Ezra tells the story of the rebuilding of the Solomon’s temple. King Cyrus allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, even giving them the plunder that was originally stolen. Back in Jerusalem, work on the temple begins almost immediately, but former enemies of Israel and Judah work to stop construction.
Eventually, for a time, construction does stop, but begins again in earnest once King Darius decrees “Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site” (Ezra 6:7).
There is not universal joy at the rebuilding, however. The older generation, who had seen the original temple, weep at the site of the new foundation. The younger generation, raised in captivity, cry out for joy. When the new temple is completed the whole population celebrates, but this original sadness harkens back to the message of Chronicles and Kings. The root of yearning for mercy from God after being taken captive, coming from a knowledge of how strong the relationship between God and the Israelites was, most likely caused this weeping at the new temple foundation. A sadness that comes from replacing something divine with something lesser.
A warped version of replacing the divine with pagan ends the book of Ezra. The men of Israel married foreign wives and had children with them, going against the will of God. Because of this, Ezra calls on all men of Israel with a foreign wife to expel them from his home, along with any children they have. They must not anger God. “Shall we then break your commands again 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?” (Ezra 9:14).
First, any “detestable practices” had been done by previous generations of Israelites under previous kings. And we’ve seen time and time again some truly horrible things done in the name of God. Second, why expel the families? Why not bring them into the Israelite fold? That has certainly happened before. Why break up more families so soon after returning to a homeland?
Regardless, any mixed families are exiled at the end of the book and the Israelites can presumably continue rebuilding their city, culture and population.
Thank you for reading,