The Persians were very religious. It makes perfect sense in a polytheistic world to let a thousand temples bloom. It’s how religion works. If all the gods of all the people in your empire. Read the Cyrus cylinder. https://www.livius.org/sources/content/cyrus-cylinder/cyrus-cylinder-translation/
 I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there,note[Ii.e., in Babylon.] to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.
 In addition, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I settled in their habitations, in pleasing abodes, the gods of Sumer and Akkad, whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon.
Artaxerxes keeps up the program.
Ezra is cool with it. He’s not cool with the intermarriage that has come. This is a reply of the old script you’ll read about in the book of Judges.
Now these issues play against our issues today. If we pitch this as “interracial marriage” then Ezra’s a bigger bigot than Donald Trump who doesn’t mind playing with women from different countries and even marrying some. We project a June Cleaver marriage back.
Is this an issue about the sex trade and polygamy? If we imagine these “foreign women” were additional wives taken, sort of like Jacob’s concubines with which he produced his famous 12 sons well then they should send them out.
How detestable are these practices? Do we project back CRC lads taking RC or RCA wives in the mid 20th century and that abhorrence? Maybe the wives are coming from communities that are OK with drug addiction or blocking gays or blacks or voting for Republicans? Would we want to endanger our children with mothers who complain about abortion and the lack of prayer in public school or mothers who practice female-genital-mutilation?
The resolution of the matter is fascinating too. Ezra gets the men on board (at least the prominent ones) and gets a list of men who get some sort of sinner’s chair treatment (recorded IN THE BIBLE no less for all the world to see, until the end of time!) . They accept responsibility, repent, offer an animal sacrifice (dude gets the sex and the kids and the animal takes the fall…) but then the whole casting them out gets delayed because of the weather and then the story ends.
We know that this was important because by the time we get reconnected with the story (in the NT) the Jews succeeded in keeping their community together. The dramatic action achieved its desired effect and kept the community from slipping back into the situation of the Judges. They wouldn’t keep falling back into those practices and they weren’t kicked out of the land YET they remained as “slaves” in the land meaning that they no longer had political autonomy except for brief patches like with the Maccabees. They’ll remember the Persians fondly (they used to cover the temple costs) but chafe under the Greeks and the Romans who weren’t as generous towards their religion as Artaxerxes.
The post-exilic books are a rather depressing twilight zone.
When Jesus comes we begin to see things aren’t so easily fixed. We might wish to pass judgment on old Ezra as a bigot or legalist but Jesus hardly seems to shape up the nation any better. In fact without imperial backing Jesus gets killed.
Jesus, sort of like Ezra isn’t really all that encouraging of the regime he finds. He’s weird because he seems sort of soft on the Roman occupation while hard on the authorities, observant or otherwise. It seems just sending away “the wives” (however we consider them) didn’t really “do the trick”. Just marrying “your own” didn’t bring down the glory cloud or the angelic host to route the Romans and put Zerubbabel on the king of the world throne.
Jesus, however, changes the game completely. Jesus conquers in ways that no one seems to understand, at least not for a couple of hundred years.
There seem to often be contradictory streams running in the Bible, as the do with us. Those foreign wives (even those outrageously attractive Moabite women Numbers 25) are a snare but then again Ruth. If they hadn’t drawn a hard line we wouldn’t have found at least some of the coherence we find in Jesus’ day. Who’s to say? Our lives aren’t much different really. The weeds and the wheat are all sown together in our communities and in our hearts. We’re a mess.
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t really seem tied up with apologizing for Ezra. Jesus gives hints of a Gentile harvest but Paul and Peter get to work through that muddle. After the NT we mostly focus on behavior not race. Synod just took a stand against kinism. https://www.crcna.org/news-and-views/kinism-grievous-sin
We might imagine it would be nice to throw Ezra out of the Bible. I’m sure some kinist folks would like to do their own editing. I think we are saved by grace because that’s the only chance we’ve got. pvk