Sunday, April 20, 2014

C. S. Lewis on Easter

"The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection." C. S. Lewis, Miracles, Chapter 16

Esther 9-10

The closing chapters of the book of Esther focus on the revenge that the Jews took upon their enemies, on the sons of Haman and upon thousands of others. Personally, I cannot imagine anything more contrary to the spirit of Jesus Christ who said, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” (Luke 6:29) Rather than taking the lives of others, Jesus laid down his life for us. Through that gift of his life, we can receive new, everlasting life.
The one good thing that came out of these events recorded in Esther is the feast of Purim. I say that is a good thing because on that feast day the Jews were instructed by Mordecai to give gifts of food to one another and offer presents to the poor. However, I find it hard to imagine a holiday that is more unlike the supposed event it commemorates than Purim.
Hopefully, as we read the story of Esther in the context of the whole of Scripture, it reminds us what an evil thing the act and spirit of revenge can be. Hopefully, we look to One greater than Mordecai for an example to follow and the gentle strength to “turn the other cheek” when we too are threatened by the bullies of this world.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

C. S. Lewis on Christ's Descent into Hell

Descent into Hell, Tintoretto, 1568

Today in the Church calendar is Holy Saturday, the day when we remember Christ's descent into hell.

Every Sunday, Christians all over the world confess their belief in Christ's descent into hell when they recite The Apostles' Creed. This doctrine is based upon 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6. 

C. S. Lewis had this to say about the doctrine in a letter to Mary Van Deusen, written on January 31, 1952. Mrs. Van Deusen must have asked Lewis about the fate of the "heathen" for Lewis answers...
On the heathen, see I Tim. IV. 10. Also in Matt. XXV. 31-46 the people don't sound as if they were believers. Also the doctrine of Christ's descending into Hell and preaching to the dead: that would be outside time, and include those who died long after Him as well as those who died before He was born as Man. I don't think we know the details: we must just stick to the view that (a.) All justice & mercy will be done, (b) But that nevertheless it is our duty to do all we can to convert unbelievers.

Esther 5-8

If nothing else, the book of Esther is great literature. In fact, I believe it is one of the greatest literary pieces, one of the greatest bits of storytelling, in the entire Bible. It ranks right alongside the book of Ruth in that regard. Much of the reason for this assessment can be attributed to timing. The story draws the reader in and builds slowly to a climax.
In these middle chapters of the book, we see the wisdom of Queen Esther. In order to save her people, the Jews, from catastrophe, she does not immediately ask the king to fulfill her desires because she probably knows that to make her request immediately and straightforwardly will not meet with success. Instead, she invites the king and the wicked Haman to a banquet. Then, when the king again offers to meet her request for anything, up to half of his kingdom, she again strings him along with an invitation to another banquet.
Meanwhile, Haman’s anger towards Mordecai begins to bubble up to the boiling point and he has a gallows prepared upon which to hang his Jewish enemy. At the same time, the king experiences a sleepless night and chooses to go over his record books rather than lie in bed. He discovers that Mordecai has never been honored for his service to the king in uncovering an assassination plot. Thus, he chooses to reward Mordecai and, “by chance,” to do it through the agency of Haman who happens to be passing through the court at that time. Certainly, a Jewish audience hearing this story for the first time would have seen these elements of happenstance in the story as evidence of their God working behind the scenes to bring about his good ends for his people.
All of this builds to the perfect climax in terms of storytelling. At the second banquet, Esther presents her request for her life and the lives of her people to be spared. She, wisely again, does not tell the king who her people are, and presumably, the king does not know. When the king asks who has delivered over his beloved queen to death, Esther points the finger at Haman. The king rises from his seat in hot wrath and goes to the palace garden, apparently to cool off. When he returns to the room he finds Haman throwing himself on the queen to beg for his life. The king misinterprets this as a sexual advance. Just at that moment, a servant arrives to tell the king about the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai. The story reaches its perfect climax when the king says, “Hang him on that!” Thus, they hung Haman on the gallows and the king’s anger abated, and the story moves to its anti-climax.
All of these story elements work so perfectly, unlike events in real life. Thus it would seem to me that the book of Esther is just that—a story—historical fiction if you will. However, it is a story that would have had great meaning to the Jews in exile, or even in the post-exilic period. It is a story that would have reassured the Jews, as Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that,  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I do agree, however, with Lawrence Boadt, that the conclusion of this story is rather frightening. Rather than simply asking for the opportunity to defend themselves against their attackers, the Jews through Mordecai seek the opportunity for revenge. They seek to not only defend themselves but “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus…” (Esther 8:11-12) This aspect of the story seems to neglect what is rightly said elsewhere in Scripture: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

Friday, April 18, 2014

C. S. Lewis on Good Friday

Pierre Paul Prudhon, Crucifixion

“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing - or should we say "seeing"? there are no tenses in God--the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a "host" who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and "take advantage of" Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.” C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Esther 1-4

Today we begin a study of a new book, one of the most unusual in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here is Lawrence Boadt’s perspective on it….
The Book of Esther contains a thrilling tale of escape from mortal danger for the Jews. It is set in the Persian period under King Xerxes, who ruled from 486 to 465, and tells the story of a beautiful young Jewish maiden, Esther, who is chosen to be the queen when he becomes angry with his first queen and divorces her. Esther brings along her cousin and guardian, Mordecai, but soon he has enraged the Persian prime minister, Haman, by refusing him the proper signs or respect. In anger, Haman convinces the king that he should destroy all the Jews in a day of slaughter because they follow their own religion and do not worship as the Persians do. In this crisis, Mordecai convinces Esther to go before the king and change his mind. The king is won over when he realizes Haman’s intentions, and he instead orders the prime minister to be slain while he gives the Jews permission to have their day of slaughter against their enemies. The book ends with the establishment of the feast of Purim, to be kept forever as a memorial of this great day of victory.
Thus one purpose of the book is to give the reason for the feast of Purim. But another reason is to show that the Jewish people must always keep themselves separated from the dangers of pagan governments and be prepared to defend their own faith when it is in danger. Interestingly, although every other book of the Old Testament has been found at Qumran among the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, no copy of Esther is known. The reason for this may well be in the wild nature of the feast of Purim at the time. The Jewish rabbis who wrote the Talmud noted that the two-day festival (one day to celebrate the slaughter of enemies in Persia, the second to celebrate the slaughter of those in the provinces) became so carried away with wine and rejoicing that some could not distinguish between “Blest be Mordecai” and “Cursed be Haman.” For the sectarian Jews who lived a monastic life in the desert at Qumran, such levity was not tolerable.
But the Book of Esther was much appreciated in mainline Judaism. It became part of the Megilloth, the scroll of five short books that were to be read on feast days. Since the book was written to explain why a feast came to be, a real incident probably lies somewhere behind the present drama. Although the written story of Esther is played out on the level of the king and queen of Persia, it builds upon some local threat to the Jewish community that was averted by an unknown heroine. This small, original event became celebrated in prayer and story and from it the authors developed their final version. It is a difficult book to love since the spirit of vengeance seems to dominate the story. Moreover, it never mentions God or his direct help to his people. No one is sure why this is so, but it scandalized even the early Jewish translators of the Septuagint, who added to their translation prayers and petitions from Esther and Mordecai directly to God. The whole book must come from the latest Persian period or early Greek times. Its themes of divine help for persecuted Jews and the destruction of all their enemies are also found among other late books such as Judith and Daniel.[1]
Regardless of the book’s historical element, Esther contains many strong literary points. The first chapter is fascinating in its presentation of the wealth and intrigue of the Persian court of Xerxes/Ahasuerus. Of special interest is the story of Queen Vashti who comes off as the first feminist, saying “no” to her husband the king. This event sends all the courtiers scrambling for a response, for fear that all the women in the Persian kingdom will follow Vashti’s example.
The tale of Esther and her cousin Mordecai in chapter two is told with fine literary detail. Their characters are carefully drawn. Once again, we get a window into the life of the Persian court, and a Persian harem in particular with its eunuchs, vast number of concubines, cosmetic treatments (I wonder what they were?) and all the rest.
Chapter three introduces the reader to the evil Haman the Agagite. Is he a descendant of the king who is slaughtered by the prophet Samuel in that earlier book? Haman rises to a high level in the court of Xerxes, perhaps because of his financial contributions to the king’s coffers. Mordecai, as a Jew, refuses to bow down to a human being, since the Jews would only bow to their God, though God is not even mentioned in this book. This leads Haman to bribe the king into issuing a decree not just against Mordecai but against all the Jews. Reading the book of Esther in light of the twentieth century Holocaust is truly chilling.
Chapter four contains the communications back and forth by courier between Mordecai, outside the palace, and Esther within the confines of the harem inside the palace. In these communications, they plot their response to the king’s decree. This chapter contains perhaps the most remembered verses in the entire book of Esther:
Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:13-14)
These verses are a good reminder to each of us, that even when God does not seem to be active in our lives, there is still a plan being carried out in each one of our lives. Perhaps each of us has come to our present position in life “for such a time as this” to carry out God’s unique purposes for his kingdom.

[1] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 497-499

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nehemiah 9-13

The closing chapters of Nehemiah contain material that may, at one time, have been part of the book of Ezra. Chapter 9 contains a long prayer purportedly made by Ezra at a sacred assembly of the Jews. In this prayer, Ezra recites the most significant points in the history of Israel, starting with creation, then Abraham, the Exodus, the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and so on. This type of recounting of the history of Israel is not unique to Ezra. We see another example in the New Testament in the form of a sermon given by Stephen in Acts 6 and 7. Whether or not Ezra actually prayed such a prayer, this recounting of Israel’s history serves the point of giving a summary of the story of Israel up to this stage for the reader. The key thing in all of this is that the Jewish people serve a great and mighty and awesome God who keeps covenant with them and shows them his steadfast love forever (Nehemiah 9:32).
Beginning with Nehemiah 9:38 and on to the end of chapter 10 we have the covenant agreement that Ezra and/or Nehemiah executed with the Jews binding them to adhere to all of God’s law. Key points in this covenant are the agreement not to intermarry with non-Israelites and not to neglect the house of God.
Chapter 11 recounts the fact that the Jewish people cast lots to decide who would live in Jerusalem. One would think it would be a privilege to live there. Yet, it seems that many of the Jews preferred to live on their own land outside of the city. Thus, the Jews were especially grateful to the ten percent of their population who agreed to live in the city. Chapter 11 also includes a long list of people: leaders of the province who lived in Jerusalem, Benjaminites, priests, Levites, gatekeepers, and overseers of the Levites. The list reveals how important all the staff and clergy of the Temple were in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Then chapter 11 concludes with a list of the villages outside Jerusalem in which the returning exiles lived.
As if we had not had enough lists, chapter 12 begins with a list of priests and Levites who returned from exile with Zerubbabel, another governor of Judah. This list is followed by an account of the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, presumably under Nehemiah’s leadership. This reveals what a disparate collection of different texts the closing chapters of Nehemiah encompasses. The author of this text notes how important it is that procedures in the Temple correspond to the commands of David and his son Solomon. If you want to get the hang of what this means, or what this way of thinking is like, we might compare it to churches today following the rules for church life laid down by Martin Luther or John Calvin five hundred years ago. That is the approximate distance in time between the time of Nehemiah and the time of David and Solomon.
Chapter 13 re-emphasizes some of the themes that we have seen throughout the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. It says that on the day of the dedication of the wall that it was found in the book of Moses (that is the Torah or Pentateuch) that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God. Therefore, once again, the Jews voluntarily choose to separate themselves from those of foreign descent…presumably even from their wives and children.
The rest of chapter 13 recounts the backslidings of the Jews during the absence of Nehemiah when he returns to report to King Artaxerxes. One of Nehemiah’s enemies, Tobiah, has been allowed a room of his own in the Temple precincts. When Nehemiah returns for his second term of service as governor, he throws Tobiah and all his stuff out of the Temple. Furthermore, the Levites had not been given the tithe so they had to go back to work in the fields rather than tending to the Temple. Nehemiah addresses this problem as well, restoring the ministry of the Temple. Another problem Nehemiah addresses is that of the people not keeping the Sabbath. He corrects this violation of the law by making sure that the gates of Jerusalem are shut for the Sabbath and that no merchants approach the city on that day. Finally, Nehemiah has to address, yet again, the problem of intermarriage among the Jews and those of foreign descent. He reminds them of the negative example of Solomon in this regard. It seems that this was an error to which the Jews continually fell prey. It is interesting how quickly things fall apart in any organization when there is lack of leadership, and the book of Nehemiah gives us many lessons in leadership that apply far beyond the scope of religion.
Nehemiah closes his memoir with a refrain we have heard throughout its pages: “Remember me, O my God, for good.” (Nehemiah 13:31) Is this not the fundamental prayer that everyone prays, whether they realize it or not? Is not our greatest desire to be remembered by the God of the universe, to be remembered for good and not evil? For, to be remembered, to be held in the mind of God, is to have existence itself, existence from which flows every other good. Being remembered, being held in the mind of God, is the very essence of eternal life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nehemiah 5-8

You may be wondering by this time: how do the narratives in Ezra and Nehemiah fit together? The two men are mentioned together in Nehemiah 8, but how do the rest of the narratives in these two books coincide?
Lawrence Boadt addresses that question in this way:
We know the dates for Nehemiah’s terms as governor were 445-433 B.C. and 430 or 429 down to perhaps 417 at the most (that is, two twelve-year terms). But we are not sure about Ezra. If he had come before Nehemiah in 458, as has traditionally been believed, why did Nehemiah have to do the same reforms all over again? Many scholars solve this question by suggesting that Ezra really came after Nehemiah, in the year 398 B.C. They base this on the reference to the “seventh year of King Artaxerxes” in Ezra 7:7 for the beginning of Ezra’s ministry in Jerusalem. But in fact there were two kings of Persia named Artaxerxes: Artaxerxes I ruled from 464 to 423, and Artaxerxes II from 404 to 358. Ezra 7:1 simply reads: “Now after this, Ezra … went up from Babylon in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia.” But which Artaxerxes is meant?
The traditional date for Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem has been 458 B.C., the seventh year of Artaxerxes I. He was followed some thirteen years later by Nehemiah, sent from Persia in 445 to govern the province of Judah and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah served twelve years in that post and was recalled to Persia. But after a short period, he returned for a second term as governor. The biblical books seem to place Ezra and Nehemiah in Jerusalem at the same time working together on the reform of the people (Neh 8:9). But if so, then Ezra did very little for many years before Nehemiah’s arrival—and this is just the opposite of the impression given by other references in the Book of Ezra which hint that Ezra got right to work.
The second solution places Ezra in the time of King Artaxerxes II, during Nehemiah’s second term as governor. This would be 398 B.C., and it would mean that Nehemiah remained as governor for nearly fifty years, a most unlikely possibility. So neither answer really solves the question, but it seems most reasonable to presume that the two men did not work at the same time. They have probably been joined together by the editors, who either got the dates mixed up or wanted us to see that the accomplishments of Ezra and Nehemiah must be looked at as a single inspired work of restoring the faith of the people.
No matter what dates we give Ezra and Nehemiah, the problem remains of how the four books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah fit together. They all share the same priestly outlook, but they often seem to overlap each other and sometimes to be at odds in their dates, as though written from different points of view. Yet almost all scholars agree that the four books were put together as a continuous story sometime after the events, and that they do not necessarily reflect the exact chronological order in which those events took place. The most common solution is to see that the stories and memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally separate books. Ezra was joined to the Books of Chronicles as a supplement, so that Chronicles gave a picture of Israel from Adam to the end of the exile and Ezra brought the story from the exile to the middle of the next century. The memoirs of Nehemiah were then added at a much later time to complete the picture with the re-establishment of Jerusalem as a city of glory and hope. In the process of all these combinings, some of the chapters about Nehemiah were added to the Book of Ezra, and some about Ezra were inserted into the last part of the Book of Nehemiah.[1]
Nehemiah 5-8 presents some interesting narrative. In chapter 5, we have Nehemiah dealing with the problem of the Jewish people charging one another interest and so impoverishing a portion of the population. Nehemiah gets them to stop doing this. C. S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity
There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest; and lending money at interest—what we call investment—is the basis of our whole system.
Though Nehemiah got his people to agree to stop charging one another interest on loans, I doubt we will ever get such agreement worldwide today. However, it is an intriguing thought: what would the world be like without charging interest? I imagine the world would look rather different. Some of the rich might not be so wealthy, and some of the poor might not be so impoverished.
Chapter 6 focuses on the attempt of Nehemiah’s enemies to get him and the rest of the Jews to stop working on rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. I love Nehemiah’s response: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” (Nehemiah 6:3) That is how we should respond to the naysayers in our lives when they try to distract us from our God-given work.
Chapter 7 explains why the authors/editors of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are so interested in genealogy. The research and establishment of one’s genealogy was very important in the post-exilic period for two reasons: to establish...
  1. That one was a true Israelite.
  2. One’s right to serve as a priest in the Temple.

Chapter 8 focuses on the ministry of Ezra, reading the law of God to all of the returned exiles. In some ways, Ezra’s ministry was a forerunner of the Jewish synagogue service that was to develop many years later. During the Babylonian captivity, the Men of the Great Assembly formalized and standardized the language of the Jewish prayers. Before that time, the Jewish people prayed in their own words and there were no standard prayers that were recited.[2] Thus, one aspect of the synagogue service found its origins in the Babylonian captivity. However, the reading of the law as part of the service finds its origins, I believe, in Ezra.
The reaction of the people to the reading of the law is interesting to me. They all wept. (Nehemiah 8:9) The reading of the law is a sad thing when we realize we have not kept it. However, Ezra urged the people to stop weeping, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) That is all the more true for us who have experienced God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

[1] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 456-458

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nehemiah 1-4

Lawrence Boadt offers this introduction to the book of Nehemiah….
Nehemiah began his work in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes I, i.e., about 445 B.C. He was a high official in the court despite the lowly-sounding title he bore, “royal cupbearer.” Nehemiah was a Jew, and had received a heartbreaking letter from his own brother in Palestine describing the terrible conditions that existed there. Since he was an advisor of the King, he had no difficulty in getting the king’s ear. He persuaded Artaxerxes to make Judah an independent province, name him its governor, and allow him to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem. He was skilled enough in political matters to foresee that he would face great obstacles from local officials who did not want any change in the power structure. Nehemiah quickly surveyed the situation and made preparations to start on the walls shortly after his arrival.
But as soon as the project became public, Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, Tobiah, the governor of Ammon, and Geshem, the governor of Edom and the Arab tribes sent troops to stop the fortifications. Nehemiah armed his own workers and finished the basic wall in a rapid fifty-two days. The speed with which he managed to get the work done shows how willing the people were to complete the project. He found, however, that the regulations of the law were being barely obeyed, and he was forced to take measures to re-establish the marriage laws and the Sabbath observances. These were the same problems faced by Ezra, and it reveals how difficult was the task of making the reforms take hold permanently among the Jews.
Nehemiah was governor from 445 to 433. When his term ended, he returned to Susa, the capital of Persia. A year or two later he was reappointed and found that the law had again fallen into disuse. This time he took very strong action. He prevented people by force from doing business on the Sabbath, broke up marriages with foreigners, arranged permanent sources for the support of the levites, and even threw out all the furniture of the Ammonite governor Tobiah from an apartment in the temple which the high priest, a relative, had let the governor use.
The Book of Nehemiah is built up around the memoirs of the governor in chapters 1-7 and 11-13. The nature of such an ancient “autobiography” was to leave a pious record of the leader’s achievements. Thus we can expect a rather glowing account of his sense of duty and his success in carrying out his tasks. At the same time, it is an extremely valuable glimpse into the life and though of a fifth century Jew. It does not tell us very much about the author’s feelings, only his work, but it is perhaps the only first-person story that we actually find in the Old Testament.[1]
The phrase that once again comes to my mind as I read these chapters in Nehemiah is: “Pray as if everything depends upon God. Work as if everything depends upon you.” Indeed, when Nehemiah heard the news of the broken wall in Jerusalem, he fasted and prayed (Nehemiah 1:4). A few times in these four chapters, Nehemiah does talk as if everything depends upon God:
  • “And the king granted me what I asked, for the gracious hand of my God was upon me.” Nehemiah 2:8
  • “The God of heaven is the one who will give us success…” Nehemiah 2:20
  • “Our God will fight for us.” Nehemiah 4:20

At the same time, Nehemiah and his co-workers labor as if everything depends upon them: “each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon.” (Nehemiah 4:17)
I believe Nehemiah sets us a good example of a balanced approach to living a godly life. We need to constantly hold these two truths in tension: the sovereignty of God and the free will of human beings. We need to live and act as if both are true…for they are.

[1] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 455-456

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ezra 9-10

The closing chapters of Ezra focus on the dilemma of the returning male Jewish exiles having intermarried with women of the various surrounding nations: Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites (Ezra 9:1). The list is intriguing since it does not include any Babylonians, the people with whom one would expect the Jews to have intermarried during their seventy years in captivity. Rather, the list reflects the traditional Jewish enemies of long-standing. We have read similar lists of enemies going all the way back to the Torah. Thus, it raises the question whether this list accurately represents those with whom the Jews actually intermarried during the exile or post-exilic period.
Ezra’s response is to tear his garments, pull at his hair, and sit appalled—traditional actions of lament. Then, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Ezra prays to the Lord about the matter, making confession of the sins of his people. One interesting thing to note is that God does not answer Ezra directly, nor does God tell Ezra what to do. Rather, one of the leaders among the Jewish people, Shecaniah, suggests that those who have intermarried with non-Israelites should “send away” their foreign wives and their children. In response to this, Ezra spends further time in prayer and fasting and calls an assembly of all Judah and Benjamin. At the assembly, Ezra addresses the people and commands them to make confession and “separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” (Ezra 10:11)
The account in the book of Ezra never reveals the number of foreign wives who are “sent away”. The names of some of the Jews who gave up their foreign wives are mentioned. Then the book simply ends by saying, “All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children.” (Ezra 10:44)
Certainly, the previous legislation in the Bible is quite clear that the Israelites were not allowed to marry foreign women, lest those women lead them astray into false worship of their foreign gods. Solomon was a dramatic example of one who did just this. Yet, Solomon was never commanded by any prophet to give up his foreign wives. Perhaps, that would have been a step too far to take, even for a powerful prophet in Israel.
However, what is most startling in this instance is that no solution like this to the problem of foreign wives was ever proposed before this, or after, so far as I know. The idea that these Jewish men would not only divorce their foreign wives, en masse, but also give up the care of their children, is rather appalling. What a contrast this presents to Jesus who said, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9) Furthermore, Paul allowed for divorce in cases where an unbelieving spouse would wish to depart from his or her Christian spouse. However, if the unbelieving spouse wished to remain, Paul said that the believing spouse should remain married. Moreover, Paul stated that in these cases where a believer was married to an unbeliever, the children were sanctified by virtue of being related to a Christian parent. (See 1 Corinthians 7:10 ff.)
This just goes to show, once again, that the Bible presents many different views on marriage, and even on divorce, not just one.