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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 9

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-15

Religious Reforms (9:1-10:44)

The Problem and Ezra’s Reaction (9:1-15)

On the occasion of the first exodus from Egypt, an event which colored the account and the fact of the return from Babylon, a primary reason for the failure of the people to live up to their Covenant responsibility was always seen to be their willingness to adopt the ways of Canaan and to combine elements of heathen religion with the worship of the Lord. The same threat appeared in the time of Ezra, and it was doubtless due to the stem measures he took that there grew up in Judaism at this time a strong sense of exclusivism, becoming in time the religious parochialism which marked the Pharisee of the New Testament.

The problem is described in Ezra 9:1-2, as reported to Ezra by leaders in the community. The list of "the peoples of the lands" is of course not meant to be an exact naming of contemporary peoples, for many of these had passed from the pages of history, but it is a historical reminder of the similar situation in the days of their ancestors (see parallel lists in Exodus 3:8; Exodus 13:5; Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 20:17). The error was not that people engaged in mixed marriages as such, but that mixed marriages led to "abominations," that is, to corrupt and paganizing influences in religion and society.

Ezra’s reaction was sharp and immediate. His classic gestures of mourning attracted a crowd who waited for his words. Here Ezra stands in the prophetic tradition, for the prophets before him had often engaged in similar dramatic and symbolic actions.

At the time of the evening sacrifice Ezra engaged in a public prayer which gave vivid expression to his own feelings and, appropriately for a leader of the community, served as a confession of corporate guilt. The prayer has some similarities to other great scriptural prayers (compare Nehemiah 9:6-37; Daniel 9:4-19) and combines confession and petition.

The prophetic view of history is implied in Ezra’s confession, where the Exile is seen as the result of national sin rather than political events. Noticeable in the prayer also is the tenuous and brief beginning which the Return represents. Verse 9 is like the ancient confessions of Israel’s faith which declared that once the people had been slaves in Egypt but were set free. Here again is the note of the new exodus.

Verses 10-12 introduce a series of commands which are said to have been given by "the prophets." As a matter of fact, the quotation fits Deuteronomy 7:1-3 better than any other passage, but is probably to be regarded as a general statement of the principles of religious purity inherent in all prophetic teaching. The specific matter of mixed marriage does appear in Malachi, also in the late period of Jewish history.

The prayer ends with a great confession of national sin and corporate guilt, the speaker identifying himself with the nation in its distress, as had Moses before him.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezra 9". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/ezra-9.html.
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