But he is not content with this; for in the next chapter (Ezra 10) we read, "When Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God" - not telling other people to do so, merely, but doing it himself - "there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore. And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing" (vers. 1, 2). They were right: they looked to God. They saw that it was a question between God and His people, and they apply it to their own selves, and the work of repentance goes on, and works meet for repentance. The result is this - that Ezra rises in answer to their call, "and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware. Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went unto the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib: and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away. And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; and that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away. Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together" (vers. 5-9).
And Ezra stands up again, and now taxes them plainly with their sin. "Ye have transgressed," says he, "and have taken strange wives" - the great mark of apostasy for an Israelite, as far as the people were concerned - apostasy from God in taking a strange god, and apostasy from the people by taking strange wives. It was a complete giving up of their holy place of separateness to the Lord. "Now, therefore," says he, "make confession unto Jehovah, God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives" (vers. 10, 11).
Now, we know what this must be, because we know how the wives would appeal to their husbands' love, and how the poor children would be on their knees to ask why their fathers should disown them. We know what a scene of grief and of entreaty this must have been, and what a time of agony to many a father and mother in Israel that had been thus found out in their sin. But the truth is that there is no real repentance without deep grief and pain. More particularly is it so where it is the sin, not merely of a sinner, but of the people of God - where they have a deep sense that, as God's people, they have brought His name into such contempt, and where this has gone on, it may be, for years. There cannot, therefore, be steps taken in that path of repentance without its costing much to the heart on every side, and so it was at this time.
The congregation are grieved, and they begin with putting away, as it is said: - "And Ezra the priest, with certain chief of the fathers, after the house of their fathers, and all of them by their names, were separated, and sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the month. And among the sons of the priests there were found that had taken strange wives: namely, of the sons of Jeshua the on of Jozadak, and his brethren; Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and Gedaliah. And they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass" (vers. 16-19). And so with others. "All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children" (ver. 44).
Thus the deeper the departure from the Lord, and the more fruits there were of that departure, the deeper the pain. So it always is. Still, here we see that the grace of God is equal to every difficulty. All that we want is a single eye: all that they wanted was the same. But we, beloved brethren, are now concerned. We are those, or among those, to whom God addresses such words as these now, and may the Lord give us to be found faithful; but faithfulness, in such a day as this, never can be separated from a willingness to see wherein we have been wrong, and a readiness to see it - a disposition, through the heart being subject to the word of God, to search and see it continually, and may God give us grace to be true to His own word. Amen.