for worshiping Yahweh acceptably.

The second part of the phrase “and to seek Yahweh, the God of Israel” adds to the picture the positive component of holiness—separation unto God. Holiness is not only separation from uncleanness, but it is also separation unto Yahweh. The phrase “to seek Yahweh”375 has two primary senses in the Old Testament: to ask the Lord for direction or help in a matter376 and to purpose to worship and serve Yahweh alone.377 Frequently, those who seek the Lord are said to have “set their heart to seek the Lord.”378 Given this background, Ezra’s use of this phrase reflects his understanding that holiness is a matter of the heart (cf. 7:10 ). Those who would worship Yahweh acceptably must have set their hearts to separate themselves from all uncleanness and to worship and serve Yahweh alone. This same principle surfaces later in Ezra’s statement that “The hand of our God is upon all those who are seeking Him for good and His strength and His wrath are against all those abandoning Him” (8:22 ). Those whose hearts are set to seek Yahweh are the ones whom He blesses. Ezra 8:22 , therefore, establishes the vital role that holiness plays in the relationship between Yahweh and His people: holiness is the indispensable prerequisite for receiving God’s favor.

A third dimension that Ezra 6:21 contributes to the narrative’s concept of holiness is the wideness of true holiness. Holiness knows no racial or ethnic boundaries.379 The Returnees’ concern for genetic continuity to pre-exilic Israel did not mean that they were religious racists who would permit no one outside the bounds of their gene pool to worship with them. This scene suggests just the opposite. Here all who were willing to abandon their idolatrous ways and seek Yahweh were welcome to celebrate the Passover.

Ezra 8: Holy Guards Required for Holy Vessels

The fourth and final satellite event that develops the holiness theme is in Ezra 8:24-30 . In preparation for the return to Judah, Ezra chooses 12 princes of the priests to guard the gold and silver items dedicated to the temple. After separating them from their companions, he tells them that they are “holy to Yahweh, and the vessels are holy” (8:28 ). Thematically, this scene provides a positive example of ceremonial holiness. As such it reinforces the essential element of the narrative’s conception of holiness—holiness always involves separation (8:24 )—and rounds out the positive development of the theme—the men Ezra separates are not simply holy; they are holy to Yahweh (hwhyl). Even in ceremonial matters, the positive orientation of holiness is always unto Yahweh. Although the narrative never explicitly states that Yahweh is holy, with this scene the conclusion becomes unavoidable. Everything that is associated with Yahweh is holy. Vessels dedicated to His service are holy, and those who guard them must be holy. Yahweh must, therefore, be holy. In this way, the narrative implicitly reflects what the Law identifies as the rationale for both ceremonial and ethical holiness: the holiness of Yahweh.380 Although the narrative devotes no time to explaining the nature of Yahweh’s holiness, it nonetheless invites inference from the requirements Yahweh’s holiness places upon His people. Since His people must be separated from all uncleanness, there must be no uncleanness in Him. In Habakkuk’s words, “[Your] eyes are too clean to look on evil” (1:13a ).

Ezra 9-10: Mixed Marriages Separated

The final and most significant development of the holiness theme in the book takes place in chapters nine and ten. Four months after his arrival in Jerusalem, certain of the princes report to Ezra that the Returnees have been intermarrying with the peoples of the lands:

The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands; according to their abominations to the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perezites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken from their daughters for themselves and for their sons and they have mingled the holy seed with the peoples of the lands; and the hand of the princes and the officials were first in this unfaithful act.381

Ezra responds in horror, tearing his clothing and hair, and then sits in stunned silence before the temple. At the time of the evening sacrifice he rises and prays, then Shecaniah suggests that they make a covenant with God and send the foreign women away. Ezra makes the elders of Israel sware to do as they had said and then sends messengers informing all the Returnees that they must appear in Jerusalem within three days or face confiscation of all property and excommunication from the congregation.382 Three days later, the whole congregation arrives and sits trembling in the rain, waiting for Ezra to address them. Rebuking them for their unfaithfulness, he commands them to separate themselves from “the peoples of the land and from the foreign women.” When the meeting concludes, a commission is established, and three months later 113 men have sent away their wives.

Clearly separation and holiness are motifs in these events. Yet in order to understand what Ezra intends to communicate about holiness in chapters 9-10, it is necessary to first understand what has taken place. The text presents what appears to be a fairly simple case: the prophetic prohibitions against intermarriage with pagan Canaanites have been violated, jeopardizing the continued existence of the community. As a result, the Jews must separate themselves from the peoples of the land and send away their foreign wives. The issue is, however, more complex than this. First, the Law does not prohibit Israelites from marrying Moabites, Ammonites, or Egyptians. Second, many scholars question whether the Canaanites, Hittites, Perezites, Jebusites, and Amorites even existed during the Persian period.383 Third, neither the law nor the prophets specify divorce as the appropriate remedy to intermarriage with Canaanites or any other non-Jewish group. In fact, Malachi makes Yahweh’s view of divorce quite clear: “Yahweh, the God of Israel says that He hates divorce” (2:16 ). The absence of explicit Biblical support for Ezra’s reform raises questions regarding the real concern(s) that motivated Ezra. Was it political, racial, religious, sociological, or a combination of some or all of the above? The key issues that must be addressed before considering how this scene develops the narrative’s holiness theme are (1) who are the “people(s) of the land(s)” and the “foreign women,” (2) what was the nature of the problem, and (3) what was the rationale for mandated separation. The following discussion will survey the spectrum of views on each of these issues, examine the relevant Biblical data, and finally outline the theological significance of this scene for the theme of holiness.

The Peoples of the Lands and the Foreign Women: A Spectrum of Views

The wide spectrum of opinions regarding the nature of the mixed-marriage crisis and the rationale that motivated Ezra’s reform may be categorized into three groups according to their identification of the “foreign women” and the “peoples of the lands.”

The Peoples of the Lands: Pagan Foreigners

The most common identification of the “foreign women” is that they were pagan, non-Jewish women from the nations around the Returnees.384 The list of eight foreign nations in the immediate context (9:1 ) usually forms the basis for this identification. Among those who agree that the foreign wives were pagan women, no similar agreement exists regarding why the mixed marriages were a problem.

The standard rationale given for why the intermarriages were a problem is that the idolatrous practices of the heathen women would draw the Returnees back into the very sin that precipitated the Exile.385 However, a number of alternative views have been proposed. Some scholars see Ezra making a studied attempt to pattern his own return to Israel after the Exodus and Conquest.386 For example, Sara Japhet argues that Ezra viewed his encounter with the mixed marriages the same way Joshua viewed the seven Canaanite nations upon his entry into the land: necessitating total removal.387 Others center their explanation on the statement made by the princes in their report to Ezra: “they have mingled the holy seed with the peoples of the lands” (9:2 ). According to Louis Epstein , the phrase “holy seed” reflects the racially exclusivist mentality of the Returnees. Exogamous marriage or marriage to anyone other than a Jew defiled the purity of the nation.388 Christine Hayes , on the other hand, argues that Ezra viewed intermarriage as profaning the holy status God conferred upon Israel at Sinai. Therefore, in contrast to the limited Mosaic prohibitions of intermarriage that were intended to safe-guard Israel from idolatry, Ezra forbade intermarriages to all Gentiles because they are, by definition, unholy.389 Focusing on the word “seed,” Edward Dobson contends that Ezra’s primary concern was the preservation of the messianic line. In his view, “the ‘holy seed’ is a reference to the line of the Messiah, established when God pro-mised Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.”390 Examining the issue from a socio-political perspective, Kenneth Hoglund argues that Ezra’s real concern was the Jews’ land-tenure rights to Judean territory—the theological rationale for separating from the foreign wives one finds in Ezra 9 is the work or reworking of the final author.391 According to Hoglund ’s theory, the Persian system of territorial allocation was based on a discernible ethnic homogeneity, which would be endangered by intermarriage. Ezra’s reform was, therefore, designed to safeguard the Returnees’ ethnic identity and thereby assure continued land-tenure rights in Judah from the imperial government.392

The Peoples of the Lands: Non-Golah Jews

Growing out of the recent trend in Old Testament studies to use sociological models to reconstruct the social matrix of Biblical literature,393 a number of scholars have proposed that the “foreign women” and “the peoples of the lands” were actually Jews who were not deported under Nebuchadnezzar but remained in the land during the exile.394 In support of this view, Daniel Smith -Christopher notes Old Testament texts that present a more favorable view of foreigners.395 He also asserts that the terms by which the foreigners are identified (Hittites, Perezites, etc.) are “old terms that almost surely have become stereotypically pejorative slurs referring to those ethnic groups who have long since either disappeared or assimilated.”396 In addition to these arguments, Lester Grabbe asserts that Ezra’s silence regarding “the bulk of the Jews [who] remained in Palestine [after the exile] and were still there half a century later” indicates that “the only proper Jewish community was that formed of the returnees; the descendants of those who remained in the land were apparently considered illegitimate.”397

Some advocates of this view argue that the primary issue that concerned Ezra was the definition and survival of the golah398 community.399 Exogamous marriage was perceived as a threat to the identity of the community; therefore, only marriage to those within the bounds of the golah community was acceptable. Others see in Ezra 9-10 a religio-political conflict in which Ezra’s faction gains dominance over the priestly element.400

The Peoples of the Lands: Synthetic Views

Synthesizing what he considers the best of the foregoing positions, Harold Washington argues that a cluster of issues, including ethnic identity, land tenure, ceremonial membership and religious self-definition, precipitated the mixed marriage crisis.401 In his view, the Jews returning with Ezra conceived of themselves as typologically reenacting the conquest of Canaan. By lumping together local non-golah Judeans and the surrounding nations into a single class of “foreigners,” they were able to exclude them from the covenant community and maintain the integrity of the golah “collective.”402

Hyam Maccoby , on the other hand, argues that the problem Ezra faced was not contamination of the holy seed, simple paganism, or socio-economic in nature. Based on his identification of the “people of the land” in Ezra 4:1-4 as syncretistic foreigners, Maccoby contends that the real problem was an amalgamation with peoples who considered themselves Yahweh-worshippers but who were, in fact, religious syncretists.403 Ezra’s reform was, therefore, intended to purge these syncretistic influences from the community, thereby restoring it to a condition of holiness or purity.404

The Peoples of the Lands and the Foreign Women: the Biblical Data

In the face of such a divergent spectrum of viewpoints, one must return to the Biblical data in order to determine the nature of the problem with the mixed marriages and the rationale for Ezra’s reform. The Biblical data requiring examination may be divided into three categories: Ezra’s terminology for the inhabitants of the land and the foreign women, the content of Ezra’s prayer, and the interchanges between Ezra and the leaders of the people regarding how to solve the crisis.

The Identity of the Wives: Ezra’s Terminology

The following expressions are used in Ezra for the inhabitants of the land: twxrah ymu “peoples of the lands” (3:3 ; 9:1 , 2 , 11 ), Jrah <u “people of the land” (4:4 ), Jrah-ywg “nations of the land,” (6:21 ), Jrah ymu “peoples of
the land” (10:2 , 11 ), twbuwt ymu “peoples of these abominations” (9:14 ), and twyrkn <yvn “foreign women” (10:2 , 10 , 11 , 14 , 17 , 18 , 44 ).

People(s) of the Land(s)

Outside of Ezra, the phrase twxrah ymu “peoples of the lands” occurs four times and refers to foreign (pagan) peoples (2 Chron. 13:9 ), nations in general, potentially including Israel (2 Chron. 32:13 ), nations other than Israel (Neh. 9:30 ), and those from whom God-fearing Israelites were to separate themselves (Neh. 10:29 ). Of the 51 occurrences of the phrase Jrah <u “people of the land,” it refers to foreign peoples only six times: the Hittites (Gen. 23:7 , 12 , 13 ), the Egyptians (Gen. 42:6 ; Neh. 9:10 ), and the inhabitants of Canaan (Num. 14:9 ). The majority of its occurrences refer to Israelites.405 The referents of the phrase Jrah ymu “peoples of the land” include all the inhabitants of the world other than Israelites (Deut. 28:10; Josh. 4:24; 1 Kings 8:43, 53, 60; 1 Chron. 6:33; Zeph. 3:20), all the inhabitants of the world including Israelites (Job 12:24; Isa. 24:4; Ezek. 31:12), Canaanites (1 Chron. 5:25; Neh. 9:24), nations other than Israel (2 Chron. 32:19), and non-Jewish Babylonians (Est. 8:17).406 The phrase Jrah-ywg “nations of the land” occurs 10 times outside of Ezra and refers to all the nations of the earth including Israel (Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4) or excluding Israel (Deut. 28:1; 2 Chron. 32:13, 17; Jer. 26:6; 33:9; 44:8; Zech. 12:3). From the foregoing survey of these phrases, it is clear that their general nature requires one to determine their intended reference entirely from their context.

The first of these phrases to occur in Ezra is twxrah ymu. In Ezra 3:3 the narrator comments that the Returnees rebuilt the altar of the Lord “in terror of the peoples of the lands” without giving any further indication of who these peoples were. In Ezra 4:1 the narrator records that the “enemies of Judah and Benjamin” heard that the temple was being rebuilt and came to offer their help. Identifying themselves as foreigners brought into the area by Esar Haddon (4:2 ), they ask to participate in rebuilding the temple. When their offer is rejected (4:3 ), the narrator, referring to them collectively as “the people of the land,” states that they did all that they could to hinder the work on the temple (4:4 ). The continuity of the narrative and the narrator’s point of view in Ezra 3-4 supports the conclusion that the “peoples of the lands” (3:3 ), the immigrants who came under Esar Haddon (4:2 ), and the “people of the land” (4:3 ) all refer to the same group of people.

Before one may legitimately equate the “peoples of the lands” in Ezra 9-10 with those in Ezra 3-4 , the princes’ reference to the Canaanites, Hittites, Perezites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites (9:1 ) must be examined.407 Although some commentators have taken this statement as an explicit identification of the people groups with whom the Returnees were intermarrying, the grammar suggests otherwise. The princes’ statement reads literally, “The people of Israel … have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands; according to their abominations to the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perezites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.”408 It is apparent from the k preposition on <hytbuwt (9:1 ) that this statement is not intended to identify the ethnic origin of the women whom the Israelites had married. The preposition establishes a comparison between the “peoples of the lands” and the abominations of the groups listed.409 The Israelites have intermarried with people who are practitioners of the same abominations that characterized the ancient Canaanites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Egyptians.410 Expanding the statement fully, one might read “the people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands who act according to the abominations of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perezites, Jebusites, … .”411 Analyzing the grammar in this way removes two significant objections to the text. First, some have concluded that Ezra’s prohibition exceeded the requirements of the Law, since the Law does not forbid intermarriage with Moabites, Ammonite, or Egyptians.412 Second, if the Hittites, Perezites, Jebusites, and Amorites did not exist as recognizable ethnic groups in the fifth century, the princes would appear to be deliberately misidentifying the ethnic origin of the women. Understanding the princes to be comparing the practices of the “peoples of the lands” to those of the nations listed and not identifying the nationality of the foreign women obviates both of these objections.

A survey of the Old Testament usage of hbuwt reveals the nature of the abominations practiced by these nations. The term hbuwt occurs in association with all of the people groups named by the princes.413 Although sexual perversions are among the abominations of these peoples (Lev. 18:3 ff), idolatry and its accompanying depravity are the primary items identified as their abominations.414 Apparently picking up on the prince’s report that the Returnees had not separated themselves from those who practiced abominations, Ezra uses the term twice in his prayer. He uses it first in his paraphrase of the prophetic description of Canaan as a land filled from end to end with uncleanness because of the abominations of the peoples of the lands (9:11 ). His second usage occurs as he concludes his prayer. Uniting the peoples of the lands and their practices, Ezra refers to them as “peoples of these abominations” (9:14 ).415 Ezra’s use of hbuwt in his prayer indicates that he viewed the peoples of the lands as idolaters.416

Foreign Women

The phrase twyrkn <yvn “foreign women” occurs 10 times in the Old Testament, always in the plural.417 The first usage of this phrase is significant for understanding what Ezra intends by his use of the phrase. In 1 Kings 11:1 the author states that Solomon loved many twyrkn!<yvn, whom he identifies as: “Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women.” The only other non-Ezran occurrences of twyrkn <yvn are in Nehemiah 13:26-27 , and they allude to Solomon as well. When Nehemiah chastises the Jews who have married foreign women, he reminds them that Solomon’s foreign wives turned his heart away from the Lord and caused him to sin despite the great favor he received from God. Thus, the contextual evidence surrounding this phrase strongly suggests that twyrkn <yvn are idolatrous, non-Jewish women.

Drawing together the evidence from Ezra 3-4 identifying (y)mu (tw)xrah as syncretistic, non-Jewish immigrants, the OT usage of hbuwt, and the clear usage of twyrkn <yvn in 1 Kings 11 to refer to idolatrous, non-Jewish women, one must conclude that the peoples denoted by these expressions in Ezra 9-10 are non-Jewish foreigners whose religious practices are idolatrous.418 It was not intermarriage with foreigners per se that caused Ezra such consternation,419 but with foreigners who, whether syncretistic or pagan, were idolaters.420

The Nature of the Problem: Ezra’s Prayer

Some or all of the socio-economic factors mentioned previously may have been present in post-exilic Judah. However, an analysis of Ezra’s point of view as reflected in his prayer reveals that he does not view the mixed-marriage crisis in those terms.421 From Ezra’s vantage the problem is entirely spiritual in nature. The terms he uses to describe it underscore the essentially spiritual nature of the problem: intermarriage with idolatrous women constitutes an abandonment of Yahweh’s commandments and unfaithfulness to Yahweh.

Abandonment of Yahweh’s Commandments

Ezra opens his prayer with an explicit acknowledgment that the Returnees are the heirs and inheritors of the great guilt of Israel and that it was because of that guilt that they experienced God’s wrath in the exile (9:6-7 ). Yet, despite their great guilt, Yahweh had not abandoned them and had again manifested His lovingkindness in giving them a reviving in Judah (9:8-9 ). Against this backdrop of divine grace and lovingkindness, Ezra confesses the true nature of their iniquity: “we have abandoned your commandments” (9:10 ). It was not a case of exogamous marriage endangering the ethnic homogeneity of the golah community, nor was it simply a case of ceremonial profaning of Israel’s holy status.422 Intermarriage with foreign women was a deliberate abandonment of God’s word, repeatedly spoken through His prophets.423

Ezra paraphrases the essence of that prophetic message in verses eleven and twelve. His paraphrase draws most clearly from Deuteronomy
7 and 23 ,424 though he may have had the prohibitions against marrying Canaanites in Exodus 23:31-33 and 34:12-16 in mind as well.425 The clear, unambiguous requirement of these passages is that God’s people are to have nothing to do with idolaters. They are not to make covenants with them or to intermarry with them. The frequently repeated rationale for this prohibition is that intermarriage with idolaters would draw them away to serve other gods in violation of the wholehearted devotion Yahweh’s jealous love demands.426

In their analysis of Deuteronomy 7 , commentators have often taken the seven nations Moses identifies as the sole object of the prohibition. A careful reading of this passage, however, shows that Yahweh’s desire for unadulterated, single-minded loyalty to Himself was the overriding passion motivating His command. The seven Canaanite nations named were specific applications of this principle, but they by no means exhausted its intention. In fact, it is this very principle that Jehu applies to Jehoshaphat’s alliance with Ahab, a fellow Jew, but one whose heart was set to follow other gods (1 Kings 19:1-2 ). Ezra’s prayer, reflecting his skill in the law, penetrates to the heart of the principle Yahweh established in the Law: any alliance that endangers or compromises their wholehearted devotion to Yahweh is forbidden.427

Abandonment of Yahweh

In addition to viewing the intermarriages as an abandonment of God’s commands, Ezra also saw them as abandonment of Yahweh. Ezra’s repeated use of relational terminology in reference to the Returnees’ sin supports this assertion. The noun and verb forms of lum, “unfaithfulness,” occur five times in chapters 9-10 .428 lum primarily denotes an act of disloyalty or unfaithfulness to a covenant relationship.429 As the remnant of Israel, the Returnees were the inheritors of a special relationship with Yahweh. Intermarriage with idolaters was nothing less than spiritual adultery.

The seriousness of the problem, demonstrated by Ezra’s dramatic actions, becomes even clearer when one considers that the exile from which Ezra had just returned was precipitated by the same unfaithfulness as the Returnees had committed. The term used most frequently in explanations for why the exile took place is lum. Ezekiel, Daniel, and the author of Chronicles each state that Israel went into Exile because of her unfaithfulness to Yahweh.430 In the same terms Ezra is using, 2 Chronicles 36:14-20 specifically states that

all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful [lum] following all the abominations [hbuwt] of the nations; . . . Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword . . . And those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon.

Ezra’s juxtaposition of the Returnees’ faithlessness against their history of God’s faithfulness to them further underlines the wickedness of their sin. Yahweh did not abandon them in the exile (9:9), but now that He has revived them, they have abandoned him! Yahweh had extended His covenant loyalty to them (9:9 ), but they have breached their covenant and committed spiritual adultery.

The Solution to the Problem: Ezra’s Rationale

As noted in Chapter Four’s analysis of point of view, Ezra does not directly propose a solution to this crisis. He brings their spiritual unfaithfulness to the attention of the people and then awaits their response. Shecaniah the son of Jehiel responds with a solution: “Let us cut a covenant with our God to send away all the women and the offspring from them by the counsel of the Lord431 and the ones trembling at the commandment of our God, and according to the law let it be done” (10:3 ). The fact that Ezra requires “the princes of the priests and the Levites and all Israel [to] swear to do according to this word” (10:5 ), indicates that he approved Shecaniah’s suggestion.

Shecaniah’s proposal is essentially one of repentance. To right their wrong, the people must turn from their wrongdoing and renew their covenant to be wholly separated unto Yahweh.432 Repentance always involves turning from what is wrong and turning to obedience to God’s word. Shecaniah’s final statement, “according to the law let it be done,” clearly indicates he believed that sending away the foreign women and their children was in harmony with the law. When Ezra personally addresses the congregation of the golah three days later, he commands the people to “do [Yahweh’s] pleasure and separate yourselves from the people of the land and from the foreign women” (10:11 ). There can be no question that Ezra believed that sending the foreign wives away was in harmony with the law.

Because the law does not explicitly address the situation Ezra encountered, a wide variety of explanations for Ezra’s rationale have been advanced. Some scholars have proposed that Ezra had in mind Moses’ stipulations in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 regarding divorce and remarriage.433 For example, Joe Sprinkle suggests that Ezra regarded the idolatry of the foreign wives as falling into the category of “an indecent thing” (rbd twru) mentioned in 24:1 , providing, therefore, a legitimate basis for divorce.434

Eugene Merrill , following Dumbrell ,435 links the mixed-marriage crisis in Ezra with the problem Malachi addresses: Jewish men divorcing their Jewish wives to marry pagan women. He argues that the Lord’s statement, “I hate divorce,” refers to Jewish men divorcing Jewish women and does not apply to mixed marriages with pagans: “Yahweh hates divorce between His covenant people but, in Ezra’s situation at least, demands it when it involves a bonding between His people and the pagan world.”436

Others have proposed that Ezra did not regard the marriages with foreign women as true marriages; therefore, he was not mandating divorce, only separation from an illegitimate partner. For example, William Heth and Gordon Wenham assert that “in Ezra’s eyes this was not a question of breaking up legitimate marriages but of nullifying those which were contrary to the law.”437 They argue that the non-standard terminology used in reference to “marrying” (acn and bvy) and “divorcing” (axy) the foreign women supports this conclusion. They also point to Ezra’s question in his prayer, “Shall we again … intermarry with the peoples of these abominations,” as an indication that the marriages had not yet taken place.438

There are a number of reasons to reject the idea that the Returnees had not actually married the foreign women. The princes’ statement that “the people of Israel and the priests and the Levites … have taken from their daughters for themselves and for their sons” (9:1-2 ) clearly implies two things. First, it implies that the “taking” of the daughters of the peoples of the lands had already happened. Although, as Wenham notes, Ezra 9:14 is a question, it is a rhetorical question. In the same breath, Ezra asks, “shall we violate your commandments” (9:14a). He had already stated that “we have abandoned your commandments” previously (9:10 ). The language used by the princes, Ezra, and Shecaniah all points to a past action, not an impending one. Second, by using the common Hebrew idiom for marriage, “to take a daughter for one’s son,” the princes’ statement also implies that the people had indeed married the foreign women.439

While it is true that the use of bvy in the sense of “to marry” is unique to Ezra and Nehemiah, several considerations support the conclusion that this term means “to marry” in Ezra.440 First, when Nehemiah uses the term (13:23 , 27 ), he compares their behavior to that of Solomon who married many foreign women. Second, in order to prohibit further intermarriage Nehemiah makes them promise not to intermarry any more, using the common idiom for marriage discussed above (Neh. 13:25 ). The third consideration is the use of /tj in Ezra’s prayer. Ezra asks “shall we again intermarry [/tj] with the peoples of these abominations.” /tj is never used to refer to illicit relationships, but only to intermarriage.441 The terminology Ezra uses, therefore, communicates that the Returnees had married idolatrous foreigners, not that they were involved in illicit relationships.442

Careful attention to the text of Ezra 9-10 identifies two key elements supporting Ezra’s conclusion that the law demands separation from the foreign women. First, the emphatic repetition of the phrase “foreign women” throughout Ezra 10 underscores the narrative’s characterization of these women as idolaters.443 Intermarriage with them was, as Ezra confesses (9:10 , 14), a violation of God’s law (cf. Deut. 7:1-5) and unfaithfulness to Yahweh . Second, the faithfulness Yahweh requires from His people demands that any idolatrous alliances be severed. Yahweh will brook no rivals for the devotion of His people (Exod. 20:3-6 ; Deut. 6:14-15 ). In addition to these considerations, Deuteronomy 13:6-11 legislates that if a man’s wife entices him to idolatry, he was not to spare her or have pity upon her but was to bring her before the people and stone her. In other words, Yahweh regards faithfulness to Himself as more important than a marriage relationship. The death penalty was, therefore, mandated for a spouse who enticed her husband to idolatry. Since these women were unwilling to separate themselves from their idolatrous practices,444 they were in a position of being liable to the death penalty, which Artaxerxes’ rescript had empowered Ezra to carry out (7:26). Separation, therefore, provided a merciful remedy for the wives and, at the same time, removed the inevitable spiritual danger they posed to their husbands and thus to the whole golah community.445Notes the mother’s influence on children: Breneman, 149; Fensham, 124

The Peoples of the Lands and the Foreign Women:
The Importance of Holiness

The foregoing analysis of the Biblical data found that the peoples of the lands with whom the Returnees had intermarried were non-Jewish idolaters, that the Returnees’ intermarriage was an abandonment of Yahweh’s commands and unfaithfulness to their covenant relationship with Him, and that the solution to their unfaithfulness required turning from their sin by sending away their idolatrous wives and renewing their commitment to be a people separated unto Yahweh.

The implications of this episode for the narrative’s holiness theme are numerous. Perhaps the most obvious implication of the crisis is the supreme importance of holiness. Holiness is absolutely essential to the continuance and well being of the Returnees. If they do not maintain their separation from the abominable practices of their neighbors, they are liable to total annihilation (9:14 ). A second implication is that holiness is more important than even the closest of human relationships: marriage. Although divorce is hateful to God, this episode reinforces the principle taught in Deuteronomy 13 that unswerving loyalty to Yahweh is of far greater importance than the continuance of marriage. The Lord regards His people’s relationship to Himself as the preeminent priority of their lives. Being holy, therefore, necessarily entails marrying only those who are committed to Yahweh alone. The emphasis placed upon separating from the foreign wives in accordance with the law also reinforces the aspect of holiness as obedience to God’s word. The holiness that Yahweh requires always manifests itself in obedience to His word. Holiness is, therefore, not primarily a matter of how one behaves within the sacred precincts of the temple, but how one lives in every area of his life. Beyond the significance of holiness in the individual’s life, this episode also reveals the connection between the individual’s behavior and that relationship of the community to Yahweh. The holiness or unholiness of each person affects the entire community’s standing before God. What 113 men had done brought the entire community under the wrath of God (10:14 ). Corporate holiness is, therefore, an individual responsibility. The community will be holy only as each person separates himself from all that defiles and sets his heart to seek Yahweh.

Ezra the Priest and Scribe: Holiness Modeled

In addition to the specific plot elements that develop the theme of holiness, Ezra models for the Returnees the practical outworkings of holiness. The narrator describes Ezra as a man who experienced God’s good hand because he had “set his heart to seek the law of Yahweh and to do and to teach in Israel statute and judgment” (7:10 ). That Ezra had set his heart to seek, practice, and teach the law of Yahweh communicates more than academic or professional determination. Ezra’s dedication to understanding God’s law reflects his personal commitment to Yahweh.446 It implies that Ezra was a man committed to holiness, holiness as the character of his personal life and as the character of God’s people. Ezra’s holiness becomes particularly evident in the preparation he made for the second return. When faced with the dangers attendant on a several hundred-mile trek, Ezra sought the Lord with prayer and fasting for His protection. His recourse to prayer testifies to a heart set to seek Yahweh. As noted previously, he also evidenced his awareness of the centrality of Yahweh in holiness when making special provision for the vessels that had been consecrated to Yahweh. The men he separated to the task were “holy to Yahweh.” For Ezra, holiness necessarily has the Lord as its focus.

More vividly than his preparation for the return, Ezra’s response to the Returnees’ unfaithfulness modeled the importance of holiness. The stunned humiliation, anguished confession, and prolonged mourning and fasting attest to how seriously he took God’s requirement of holiness from His people. To Ezra, failure to be holy jeopardized everything. His solution to the crisis underscored the key components of holiness touched on throughout the narrative: separation from uncleanness and separation unto Yahweh in obedience to His word.


The Book of Ezra presents the message that holiness is absolutely essential to the continuance and well being of God’s restored people Israel. In four brief scenes and a concluding episode, the narrative defines and illustrates the essentials of holiness, touching on virtually every aspect of the theme. Divine and human, ethical and ceremonial, positive and negative, personal and corporate—all these facets of holiness run woven through the narrative. As defined by the narrative, separation is the essence of holiness. The underlying motivation for this separation is loyalty to Yahweh and His law, and these two loyalties guide all its applications.

The separation inherent in holiness has both a negative and a positive orientation. Positively, holiness involves separating oneself entirely to Yahweh. Such consecration is the consequence of a heart set to seek Yahweh (6:21 ). The evidences of being wholly separated to Yahweh are several. The first and foremost is an unswerving loyalty to Yahweh as the only true God worthy of worship. Flowing from this loyalty is the desire to seek Him in worship with His people (6:21 ) and in prayer, whether in praise for blessing (7:27-28 ), in need of help (8:21 ), or in confession of sin (9:6-15 ). A third evidence, and a corollary of the first, is a determination to obey His law. The account of the early Returnees’ careful adherence to the law of Moses highlights this determination (Ezra 3 ). Ezra, however, provides the central model of this principle: he “set his heart to seek the law of Yahweh, and to do it, and to teach [it] in Israel” (7:10 ). His commitment to ceremonial holiness also evidenced itself in his concern for vessels that were holy to the Lord (8:28 ).

The negative aspect of separation is the by-product of its positive focus. Since holiness is being wholly committed to Yahweh, it tolerates no alliances with the abominations and iniquities of idolatry, whether they appear in syncretistic garb (4:1-3 ) or as enticing relationships (Ezra 9-10 ). When the genealogical requirements of the law are not met, holiness denies even priests the opportunity of their service until their status can be certified (2:69 ). Holiness is more important that one’s livelihood. When the law has been broken and holiness profaned, repentance, confession, and separation from those who refuse loyalty to Yahweh, even if it is one’s wife, are the requisites of holiness (Ezra 10 ). Holiness is more important that even the closest of human relationships.

Holiness is not, however, simply an individual matter. The entire golah community had to be holy. The narrative presents corporate holiness as a function of the personal holiness of all those who make up the community. This is evident from Ezra’s conclusion that the sins of individuals contribute to the corporate guilt of Israel (10:10 ). Implicit within the narrative, therefore, is the view that the holiness of the community is dependent upon the individual.

Driving the narrative’s development of this theme is its primary concern: the consequences of the Returnees’ relationship with Yahweh for their future. Ezra’s statement in 8:22 that “the hand of our God is upon all those who are seeking Him for good and His strength and His anger are against all those abandoning Him” places holiness at the center of the Returnees’ relationship with Yahweh. If they were not holy to Yahweh, they could expect nothing but the same wrath that was poured out upon their fathers (5:12 ; 9:7 , 13-15 ). But if they were holy, they could yet expect to see the good hand of their God at work in their behalf.

366 Contra Lester L. Grabbe , who asserts that these laymen “who expected to claim their part in Israel were excluded because their genealogy could not be proved … [despite the fact that] exclus[ion] from ‘Israel’ because of ethnic descent goes against everything else in the OT.” Ezra-Nehemiah, Old Testament Readings (London: Routledge, 1998), 14. His conclusion, besides lacking textual warrant, contradicts his earlier suggestion that Ezra 2 was a list “of those who had already become established in the province [of Judah]” (13). It seems more likely, as Mervin Breneman suggests, that “they were given the status of circumcised foreigners.” Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, vol. 10 in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 83.

367 “The sons of the priests, the sons of Habiah, and sons of Hakkoz; [and] the sons of Barzillai” (Ezra 2:21 ).

368 See Chapter Three, notes 198 and 199, for a discussion of the “profaning of the priests.” In addition to the reference to the “holy things” (<yvdqh), the use of lag “to profane or defile” in this passage indicates that holiness lies at the heart of this incident. Although the verb lag does not occur in the Pentateuch, in Mal. 1:12 it is used in conjunction with llj, which is the primary antonym for the vdq word group (cf. Exod. 31:14 ; Lev. 19:8 ; 20:3 ; 21:6 ; 22:32 ; Num. 18:32 ; Ezek. 20:39 ). This usage in Malachi establishes lag as an antonym for holiness and supports the conclusion that Ezra 2:61-63 contributes to the holiness motif within Ezra.

369 Since Ezra 8:33 mentions Meremoth, the son of Uriah (son of Hakkoz; cf. Neh. 3:4 , 21 ), among the priests who weighed the silver and gold brought up from Babylon with Ezra, it appears that the lineage of the sons of Hakkoz was later verified (Breneman , 74).

370 See Numbers 16-17 .

371 The linkage implied between holiness and obedience in this scene reflects the explicit connection between holiness and obedience taught in Leviticus 20:7-8 : “Sanctify yourselves and be holy for I am Yahweh, your God. and you shall keep my statutes and you shall do them; I am Yahweh, the One sanctifying you.” Obedience to Yahweh’s statutes constitutes one of the primary means by which His people separate (sanctify) themselves unto the Lord and are holy. In this scene, the Returnees’ obedience to the Mosaic qualifications for priestly service models the holiness Yahweh requires.

372 2 Kings 17:29-32 , 33 , 41 .

373 It is evident that separation is at the heart of holiness both from an inductive survey of the way in which holy things or persons are to be treated as well as from the use of ldb, “to separate or distinguish,” in key holiness texts (cf. Lev. 10:10 ; 11:45-47 ; 20:26 ; Ezek. 22:26 ). In Leviticus 20:26 , Yahweh delineates the dual nature of the separation inherent in holiness: “And you shall be holy to me, for I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have separated [ldb] you from the peoples to be mine.” Negatively, Yahweh had separated Israel from the defilement of Egypt and the surrounding Canaanites. That purity was not, however, an end in itself. Yahweh’s separation of them from the uncleanness of the nations had as its goal a unique relationship with Himself—being His. In Ezra, the use of ldb in four passages that develop the holiness motif (6:21 ; 8:24 ; 9:1 ; 10:11 ) supports the conclusion that separation is essential to the narrative’s view of holiness.

374 The word “uncleanness,” hamf, is the standard term in Leviticus for ceremonial uncleanness due to contact with disease, bodily secretions, or unclean animals (cf. Lev. 14:19 ; 15:3 , 25 , 26 , 30 , 31 ; 18:19 ; 22:5 ). Over time it came to be used metaphorically of the filthiness of sin. Lamentations 1:9 and Ezekiel 36:17 , for example, compare the sinfulness of Israel to the menstrual impurity of woman. Since the narrative has already implicitly alluded to the idolatry of the people of the land (4:1-3 ), “the uncleanness of the nations of the land” likely has primary reference to ethical uncleanness or sinfulness of the surrounding nations.

375 The standard construction behind the phrase “seek the Lord” is hwhy-ta vrd, although the construction in Ezra 6:21 is hwhyl vrd. A comparison of the senses of these constructions indicates that they are semantically equivalent. For a similar conclusion, see F. U. Schultz , The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, trans. and ed. Charles A. Briggs, Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. Philip Schaff (1871; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.), 44.

376 Gen. 25:22 ; 1 Kings 22:8 ; 2 Kings 3:11 ; 8:8 ; 22:13 ; 1 Chron. 10:14 ; 2 Chron. 16:12 ; 18:7 ; 20:3 ; 34:21 . This sense of hwhy-ta vrd is frequently translated “to inquire of the Lord.”

377 Hos. 10:12 ; Amos 6:6 ; 1 Chron. 16:11 ; 22:19 ; 28:9 ; 2 Chron. 12:14 ; 14:4[3]; 15:12 ; 22:9 ; 26:5 ; 30:19 . To seek the Lord in this sense involves determining in one’s heart to serve Him (2 Chron. 28:9 ), trust Him (Psa. 9:11 ), obey His commands (2 Chron. 14:4 ), and worship Him alone (2 Chron. 15:12-13 ).

378 See, for example, 1 Chron. 22:19 and 2 Chron. 19:3 . In 2 Chron. 12:14 , the explanation for Rehoboam’s wickedness is that he did not “set his heart to seek the Lord.” The verb translated “set” in all of these verses is /wk, indicating a deliberate fixing or establishing of one’s will to do a thing. Seeking the Lord, therefore, is essentially a matter of the heart. John N. Oswalt , “kun,” TWOT, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:964-65.

379 Loring W. Batten ’s radical rearrangement of this text obliterates any mention of a group distinct from Israel who had separated themselves from the uncleanness of the land. He justifies his rearrangement by dismissing the syntax of the verse as “unintelligible.” He states, “there is no obj. for wlkayw; ‘sons of Israel’ and ‘sons of the golah’ are identified; there is a third class otherwise unknown in this section ‘and all who had separated,’ etc., and there is no antecedent for the pron. in <hla.” His syntactical arguments, however, are flawed: (1) lka does not need an object; it is intransitive here as in Neh. 9:25 ; (2) the phrase hlwghm <ybvh functions, not as a second class of people, but as an appositive identifying “the sons of Israel”; and (3) despite Batten ’s assertion to the contrary, it is obvious that the “sons of Israel” are the antecedent to the pronominal suffix on la. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1913), 155.

380 Yahweh repeatedly states that it is His holiness that necessitates holiness on the part of His people: “You shall be holy, for I, Yahweh your God, am holy” (Lev. 11:44 , 45 ; 19:2 ; 20:7-8 , 26 ).

381 Ezra 9:1-2 .

382 Ezra threatens that “all his possessions will be placed under the ban” (10:8 ). If one’s possessions were placed under the cherem, they were dedicated to the Lord’s use and would therefore be confiscated by the temple (cf. 1 Esdras 9:4 ). Joseph Blenkinsopp , Ezra-Nehemiah (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1988), 190.

383 Virtually all critics deny that these nations existed in the fifth century B.C., and a number of conservative scholars hold this view as well: Breneman , 148; F. Charles Fensham , The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. R. K. Harrison (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 125; and Edwin M. Yamauchi , “Ezra-Nehemiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 4:662. Conservatives who hold that remnants of these nations still existed in the 5th century B.C. include George Rawlinson , Ezra, vol. 7 of The Pulpit Commentary, ed. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., n.d.; reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), 138-39; C. F. Keil , “Ezra,” in vol. 4 of Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. Sophia Taylor (1866-91; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 73-74; and Shultz, 87.

384 Among those following this interpretation are Keil , 73-74; Rawlinson , 139; Breneman , 148-49; Fensham , 125, 134; Yamauchi , 662, 671; Derek Kidner , Ezra and Nehemiah, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 71; J. G. McConville , Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, The Daily Study Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 60; L. H. Brockington , Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., 1969; reprint, Oliphants, 1977), 75; Jacob M. Myers , Ezra-Nehemiah, vol. 14 of The Anchor Bible, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1965), 77; Mark A. Throntveit , Ezra-Nehemiah, in Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1992), 57; Shaye J. D. Cohen , “From the Bible to the Talmud: The Prohibition of Intermarriage,” Hebrew Annual Review 7 (1983): 36; David Bossman , “Ezra’s Marriage Reform: Israel Redefined,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 9 (1979): 34-35; William J. Dumbrell , “The Purpose of the Books of Chronicles,” JETS 27 (1983): 259; Sara Japhet , “People and Land in the Restoration Period,” in Das Land Israel in biblischer Zeit, ed. Georg Strecker (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981), 114.

385 “The reason of this prohibition [was] … that Israel might not be seduced by them to idolatry” (Keil , 73).

386 See Chapter Five, note 328, for an analysis of the theory that Ezra develops second Exodus motif in his narrative. Apart from the problems with this view mentioned in Chapter Five, it fails, if for no other reason, than that, in its exploration of potential allusions to the Exodus, it disregards the narrator’s indications that his theological concerns lie elsewhere.

387 “The basis of [Ezra’s] approach is a deep theological conviction—the understanding of the return from Babylonia as a second Exodus… . The encounter with mixed marriages immediately after coming to Jerusalem, is Ezra’s confrontation with ‘the seven nations.’ He is faced with the same problem as Joshua upon entering Canaan, and he follows his steps: he wages war against these peoples and their culture. His primary demand is: ‘separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives’ (Ezr. 10:11 ). The absolute condition for … survival in the land is separation and sanctification… . the problem is not one of mixed marriages themselves but the significance of such in a theological context” (“People and Land in the Restoration Period,” 115). Similarly, Dumbrell concludes that “the action taken against the mixed population resulting from intermarriages between Jews and aliens … was not an end in itself. It had in mind a second exodus motif of the cleansing of the promised land from defilement (cf. Lev 18:24 ff.; Ezek 36:17 ff.)” (“The Purpose of the Books of Chronicles,” 259). It is perhaps noteworthy that in contrast to Japhet and Dumbrell , most scholars who see in Ezra 7-10 a second exodus motif view it as the literary shaping of the material by the final editor or author rather than the actual rationale motivating Ezra. For example, see P. R. Ackroyd , “God and People in the Chronicler’s Presentation of Ezra,” in La Notion biblique de Dieu (Gembloux: Leuven University Press, 1976), 149-52, or Throntveit , 51.

388 “The Jewish community was ‘holy seed,’ the heathens belonged to the ‘uncleanness of the nations.’ Hence, intermarriage was defilement. The racialism expressed in the term holy seed will be understood, of course, to express a religious racialism, for to Ezra purity of blood and purity of the Hebrew monotheistic religion were inseparably bound together. In other words, mixing Hebrew blood with that of the heathen was to him synonymous with adulterating the ancestral faith.” Louis M. Epstein , Marriage Laws in the Bible and the Talmud (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1942; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968), 162. Despite Epstein’s acknowledgment of a religious element, the focus of his discussion minimizes this element and maximizes the aspect of racial purity. Comparing Deuteronomy and Ezra, he concludes that “Deuteronomy sought to preserve the purity of the religious community … . Ezra, on the other hand, had in mind the purity of Hebrew stock” (166).

389 “Intermarriage and Impurity in Ancient Jewish Sources,” HTR 92 (1999): 6-7. Hayes predicates her argument on her interpretation of Deuteronomy 7:6 : “This verse, introduced by ki, may be read as the rationale for the preceding laws [prohibiting intermarriage with seven Canaanite nations]: do not intermarry with Gentiles, for you are holy while they are not. Just as the priest’s marriage to one who is unfit profanes his holy status, so Israel will be profaned by marriage with those who are not holy. It is not difficult to infer on the basis of Deut 7:2-6 that intermarriage constitutes profanation of the holy seed of the people Israel, a form of sacrilege for which Ezra demands an ‘asham” (11). For a similar analysis, see Bossman , “Ezra’s Marriage Reform: Israel Redefined,” 32-38.

390 “Divorce in the Old Testament,” Fundamentalist Journal 10 (1985): 28. Dobson provides no exegetical support for his conclusion. While it is true that intermarriage with pagan women potentially threatened the messianic line, it is equally true that the intermarriages occurring in Nehemiah’s time would have occasioned the same threat. The fact that Nehemiah did not require divorce does not mean he was less concerned for the messianic line than Ezra. The context of the princes’ statement indicates that the ‘holy seed’ to which they referred were “the people of Israel” (9:1 ).

391 Kenneth G. Hoglund , Achaemenid Imperial Administration in Syria-Palestine and the Missions of Ezra and Nehemiah (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992). Against interpreting the ban on intermarriage theologically, Hoglund argues that “such an interpretation fails to explain why it is that two imperial officials are the ones seeking the enforcement of such a law within the community, and why such a legal innovation should emerge within the mid-fifth century… . In that the issue of intermarriage is apparently bound up in the definition of who may belong to the ‘assembly of the exile,’ … the ban on intermarriage was seeking a new means to define the Restoration community” (34-35).

392 Hoglund states, “Systems of allocating territories to dependent populations will work as long as the imperial system is capable of maintaining some clarity as to who is allowed access to a particular region and who is not. Intermarriage among various groups would tend to smudge the demarcation between the groups… . when a territory is imperiled and it becomes essential to administrative control to have a clear sense of who is allowed to function in a region and who is not, one could anticipate imperial efforts to control the mechanisms of assimilation… . The concerns expressed by Ezra and Nehemiah over the practice of intermarriage within the community would be in keeping with the effort of the imperial court to enhance the degree of control over the Levantine region. Ezra’s legal reforms and Nehemiah’s anger over the continuing presence of intermarriage would represent a perception of the danger such activity presented to the continuation of the qahal in Yehud” (239-40).

393 In two related articles Philip R. Davies enunciates the philosophy, objectives, and methods of a sociological approach to Biblical studies: “Sociology and the Second Temple,” in Second Temple Studies: 1. Persian Period, ed. Philip R. Davies (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 11-21; and “The Society of Biblical Israel,” in Second Temple Studies: 2. Temple Community in the Persian Period, ed. Tamara C. Eskenazi and Kent H. Richards (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 22-33. He argues that a consistent sociological approach regards the Bible as a secondary datum and archeological evidence as primary, because the society presented in Scripture is a literary construct reflective of the time and ideology of the composer and is not reflective of the time period “supposedly” covered by the narrative. He writes, “Sociologically informed Biblical scholarship ought to analyze its subject as part of a comprehensive search for human self-understanding, scrutinizing the Bible’s genesis and transmission as part of human history, its art as part of human society… . All human historical events, writings, and societies are unique, and gods have no place in either the data or the domain assumptions of the social sciences except as projections. Whether any of them exists is a question not to be denied, but ignored” (“The Society of Biblical Israel,” 31). According to Davies , the central objective of the sociological approach is “to explain the Biblical literature as a product of human social activity… . The adoption of such a programme will be symptomatic of the extent to which Biblical scholarship is finally able to liberate itself from the theological house of bondage in which has been enslaved.” Ibid., 32-33. While a comprehensive analysis of this trend in OT studies is beyond the scope of this dissertation, the rationalistic sociological approach advocated by Davies reflects uncritically the post-enlightenment dogma that religion is a projection of the human mind. As a human creation, religion can offer no transcendent perspective and may therefore be disregarded in the reconstruction of Israelite society. Any approach, such as Davies ', that divorces history from the only reality that gives human existence meaning and the only perspective that transcends the mundane can offer only truncated, skewed, and frequently anachronistic reconstructions of Israelite society.

394 The primary exponents of this position include Lester L. Grabbe , “Triumph of the Pious or Failure of the Xenophobes? The Ezra-Nehemiah Reforms and their Nachgeschichte,” in Jewish Local Patriotism and Self-Identification in the Graeco-Roman Period, ed. Sin Jones and Sarah Pearce (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 50-65; Daniel L. Smith -Christopher, “The Mixed Marriage Crisis in Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 13: A Study of the Sociology of the Post-Exilic Judaean Community,” in Second Temple Studies: 2. Temple Community in the Persian Period, ed. Tamara C. Eskenazi and Kent H. Richards (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 243-65; and Tamara C. Eskenazi and Eleanore P. Judd, “Marriage to a Stranger in Ezra 9-10,” in Second Temple Studies: 2. Temple Community in the Persian Period, ed. Tamara C. Eskenazi and Kent H. Richards (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 266-85. Eskenazi and Judd are more tentative in their identification than the others: “the women of Ezra 9-10 could have been Judahites or Israelites who had not been in exile …” (285). A common supposition that runs through most of these essays is that post-exilic authors deliberately represent Judah as virtually unpopulated during the exile while the truth of the matter is that Judah continued to be a relatively populated and commercially active territory. Two key monographs that advance this thesis are Hans Barstad , The Myth of the Empty Land: A Study in the History and Archaeology of Judah During the “Exilic” Period (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1996), and Joel Weinberg , The Citizen-Temple Community, trans. Daniel L. Smith -Christopher (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). For a helpful analysis of this theory, see Joseph Blenkinsopp , “Temple and Society in Achaemenid Judah,” in Second Temple Studies: 1. Persian Period, ed. Philip R. Davies (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 22-53.

395 Smith -Christopher cites “Isa. 60:1-5 ; Jonah, Ruth, etc.” as examples of this “more lenient attitude toward some of the people of foreign origin” (“The Mixed Marriage Crisis,” 257). Bernhard W. Anderson advocated a similar view of Ruth in the first edition of his Understanding the Old Testament, calling the book a winsome novel that subtly protested the “narrow exclusiveness … [of Ezra’s assumption that] one’s position within Israel was dependent solely upon purity of blood or correctness of genealogy” (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957). In the 4th edition of his book, however, Anderson abandons this position, suggesting that Ruth may have been composed as early as the 9th century. Understanding the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986), 244.

396 “The Mixed Marriage Crisis,” 257.

397 Grabbe continues, “The most likely situation is that at least some of the ‘peoples of the lands’ were Jewish descendants of those not taken captive during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. In other words, Ezra and Nehemiah regarded any marriage with these people as a breach of the law” (“Triumph of the Pious,” 57).

398 The term transliterated golah or haggolah refers to the community of Returnees in post-exilic Judah. The noun hlwg occurs 12 times in Ezra and is used to denote (1) “the exile” (6:21 , and in the phrase “sons of the exile”; 4:1 ; 6:19 , 20 ; 8:35 ; 10:7 , 16 ), and (2) as a collective, “the exiles” (1:11 ; 2:1 ; 9:4 ; 10:6 , 8 ). It seems apparent from Jeremiah’s use of golah to refer to the Israelites exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (29:1 , 4 , 16 ) that the term had become a common appellation for the exiles sometime before 587 B.C. When the exiles returned from Babylon, they continued to refer to themselves with this term or called themselves the “assembly of the exiles” (hlwgh lhq; 10:8 ).

399 For example, Smith -Christopher argues that “Ezra’s orientation reflects the Priestly writer’s obsession with ‘separation’ between the pure and impure. Such concern with separation and identity maintenance in much of the Priestly legislation is consistent with a group under stress… . The Ezra texts reveal a profound consciousness of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and describe a group intent on its internal affairs and survival. Terms such as ‘the holy seed’ clearly indicate a group xenophobia.” He concludes, “Ezra’s action was an attempt at inward consolidation of a threatened minority… . Essentially, the only basis for Ezra’s objection is that the foreigners were simply Jews who were not in exile” (256-57).

400 Expositions of various forms of this approach may be found in Paul D. Hanson , The Dawn of Apocalyptic (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), Joseph Blenkinsopp , “A Jewish Sect of the Persian Period,” CBQ 52 (1990): 5-20; and Morton Smith , Palestinian Parties and Politics that Shaped the Old Testament (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971). The speculative nature of these theories in combination with the paucity of evidence adduced in their favor renders them of little value for understanding either the history of Israel or the theological intention of the Book of Ezra. For a similar analysis and conclusion, see Hyam Maccoby , “Holiness and Purity: The Holy People in Leviticus and Ezra-Nehemiah,” in Reading Leviticus: A Conversation with Mary Douglas, ed. John F. A. Sawyer (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 166.

401 “Religious self-definition must have been an urgent concern for the exiles, and this would have remained an issue in its own right for the post-exilic community” (238). In addition, “liaisons between Judaean men and these ‘foreign’ women posed economic problems: since genealogical lineage, land tenure and ceremonial membership were linked in the post-exilic period, the prospect of exogamous marriages brought the danger of outside encroachments upon the land holdings of the Judaean congregation… . Thus the Strange Woman was off-limits to Judaean men of the Persian period not only for moral and religious reasons: the hrz hva represented a threat to the social and economic integrity of the post-exilic Judean collective” (220-21). In a similar vein, Blenkinsopp concludes, “the problem the marriage program was designed to confront [was] how to maintain the characteristic way of life, the religious traditions, even the language (cf. Neh. 13:23 ) of a community, against the threat of assimilation” (Ezra-Nehemiah, 201).

402 “The returning exiles responded to local opposition by conceiving themselves typologically as the generation of a new conquest (Ezra 9:1-2 , 10-15 ). The true Israel, now identified with the hlwg (Ezra 1:11 ; 2:1 ; 9:4 ; 10:6 ; Neh. 7:6 ), had entered the land from the outside, and those presently occupying the land, like the Canaanites during the first conquest, were excluded from the covenant community. The ‘children of the hlwg’ … . were opposed to the ‘peoples of the land’ … or ‘peoples of the lands.’ By referring to the local non-hlwg Judaeans as ‘peoples of the land(s)’, the returning exiles effectively classified their Judaean rivals, together with the neighboring non-Judaean peoples (Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, residents of Samaria, etc.), as alien to Israel… . for all these reasons, exogamous marriage was perceived as a threat to the survival the civic-temple community” (“The Strange Woman,” 232-33, 238).

403 Maccoby , “Holiness and Purity: The Holy People in Leviticus and Ezra-Nehemiah,” 162-62. “‘The people of the land’ presented a problem of intermarriage different from any experienced before, for this was the first time that an established syncretist movement had offered amalgamation. These were people who presented themselves as enthusiastic worshippers of the God of Judaism” (163). “The real point is that intermarriage had taken place with the syncretists … who because of their polytheistic worship, were regarded by Ezra as idolaters despite the fact that they themselves regarded their worship as consistent with Judaism” (162).

404 Maccoby , 154-55.

405 Lev. 4:27 ; 20:2 , 4 ; 2 Kings 11:14 , 18 , 19 , 20 ; 15:5 ; 16:15 ; 21:24 ; 23:30 ; 23:35 ; 24:14 ; 25:3 , 19 ; 2 Chron. 23:13 , 20 , 21 ; 26:21 ; 33:25 ; 36:1 ; Jer. 1:18 ; 34:19 ; 37:2 ; 44:21 ; 52:6 , 25 ; Ezek. 7:27 ; 12:19 ; 22:29 ; 33:2 ; 39:13 ; 45:16 , 22 ; 46:3 , 9 ; Dan. 9:6 ; Hag. 2:4 ; Zech. 7:5 . This phrase commonly refers to the ordinary Israelites as distinct from the leaders (cf. 2 Kings 11:14 ; 2 Chron. 23:20 ). Within that majority segment of the population, the phrase connotes no further social distinction. The fact that the author of Kings adds the adjective ‘poorest’ to define who was left in Judah after the final deportation supports this contention (2 Kings 24:14 ). For a similar analysis of this phrase, see E. W. Nicholson , “The Meaning of the Expression Jrah <u,” JSS 10 (1965): 59-66. In opposition to those who view the expression as denoting “the body of free, property-owning, full (male) citizens of a country who played a vital political, economic and military role in the affairs of that country,” Nicholson concludes that “the expression Jrah <u in the Old Testament … has no fixed and rigid meaning but is used rather in a purely general and fluid manner and varies in meaning from context to context. To regard it as a technical term designating a specific class or group within the population of Judah is, in our opinion, to read far too much into its meaning” (59, 66).

406 Two other occurrences of this phrase in Nehemiah (10:31 , 32 ) have been omitted, since they are also used in the context of intermarriage and have the same ambiguity of reference found in Ezra.

407 Since the expression Jrah ymu in Ezra 10:2 , 11 clearly refers to the same people as does twxrah ymu in Ezra 9:1 , 2 , 11 , the following analysis of the phrase twxrah ymu will serve to identify the referent of both phrases.

408 ynmuh ysbyh yzrph ynunkl <hytbuwtk twxrah ymumlarcy <uh wldbn-al
.yrmahw yrxmh ybamh
]. A number of commentators have argued that yrmah “the Amorites” should be read as ymdah “the Edomites” with one Hebrew manuscript, 1 Esdras 8:66 , and Aquila. The majority of manuscripts, however, read “Amorites,” and no increase of clarity is gained by reading “Edomites.” For further discussion of this issue, see H. G. M. Williamson , Ezra, Nehemiah, vol. 16 of Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1985), 131.

409 Other scholars who take the k as indicating a comparison include Cohen , 26, Eskenazi and Judd, 268, and Williamson , 126.

410 Maccoby , 162. The referent of the pronominal suffix <h#— is the list of nations following it. The l may, therefore, be regarded as indicating the genitive—“the abominations of the Canaanites, Hittites, etc.,” or as a l of reference—“their abominations, that is, those of the Canaanites.” E. Kautzsch, ed., Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, trans. A. E. Cowley, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 129, 119u. For a similar analysis, see Williamson , 126.

411 The 1985 Jewish Publication Society translation The Tanakh follows this interpretation precisely: “The people of Israel … have not separated themselves from the peoples of the land whose abhorrent practices are like those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, … ” (italics mine). The KJV, ASV, NKJV, and NASB also follow this approach. The translation of k as “with,” as in the NIV, RSV, NRSV, and ESV, is puzzling since k does not have an associative sense. Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor , An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 11.2.9.

412 As Schultz comments, “Ezra and the princes thus, when they required a separation from all these heathen … exceeded the letter of the law, which only prohibited intermarriage with the Canaanites” (87).

413 Specific mention is made of the abominations of the Canaanites (Deut. 7:25-26 ; 27:15 ; 32:16 ), the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Kings 23:13 ), and the Egyptians (Deut. 29:17 ). 2 Kings 23:13 identifies Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom as the abominations of the Sidonians, Moabites, and Ammonites respectively.

414 Deuteronomy 13:12-17 describes worshiping any other god than Yahweh as an abomination and prescribes capital punishment for those who are guilty. For other references to idolatry as an abomination, see Deut. 29:17 , 1 Kings 14:24 ; 2 Kings 16:3 ; 23:21 ; Isa. 44:19 ; 66:3 ; and Ezek. 14:5-6 .

415 This is the only occurrence of this phrase in the Old Testament.

416 Malachi 2:11 provides a significant parallel to Ezra’s prayer: Malachi indicts Judah with committing abomination by marrying pagan women—“the daughter of a foreign God.” For a valuable discussion of this verse and its context, see Eugene H. Merrill , An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 413-19.

417 1 Kings 11:1; Ezra 10:2, 10, 11, 14, 17, 18, 44; Nehemiah 13:26, 27.

418 The Biblical data, therefore, supports the standard interpretation of these phrases held by a large number of scholars as noted on page 153 footnote 384.

419 Contra Williamson , who concludes that Ezra “shows no awareness” of the possibility that these women might, as Ruth, be willing to convert to Judaism and, therefore, he “misinterprets the principle of the law along racist lines” (161). The unreasonableness of this conclusion is evident from Ezra’s reference to the inclusion of foreigners converting to Judaism in 6:21 .

420 There is no evidence in the text to support the contention that the problem involved intermarriage with non-exilic Jews. The silence in post-exilic literature regarding the non-exilic Jews cannot be reasonably construed to be a denial of their existence. A careful study of the prophetic pronouncements regarding those who were not exiled will show that God rejected those who remained in the land and chose His remnant from among those in exile (cf. Jer. 24 ; Ezek. 11:15-17 ; 33:21-29 ). It is not surprising, therefore, to find that inspired history is silent regarding those God rejected.

421 For a valuable analysis of the genre, rhetoric, syntax and style of Ezra 9 , see Harm van Grol , “Indeed, Servants We Are: Ezra 9 , Neh. 9 and 2 Chron. 12 Compared,” in The Crisis of Israelite Religion: Transformation of Religious Tradition in Exilic and Post-Exilic Times, ed. Bob Becking and Marjo C. A. Korpel (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 209-227; “Exegesis of the Exile—Exegesis of Scripture? Ezra 9:6-9 ,” in Intertextuality in Ugarit and Israel, ed. Johannes C. De Moor (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 31-61. He concludes that Ezra’s “prayer” (9:6-15 ) is also a sermon directed primarily at motivating a response in his listeners, rather than receiving a response from God (“Indeed, Servants We Are,” 210). See Keil , 118, for a similar conclusion.

422 It is interesting to note that Ezra does not develop or even mention the ‘holy seed’ concept suggested by the princes. Ezra’s deliberate avoidance of this terminology in combination with his emphasis on the unethical nature of their marriages suggests that he wanted to avoid terminology that would identify the Returnees’ offense as primarily ceremonial in nature rather than ethical.

423 Ezra’s phrase “we have abandoned your commandments” may recall the prophetic indictment leveled against Israel in Jeremiah 9:12-13 : “Why is the land ruined, laid waste like a desert, so that no one passes through? And the LORD said, ‘Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it’ ” (NASB).

424 There are no exact verbal counterparts in the OT to Ezra’s recitation in verses 11-12 . There are, however, two phrases that have very close parallels in Deuteronomy. The first five words of Ezra’s paraphrase, htvrl <yab <ta rva Jrah, parallel almost exactly the phrase htvrl hmv ab hta rva Jrah found in a similar context in Deut. 7:1 . (The same phrase also occurs in Deut. 11:10 , 29 , and 23:21 , but the contextual setting is different.) The second phrase, <tbwfw <mlv wvrdt-alw (9:12 ), is nearly identical to the first phrase in Deut. 23:7 , <tbfw <mlv vrdt al.

425 Lev. 18:25 ff also contains prohibitions of the abominations of the Canaanites (Brockington , 91-92). The fact that Ezra cites “the prophets” as the source of God’s repeated command not to intermarry with Canaanite idolaters suggests that this must have been a frequent theme in the messages of OT prophets (Kidner , 69).

426 See especially Exodus 34:12-16 .

427 As Peter C. Craigie comments, the “prohibitions [in Deut. 7:1-5 ] have in mind the preservation of the covenant relationship with the Lord by forbidding any relationship that would bring that first and most important relationship into danger.” The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 179. Those who argue that Ezra’s ban forbade intermarriage with all non-Jews regardless of spiritual status and was, therefore, an innovation based on Mosaic legislation miss the underlying principle behind the command completely (cf. Epstein , Marriage Laws in the Bible, 162; Hayes , “Intermarriage and Impurity,” 6). Ezra’s demand that the people separate from the “foreign women and the peoples of the lands” had Israel’s spiritual purity as its sole focus, as the above analysis of the key phrase “foreign women” and “peoples of the lands” demonstrated. Fensham concludes similarly, “The reason for their attitude had nothing to do with racism, but with a concern for the purity of the religion of the Lord” (124).

428 The princes are the first to characterize the intermarriages as “unfaithfulness” (9:2 ). Ezra picks up the term in his description of those who gathered to him as “all those who tremble at the word of the God of Israel concerning the unfaithful act of the exiles” (9:4 ). Shecaniah responds to Ezra’s prayer, confessing “we have acted unfaithfully” (10:2 ); and the narrator (Ezra) notes that Ezra retired to the room of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the golah (10:6 ). Ezra uses the term for the last time in his indictment of the congregation: “You yourselves have acted unfaithfully and have married foreign women to add to the guilt of Israel” (10:10 ).

429 Breneman , 149-50. The term ma’al occurs in the OT 35 times as a verb and 29 times as a noun. The terms associated with the verb include “to sin” (afj; Lev. 5:15 ), “to be guilty” (<va; Lev. 5:23 [H]), “to walk contrary to” (<u ilh; Lev. 26:40 ), “to go astray” (hfv; Num. 5:12 ), and “to rebel” (drm; Jos. 22:16 ). The primary terms associated with the noun are “iniquity” (/wu; Lev 26:40 ) and “abomination” (hbuwt; 2 Chron. 36:14 ). Yahweh is most frequently the person against whom the unfaithfulness is committed. Although the term may be used broadly to cover virtually any sin (Num. 5:6 ), its primary connotation is that of marital unfaithfulness, probably due to its use in Numbers 5:12 , 27 . This conclusion is supported by the use of terms denoting adultery to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord (cf. hnz in 1 Chron. 5:25 ). Since Israel is married to Yahweh, any deviation from loyalty to Him necessarily constitutes unfaithfulness to that covenantal relationship.

430 Ezek. 39:23 ; Dan. 9:7 ; 1 Chron. 9:1 .

431 The word translated “the Lord” has evoked some discussion from commentators. Textually, the Massoretes pointed the consonants ynda as yn`d)a&, referring to the LORD. BHS notes that several manuscripts have hwhy in the place of ynda. On the other hand, at least one Hebrew manuscript and a number of ancient versions read “my lord” (LXXA,B)—referring to Ezra. Conservative commentators may be found on either side of the issue (Keil , 79; Rawlinson , 152). The MT has been retained here since the textual evidence seems to favor it.

432 In Ezra 10:19 the narrator notes that the priests “put their hand to send away their wives and being guilty, offering a ram of the flock for their guilt.” The offering of a trespass offering in expiation for the priests’ guilt implies a renewal of their covenant relationship with Yahweh, for that was the appointed means of expiation and forgiveness (Lev. 5:14). As Kidner notes, “Although the pledge and guilt offering are mentioned only at this point, they are probably to be taken as the standard procedure throughout the list” (82).

433 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 41-42.

434 Joe Sprinkle suggests that “the open pagan practices of the foreign wives seem to be that which constitutes the ‘unseemly thing’ of [Deut.] 24:1 ” “Old Testament Perspectives on Divorce and Remarriage,” JETS 40 (1997): 537. There are at least two problems with this explanation. First, as Craigie points out, Deut. 24:1-3 constitutes the protasis of this legislation, specifying the conditions under which remarriage is forbidden (The Book of Deuteronomy, 304). Thus, verse one, while permitting divorce in this situation, certainly does not command it. Second, in nearly every other context where hwru appears, it is associated with the exposure of sexual organs or excretions from this area of the body (cf. Lev. 18 and Deut. 23:14-15 ). Gen. 42:9 and 42:12 are the only contexts in which the term is used metaphorically, referring to the “nakedness of the land.” Since the term has primary reference to physical exposure or excretion, it seems unlikely that this passage could legitimately be extended to cover idolatry.

435 William J. Dumbrell , “Malachi and the Ezra-Nehemiah Reforms,” RTR 35 (1976): 48. Dumbrell states, “We are not hard pressed to align Malachi 2:10-16 with Ezra and Nehemiah… . T he strictures of Malachi seem to have been directed against the situation, which, since it involved marriage with foreign women, meant the putting away of a Jewish spouse, and it is this situation which the action of Ezra and Nehemiah is concerned to redress.”

436 Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 424. Although this connection is attractive, there are several problems with it. First, conservatives are not agreed on the data of Malachi’s ministry: Merrill suggests 480-470 B.C. (378); R. K. Harrison suggests 450 B.C. (Introduction to the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969], 961); and Gleason L. Archer proposes 434 B.C. (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, rev. ed. [Chicago: Moody Press, 1994], 479). Second, there is nothing in Ezra that suggests these men had divorced Jewish wives in order to marry the “foreign women.” Third, even if one were to accept Merrill ’s theory, the divorce would not restore the Jewish marriage, for Deut. 24:1-4 forbids a spouse from remarrying their first partner after a divorce and a second marriage. Although Deut. 24:14 technically addresses the case of a wife remarying her first husband after divorce and remarriage, by extension the principle would apply equally to the husband.

437 William A. Heth and Gordon J. Wenham , Jesus and Divorce: The Problem with the Evangelical Consensus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), 163.

438 Ibid. Other commentators who follow this line of reasoning include Rawlinson , 42, Fensham , 135, and David Macleod , “The Problem of Divorce, Part 2,” The Emmaus Journal 2 no. 1 (1993): 23-44. In addition to the illegality of such marriages and the non-standard terminology used to describe them, Macleod argues that “it is hard to understand how the Israelites could make a covenant with God to divorce the pagan women if marriage is a covenant made between a man and a woman in the presence of God” (34-35). Williamson seems to lean this direction, but does not come to a definite conclusion (150).

439 Most commonly the verb jql is used in reference to “taking” a wife (Gen. 24:48 ; 34:21 Exod. 34:15-16 ; Deut. 7:3 ). That acn has the same sense in this idiom is clear from its use in Nehemiah. In Neh. 10:30 the people covenant not to jql foreign wives, and when Nehemiah returns some time later and finds that they have married foreign wives, he again forces them to promise that they will not acn foreign wives (Neh. 13:25 ). The synonymous usage of these two terms suggests that Nehemiah uses them interchangeably.

440 The normal sense of bvy in the hiphil is “to dwell” or “cause to dwell.” bvy does, however, have in the hiphil the sense “to give a dwelling to a foreign women, marry.” Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner list Ezra 10:2 , 10 , 14 , 17 , and Neh. 13:23 , 27 as reflecting this sense. “bvy,” in The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. and ed. under supervision of M. E. J. Richardson (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994-2000), 2:445; hereafter referred to as Koehler-Baumgartner.

441 The verb occurs 11 times in the OT, always in the hithpael. It invariably denotes intermarriage between two groups (Gen. 34:9 ; Deut. 7:3 ; Josh. 23:12 ; 1 Kings 3:1 ; Ezra 9:14 ), though not always interracial marriage (1 Sam. 18:21-27 ; 2 Chron. 18:1 ). Koehler-Baumgartner, “/tj,” 1:364.

442 Commentators who hold this position include Keil , 79; Yamauchi , 677; Blenkinsopp , 189; and Breneman , 157.

443 In view of the idolatrous connotations of twyrkn <yvn, the seven-fold repetition of this phrase (10:2 , 10 , 11 , 14 , 17 , 18 , 44 ) supports the conclusion that these women were committed idolaters.

444 The fact that proselytes were accepted into the golah if they separated themselves from the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands (6:21) supports the conclusion that these pagan women were unwilling to convert.

445 It should be noted that it is not clear whether the separation Ezra required constituted a legal divorce, though the practical effect was obviously the same. As Heth and Wenham noted, none of the standard OT terminology for divorce (jlv “to divorce”; ttyrk rps “writ of divorcement”) occurs in the narrative (Jesus and Divorce, 163). In the two instances when a character speaks of “sending away” the wives, the hiphil form of axy is used (10:3, 19). From the standpoint of the narrative’s message, however, whether Ezra regarded the separation as legal divorce is irrelevant. What is abundantly clear is that Ezra saw this separation as consonant with the law and as an essential component of the people’s repentance.

446 For a valuable discussion of the implications of Ezra’s commitment “to seek, and to do, and to teach statute and judgment in Israel,” see David C. Deuel , “An Old Testament Pattern for Expository Preaching,” Master’s Seminary Journal 2 no. 2 (1991): 125-138. Particularly noteworthy is Deuel ’s suggestion that “to seek” (vrd) the law reflects Ezra’s desire “to exposit God’s Torah, i.e., ‘to learn and interpret’ Genesis through Deuteronomy, particularly the legal portions—although not excluding the narratives” (130).

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Sanctification

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