They Promised to Put Away Their Wives

by Kent Heaton

The book of Ezra is a remarkable book of “those whose spirits God had moved” (Ezra 1:5). The city of Jerusalem lay in ruins for seven decades and the house of the Lord was burned. Zerubbabel led the faithful back to Jerusalem and the Temple was rebuilt. The faith of the people was focused upon the protection of Jehovah before they rebuilt the city walls under the leadership of Nehemiah. In the process of this spiritual renewal, the leaders came to Ezra and declared, “The people of Israel, and the priests and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands … For they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons” (Ezra 9:1-2).

Ezra was ashamed and humiliated because of this sin. The people also were ashamed and weeping came to Ezra declaring they had trespassed against God by taking pagan wives from the peoples of the land. In a extraordinary act of faith in Jehovah God and the will of “those whose spirits God had moved” with the power of His word – the people declared they would make a “covenant with our God to put away all the women, and such as have been born of them, according to the counsel of the Lord, and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God. And let it be done according to the Law” (Ezra 10:3). The tenth chapter of Ezra shows they fulfilled their promise by putting away their pagan wives and even those who had children.

One cannot but be touched with the deep fervency of their love for the will of God. They had struggled to return to a city in ruins to rebuild the house of the Lord. Through adversity and opposition to rebuilding the Temple, those of a willing mind completed the work. It was a hard and arduous task to rebuild stone by stone the glory of the Temple. These were extraordinary people of faith. They not only possessed the fortitude to fight for the house of the Lord they also had within their hearts the conviction to mold their lives to God’s will – no matter the cost.

How high a price to put away a wife that you have no right to be married to? What cost does one pay to serve the kingdom of God in the marital relationship? Where are the willing hearts devoted to the Lord even it means living as a “eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (Matthew 19:12)? Was God asking something too hard for the people of Ezra’s day? Would the brethren cry out, “Unfair, unfair”?  Could Ezra change his teaching on the law of God concerning pagan wives?

Thomas Carlyle wrote: “Conviction, were it never so excellent, is worthless till it converts itself into conduct” (Sartor Resartus, 1836). Truth is the word of God. Standing upon the foundation of truth with conviction will only be of worth when we turn that belief into action. Those of Ezra’s day were passionate about the cause of the Lord and not their own desires. They were willing to take up a cross for the Lord. May we find their spirit today in the people of God to be fully devoted to the will of God – no matter the cost. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

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