We are studying Ezra 10:1-12 for Sunday, April 11. This is a critical part of the episode of the post-exilic community’s decision to “separate” from “foreign wives and the ones born to them.” Ezra, scribe and priest, along with other community leaders interpreted these intermarriages with “the people of the land” as an enormous problem. For them, they were a clear violation of the commandment in the Torah not to make alliances with the Canaanites et al., and were an open invitation to idolatry, which would be catastrophic for the community. This story exemplifies something I would always say if I thought anyone would put up with it: hermeneutics actually matters. [My notes on this text are here.] Here are some questions we might want to consider in our study of the text:
The immediate context for our text begins with Ezra 9:1, where officials of the community inform Ezra of the problem. How would we describe Ezra’s response to that news? Why?
The larger historical context, for Ezra and his community, would be the recent release from exile in Babylonia. The even larger historical context would be the exile itself, and the community’s understanding of how that disaster came about.
If we review that context, can we understand Ezra’s response to this news? How do we understand that?
Can we imagine how we ourselves would react in those circumstances? How, do we think? Why?
What seem to be the issues involved in this situation? Let’s consider specifically the possible: religious consequences; social/cultural consequences (here, maybe take a look at Nehemiah 13:23-24); political consequences; human/personal consequences. Which consequences seem most serious to us? Why is that?
What is Ezra’s responsibility as a leader of the post-exilic community? (Here, it would be a good idea to look at Ezra 7:11-26, the record of the commission Ezra is executing under the authority of King Artaxerxes.) What role does this responsibility play in the episode described in our text, do we think?
To whom is Ezra accountable, do we think? What gives us this idea? [for instance, something in the text? Things we know about bureaucratic structure? Things we know about the community of Israel? Other?] If we were Ezra, what do we think we would be most concerned about here? Why?
[More personal] To whom do we consider ourselves accountable in our various roles in life? Why? How does our sense of accountability affect the way we think about what we do? The way we approach our work and our relationships?
Shecaniah outlines a proposal for dealing with the situation in verse 3; this plan is amended in verse 14 by the assembly. What value or values seem to be supported by this plan? What value or values are made secondary? What are our thoughts about that?
Can we think of any other way(s) the community might have tried to deal with the demands of this situation? What values would that plan support, do we think? What values would it make secondary? Would our alternative be preferable, do we think? Why do we think that?
[More theological, and also practical] How does reading and studying this text help us grow in our ability to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, do we think? Why do we think that?
Image: “A Family Around a Table,” Julius Paulsen, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons