Today’s lectionary reading is definitely part of one of my least favorite Old Testament passages. If you heard the passage from the lectionary you probably would wonder why. The reading is Ezra 9.5-9, which reads as follows:
At the time of the evening sacrifice, I, Ezra, rose in my wretchedness, and with cloak and mantle torn I fell on my knees, stretching out my hands to the LORD, my God.I said: “My God, I am too ashamed and confounded to raise my face to you, O my God, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads and our guilt reaches up to heaven. From the time of our fathers even to this day great has been our guilt, and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered up, we and our kings and our priests, to the will of the kings of foreign lands, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace, as is the case today.
And now, but a short time ago, mercy came to us from the LORD, our God, who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place; thus our God has brightened our eyes and given us relief in our servitude. For slaves we are, but in our servitude our God has not abandoned us; rather, he has turned the good will of the kings of Persia toward us. Thus he has given us new life to raise again the house of our God and restore its ruins, and has granted us a fence in Judah and Jerusalem (NAB).
Sounds like a humble cry of repentance doesn’t it? Yes, until you realize what the problem is and perhaps more importantly what the men decide to do afterward. Ezra is repenting for the Israelites marrying foreign women (9.14; 10.2, 11). Ezra believes that this is absolutely wrong, though this is certainly not the only view during the later stages of Israelite history (think Ruth). So, what is the solution? The men who have married foreign women must send away their wives and children. The Book of Ezra ends with these words: “All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children.”
Really? That’s the answer? Divorce? Abandonment? I think this text definitely fits into the broader definition of what Fretheim terms violence and is definitely one of those texts in which the depiction of God or at least the depiction of what people believe God wants of them must be questioned. I am certainly not one who agrees with the whole Old Testament – New Testament dichotomy as you will find if you read the post linked to above. And, I think that a lot of times people make problems out of passages there are not genuinely there. But, this is one of those passages, which I somewhat fear for those who immediately jump into an apologetic. I think it reflects a callousness toward the plight of women and children in the service defending a text. Some critiques are unmerited, but this is a passage to me that is certainly worthy of one.