I’m guessing you’re familiar with the children’s fable of the tortoise and the hare. The hare (A “hare” is a rabbit – for those of you who missed the zoology portion of freshman biology) begins the long race fast and furious but runs out of juice and is defeated by the slow but steady pace of the tortoise. Well, I’m a rabbit, who married a tortoise. One of my husband’s mottos is, “Wait as long as you can and say as little as possible.” He believes if you sit back and wait, many things will ultimately resolve themselves. I, on the other hand, believe that situations are better dealt with immediately so they don’t have time to fester. As you can imagine, these opposing views on life and how to deal with it have given us many opportunities to…um…well…compromise. As parents of (nearly) adult children, I still want to be a rabbit-mom and rush in to give my opinion/aid/censure. My husband has taught me that a turtle-mom is much more effective. When a virus invades our computer (like happened to me last week), my husband is learning that rabbit’s get far less damaged than turtles by such rampant sniffles. I guess my point is that God created both the tortoise and the hare, and as is true with most things, it’s a lifelong process to discern the proper time to become the appropriate creature. In Ezra’s case, both were needed – first the rabbit, then the tortoise. But the most important thing to remember is that they finished the race set before them…
Just a reminder of what’s happening:
Ezra 10:5-6 – “So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath. Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.”
Now here’s what those who took the oath did:
Ezra 10:7-11 – “A proclamation was then issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem. Anyone who failed to appear within three days would forfeit all his property, in accordance with the decision of the officials and elders, and would himself be expelled from the assembly of the exiles. Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel's guilt. Now make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.’”
- Three days? Yikes! Short notice for people who had to travel on donkeys or on foot from up to fifty miles away through mountains and/or a wilderness. Why three days? Remember Ezra in Jehohanan’s room without food or water? Well, the human body can live without food for forty days before starvation begins to take its toll, but it can only survive for three days without water before severe dehydration sets in.
Ezra 10:12-17 – “The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: ‘You are right! We must do as you say. But there are many people here and it is the rainy season; so we cannot stand outside. Besides, this matter cannot be taken care of in a day or two, because we have sinned greatly in this thing. Let our officials act for the whole assembly. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a foreign woman come at a set time, along with the elders and judges of each town, until the fierce anger of our God in this matter is turned away from us.’ Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite, opposed this. So the exiles did as was proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family heads, one from each family division, and all of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to investigate the cases, and by the first day of the first month they finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women.”
- Imagine the scene. Thousands of people seated on the ground in front of God’s Temple in a driving rainstorm, and Ezra shouting at them to repent of taking foreign wives. And the multitude cries out with one voice, “Huh? We can’t hear ya ‘cause of the rain, but we know we messed up. Give us some time, and we’ll fix it!” Now, Ezra seems like a rabbit kind of guy to me, but in this case, he must have had the patience of a tortoise to deal with God’s people. Sin seldom comes into our lives overnight, and oftentimes we must patiently, methodically overcome it.
Ezra 10:18-22 – “Among the descendants of the priests, the following had married foreign women: From the descendants of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib and Gedaliah. (They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering.) From the descendants of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah. From the descendants of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel and Uzziah. From the descendants of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad and Elasah.”
- The priests are the only ones listed as presenting a guilt offering. Perhaps others did, and it was just assumed. Or perhaps because priests in the Old Testament were the people’s representatives to God, they had a greater spiritual responsibility, and thus a greater burden of restitution. Jesus’ death on the Cross made a “priest” unnecessary since we all have equal access to God through the sacrifice of Jesus; however, spiritual leaders today still have a heavy responsibility for those they are called to shepherd.
(Don’t panic at all the names. I’ve bolded the headings and two particular names I want you to focus on later…)
Ezra 10:23-44 – “Among the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (that is, Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah and Eliezer. From the singers: Eliashib. From the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem and Uri. And among the other Israelites: From the descendants of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah and Benaiah. From the descendants of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth and Elijah. From the descendants of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad and Aziza. From the descendants of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai and Athlai. From the descendants of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal and Jeremoth. From the descendants of Pahath-Moab: Adna, Kelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui and Manasseh. From the descendants of Harim: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malkijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, Benjamin, Malluch and Shemariah. From the descendants of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh and Shimei. From the descendants of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, Benaiah, Bedeiah, Keluhi, Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Mattenai and Jaasu. From the descendants of Binnui: Shimei, Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, Macnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, Shallum, Amariah and Joseph. From the descendants of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel and Benaiah. All these had married foreign women, and some of them had children by these wives” (emphasis added).
- We can’t end this study without addressing the sad truth that these women and children were cast away from their husbands simply because they were foreign – they were not Israelite by birth. But once again, I beg you – place blame where it belongs. Are you thinking God is too harsh? Ezra too harsh? The leaders too harsh? Please go back and read all those names you skipped over, and realize that each one made a choice to disobey God and unite himself with a woman who observed the detestable practices of the foreign people of Canaan. Please lay the blame at the feet of all those difficult to pronounce names above. Remember that before Jesus Christ, God’s people lived by the Law and were required to follow it to the letter in order to receive forgiveness of sins. Then rejoice in God’s amazing grace that came through Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death and powerful resurrection. Now, we live by the law of the Spirit of life, in which God’s forgiveness is through faith.
Lord, two critters so different – a tortoise and a hare – equally precious to You, each giving us insight to our reactions. Two portions of history – the Old Covenant governed by the Law, prescribing death and separation for sin; the New Covenant governed by Grace, prescribing faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of my sin. Each plan is precious to You because each has its purpose – the Old foreshadowing the New. Teach me to value both the tortoise and the hare in my life, Lord, and discern which the better choice in any given situation is.