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In an article by Mr. Barnard, titled “The Relativity of Biblical Ethics”, he makes multiple claims that the Bible is not consistent in ethics. Most of the issues he says support his claims are dealt with already at other places on the Tekton or ThinkTank website, for example you can find them here: slavery; women; the Canaanites. However, he also claims that
..according to Ezra 9 and 10 the Israelite exiles returning from captivity had brought a curse on themselves. God had sent a heavy rain to the land as punishment for their sin of marrying foreign women and bringing them back to pollute the land of Israel.
Is this the case? Let’s look at the text itself and see if it supports what Mr. Barnard claims.
Ezra 9: 1 After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness." 3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 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. 5 Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God 6 and prayed:
"O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today. 8 "But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. 9 Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.
10 "But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands 11 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. 12 Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.'
13 "What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this. 14 Shall we again break your commands and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? 15 O Lord , God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence."
Ezra 10:1 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites-men, women and children-gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. 2 Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, "We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. 3 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. Let it be done according to the Law. 4 Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it." 5 So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath. 6 Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles. 7 A proclamation was then issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem. 8 Anyone who failed to appear within three days would forfeit all his property, in accordance with the decision of the officials and elders, and would himself be expelled from the assembly of the exiles.
9 Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel's guilt. 11 Now make confession to the Lord , the God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives."
12 The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: "You are right! We must do as you say. 13 But there are many people here and it is the rainy season; so we cannot stand outside. Besides, this matter cannot be taken care of in a day or two, because we have sinned greatly in this thing. 14 Let our officials act for the whole assembly. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a foreign woman come at a set time, along with the elders and judges of each town, until the fierce anger of our God in this matter is turned away from us." 15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite, opposed this. class=passageresults>16 So the exiles did as was proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family heads, one from each family division, and all of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to investigate the cases, 17 and by the first day of the first month they finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women.
18 Among the descendants of the priests, the following had married foreign women: From the descendants of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib and Gedaliah. 19 (They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering.) 20 From the descendants of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah. 21 From the descendants of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel and Uzziah. 22 From the descendants of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad and Elasah. 23 Among the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (that is, Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah and Eliezer. 24 From the singers: Eliashib. From the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem and Uri. 25 And among the other Israelites:
From the descendants of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah and Benaiah. 26 From the descendants of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth and Elijah. 27 From the descendants of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad and Aziza. 28 From the descendants of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai and Athlai. 29 From the descendants of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal and Jeremoth. 30 From the descendants of Pahath-Moab: Adna, Kelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui and Manasseh. 31 From the descendants of Harim: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malkijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, 32 Benjamin, Malluch and Shemariah. 33 From the descendants of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh and Shimei. 34 From the descendants of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, 35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Keluhi, 36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 37 Mattaniah, Mattenai and Jaasu. 38 From the descendants of Binnui: Shimei, 39 Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, 40 Macnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 41 Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, 42 Shallum, Amariah and Joseph. 43 From the descendants of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel and Benaiah. 44 All these had married foreign women, and some of them had children by these wives.”
Now this is very interesting. Nowhere does it state God had “sent a curse of rain on the land”. It does mention that it was the rainy season, and so they had to adjourn their meeting for the next day (Ezra 10:13), but this is the only place in Ezra rain is even mentioned. It also says:
After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.(Ezra 9:1&2)
(For more information on the “detestable practices” performed by the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites, see here and here.) God had made a covenant with the Israelites to follow him rather than other gods (“You shall have no other gods before me”, Exodus 20:2). Part of their instruction was to not intermarry with the non-Israelite people around them as “they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods (Dt. 7:4)” The Israelites always made allowances for converts to Judaism, such as Ruth, which is a different topic entirely than men marrying wives who held to “detestable practices”.
In the article, Mr. Barnard states:
Ezra’s solution was simple. Those Israelite men who had foreign (even Moabite) wives should demonstrate their faithfulness to God by putting all these wives away. If the story of Ezra 10 reflects an actual historical period, then we must believe that there was wholesale divorce in the land of Israel during Ezra’s time.
First, Shecaniah was the one who proposed this solution, although Ezra did then bring it to the people. But is there “wholesale divorce in the land of Israel during Ezra’s time?” Ezra 2 numbers the exiles: “the whole company numbered 42,360” and in Ezra 8, they add another 1,772 who came later, which makes a total of 44,132 people. They NAME who had foreign wives, only 110 people. Rather than “wholesale divorce in the land of Israel in Ezra’s time”, this comes to a whopping total of 0.2%.
Furthermore, it also doesn’t say they actually divorced them. It says they “put them away” from themselves. The Old Testament does not give any suggestion that God sanctions divorce. It states, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel” (Malchi 2:16). There is a recognition of the existence of divorce. Dt. 24:1-4 states when a man takes a wife and writes her a certificate of divorce, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, the first husband is not allowed to remarry her. This passage regulates a practice that already existed rather than commanding divorce, the point being the first husband could not remarry her. Even if they did divorce their wives in Ezra, for which there is no evidence, they were required by Judaic law to give back the dowry of the wife and to provide for an income for the wife and any children (1). Finally, there is no command found anywhere in Ezra that states this is what God desired. There are no prophets coming out of the woodwork saying, “divorce your wives or else!” The book of Ezra just says this is what they did, not whether God approved of it or not.
1. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI., 1979, p. 975