COVENANT AND CONFESSION: CONTRASTING SHECANIAH’S COVENANT AND EZRA’S CONFESSION IN EZRA 10

In Ezra 10:5, Ezra makes the chief priests, Levites, and all Israel swear an oath. Then, instead of celebrating or detailing the stipulations of the oath, Ezra continues to mourn until a confession is made in 10:11. Swearing the oath (10:5) would normally indicate that the narrative sequence is complete. In fact, many redaction-critical scholars have postulated a short form of the foreign wives crisis that ends at verse 5 or 6 (Mowinkel 1961; Torrey 1970; Williamson 1985; Blenkinsopp 2009; Dor 2003; Pakkala 2004). The remainder of Ezra 10 is then interpreted as a longer version of the intermarriage crisis that has been appended to the earlier edition. Even if this reconstructed history is true, it ignores the function of the final form of the text. If an editor brought together two narratives but did not remove swearing the oath in verse 5, they must have read it as a coherent narrative in some way.
Another way of interpreting the two covenant ceremonies in the text is that instead of “the chiefs of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel” swearing the oath, the initial term is distributed through the list as “the chiefs of the priests, the chiefs of the Levites, and the chiefs of all Israel” (Schoville 2001; Allen and Laniak 2003; Larson and Dahlen 2005; Moffat 2014; Clines 1984). In this way, the general population was uninvolved in the oath so they had to be brought together for the confession. However, this is not the standard interpretation for this construction. Typically, the modifier (“chief”) would occur before all three nouns. In addition, the people surrounding Ezra and Shecaniah at the time consisted of “a very large assembly, men, women, and children” (10:1). So, if Ezra was only speaking with the leaders, one would expect a more explicit use of ‘chiefs’ because this large assembly would naturally lead to an interpretation that ‘all Israel’ was included.
Instead of relying on an unusual interpretation of the grammar or redaction theories, I will explore an interpretation of the text as it stands. I will argue that all Israel swore the oath in Ezra 10:5 and this fulfilled Shecaniah’s covenant proposal. However, Ezra’s confession was not part of Shecaniah’s covenant institution. Shecaniah proposed a new, specialized covenant whereas Ezra desired to repent and reinforce the Law. To show this, I will discuss the use of שׂרי “chiefs” in construct chains in the Old Testament and the use of the term “Israel” in Ezra. I will then explain the differences between the terms “oath,” “covenant,” and “confession.” Finally, I will explain how Shecaniah focuses on establishing a new covenant because he is a civil leader (much like royal covenant ceremonies in Chronicles) and Ezra focuses on confession because he is a priest commissioned to teach and enforce the Law (Ezra 7). This then incorporates civil and cultic authority in the community and establishes a connection to the past (Law) and the future (covenant).

3 thoughts on “COVENANT AND CONFESSION: CONTRASTING SHECANIAH’S COVENANT AND EZRA’S CONFESSION IN EZRA 10”

Leave a Comment