Almost four months after Ezra’s arrival, the elders informed him of how the people had not kept themselves pure and had adopted the detestable practices of their neighboring cities. They attributed all this, to them taking foreign wives for themselves and their sons and even the leaders and officials had joined them in this practice. On learning this, Ezra tore his clothes and pulled out his hair and sat in abasement.
Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.Ezra 9:4
There was seemingly a grave sin that needed to be addressed immediately but the people continued with their lives and did not miss the regular evening sacrifice. Throughout the book of Ezra, we see people holding on to sacrifices and traditions but their heart was always far from God.
Present day Christians want no connection with God but still attend all the church services and celebrate all the festivals. We are more interested in the rituals rather than their significance. And that is understandable, as the rituals are based on one generations experience with the subsequent generations trying to emulate the past experience. Each generation should have their own experience with God. God should not be God of our fathers or God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but our God.
Ezra rose from his self abasement and got down on his knees to cry out to the Lord. He recalled all the guilt of Israel from the days of their ancestors to their present day state. Thanking God for the favor that He had shown them, that even as captives, they were allowed to build the temple and worship at Jerusalem. Ezra brought the current guilt of the people before God.
But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other.Ezra 9:10-11
Being a scholar, Ezra was well versed with the Torah and quoted the verses from Deuteronomy, remembering how God forbade the traveling nation of Israel under Moses to not mingle with idolators.
“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.Exodus 34:15-16
Israel kept committing the same mistakes yet their past transgressions did not help them learn any lesson. Whenever they were introduced to a foreign culture by their wives, they eventually abandoned God and adopted their practices. Be it Judges, Kings, Priests or Levites all were quick to “prostitute themselves” before other gods. Ezra saw the same pattern repeating itself and feared the wrath of God that had led the Babylonians to capture their city.
We don’t see a response from God to Ezra’s prayers but the leaders collectively came to a hasty decision.
Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God.Ezra 10:3
And thus Ezra, who was sent to teach the scriptures to the exiles, spent his first stint in Jerusalem, separating families to purify the people rather than letting God deal with His people. Oftentimes we start judging other people and applying scriptures in their life.
Ezra was sent to educate the people in the ways of God and the people should have made their own conclusions of what God wants them to do rather than holding them at gunpoint (the people who disobeyed, risked losing their properties) and then driving away their wives and children.