The Sending Away of the Foreign Wives
info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
Ezra’s commandment (at Ezra 10:11) for the people of IsraEl to send away their foreign wives and children seems harsh and unreasonable to modern eyes. However, this is the problem with looking into the past from a present-day perspective, it distorts our view of what really happened. We may see these events very differently with a bit of background information.
You see, while in modern times we associate marriage with love and romance, in ancient times this was rarely so. Marriages were often commercial or political alliances. These Jewish men were likely not dating, falling in love, and marrying with local women. They were likely making marriage alliances with the nearby pagan peoples to increase their personal or financial standing in the region.
This can be seen in Ezra chapters 9 and 10. Notice how not once is love mentioned. On the contrary, Ezra 9:2 says:
For [many] had taken these people’s daughters [as wives] for themselves and for their sons
This is describing arranged marriages, not love and romance. Such things are still practiced in certain countries today. A family will negotiate with another family in order to arrange the union because it is in both families best interests. It may be part of a wider business deal. Remember, throughout history, women were often regarded as nothing more than property to be ‘owned’ by their father, and later, by their husbands.
God had forbidden such marriage alliances with non-Jews. It was remembered as the sin of Solomon. That was the reason why Ezra was so concerned!
Further, these wives must not have been worshipers of IsraEl’s God Jehovah/Yahweh, but of foreign gods. If they had converted, then they would not have been sent away. Through the ages, anyone that chose to join with IsraEl and to start worshiping Jehovah was accepted as part of that nation. Rahab and Ruth are good examples of non-IsraElite women that were accepted because they converted.
If these husbands and wives were actually in love, the wife could simply have converted to Judaism. The fact that they did not, may further indicate that these marriages were commercial arrangements rather than romances.
So to break up these alliances with the nearby foreign peoples, Ezra told them that they must send those pagan women back home to their parents.
Note also that kindness was to be shown to these wives and children, because sufficient time was allowed to keep them from being put out in the cold:
‘...because it was winter, they couldn’t just throw the people [out of their homes]. So, the job couldn’t be done in just a day or two, for that would have made all the wrongs even worse.’ —Ezra 10:13
The action was then delayed for several months, and then each man was to be questioned by the older men about the matter first. The account does not say what this questioning was about. However, one could easily imagine the questions being over the true nature of their marriage. Without going too far into speculation, we could easily imagine that if a man insisted that he and his foreign wife truly loved each other, the older men could ask if it’s possible that she could convert to Judaism.
Further, although the account doesn’t tell us this, many could well have been given some measure of the family inheritance when they left. Also, since the marriages were with women from nearby pagan peoples, it could well be that the fathers were able to maintain some contact with their sons. We do not know though, since the account gives no further details.