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.