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The Chief Fault of the Time and its Removal
A.—THE CHEIF FAULT OF THE TIME EZRA’S PENTITENTIAL PRAYER
I. The Chief Fault of the Time, and Ezra’s Sorrow for It. Ezra 9:1-4
1Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. 3And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied. 4Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice.
II. Ezra’s Penitential Prayer. Ezra 9:5-15
5And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, 6And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. 7Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. 8And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give 9us a little reviving in our bondage. For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. 10And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments, 11Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness. 12Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for eEzra Ezra 9:13 And after all that is come to pass upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; 14Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed 15us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous; for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses; for we cannot stand before thee because of this.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Ezra 9:1-4. To a positive strengthening of the life in accordance with the law belonged without doubt a long preparatory activity on the part of Ezra. It could not be accomplished by merely external arrangements or contrivances. Rather it was necessary that Ezra should bring about an internal change, excite a holy zeal for the law, as we see it break forth in fact at a later period (Nehemiah 8-10), and thus above all deepen and render more general the knowledge of the law. But already, at the outset, he had to undertake a negative improvement, the removal of a bad state of affairs that threatened their future. It was again the question as previously in the time of Zerubbabel, respecting their relation to the heathen, which was involved in their present political relations, especially their union with heathen under the same government. If, however, the problem in the time of Zerubbabel had been merely to ward off those who would unite with the congregation on the plea of a common worship of Jehovah, now the question was with reference to the exclusion of those with whom union had been established, notwithstanding difference of religion.
Ezra 9:1. And after the completion of these things,etc.—כַּלּוֹת is infin. nomin.=completion. אֵלֶּה is neuter, referring to the things mentioned in Ezra 8:33-36. This statement of time is somewhat indefinite—yet we are not to suppose that the length of time of the things here narrated was very long after chap. 8. The delivery of the gifts brought with them occurred on the fourth day after Ezra’s arrival; thus, on the fourth or fifth day of the fifth month (comp. Ezra 8:32 and Ezra 7:9); the bringing of the offerings, moreover, Ezra 8:35, without doubt soon followed, and so also the delivery of the royal decree to the officials (Ezra 8:36); the support on the part of the latter may be very well mentioned in Ezra 8:36 proleptically, or is to be understood of their promise. If a longer time had elapsed between Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem and chap. 9, it would not have been necessary for the princes of the congregation to have first made complaint respecting the evil circumstances in question, but Ezra would have observed them himself. Accordingly by the ninth month,—on the twentieth day of which, according to Ezra 10:9, the first assembly of the people was held respecting the affair here coming into question,—is meant without doubt the ninth of the first year that Ezra passed in Jerusalem.—The princes came to me.—הַשָּׂרִים (with the article) are not the princes as a whole—for according to Ezra 9:2 many of them participated in the guilt, and these would not have given information of themselves,—but the princes in distinction from the people. The princes distinguish as such who have not separated themselves, that is, kept themselves separate from the people of the land, three classes, that occur elsewhere, also along side of one another: the people of Israel—that is, the common people (יִשְׂרָאֵל is in apposition to הָעָם, comp. Joshua 8:33; 1 Kings 16:21);—the priests and Levites—comp. e.g. Ezra 2:70.—The people of the lands are the ἔθνη, and indeed, first of all, those in the vicinity, comp. Ezra 6:21. For the most part there were, without doubt, remnants of the ancient tribes of Canaan, whose abominations, according to the subsequent narrative, were peculiar to them; but probably during the exile other heathen races also had emigrated into the depopulated Palestine. Ezra and the princes thus, when they required a separation from all these heathen,—that is, excluded an intermarriage with them,—exceeded the letter of the law, which only prohibited intermarriage with the Canaanites (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3),—but not because a certain Pharisaism had already made itself felt among them (O. v. Gerlach in his Biblework), but because it was absolutely necessary now if the congregation was to be preserved from sinking down into heathenism. The heathen dwelling in close vicinity to them, and not being separated in political affairs, the mixed marriages now threatened, if not positively forbidden, to become disproportionately numerous, whilst in former times they could never have been more than exceptional. And besides, these heathen were now essentially the same as the ancient Canaanites.—According to their abominations.—This briefly = as their abominations required. לַכְּנַעֲני does not then begin the enumeration of the races in question—which is against not only the accentuation which separates this clause so strongly from the nations, but also the position of the word, for the clause “according to their abominations” would not then have intervened, but should have followed the enumeration; and besides also the לְ before כְּנעֲנִי—which would have scarcely an analogy in its favor. Rather לַכְּנַעֲנִי, “belonging to the Canaanites;” briefly=as they were peculiar to the Canaanites, the Hittites, etc. The abominations are designated by this clause as the ancient ones, condemned by the prophets, and especially by Moses, long before; and all the various names of nations are mentioned because the abominations had been so many and so different among the different races. It was not the purpose to give a complete statement, else the Hivites (comp. Exodus 3:8; Exodus 13:5; Exodus 23:23) and also the Girgashites (comp. Deuteronomy 7:1) would also have been mentioned.
Ezra 9:2. For they have taken of their daughters, etc.—namely, wives. comp. chap, Ezr 10:44; 2 Chronicles 11:21, etc. The object נָשִׁים is in this connection, to a certain extent, to be understood of itself.—And have mingled themselves as the holy seed with the people of the land.—This has properly the same subject as the foregoing. The following זֶרַע הַקֹּדֶשׁ is to be placed in apposition with the subject, as it seems; that is to say, although they are a new and holy seed, or shoot, which, after the old tree had fallen by the severe judgments of God, was) to grow up into a new and better tree. Since the expression “holy seed” does not occur again elsewhere, it is not doubtful but that there is here a reference back to Isaiah 6:13. That at least the better part of the people had not yet by any means forgotten the ancient prophets, but preserved them at the present time to strengthen their faith, follows already from Haggai and Zechariah, where the Messianic promise, on the basis of the more ancient prophecy, yet again brought forth the richest flowers.—Yea, the hand of the princes—rulers hath been chief in this trespass.—In this unfaithfulness the princes had been leaders with their bad example, assuming thereby the responsibility, comp. Deuteronomy 13:10. מַעַל, properly unfaithfulness (comp. Leviticus 5:15) is spoken of, in so far as they had abandoned the blessing of the purity of Israel and periled thereby the higher blessings connected therewith. סְגָנִים = commanders, chiefs, is a word passing over from the ancient Persian into the Hebrew, comp. Isaiah 41:25.
Ezra 9:3. Ezra could not but express the deepest pain at this information, as well as the greatest displeasure, and indeed with the warmth of Oriental manners; none the less that there must be applied a remedy, only to be carried out with difficulty, and occasioning much sorrow. He expressed his grief by rending (tearing) his under and over-garment (comp. Leviticus 10:6 and Joshua 7:6), his displeasure and anger by plucking out the hair of the head and beard (a part of it), comp. Neb. 13:25; that is to say, he hurt himself and disfigured his appearance (comp. Isaiah 50:6); if he had only been sad, he would have shaved his head; Job 1:20. In this condition he then sat down staring, שָׁמֵם in Piel expresses the being stiff and dull (hence also the being waste), comp. Isaiah 52:14.
Ezra 9:4. Ezra’s behaviour produced a profound impression upon those who feared God’s word; because of the unfaithfulness ofהַגוֹלָה, the people of God living in captivity Ezra continued his behaviour herein even when they assembled themselves unto him. According to Ezra 10:3 we are not to explain: all who trembled at the word of God on account of the unfaithfulness, etc.; although חָרֵד may be connected with עַל (Isaiah 66:2, where עַל, indeed=אֶל, in the sense of trembling towards, comp. Isaiah 66:5), but: all who allowed themselves to be frightened by God’s words, which referred to the unfaithfulness. God is here called the God of Israel because He had in the words in question called for the purity and dignity of Israel.
Ezra 9:5-15. At the time of the evening sacrifice, however, he arose from his mortification—הַּעֲנִית, humiliation, mortification, which had consisted in giving way to sorrow, but had certainly likewise been connected with fasting, and indeed accompanied with the rending of his over or under-garment; that is to say, in that he still continued or repeated the rending—in order now to spread out his hands to God as those who pray usually did (1 Kings 8:0 :, etc.), publicly uttering a penitential prayer.
Ezra 9:6. This penitential prayer would emphasize throughout what great reasons the congregation had of bewaring of the sins in question. He renders prominent in Ezra 9:6 how great guilt they already had upon them without this, and adds in Ezra 9:7 that sin has been the cause of all the misfortune and misery of Israel. He calls to mind in Ezra 9:9 that God’s grace had preserved only just such a remnant, but by no means had constituted a situation in Which they could dispense with Him. He confesses in Ezra 9:10-12 that God had expressly forbidden the sins now indulged in, and had made nothing less than the strength of the congregation, yea, the very possession of the land, conditional upon their obedience to his command. He then in Ezra 9:13-14 raises the painful and sad question, and draws the inference whether, if after so many chastisements, and after such an exhibition of favor, they should again be guilty of such a transgression of the divine command, whether God would not then really become angry unto their entire destruction. He concludes in Ezra 9:15 with the repenting confession that the Lord is righteous, that the congregation, however, cannot stand before Him. Ezra now prays expressly for forgiveness, as we might expect: he ventures not, he is ashamed, as he himself says, to lift up his face to the Lord. But such a penitential prayer and confession of sin is already in itself a pleading for grace; yea, works more powerfully indeed than a petition expressedly uttered. And, at any rate, it is, just as it is, very well calculated, at the same time, to bring the people to the lively consciousness of the perverseness of their sin.
Ezra 9:6. I am ashamed and blush.—בּוֹשׁ and נִכְלַם are joined together for emphasis, as in Jeremiah 31:10, etc.—For our iniquities are increased over our head.—Occasioned by the transgression under consideration; all sins and transgressions whatever come to the remembrance of Ezra. He who already has so many sins upon him should take very particular care [ lest a new one should be added, especially when one has already been brought into such deep misery by the previous ones. רָבוּ from רָבָה has the same meaning as usually רַבּוּ from רָבַב לְמֲעלָה. = upwards, passes over easily in our author to the adverbial sense of “very abundantly” (comp. 1 Chronicles 29:3), even with רָבָה (comp. 1 Chronicles 23:17), but here in connection with ראשׁ retains its meaning as a preposition = beyond. The iniquities are regarded as a flood in which man soon perishes [comp. Psalms 38:4, and the general use of water to indicate great troubles] [our trespasses—unto the haven—comp. 2 Chronicles 28:9; thus the mercy of God is compared in extent with the heavens, vid Psalms 36:5; Psalms 57:10, etc.—Tr.].
Ezra 9:7. And for our iniquities we have been delivered—into the hands of the kings of the lands to the sword,etc.—To translate, with Bertheau, through the sword, is remote form the sense, and is not suited to the following “into captivity.” the shame is called that of the face because it especially works upon the face, as Daniel 9:7.—As this day, namely, teaches or shows; כְּ in connection with הַיּוֹם הַזֶה is not = about or on, but has a comparative force, as also in Jeremiah 44:6; Jeremiah 22:23; 1 Samuel 22:8. The present teaches the here asserted delivering over, in so far as the congregation was still a גוֹלָה, comp. Ezra 9:4.
Ezra 9:8-9. It is true, the Lord has again allowed His grace to work after His anger, but not so that He could be dispensed with; only through Him has the congregation protection and continuance.—And now a little moment (comp. Isaiah 26:20) hath been grace from the Lord our God—namely, during the time from Cyrus to the present, which seems short in comparison with the long time of the previous chastisement, especially since the latter had begun already with the Assyrians (comp. Ezra 6:22 and Nehemiah 9:32), and had properly been continued even to the time of Cyrus. Ezra would not so much praise the greatness of the divine grace, as if his thought had been that transgression ought to have been avoided out of thankfulness (for then he would have expressed himself in an entirely different manner), but he would say that the congregation, whatever it might be, was only through grace; and back of this lies the thought that with it they would forfeit their one and all.—To leave us a remnant and to give us a peg in his holy place.—לָנוּ = us, “the people as a whole,” in distinction from which the פְלֵיטָה is the congregation of the returned exiles. The peg,יָתֵד, is to be regarded as one driven into the wall, on which domestic utensils of any kind were hung, comp. Isaiah 22:23 sq.1 Hence we cannot understand thereby, either with Bertheau, the congregation itself (to make us a peg = a congregation of a reliable stock), or, with Keil, the temple, which is opposed by the words, “in the holy place;” rather “to give any one a peg in a house” (here in the temple, in the holy place) means to give him a part and right in the house, accept him as a coinhabitant in the house. It comes into consideration that God is often regarded as a Householder, and His people, in a similar manner, often as His family, who dwell with Him in His house (comp. Psalms 15:1; Psalms 23:6; Psalms 27:4, etc.). We have an example in Isaiah 56:5 : I will give them hand and name in my house, where the יָר explained in so many different ways may be simply activity or right to be active, in general to stir one’s self.—That our God might lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.—The infins. לְהָאִיר and לְתִתֵּנוּ are subordinated to the foregoing infinitives = that he thereby. The subject אֱלֹהֵינוּ appears in an independent position, as especially Isaiah 5:24; comp. Ewald, § 307, c, because the object עֵינֵינוּ had preceded and intervened between it and the infin. “The eyes enlighten” means to remove the night of trouble and weakness resting upon them, which was, according to that which follows, already indeed a night of death, and indeed by reviving, that is, by bestowing salvation, strength, encouragement, comp. Psalms 13:4; Proverbs 29:13, especially also 1 Samuel 14:27, 1 Samuel 14:29.—מִחְיָה—preservation of life, or as here, reviving (comp. 2 Chronicles 14:12), is used here for the adjective “revived,” whilst in Ezra 9:9 it retains its abstract meaning. מְעַט is added, without close connection, as Nehemiah 2:12; Nehemiah 7:4. The idea at the basis is, that national ruin is a death of the congregation, and that the re-establishment is an awakening from the dead. This re-establishment was a very incomplete one so long as the dependence on the powers of the world still endured, and the congregation must still be called הַגּוֹלָה. The reference to the prophecies of the prophets is here unmistakable. As the expression “holy seed,” already in Ezra 9:2, so also “leave a remant,” and the expression “peg,” remind us very decidedly of Isaiah, comp. chaps. Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 22:23 sq.; Isaiah 56:5; the expression “revival” looks back upon Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the figure on which it is based is carried out with great vividness and power. We see that the pious Israelites subsequent to the exile, Ezra before all, attentively took to heart the ancient prophecies of chastisements, and that which should follow them, in order to apply them without doubt to their own times.
Ezra 9:9. And hath extended mercy unto us before the kings of Persia, to give us revival.—The subject of the “giving” is not the Persian kings (Berth., Keil), which is opposed by the previous verse, and also by the fact itself; but God alone, whose it is alone to slay and make alive. It is not necessary, on this account, to make God the subject of the clause: to set up the house of our God, and erect its ruins. This infin. may be subordinated to the foregoing, so that the Jews become the subject = that we, etc. The subject of the last infin. to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem, is surely again God, and not one of the Persian kings (Berth. and Keil). The expression “give a wall” leads of itself more to God, for it is naturally to be understood figuratively, and indeed not of the temple, but in the more general sense of the protection which was afforded the congregation in Judah and Jerusalem against their oppressors, comp. Zechariah 2:5.
Ezra 9:10-12. The transgression here spoken of cannot be excused at all, with the plea, that it was not expressly forbidden.—And now, what shall we say?—for we have forsaken thy commandments,—not: that we have forsaken (Berth. and Keil), which would be weak. Ezra means: I may thus ask, for, etc.
Ezra 9:11 may be translated: thou who, or also, which thou hast commanded by thy servants, the prophets.—Ezra does not mention Moses in particular, but the prophets in general, not because the commands of the Pentateuch were not mediated or written down by Moses alone, but also by other organs, as Delitzsch in his introduction to Genesis supposes;—whether Ezra knew this, is at least very doubtful,—but because his thought is that God by His prophets has given or again enforced the commandments in manifold and oft-repeated ways, comp. Judges 3:6; 1 Kings 11:2. When a truth is under consideration, which is not represented by one prophet, but more or less by all, then it is usual to cite in general, as the author of the book of Kings also does. Moses is meant at any rate, yea chiefly. And this explains the fact that Ezra states the command, not it is true verbally from a passage in the Pentateuch, but yet formularized in a manner only appropriate to the Mosaic period, when they still had to take possession of Canaan. He has in mind before all Deuteronomy 7:1-3, as there also the entire manner of expression is undeniably that of Deuteronomy, but he draws into consideration, in a free manner, other passages, and indeed even from Leviticus, comp. especially Leviticus 18:24 sq. נִדָּה, the abominable, for which in Lev. only טֻמְאָה and תּוֹעֵבוֹת occur, is used in the Pentateuch of the impurity of the issues of blood in women, only subsequently by the prophets of other impurities likewise, especially also of ethical impurities (comp. 1 Samuel 1:17; Ezekiel 7:20; Ezekiel 36:17). It is preferred to its synonyms as an especially strong expression. מִפֶּה אֶל־פֶּה, does not mean, certainly: from side to side (Keil), or from one end to another (Berth., A. V.); for neither the one nor the other meaning has been proved, or etymologically established for פֶּה. In Isaiah 19:7 it is either the mouth, or the bed of the Nile (later in distinction from the bank, as the שָׂפָּה פֶה is easily the equivalent of person, from person to person, is, however = on or in all persons,=throughout and everywhere. Comp. פֶּה לָפֶּה, 2 Kings 10:21; 2 Kings 21:16. It is worthy of attention, of course, that this method of expression only occurs of objects which hold men, of land, house and city, or of men themselves.
Ezra 9:12. Nor seek their peace nor their wealth forever.—These words are from Deuteronomy 23:7, where this is said with reference to the Moabites and Ammonites. It almost seems as if Ezra would have justified from the very letter of the law by this citation, his extension of the prohibition of intermarriage to the Moabites and Ammonites. The clause, that ye may be strong, reminds us of Deuteronomy 11:8; the next clause, and eat the good of the land, of Isaiah 1:19; the last clause, however: and possess it, or take possession of it for your children for ever, which does not occur in the Pentateuch in this form, rests on the promise that is often repeated, especially in Deuteronomy, that in case of obedience they would live long in the land that the Lord gave them. הוֹרִישׁ means here not give into possession (Berth., Keil), for then it must govern the double accusative (comp. Judges 11:34; 2 Chronicles 20:11), but “take into possession, possess.” For the children, posterity, that is, permanently.
Ezra 9:13-14. Thus there can be no question but that the new transgression is to be decidedly condemned. This follows, as well from the punishment for previous sins, as from the way of pardon.—And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass.—The article before בָּא properly represents the relative, as Ezra 8:25; Ezra 10:14; Ezra 10:17; for בָּא cannot well be a participle; as such it would be in the plural. The continuation of this clause does not occur already in the second half of the ver. (Berth.); in this case the following כִּי would have to be taken in the sense of, in truth (after all, in truth hast Thou, our God, spared us), then Ezra 9:14 would be in too little connection; it would not appear that two kinds of things, that as well punishment as forgiveness formed the foundation of Ezra 9:14. Rather the second half of the verse verifies the thought, which is involved in the first, that the guilt was very great, and that it properly would have deserved still severer punishment, and thus entirely prepares the way for Ezra 9:14. Its sense is, at any rate, that the punishment has been less than the transgression. The words might mean: For thou, our God, hast restrained a part of our sins from below, so that they (namely, through their consequences, the visitations of punishment) have not gone entirely over our head, have not utterly ruined us; for there is no objection to taking מֵעֲוֹנֵנוּ partitively. Already Esdras has thus: ὁ κουφίσας τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν. In favor of this view is the fact that in this way לְמַטָֹּה would come into contrast with לְמַעֲלָה in Ezra 9:6, in which it is also found elsewhere, Jeremiah 31:37. At all events, however, we may likewise explain: Thou hast restrained Thine anger or Thy punishment below the measure of our misdeeds, so that the punishment has not been as great as our misdeeds deserved (so J. H. Mich., Gesen., and Keil). לְמַטָּה, indeed, is nowhere else found with מִן, but perhaps only for the reason that it nowhere else is followed by a noun of closer definition.מִן follows, at least, the corresponding לְמַעֲלָה, 1 Chronicles 29:3; the synonymous מִתַּחַת has usually לְ after it.
Ezra 9:14. Then should we again break thy commandments, and unite ourselves in marriage with, etc.—This question appeals to the general sentiment, and serves to emphasize very strongly the blamableness of the new transgression.—Wouldst thou not be angry with us, even to destruction?—עַד־כַּלֵּה, as 2 Kings 13:17; 2 Kings 13:19.
Ezra 9:15. Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous.—This concluding and confirming confession would not say: Thou art a severe judge, and must interfere against the congregation on account of its decline (Bertheau and Keil). The usual meaning of צַדִּיק (graciously righteous), is against this, and then also the following clause, “for we have remained over as an escaped remnant,” which is not = we have remained over merely as escaped, but: we have not been utterly ruined. Rather Ezra would say, that no one can reproach God for not doing all that could be expected.—Behold, we are before thee in our trespasses, etc.—This, the second half of the verse, constitutes a very suitable and logically conclusive antithesis to the foregoing. The more blameless God is the more deserving of punishment Israel’s guilt. The yodh in בְּאַשְׁמָתֵינוּ is found in the edition of R. Norzi and J. H. Mich.; but is missing in some MSS., and the pointing corresponds with the latter. Both methods of writing might in this case easily go on alongside of one another; the singular would be favored by Ezra 9:13, but the plural corresponds with the full-toned style of Ezra.—[We cannot stand before thee,e.g., as thy holy people, who are privileged to stand before their king.—Tr.]—Because of this.עַל־זֹאת = with this new evil deed.
thoughts upon the history of redemption
Ezra 9:1 to Ezra 3:1. If we act upon the supposition that the sacred Scriptures, even the Old Testament already, are to give us warning, exhortation, and instruction with reference to every situation and question of church, civil, or domestic life, yea, that the Old Testament very particularly comes into consideration for the details of life, it is natural that we should find in the opposition that Ezra makes in chapters 9 and 10 to intermarriage with the heathen, a warning or exhortation with reference to intermarriage with those of a different faith from our own. And in fact that which may be urged against such an application, e.g., that as Christians we rejoice in a greater liberty than the Jews; that mixed marriages have not been forbidden of themselves and under all circumstances, that the Christian church is never threatened with as great dangers as the Jewish congregation in the time of Ezra, that besides the piety of the Christian has a mightier protection and help than the religion of the Old Testament pious—all this is outweighed by the opposing facts. The wife is now on a greater equality with the husband than in ancient times, has a greater influence upon the man himself, as well as in the training of the children, may thus easily become more dangerous. Besides Christianity is much more internal and deep than Old Testament piety, more influential upon the heart and disposition upon all sides, and hence comes much more into consideration with reference to the married life, that rests upon internal communion. It is true there is very seldom in the mixed marriages of our times a question respecting the difference of religion; usually it is only respecting a difference in the confession of faith, or a different degree of vitality of Christian religiousness—and to place marriages of this kind on the same basis as those intermarriages with the heathen would be premature, yea unfair. Heathendom stood in an essential and indeed very positive contrast to Judaism. The different Christian confessions, on the other hand, have the essential things in common with one another. And between those which are distinguished merely by the degree of the vitality of their Christian religiousness, there is often no positive contrast at all; the less vital Christianity may be awakened and strengthened, especially if treated with love. But we must always recognise and take to heart, with reference to Ezra and his behaviour, the fact, that in the conclusion and conduction of a marriage those considerations which have respect to the interests of religion are more important than all others, and therefore a difference of confession, which threatens not to promote but diminish religious ardor, according to the nature of the case, which besides constantly disturbs or of itself renders impossible the internal living together in the highest and holiest spheres, which then likewise has so much that is unendurable with reference to the training of children, and involves so many difficulties; that likewise in the same manner, a lack of any religious faith, that places itself in open conflict with Christianity, that more earnestly considered, is to be regarded as a positively different religion, or wanders into scornfulness and frivolity,—these ought to be real hinderances to marriage for all Christians. As regards the lack of faith, of the kind here referred to, which manifestly must be placed on the same footing at least with heathenism, the apostle did not allow (1 Corinthians 7:12-13) that a Christian brother should marry an unbelieving wife, or the reverse, but only that he should retain her if he once had her. That a brother should marry an unbelieving (heathen) wife, he seems not to have regarded as at all possible. With reference to marriage with an unbeliever, we are to take to heart what he says in the subsequent context (1 Corinthians 9:16), What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband, or what knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
2. The question how the congregation was to act towards others of a different faith, was now to be answered for the second time. It is not easy, with reference to this matter, to do exactly the right thing; for Christians, who more decidedly have the task of winning others for their faith, thus in no way should shut themselves off from them, it is still less easy than for the Israelites. But since all depends upon imparting to the others the best that we have, it follows that we must draw back, when this is impossible, especially if we incur the danger of losing this best thing ourselves. Under all circumstances it is self-evident that we should only cherish such an association as we can ever withdraw from if necessary.
3. No error is so conspicuous in the new congregation as that of intermarriage with the heathen. Not only Ezra but Nehemiah had still to contend with it (Nehemiah 10:31; Nehemiah 13:23 sq.), and as the princes, so indeed had the sons of the high-priests taken part in it (comp. Ezra 10:18). Without doubt there was a reason in the circumstances themselves. Usually new tasks are imposed as well upon the congregation as a whole, as also upon the individuals in the new relations. A new end is to be attained, and the difficulty of striving after this in the right manner often involves the temptation of approaching it in a false way. The task of the new congregation was to assume such a relation to the neighboring nations from whom they were no longer separated by political boundaries, as that they might ever be in the position in the fulness of time for fulfilling their missionary calling with reference to them. Accordingly the history itself urged onwards to a sort of approximation. Notwithstanding this, however, the institution of false relations, which could only render the accomplishment of their mission impossible, had no excuse.
4. Having lost their political independence, and reduced to a small number, the congregation, even their leaders or princes might have come upon the thought that it was not only allowable, but indeed was advisable, to enter into, closer relations with the heathen, who now were separated from them by so very little. They might have hoped that their people, on the basis of such a connection, might exercise a good influence with reference to religion and morals, and in consequence of this the congregation would gain the desirable increase; yet this error would not have been possible, if they had had the true singleness of heart towards the divine command. By the lack of this singleness, those who ought to have been to the rest of the congregation guides to good, became guides to evil. Ezra on his part, who did not lack this singleness, recognised in these very circumstances, with which the princes might justify the transgression under consideration, grounds for just the contrary, for a still more careful separation from the heathen. In fact, just because the congregation were without the protection of a political independence, because moreover they had become weak and despised on account of their small numbers, there was scarcely a doubt that the heathen, instead of allowing themselves to be influenced by the Israelites, would have become the influential factor for them, and they would have jeopardized the very existence of the congregation itself.
5. In a similar manner, as after other great judgments, as, for example, after the deluge, it became manifest after the exile likewise that the delivered, however excellent they proved to be at first, were unable to constitute a really new beginning, which should be pure and sinless, but ever only a continuation of the ancient sinful existence; that there was now no more sinless development, that rather sin breaks forth in new forms in the new relations which have been established by the judging and preserving providence of God, so that it needs ever anew a holy reaction against it on the part of the Lord. Nevertheless, of course, the judging and preserving acts of the Lord are not in vain. The congregation advances through them forwards, if not to a pure, yet to a better development, and their course, even if it is never that of a conqueror who has entirely overcome his hereditary enemy, is yet that of a victorious warrior, who at least beholds the complete victory and its noble prize at the end of his course. Nevertheless, the circumstance that among the princes many recognised the wrong as such, and sought to remove it with the help of Ezra, is a proof that the Lord at this time had provided a number of a better element, who already not only constituted a starting-point for His reaction, but also themselves began to react out of their own midst.
Ezra 9:5-15. Ezra 9:1. Before Ezra did anything else he expressed his sorrow for the failure of the congregation from the word of God, and indeed particularly by a penitential prayer, in which he included himself most devoutly within the congregation which had transgressed. The first thing with which to begin a true reformation will ever be the feeling of penitence, and in accordance with this a penitential prayer, which issues from the deepest conviction that we are involved in the sinfulness of the congregation, and which has to share in the fear of the threatening judgments, which, however, none the less manifests; the sharpest contrast to the sin in question. Such a penitential prayer, especially if it is connected with an humble recognition of the justice of the judgment that is feared, already has also the significance of a prayer for forgiveness, help, and preservation, just as the praise of the Lord as the God who hears prayer, affords redemption and salvation, at the beginning of those very Psalms, that are prayed out of deep need, and run out into a petition for redemption and salvation, is itself already a mighty petition, which in spite of every necessity joyfully praising God, is able without doubt to most powerfully move His paternal heart.
2. Ezra’s prayer very suitably unites various things, which must fill us with holy abhorrence of fresh transgressions after redemption; he reminds us at first of the fact that we are deeply involved in sin from our fathers, we might say, already by nature, and thus can not be too much on our guard against it, and at the same time, that it is our sins that have brought about the misery in which we all more or less live; so then that God has given us grace which certainly appears exceedingly great over against our sins and unworthiness, so that it must fill us with thankfulness and urge us to sanctification, which, however, over against the necessities of earth, is a small beginning of better things, easily lost again; furthermore, that the sin, that we might perchance be guilty of, is against God’s express command, and can never be justified; that God’s visitation of punishment, if we are not warned by His punishment or by His grace unto holiness, must necessarily become greater and more serious. These truths will have a preserving and improving power for the congregation of all times.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Ezra 9:1-2. We have the duty of keeping afar off from others. 1) When? If we can exercise no improving influence, but have to fear lest we be ruined with them. 2) Why ? because we have to preserve great blessings for ourselves and others. 3) How? with renunciation of temporal advantages, especially with self-denial.—The importance of a correct choice in marriage: 1) the injury that is done by a bad choice; it is not only temporal, but eternal; 2) the gain that we have in a good choice.—Starke: Marriage with an unbelieving woman is very dangerous, for she can convert a man easier than the man can convert her, 1 Kings 10:4.—What other injuries unequal marriage may accomplish, vid. 2 Chronicles 18:1.—The importance of true family life for the furtherance of church life: 1) Church life is a matter of the free resolution, which must be correctly guided by proper training; 2) church life is conditioned upon learning its advantages, as this is possible, first of all, only in the bosom of the family.
Ezra 9:5-15. The fundamental principles of true reformatory activity: 1) True simplicity of heart,—we must not allow ourselves to be led astray by the temptations that are often involved with sufficient strength in the relations given by God Himself; we must rather gladly and without reserve bow to the divine word; 2) true sorrow for the present transgressions, however difficult they may be to remove, they must yet be recognized seriously in their true character; 3) true fear of the divine judgment—it is a bitter, but indispensable medicine for the destructive wanderings from duty.—Brentius: Exprimitur affectus pietatis, qui in unoquoque debet geri erga proximum suum, videlicet quod unusquisque non debet aliter affici erga peccata proximi sui, quam si ipse ea perpetrasset. Sic affectus erat Abraham, erga Sodomitas, sic Samuel erga Saul, sic Daniel erga populum Judaicum. Et hic affectus multorum bonorum autor est, videlicet ne traducamus proximum nostrum, sed oremus pro eo, et castigemus eum, pro officio nostro.—Starke: Pious people laugh not at the sins of others, but are sad at heart on their account, Jeremiah 9:0; Genesis 18:23; 2Sa 15:35; 2 Corinthians 11:29.—How inexcusable are the fresh transgressions of those who have been redeemed from the misery of sin. 1) Sin has already wrought misery enough. 2) God has shown His grace in delivering from it, which is exceedingly great, but may easily be lost again. 3) He has let us know His will. 4) His visitation of punishment will be still more severe.—Starke: The strongest walls and the surest fence about a city and village is God’s gracious care, Psalms 3:4-7; Proverbs 18:10.—By the wickedness of the inhabitants is a land defiled; accordingly let us beware of sin. In the judgments of God we have to recognize His moderation, and thank God for it.—The true penitential prayer: 1) Recognition of sin in its entire greatness and ruin: 2) recognition of the divine grace; 3) recognition of the cleanness of the divine will; 4) recognition of the justice of the judgment to be feared.—Intercession of pastors for their congregations: 1) Out of love in spite of sin; 2) in faith in God’s grace; 3) in hope of a hearing.—Starke: Since Ezra in his prayer sets before him the entire people, he includes himself among them and accepts his share in the sins of the people, comp. Isaiah 59:0; Daniel 9:5; Nehemiah 1:6.—Teachers should particularly stand in the gap and seek to ward off the punishment of God by prayer. We often know not for the sake of what believer’s prayer God has spared a people and city.
[Scott: Silent grief and astonishment sometimes form the most expressive protestation against enormous crimes; and when men speak on such occasions it may be more effectual to address themselves to God than to the offender.—Henry: A practical disbelief of God’s all-sufficiency is at the bottom of all the sorry shifts we make to help ourselves.—The scandalous sins of professors are what we have reason to be astonished at.—An eye to God as our God will be of great use to us in the exercise of repentance.—There is not a surer or sadder presage of ruin to any people than revolting to sin, to the same sins again after great judgments and great deliverances.—Wordsworth: Observe, this confession and prayer of Ezra, the priest and scribe, the friend of the king of Persia, was in a public place, at a time of public resort to the temple. He was not ashamed of repentance and self-humiliation, and he showed publicly that his trust was in God’s help, vouchsafed to fervent prayer at the door of God’s house.—Tr.]
[Rawlinson in loco thinks of the tent pin, which is driven into the earth to make the tent firm and secure, Isaiah 22:23; Isaiah 22:25.—Tr.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ezra 9". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension