By the permission of a Medo-Persian king, a Jewish priest and scribe by the name of “Ezra” led a group of about 1500 Jews back out of captivity to their homeland. Ezra later learned that some of the Israelites, including priests and Levites, had married foreign wives. What was Ezra’s response? He was upset. He took the matter personally. He tore his garments, plucked out some of his hair, and poured out his heart to God in prayer (Ezra 9:1-15).
That is where a man by the name of Shechaniah entered the picture. Hear the words which are recorded in Ezra 10:2-4:
(2) And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. (3) Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. (4) Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it.
We may not know much about this fellow Shechaniah, but he was a blessing to Ezra. He really was. Just as Ezra had done in his prayer, Shechaniah admitted this undeniable truth: the Jews had trespassed against the Lord (10:2). When you have leaders who are willing to confess mistakes rather than try to hide them, God’s people are blessed.
There is a time to keep silence, and there is a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Shechaniah spoke up at a time when the Jews needed leadership and Ezra could use some moral support (10:2). Shechaniah verbalized what he thought should be done and that helped in the process of getting the Jews moving in the right direction.
Shechaniah was optimistic, and that was a blessing to Ezra, too. Though the Israelites had sinned, according to Shechaniah, “. . . yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this” (10:2). Why was there hope during this dark hour of the Jews’ history? There was hope because among them there were still those “who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (9:4; 10:3).
Further, there was hope for the Jews because there were those among them who desired to act “at the commandment” of God (10:3) and “do His will” (10:11). When you have people with such a desire, great things can happen. When God’s children are committed to doing what pleases Him, He will be with them and bless them. In fact, He will be their Hope: “For You are my hope, O Lord God” (Psalm 71:5).
Shechaniah further called on Ezra and the Jews to prepare to take action. There are times when a “wait and see” approach is appropriate, but in this instance Shechaniah was correct. The Jews did not need to sit around and do nothing: they needed to act. On this occasion, the particular action which he implored the Jews to take was to make a covenant with God and then put away their pagan wives and the children born to them (10:3). The people pledged to do the right thing, confessing their sin (10:11,12).
By making such an appeal to Ezra and the nation, Shechaniah was not trying to win the favor of the nation or set himself up for some political position. Note again that he insisted that their action be “according to the law” (10:3). Here is a man who wanted what was best for his brethren, and he knew that meant doing things God’s way, regardless of the challenges involved.
Now we come to the part of Shechaniah’s message to Ezra that is etched most clearly in my mind: “Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it” (10:4). I love this man’s words! In essence, he told Ezra, “You are the leader. It is time for you to do what leaders do – lead. Do not hold back. Be brave and do what you need to do.”
Beyond that, though, is Shechaniah’s assurance that he and other Jews would be with him: “We also are with you.” How wonderful those words must have sounded in the ears of Ezra! Ezra was strong in his devotion to Jehovah, and we are persuaded that he would have taken the correct course of action with or without Shechaniah’s support. Yet, how refreshing to know that others had Ezra’s back. They were ready to stand with him and behind him.
Today, on occasion the spiritual shepherds of God’s flock face tough, sometimes unpleasant decisions, and it is a big boost to them to know that the members stand with them. The deacons need to know, too, that they have the support of other saints. Gospel preachers need the assurance from those who live in their own house that their family members will stand with them. Yes, every child of God is encouraged and empowered to make the right choices when other saints give them moral support. Let each one of us make it a point to put forth a special effort to lift up the hands of our sisters and brothers who are trying their best to please the Lord in all that they do.
When you and I think about the major characters around whom the message of the book of Ezra centers, most likely we do not consider this man Shechaniah. However, serving the Lord never has been about who gets the headlines. I thank God that the Bible records Shechaniah’s appeal to Ezra so I can learn and be benefited by it. What about you?
— Roger D. Campbell