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Humiliation and Lifting Up
Mightily wrought the Spirit of God in the hearts and consciences of the guilty people, while Ezra was praying and speaking of their fallen condition to the Lord. So much so, that the work of recovery was already well underway, for when he “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” (ver. 1). These were gracious tears indeed, and told of stirrings of soul that could only lead to blessing. How different might the after-history of these people have been had Ezra turned coldly away from them in disgust or despair, and left them to go on in their low estate. Such conduct could not have helped, and might only have provoked the flesh in them; but the sight of this newly-arrived man of God on his face in agony of spirit over their carelessness and unscriptural ways, brought them to their senses, giving them to realize, perhaps for the first time, something of the gravity of their sin.
Shechaniah, one of the sons of Elam, became the mouthpiece of the now repentant wrong- doers, confessing unreservedly the failure, and, in a manner beautiful in its season, seeking to comfort the heart of Ezra. “We have trespassed against our God,” is his frank acknowledgment, “and have taken strange wives of the people of the land.” This was in direct violation of the prohibition in the law of Moses. They had not consulted in this grave matter “that which was written;” hence a grievous error had been committed which now bore sorrowful fruit indeed; for there must be many a heartbreak ere matters were put right; and, in fact, against the poor ignorant heathen women, wrong had been done that could never be righted on earth. But Shechaniah dares to count on God’s mercy and adds: “Yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing” (ver. 2). But this hope of future blessing is based on one condition only, and that, complete judgment of the evil manifested in putting away all the strange wives. He calls on all who have sinned to enter into covenant with God to be obedient in this matter, and bids Ezra be of good courage and act as a judge in each case that shall arise (vers. 3, 4). The latter exacted an immediate pledge of the chief priests, the Levites and all Israel, that they would do as Shechaniah had said; and hard as it must have been for many of them, they sware to be obedient.
Refusing all physical refreshment because of the travail of his soul, “Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib,” there to mourn in secret over the sin that now made such drastic and heart-rending action necessary if the people would be right with God (ver. 6).
Word was immediately sent to all the children of the captivity that they should gather together at Jerusalem within three days; otherwise, any refusing so to do would be cut off, or “separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away,” and all his substance forfeited (ver. 8). To refuse now to obey the Word would show a hardness of conscience that could not be tolerated and a wilfulness of spirit that proved the culprit altogether unfit to go on with his brethren.
At the appointed time all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together to Jerusalem. It was the twentieth day of the ninth month, in the rainy season, and “all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter and for the great rain” (ver. 9). A dismal company surely, but a determined one, ready to carry out the word of the Lord at all costs.
Faithfully Ezra the priest placed their sin before them, abating nothing of their guilt, and commanding them how to act if truly repentant. They had transgressed. There had been a direct violation of God’s revealed will, in taking strange wives to add to the already heavy load of Israel’s trespass. He, therefore, called on them to “make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do His pleasure: and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the strange wives” (vers. 10, 11).
The wrenchings of heart this would occasion can be better imagined than described, but firmly the whole congregation answered, “As thou hast said, so must we do” (ver. 12). There was no caviling, no trying to avoid the result of their unequal yokes, but a whole-hearted determination to obey the word of God at all costs. Had conscience only been active a few years before, what pangs of anguish might now have been avoided! Thus it ever is, when men attempt to play fast and loose with the will of the Lord.
But all must be done in an orderly and lawful way, so they asked for time to arrange every thing as humanely as possible. “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 that 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” (vers. 13, 14). This was no mere carnal expedient to gain time, but expressed the earnest desire of the people that, in the sad puttings-away that must ensue, all things should be done decently and in order. Doubtless there also entered into it the wish to avoid any wrong being done to any lawful wife who was really of the seed of Israel.
Chief priests and Levites assisted Ezra in the matter, and in the space of three months the iniquity had been dealt with throughout the land, all the heathen women and their offspring being set aside (vers. 15-17). Heart-rending must some of the experiences have been; but all were the fruit of departure from God and acting in self-will.
The chapter closes with a third list of names-this time of most solemn import. It is the record of those who “had taken strange wives; and some of them had wives by whom they had children” (ver. 44). God, who before had noted the faithfulness of many of these very men in coming up from Babylon, now took cognizance of the failure of each one just as particularly. For this they must suffer loss at the day of Christ.
On the part of those so near to God as the priests, this sin was especially obnoxious, and we are therefore definitely informed that “they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass” (ver. 19). Thus the breach was made up, and they were restored to their forfeited privileges.
With this record the book of Ezra ends. He had been used of God to bring His separated people to a realization of the way they had failed in regard to maintaining the trust committed to them; self-judgment had resulted, and now the way was open for happy fellowship and helpful ministry. In using the word fellowship in this instance, I am not forgetful of the fact that it is a word that belongs entirely to the New Testament. I use it here rather as ideal and expressive of what was typified than that the thing itself was then truly known and enjoyed.
Fellowship is the result of the Holy Spirit’s descent to earth and His indwelling of all believers. He thus brings us into the fellowship of God’s Son. Where separation from evil is maintained and saints hold the Head, there is communion one with another in the Spirit’s power. This is characteristic of the present dispensation of the mystery, and is an advance on anything known in Old Testament times.
Where Christians do not thus go on with God, walking in the Spirit, there may be a certain kind of fairly agreeable, and even enjoyable companionship, but genuine fellowship will be unknown.
With this remark we close, for the present, the instructive and searching- book of Ezra. For further information of an equally important character as to the returned remnant and their priestly minister, we must turn to the following book in our Bibles, written by another equally devoted servant, though a man of more soldierlike character, Nehemiah; while in the book of Esther we find recorded God’s care over those who remained in Babylon when they might have gone to Jerusalem, and with whom He does not openly connect His name.
“Now unto Him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever, Amen!” (Jude 1:24, 25-1911 Version).
4 I quote by memory from J. N. D. [Failure in what is of God calls for suited ministry-for exhortation and correction unto righteousness. But false principles and false position leave no divine basis for recovery. The false principles or position of necessity must be abandoned.]-Ed.
5 Similar tests occur now-a-days. I know a clergyman who, years ago, was convinced of the unscripturalness of his position; but, opposed by his family when contemplating “going forth, for His name’s sake, outside the camp,”said: “For my children’s sake I will remain where I am, but will preach the truth as far as I can.’’ He lived to see his son a convicted felon outlawed by the State; his daughter, an actress on the world’s unholy stage; and he himself made practical shipwreck of the faith.
Not in vain has God said, “Them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed;”and again, “The Lord is with you while ye be with Him.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezra 10". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20