We have learned that a marriage union is stronger with shared faith in God.  For the Old Testament Israel this was more than an advantage, it was the law.  They had been taught and warned for years not to mix with the people of foreign lands.  In their captivity the teachings and warnings may have diminished.  Perhaps they despaired of ever having their freedom to worship again.  They may even have thought that God had forsaken them.  For Ezra this revelation of failure was overwhelming.

Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, 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.  Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.  Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.  Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware.  Ezra 10:1-5

The despair of Ezra drew an audience who now began to understand their danger.  Their sorrow indicates that they retain the understanding of their sin.  They agree to divorce their foreign partners and they encourage him to be courageous to act on this.  He requires them to perform their oath.

Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into 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 unto Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month; and all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain.  Ezra 10:6-9

Ezra fasted from food and water both to find direction in this.  Under the threat of being shunned and impoverished, all Israel were summoned to Jerusalem.  They sat trembling with fear, and shivering in the cold rain.

And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel.  Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.  Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do.  But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without, neither is this a work of one day or two: for we are many that have transgressed in this thing.  Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let all them which have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us.  Ezra 10:10-14

Ezra calls the people to perform their divorces, but the job is too much for one miserable rainy day.  To perform so many ceremonies they ask to come on a schedule over more days.

Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah were employed about this matter: and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them.  And the children of the captivity did so. 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 first month.  And among the sons of the priests there were found that had taken strange wives: namely, of the sons of Jeshua the son 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.  Ezra 10:15-19

Four men performed the services and even the priests were found with strange wives.  They were not alone, as this list of others demonstrates.

And of the sons of Immer; Hanani, and Zebadiah.  And of the sons of Harim; Maaseiah, and Elijah, and Shemaiah, and Jehiel, and Uzziah.  And of the sons of Pashur; Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethaneel, Jozabad, and Elasah.  Also of the Levites; Jozabad, and Shimei, and Kelaiah, (the same is Kelita,) Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.  Of the singers also; Eliashib: and of the porters; Shallum, and Telem, and Uri.  Moreover of Israel: of the sons of Parosh; Ramiah, and Jeziah, and Malchiah, and Miamin, and Eleazar, and Malchijah, and Benaiah.  And of the sons of Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Eliah.  And of the sons of Zattu; Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, and Jeremoth, and Zabad, and Aziza.  Of the sons also of Bebai; Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai.  And of the sons of Bani; Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah, Jashub, and Sheal, and Ramoth.  And of the sons of Pahathmoab; Adna, and Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezaleel, and Binnui, and Manasseh.  And of the sons of Harim; Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchiah, Shemaiah, Shimeon,  Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah.  Of the sons of Hashum; Mattenai, Mattathah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei.  Of the sons of Bani; Maadai, Amram, and Uel,  Benaiah, Bedeiah, Chelluh,  Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib,  Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasau,  And Bani, and Binnui, Shimei,  And Shelemiah, and Nathan, and Adaiah,  Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai,  Azareel, and Shelemiah, Shemariah,  Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.  Of the sons of Nebo; Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jadau, and Joel, Benaiah.  All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children.  Ezra 10:20-44

This service of Ezra prepares the people for their future of restoration.  It leaves me puzzled about another story we read earlier though.  Naomi left Israel and her sons took wives in that strange land.  Her daughter in-law Ruth was accepted by Boaz her kinsman, and became an ancestor of Messiah Yeshua.  There is room for grace in some situations, and a gentile can find grace.  Will we learn what opens these doors in future lessons?