Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] In this chapter we have the account of—(i.) Shechaniah’s proposal to put away the strange wives (Ezra 10:1-5). (ii.) Ezra’s fast because of the people’s sin (Ezra 10:6). (iii.) The proclamation calling upon all the Jews to assemble at Jerusalem within three days (Ezra 10:7-8). (iv.) The coming together of the people at Jerusalem, and their acceptance of the proposal to put away the strange wives (Ezra 10:9-14). (v.) The opposition of Jonathan the son of Asahel and others (Ezra 10:15). (vi.) The carrying out of the proposal (Ezra 10:16-17). (vii.) The names of the men who had taken strange wives (Ezra 10:18-44).
Ezra 10:1. Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed] Rather, “Now whilst Ezra prayed and whilst he confessed.” Before the house of God] i.e. in the court of the Temple.
Ezra 10:2. Jehiel] Perhaps the Jehiel whose name occurs in Ezra 10:26, as having married a heathen wife. Now there is hope in Israel] Rather, “for Israel.” He came to this conclusion because the people were sensible of their sin and sorrowing by reason of it.
Ezra 10:3. According to the counsel of my lord] Keil: “the Lord.” Ezra had given no advice in the matter as yet. But Shechaniah might have inferred what Ezra would counsel from his words and actions (chap. Ezra 9:3-15).
Ezra 10:5. According to this word] i.e. according to the proposal of Shechaniah.
Ezra 10:6. Went into the chamber] (Comp. 1 Kings 6:5; chap. Ezra 8:29; Nehemiah 13:4-5.) Of Johanan the son of Eliashib] We cannot arrive at any certain conclusion as to who this Johanan was. According to Mr. Aldis Wright, he was one of the chief Levites (Nehemiah 12:23). From a comparison of Nehemiah 12:22-23, with Ezra 10:10-11 of the same chapter, Rawlinson concludes that he was the grandson of Eliashib the high priest. Keil says, “Johanan, the son of Eliashib, cannot actually be Johanan-ben-Eliashib (Nehemiah 12:23) the high priest.… For the high priest Eliashib was a contemporary of Nehemiah, and the high priest Johanan was not the son, but, according to the definite statement (Nehemiah 12:10), the grandson of Eliashib, and the son of Joiada (the correct reading of Nehemiah 12:11 being, Joiada begat Johanan and Jonathan). Now a chamber of the Temple could not in Ezra’s time have been as yet called after a grandson of Eliashib, the contemporary of Nehemiah; and both Johanan and Eliashib being names which frequently occur (comp. Ezra 10:24; Ezra 10:27; Ezra 10:36), and one of the twenty-four orders of priests being called after the latter (1 Chronicles 24:12), we, with Ewald (Gesch., iv. p. 228), regard the Johanan-ben-Eliashib here mentioned as an individual of whom nothing further is known,—perhaps a priest descended from the Eliashib of 1 Chronicles 24:12, and who possessed in the new Temple a chamber called by his name.” He did eat no bread nor drink water] He fasted strictly. Fasts of this strictness were not common. A few cases are recorded (see Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; Deuteronomy 9:18; Jonah 3:7).
Ezra 10:7. And they made proclamation] &c. Lit., “And they caused a voice to pass throughout,” &c., i.e. they proclaimed by heralds. (Comp. chap. Ezra 1:1.)
Ezra 10:8. Forfeited] Margin: “Heb., devoted,” i.e. appropriated to the treasury of the Temple.
Ezra 10:9. The ninth month] was named Chisleu, and nearly corresponds with our December. In the street] רְחוֹב = a wide space, a large, open place. Probably here it means the great court before the Temple. For the great rain] Chisleu was in the rainy season. “During the months of November and December the rains fall heavily, but at intervals.”—Bibl. Dict.
Ezra 10:10. Have taken strange wives] Lit., “Have caused strange wives to dwell,” i.e. have taken them to live with you.
Ezra 10:14. Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand] or, as Keil, “Let then our rulers stand for the whole congregation,” i.e. for the good of the congregation, and transact its business. With them the elders of every city and the judges] as being acquainted with the several cases. For this matter] Margin: “Till this matter (be despatched).” Keil: “As long as this matter lasts.” The rulers were to continue to judge the accused as long as the matter lasted. The latter part of the verse would run thus: “Until the fierce wrath of our God be turned from us, as long as this matter lasts.” The last words define more exactly the leading idea of the verse.
Ezra 10:15. Were employed about this matter] Rather, “Stood up against this (matter),” as in 1 Chronicles 21:1; 2 Chronicles 20:23; Daniel 8:25; Daniel 11:14. Meshullam is probably identical with the Meshullam of Ezra 10:29, who had taken a heathen wife.
Ezra 10:16. And the children of the captivity did so] Notwithstanding the opposition of Jonathan and his companions, the people carried out the determination which they had expressed. With certain chief of the fathers, after the house of their fathers] Keil translates, “And men, heads of houses according to their houses.” The meaning is, that each recognised house or family was represented on the commission by its head. And all of them by their names] or, “and they all by names.” A list of their names was written (comp. chap. Ezra 8:20). Were separated] or, selected for this business. The tenth month] i.e. Tebeth, which nearly answers to our January.
Ezra 10:17. The first month] i.e. Nisan, which nearly corresponded to our April. The commission sat for three months, and at the end of that time they had completed their business.
Ezra 10:18. The sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak] This is Jeshua the high priest who came up from Babylon with Zerubbabel.
Ezra 10:19. They gave their hands] i.e. “bound themselves by shaking hands, to put away their wives, i.e. to dismiss them, and to sever them from the congregation of Israel.”—Keil. And being guilty they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass] The Heb. is simply, “And guilty, a ram of the flock for their trespass;” which is explained by Keil that they were condemned to bring a ram as a trespass offering (Leviticus 5:14-16). Fuerst: “And the guilty (gave their hands to bring) a ram for their trespass.”
Ezra 10:20-22. Of the sons of Immer, Hanani] &c. “By comparing chap. Ezra 2:36-39, we perceive that not one of the orders of priests who returned with Zerubbabel was free from participation in this transgression.”—Keil.
Ezra 10:25. The singers and the porters] (Comp. chap. Ezra 2:41-42.)
Ezra 10:26. Moreover of Israel] “As distinguished from priests and Levites, i.e. of the laity.”—Keil.
Ezra 10:44. And some of them had wives by whom they had children] Rather, “And there were among them wives who had brought forth sons.” This fact is mentioned probably to show how thoroughly this reformation was effected. It would be more difficult, for several reasons, to put away a wife who had given birth to children than to put away a childless wife; but the difficulties did not prevent the execution of the duty.
THE REFORMATION PROPOSED
Three principal points require attention—
I. The proposal of reformation prepared for. “Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel,” &c. (Ezra 10:1). Ezra’s great distress, and humble confession, and earnest appeal to God, had influenced the people in such a manner and to such an extent as to prepare them for such a proposal as that made by Shechaniah. The impression which Ezra’s condition and conduct by reason of their sin produced upon the people was—
1. Sympathetic. His horror and self-abasement on account of their sin aroused their consciences to a sense of their own guilt. His great sorrow awakened grief in them, and they “wept very sore.”
2. Extensive. It seems that the fact of his grievous distress was widely made known, and all the city was stirred by it. Very many were moved by his grief and penitence. “There assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children.” The fact that both men and women, and so many of them, were much affected is important as indicating preparedness for reformation.
3. Deep. The people in the great assembly before the house of God were very much moved. The impression was profound as well as extensive. “The people wept very sore;” or “wept a great weeping.” Ezra’s influence for good in this respect was very great. The distress which he manifested was contagious, and spread rapidly, widely, and powerfully amongst the Jews at Jerusalem. Now this was indispensable as a condition for the proposal of any real reformation with a reasonable prospect of success. Until the sinfulness of these marriages was realised, and genuine concern in relation to them was experienced by the people, it would have been vain to have suggested measures for their abolition. But now this “very greatcongregation” was in a condition to consider such measures, and probably to adopt and enforce them.
II. The proposal of reformation made. “Then Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra,” &c. (Ezra 10:2-4). In this wise and brave address Shechaniah—
1. Frankly acknowledges the sin. “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land.” We do not find his name amongst those who had sinned in this thing; but, like Ezra (chap. Ezra 9:5-15), he includes himself amongst the offenders. He does not attempt either to extenuate or palliate or excuse the sin, but ingenuously confesses it. This was important. The disease must be discovered before it can be remedied. The sin must be perceived and acknowledged before it can be forgiven and done away. There could be no true reformation without a clear perception and a humble confession of the sin. (a).
2 Discovers reasons for hope. “Yet now there is hope for Israel concerning this thing.” As M. Henry observes: “The case is sad, but it is not desperate; the disease is threatening, but not incurable. There is hope that the people may be reformed, the guilty reclaimed, a stop put to the spreading of the contagion; and so the judgments which the sin deserves may be prevented, and all will be well. ‘Now there is hope;’ now that the disease is discovered, it is half cured. Now that the alarm is taken, the people begin to be sensible of the mischief, and to lament it; a spirit of repentance seems to be poured out upon them, and they are all thus humbling themselves before God for it, ‘now there is hope’ that God will forgive and have mercy. ‘The valley of Achor’ (that is, of trouble) is the ‘door of hope’ (Hosea 2:15); for the sin that truly troubles us shall not ruin us. There is hope now that Israel has such a prudent, pious, zealous governor as Ezra to manage this affair.”
3. Proposes the abolition of the sin. “Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God,” &c. (Ezra 10:3). His proposal was to the effect that they should enter into a solemn covenant with God to make an end of this sin, and to make an end of it—
(1.) Completely. “To put away all the wives, and such as are born of them.” Marriage with idolaters was prohibited as a preventive of idolatry and its associated abominations (Exodus 34:11-17; Deuteronomy 7:1-6; 1 Kings 11:1-8; Nehemiah 13:23-28); and the presence of the idolatrous wives was a continual temptation to the sin. The Jews had done wrong in marrying such women; and Shechaniah would have them undo that wrong as far as possible by putting away such wives. The true penitent abandons the sin for which he grieves, even though its renunciation be very painful. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out,” &c. (Matthew 5:29-30). It is better that the surgeon should amputate the diseased limb, than that we should retain it and by so doing imperil the life of the body. So must sin be renounced even at the cost of sharp sufferings. Moreover, the true penitent seeks to repair if possible, and as far as may be, the injury he has done. Repentance leads to restitution. “What has been unjustly got cannot be justly kept, but must be restored.” It is one of the sorest sorrows of the penitent soul that complete restitution for sin cannot be made; that the evil done can never be undone; that the false or malignant speech may be afterwards contradicted by him who uttered it, but he can neither unsay it, nor totally annul its effects. Now, it was in this spirit, which seeks to repair the wrong done and to remove the temptation to do it again, that Shechaniah proposed “to put away all the wives and” their children. (b).
(2.) In accordance with the counsel of the godly. “According to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God.” It does not appear that Ezra and they who sympathised with him had as yet advised this or any other line of action; but from their distress Shechaniah inferred that his proposal would commend itself to them. Their recommendation of his measure would contribute to its general acceptance.
(3.) In accordance with the commands of God. “And let it be done according to the law.” I am not aware of any express command to put away heathen wives, to which Shechaniah can refer; but the spirit of the law, which repeatedly and solemnly prohibited such marriages, seemed to require their divorcement. “Divorces were permitted to the Israelites, by the judicial law, to prevent worse consequences;” but there could be no consequences worse than the seduction of the husbands and the training of the children to idolatry. Moreover, the law which commanded the Israelite to put to death any one enticing him to idolatry, even if the enticer were his “brother, the son of his mother, or his son, or his daughter, or the wife of his bosom, or the friend, which was as his own soul” (Deuteronomy 13:6-11), would surely sanction the putting completely away of heathen wives. If a Christian sin by marrying an unbeliever, he may not adopt the course recommended by Shechaniah. The rule for him, or for her, as the case may be, is laid down in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14.
4. Summons Ezra to take the lead in abolishing it. “Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee,” &c. (Ezra 10:4). In this appeal of Shechaniah to Ezra we have—
(1.) An assertion that the work pertained to him. It was the business of Ezra to take this matter in hand, for two reasons: First, his commission authorised him to do it (see chap. Ezra 7:26). He was sent by Artaxerxes to enforce obedience to the law of God. And, second, his character qualified him for doing it. His acquaintance with the law of God, his practical conformity to that law, his position as a teacher of it, and his great influence with the people, all combined to qualify him for taking the lead in effecting this reformation.
(2.) A call to courage in respect to this work. “Be of good courage.” Perhaps Ezra took too dark a view of the case, and was too despondent concerning it, and required this hopeful and earnest call to courage. The despondent would never succeed in carrying out such a reformation; the business imperatively required a brave and resolute spirit.
(3.) A summons to action. “Arise, … be of good courage, and act.” It was of the utmost importance to seize the present favourable opportunity for beginning the reformation. In their present state of sore distress on account of the sin, the people of this great assembly would be ready to enter upon any possible course for making an end of that sin. Therefore it behoved Ezra to arise from his deep grief, and begin the reformation. Let his deep feelings now impel him into earnest action, and the deep feelings of the people will impel them to unite with him. The case demanded immediate and resolute action (comp. Joshua 7:10-15).
5. Promises co-operation in abolishing it. “We also will be with thee.” Shechaniah thus takes the place of spokesman for the “very great congregation” assembled before the house of God; and pledges them to stand by Ezra and to work with him in effecting the great reformation. The co-operation of such an assembly in this undertaking would go far to guarantee its success. (c).
III. The proposal of reformation accepted. “Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites,” &c. (Ezra 10:5).
1. It was accepted influentially. “The princes, the priests, the Levites,” the men of the most eminent position and commanding influence, gave in their adhesion to the movement.
2. It was accepted extensively. “And all Israel.” All that great multitude which had assembled unto Ezra out of Israel, pledged themselves to co-operate in carrying out the proposal of Shechaniah. The party of reformation was strong both in the number and in the power of its adherents.
3. It was accepted solemnly. Ezra made them “to swear that they should do according to this word; and they sware.” When the keenness of their present distress had abated, if any of them had been tempted to draw back, they would have been prevented from doing so by the solemnity with which they had pledged themselves to the undertaking.
The lessons suggested by this subject are many and important. Let us attend to the principal ones.
1. The manifestation of intense feeling is sometimes commendable, and very influential for good (Ezra 10:1).
2. A deep feeling of the guilt of sin is a strong encouragement to hope for forgiveness, amendment, &c. (Ezra 10:2). (d).
3. That repentance only is genuine which leads to restitution and reformation (Ezra 10:3). (e).
4. It is of the utmost importance to translate religious feeling into corresponding action without delay (Ezra 10:3-4). (f).
5. Great leaders may receive valuable aid from even their humblest followers. Shechaniah, apparently an able man, suggested the reformation and urged Ezra to attempt it at once; but even the obscurest person in that “very great congregation,” by swelling the tide of penitent feeling, helped to set the project of reformation well afloat.
6. It is sometimes wise to fortify good resolutions by a solemn covenant with God, or by a serious pledge to man (Ezra 10:3; Ezra 10:6).
(a) Let us strive after God’s view of sin. To Him sin is infinitely hateful; He cannot tolerate it with the least degree of allowance; it troubles His otherwise perfect and happy universe; it despoils human nature; it overthrows all that is Divine in manhood; it calls into existence the worm that gnaws for ever; it is the cause of death and the source of hell. To under-estimate the heinousness of sin is to put ourselves out of the line of God’s view; to understand sin is to understand redemption. Sin interprets the Cross; sin shows what is meant by God’s love. We cannot be right in our relation to Jesus Christ, we cannot be just to His holy Cross, until we regard sin with unutterable repugnance, until we rise against it in fiery indignation, fighting it with all the energy of wounded love, and bringing upon it the damnation of concentrated and implacable anger. I am not speaking of what are called great sins; I am not thinking of murder, of commercial plunder, of adultery, drunkenness, or theft; I am speaking of sin as sin, sin nestling secretly in the heart, sin rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, sin indulged in secret places, sin perverting the thought, sin poisoning the love, sin sucking out the life-blood of the soul; I am thinking of sin, not of sins—of the fact, not of the details; and I ask, with passionate yet well-considered pointedness, Have we not been led to under-estimate the guilt of sin?—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) There is often, when men repent, the necessity of a reparation. A man that in his past life has been inflicting wrong may not be able to make all the reparation. A man whose distributive gains have been flowing in from a hundred sources, and varying every year, may not be able to carry back the tribute and re-bestow it where he fraudulently or wickedly obtained it. Yet while this is the case frequently in respect to gains, there are many things which a man may repair. A man may have wronged a fellow-man by his tongue, and it is necessary, if he is going to be a Christian, that that shall be all repaired. A man may have a quarrel on his hands, and if he is going to be a Christian, that quarrel must come to an end. A man may be high and obstinate, and that man, if he is going to be a Christian, must come down and confess, “I was wrong, and I give up the transgression wholly, absolutely.” It may be that a man has been living on ill-gotten gains. It may be orphan’s property. No matter if it makes a beggar of him, the man who is living on fraudulent gains, if he is going to be a Christian, must make reparation, and give them up. If, for proper and suitable reasons, he finds that he cannot give them up, he must at least confess; for although everybody knows his sin, everybody does not know that he knows it—at any rate they do not know that he knows it in such a way that he is willing to confess it. Confession is a testimony to the power of God, and to the power of the new-found virtue in his soul.—H. W. Beecher.
(c) The social element in religious movements—that which men often decry in revivals—is apt to infuse a generous enthusiasm, a largeness, into men’s minds. There are times when men cannot alone do noble things; but if there be scores and hundreds of men that seem at the same time to be filled with the same influence, then they rise to heroic proportions, and are able to do easily things that would overtax their individual power.
This seems to have been one of those cases where men were seized, not simply with a conviction of sin and with a disposition to repent; but with a disposition to repent in a manner that should he heroic, and should stamp both their sense of iniquity and transgression, and their sense of the genuineness of their repentance and conversion.—Ibid.
(d) The essence of repentance is sorrow, sorrow for our sin. Sorrow is painful, and we shrink from pain; we avoid it. To those that have not felt the evil that repentance cures, how dark and bitter a thing it is to be away from God, homeless, fatherless, an orphan, and made so by selfish ingratitude,—to those it will not seem a good. It is a good only to those who feel the evil it delivers them from, the nobler peace it brings them to. We know there is one thing worse than pain; the painless disease that kills; the slow, insidious, fatal malady that eats away the springs and energies of life, without giving the warnings of bodily distress. To stop that, to heal that, we gladly go in search of pain. We tell the surgeon to hurt us that we may live. Physical vitality is often undermined unconsciously. To avert that process by a pang, by a period of needful and saving agony, we account a blessing. After the first stages of suffocation, the drowning, on their own testimony, pass into a state of insensibility to suffering, or even, as many maintain, of positive and exquisite pleasure. Adam Clarke, who went through it, says, in his autobiography, it was like being borne gently through the most luxurious tropical verdure, the keenest enjoyment. And when this swift, easy passage to destruction is interrupted, and friendship applies restoratives, there are spasms, tortures; the sufferer begs to be let alone, to die. It is not otherwise with the spiritual sensibilities. It is their coming back from death to life that makes their distress. But no wise man, only the demented man, regrets that distress. Paul, with his singular exactness of expression, says that the sorrow that is unto life, the price of living for ever, needeth not to be repented of, not to be sorrowed for. The pain that rescues life is a good.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(e) Reformation is just as essential as repentance. That is, it is just as essential that you should, up to your power, do the deeds of a good man or woman, as that you should take the resolution to be a good man or woman. If you are heartily sorry for misspent years, you will make it your business to spend your future years wisely. If you are called to renounce an undevout heart, the same Lord calls you to work with holy hands. In whatever the past has been irreligious and mean, the future must be sanctified and noble. Despising your selfishness, you must go on to generosity. Renouncing a paltry ambition, you must serve humanity and truth for their own immortal sake. The invisible energy that makes the acorn vital is nothing, unless you give it soil and air for growth and expansion into the fair proportions of the oak.
Thus, in fact, reformation becomes the test of repentance, proving its sincerity and its worth. We infer that a miser is penitent, when we see him giving liberally to the poor, or to spreading the Gospel. A sensualist may profess to have repented; but we are not sure, till we see him forsaking dissipation, and living temperately and chastely. A vain, frivolous girl deserves small confidence as repenting, till her whole appearance reveals a constant life hidden with Christ in God, and the dignity of a sober devotion to the welfare of others. It is not to be believed that a sullen or angry temper has been actually repented of, till the countenance loses its unhallowed fire, and the voice its asperity, and the words come gently, like His, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again.—Ibid.
(f) It is a perilous thing to separate feeling from acting; to have learnt to feel rightly without acting rightly. It is a danger to which, in a refined and polished age, we are peculiarly exposed. The romance, the poem, and the sermon teach us how to feel. Our feelings are delicately correct. But the danger is this:—feeling is given to lead to action; if feeling be suffered to awake without passing into duty, the character becomes untrue. When the emergency for real action comes, the feeling is as usual produced: but accustomed as it is to rise in fictitious circumstances without action, neither will it lead on to action in the real ones. “We pity wretchedness and shun the wretched.” We utter sentiments, just, honourable, refined, lofty; but somehow, when a truth presents itself in the shape of a duty, we are unable to perform it. And so such characters become by degrees like the artificial pleasure grounds of bad taste, in which the waterfall does not fall, and the grotto offers only the refreshment of an imaginary shade, and the green hill does not strike the skies, and the tree does not grow. Their lives are a sugared crust of sweetness trembling over black depths of hollowness; more truly still, “whited sepulchres”—fair without to look upon, “within full of all uncleanness.”—F. W. Robertson, M.A.
The word “loyalty” is much used in these days. A picture here of the thing. The spirit which was animating many in Israel at this juncture finds utterance here from the lips of one. He speaks in the name of others. The issue shows he had warrant for so doing. We also see that he speaks well. By examining his language we shall find that true loyalty is marked—
I. By genuine respect. In the commonwealth of Israel at that time there was great need of reform. The people had not long returned from captivity. They were powerless and few. Yet the very evil which had previously occasioned their captivity had begun to reappear. Steps had been taken which, if not retraced, would certainly bring that evil about. Many in high places—some of the speaker’s own relatives—were in fault (see Ezra 10:26). The matter therefore was pressing. He felt it so. He desired reform very earnestly; he recommended it very strongly (see Ezra 10:2-3). Yet he would not take upon him to be the first to move in this matter. He would not set aside those whose office it was to do this. “Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee.” You see exactly the state of his mind. Notwithstanding the depth of his zeal and convictions, he would sooner do nothing than be disrespectful to Ezra. No change, in his judgment, would be proper reform that should set proper authority on one side.
II. By sincere sympathy. This is shown here in the words that come next: “We also will be with thee; be of good courage, and do it.” It is possible to defer to authority in a very cold and unfriendly spirit, to leave too much on the hands of our rulers, and to fail in taking our proper share of odium and labour in supporting them and their measures. We do well, therefore, to note from this language that we owe much to them in both these respects. If we wish to be truly loyal, we are bound to encourage them openly in their righteous efforts. We are bound also to promise them our support and assistance. In fact, to do otherwise is covert rebellion. Not to encourage is to hinder in a taciturn way. Not to assist is, in an indolent fashion, to oppose. How could Ezra have moved at all in this matter, how could he have moved to good purpose, but for this language of Shechaniah?
We may apply these lessons—
1. To the laws of our land. Except where religious principle is in question, these should be the laws of our lives. It is the object of the “criminal classes” to try and evade them. It should be the object of God-fearing persons to try and observe them. “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s” (Matthew 22:21; see also Romans 12:1-2; Romans 12:7). All this should be regarded by us as part of our duty towards God. This also should be applied by us carefully to all the points it embraces; e.g., our income-tax returns; our action towards contraband trade; our respect for the administrators of justice; our support of its officers, and so on. A bad citizen will never make a good Christian. A good Christian, in these matters, would rather exceed than fall short, after the example of Christ Himself (Matthew 17:24-27).
2. To the laws and officers of our Church. Ezra was acting here ecclesiastically as much as politically; of the two, perhaps rather more so. So of our Lord in paying the di-drachma, or Temple tribute, as above (see also Matthew 23:2-3). In all things, therefore, in regard to which a Church hath power to ordain, in all matters where its ministers have a right to be consulted, let us not only acquiesce, but encourage; not only encourage, but support. Yet let us do it without interference, and without taking their proper work from their hands. The English word “leader” signifies both a commander and a guide. Therefore never be many steps behind your leader; never be one step in front.—W. S. Lewis, M.A. in The Clergyman’s Magazine.
THE REFORMATION DECIDED UPON
I. The summons to the people to assemble at Jerusalem. Proclamation was made throughout that part of the country in which the returned Jews had settled, requiring them to come to Jerusalem within a specified time, and announcing severe penalties in case any one failed to do so. Concerning this summons, notice—
1. The circumstances in which it originated. When the proposal of Shechaniah was adopted by the great congregation assembled before the house of God, “Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Johanan, the son of Eliashib; and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water; for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away.” Here in this chamber Ezra seems to have consulted the chief men, the princes, the elders, and the priests, as to the best measures for carrying out the resolution which had been so solemnly made. And his consultations were in a spirit of profound penitence and earnest piety, which was manifested by his fasting and mourning.
2. The persons to whom it was addressed. “They made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity.” The summons was issued to all the adult male population of the Jews, who out of exile had returned to their own land. It applied to the entire Jewish community in Palestine.
3. The authority by which it was issued. “They made proclamation … according to the counsel of the princes and the elders.” Not by Ezra alone was the summons sent forth, but by him in connection with the recognised and rightful heads of the community. The authority of the mandate was unquestionable.
4. The speedy obedience which it required. “That they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem … within three days.” “The limits of Judea at this time,” says Rawlinson, “appear to have been Bethel on the north, Beersheba on the south, Jericho on the east, and the Mediterranean upon the west. As the frontier was nowhere much more than forty miles from Jerusalem, three days from the day that they heard the proclamation would be sufficient time to allow all the able-bodied men to reach the capital.” No time was granted for hesitation or delay. Resolute and quick obedience was demanded of all.
5. The penalties by which it was enforced. “And that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders,” &c. (Ezra 10:8). Should any one prove a defaulter, he is here threatened with a twofold penalty—
(1.) The forfeiture of his entire property to the Church. “All his substance should be forfeited;” or, as in the margin, “devoted” (comp. Leviticus 27:28). Ezra was authorised by the Persian monarch to inflict this penalty (comp. chap. Ezra 7:26).
(2.) Personal exclusion from the community. “And himself separated from the congregation of those that had-been carried away.” He would be deprived of all the rights and privileges which pertained to him as a member of that community.
II. The assembly of the people at Jerusalem in obedience to this summons. Notice:
1. The universal attendance at the assembly. “Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together within three days.” There seems to have been no defaulters. If any were inclined to disregard the summons, the severe penalties proclaimed against absentees constrained them to obey it. And all were present within the appointed time.
2. The felt importance of the assembly. The historian seems to have regarded it as an epoch in the history of the community; for he carefully records the date of its occurrence. “It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month.” The importance of the great and solemn meeting was doubtless felt by most, if not by all the people.
3. The depressed spirit of the assembly. “All the people sat in the street of the house of God,” &c. (Ezra 10:9). They were troubled and alarmed because of—
(1.) The sin by reason of which they had been called together. “Trembling because of this matter.” The consciousness of guilt distressed them, and made them fearful.
(2.) The extraordinarily heavy rain which was falling at the time.
“And for the great rain.” This great gathering took place in the rainy season; but the showers at this time were evidently of unusual severity, and were in the mind of the people associated with the fact of their grievous trespass. How impressive and melancholy a spectacle! The vast multitude seated before the Temple of God, tired, troubled, and trembling, beneath the dark canopy of heavy clouds, with the rain falling down upon them in torrents!
III. The address of Ezra to the assembled people. “And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them,” &c. (Ezra 10:10-11). This address comprises—
1. A declaration of their sin. “Ye have transgressed and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel.” A decided recognition of the sin was indispensable to reformation. By these marriages they had augmented greatly the guilt of the community.
2. An exhortation to repentance. He calls upon them to discharge two of the principal duties of repentance.
(1.) Confession of sin. “Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do His pleasure.” Confession of sin is a relief to the penitent soul. (a). It is also an essential condition of forgiveness. (b). “Whoso covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” &c. “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee,” &c. (Psalms 32:5).
(2.) Abandonment of sin. “And separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.” This is an essential element in true repentance. “Let the wicked forsake his way,” &c. (Isaiah 55:7). “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy.” “Repentance,” says Shakespeare, “is heart’s sorrow, and a clear life ensuing.” (c).
IV. The declaration of the assembled people. “Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do.” Thus they announced their determination to follow the counsel of Ezra.
1. The unanimity of their determination. “All the congregation answered and said,” &c. This augured well for the success of the movement.
2. The earnestness of their determination. “Answered with a loud voice.” This was not a half-hearted or reluctant assent, but a free and whole-hearted resolution.
(a) As the frank and dutiful child, when he has committed a fault, does not wait till another goes and tells his father, or till the father discovers by his frowning countenance that it has come to his ear; but freely, and of his own accord, goes pleasantly to his father, and eases his aching heart by a free and full confession; and this with such plain-heartedness, giving his offence the weight of every aggravating circumstance, so that if the devil himself should come after him, to glean up what he hath left, he should hardly find wherewithal to make the case appear blacker;—thus does the sincere soul to God; adding to his simplicity in the confession of his sin such a flow of sorrow, that God, seeing His dear child in danger of being carried down towards despair, if good news from Him do not speedily stay him, cannot but tune His voice rather into a strain of comforting him in his mourning, than chiding him for his sin.—W. Gurnall.
(b) It is impossible for the Almighty Himself to forgive men unless men come to Him with contrition, with repentance towards Himself, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Believe me, there is no action so difficult as the action of forgiveness. There is no action so complicated as the action of pardon. It seems a very simple thing to say, “I forgive you; say no more about it; there is an end of the whole affair: away you go.” He who could speak so, is immoral. He who could talk so, is not to be trusted. If a man could treat the moral relationships of life so, it would but prove that his conscience had been drugged, that his judgment had been hoodwinked, and that there was nothing morally permanent in the quality of his soul but corruptness.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(c) Convince a man that the only way to save his life is to part with his limb, and he does not hesitate an instant between living with one limb and being buried with two. Borne into the operating theatre, pale, yet resolute, he bares the diseased member to the knife. And how well does that bleeding, fainting, groaning sufferer teach us to part with our sins rather than with our Saviour. If life is better than a limb, how much better is heaven than a sin!
Two years ago a man was called to decide between preserving his life, and parting with the gains of his lifetime. A gold-digger, he stood on the deck of a ship that, coming from Australian shores, had—as some all but reach heaven—all but reached her harbour in safety. The exiles had been coasting along their native shores; and to-morrow, husbands would embrace their wives, children their parents, and not a few realise the bright dream of returning to pass the evening of their days in happiness amid the loved scenes of their youth. But as the proverb runs, there is much between the cup and the lip. Night came lowering down; and with the night a storm that wrecked ship, and hopes, and fortunes all together. The dawning light but revealed a scene of horror—death staring them in the face. The sea, lashed into fury, ran mountains high; no boat could live in her. One chance still remained. Pale women, weeping children, feeble and timid men must die; but a stout, brave swimmer, with trust in God, and disencumbered of all impediments, might reach the shore, where hundreds stood ready to dash into the boiling surf, and, seizing, save him. One man was observed to go below. He bound round his waist a heavy belt, filled with gold, the hard gains of his life; and returned to the deck. One after another, he saw his fellow-passengers leap overboard. After a brief but terrible struggle, head after head went down—sunk by the gold they had fought hard to gain, and were loth to lose. Slowly he was seen to unbuckle his belt. His hopes had been bound up in it. It was to buy him land, and ease, and respect—the reward of long years of hard and weary exile. What hardships he had endured for it! The sweat of his brow, the hopes of day, and the dreams of night were there. If he parts with it, he is a beggar; but then if he keeps it, he dies. He poised it in his hand; balanced it for a while; took a long, sad look at it; and then with one strong, desperate effort, flung it far out into the roaring sea. Wise man! It sinks with a sullen plunge; and now he follows it—not to sink, but, disencumbered of its weight, to swim; to beat the billows manfully; and, riding on the foaming surge, to reach the shore. Well done, brave gold-digger! Ay, well done, and well chosen; but if “a man,” as the devil said, who for once spoke God’s truth, “will give all that he hath for his life,” how much more should he give all he hath for his soul? Better to part with gold than with God; to bear the heaviest cross than miss a heavenly crown!—Thomas Guthrie, D.D
A GREAT AND TROUBLED ASSEMBLY
How much good one man may do who has the grace of God in his heart and the fear of God before his eyes! “One sinner destroyeth much good;” one saint may accomplish much. He may be a centre of gracious influences to the Church and the world, a terror to the bad, a tower of strength to the good. The world owes much to its great men, more to its good ones. Ezra was one of these. He was the means of bringing part of the Church out of captivity, and of renewing the faded splendours of holiness and devotion which it had lost. He stood in the line of illustrious reformers, and was considered in the Jewish Church a second Moses.
The Book of Ezra closes with an account of their national humiliation for the sin of taking foreign wives, and the measures taken for putting them away. Public proclamation had been made for this purpose. The text shows the result. It teaches—
I. That it is the tendency of sin to produce sorrow and consternation of soul. “All the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain.” The matter spoken of was the sin of marrying strange or foreign wives. It was of great consequence that this evil should be corrected at this time, that their genealogies might be kept pure, that their estates might descend in the right direction, and, above all, that the line of the Messiah might be preserved in the chosen tribe. The deep grief of Ezra and the ready submission of the princes and people show its importance in a national point of view. They all partook of the feelings of shame and consternation. They sat trembling in the open street. “And for the great rain.” They probably thought there was something ominous or judicial in this, designed to put an accent of terror upon God’s displeasure at their sin.
Learn, then, that it is the tendency of sin to produce sorrow, and that the providences of God often give a voice to conscience, and produce an inward agony which none but the sinner himself can know. There is a scorpion sting in remembered guilt, when outward troubles and inward fears meet together. Joseph’s brethren: “We are verily guilty concerning our brother,” &c. (Genesis 42:21). The sight of Elijah agonised the mourning mother: “Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” (1 Kings 17:18). Sin often begins with gladness and ends in terror. Grace begins with tears and ends with triumph.
“The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?” The spirit can bear temporal ills with much fortitude, and arm itself against outward or inward affliction; but a wounded spirit, pierced and wounded by those arrows of the Almighty’s quiver, which find their way to the heart, is intolerable. By a wounded spirit—here described as a spirit of “trembling”—we apprehend a spirit convinced of sin under the terrors of the law, led to a full and just view of its own condition and condemnation. This is the disposition to which, under the efficacious influence of Divine grace, all “the vessels of mercy” are sooner or later led, in a greater or less degree, because the conviction of sin is the very beginning, lies at the foundation of genuine godliness. Sins overlooked and forgotten now appear in their true light. Conscience once asleep is now awakened. The thunders of the law are heard, and there are fearful apprehensions of deserved wrath. “The people wept very sore.” They could not “wash their hands in innocency,” and therefore they bathed their eyes with tears. A deluge of iniquity in the heart may well produce a deluge of grief in the conscience. Jeremiah wished “that his head were waters, and his eyes a fountain of tears,” &c. (Jeremiah 9:1). And Ezra himself, though not a partaker of the scandalous guilt of those who had taken foreign wives, exhibits much more earnestness and intensity than many who had. The practice of sin hardened their consciences; the sight of sin softened his (chap. Ezra 9:3-6).
II. That God marks with peculiar interest the time in which repentance unto life begins in the soul. “It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month.” No breath of prayer, no exercise of faith, no sigh of repentance can ever escape Him. God is very attentive to times and dates. The dates of the commencement of carrying out the reformation and of its completion are preserved (Ezra 10:16-17). The day in which the three thousand were converted is distinctly recorded: “When the day of Pentecost was fully come” (Acts 2:1). The day in which the foundation of the second Temple was laid was memorised: “Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord’s Temple was laid, consider” (Haggai 2:18). And is He less attentive to the building of the spiritual temple in the soul? The moment Saul of Tarsus began to pray was a memorable season in the calendar of Heaven (Acts 9:11). And the prayer of faith and penitence does wonders.
III. That repentance, where it is real, will be attended with its appropriate fruits. The people put away the strange wives (Ezra 10:11-12; Ezra 10:16-17). “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance,” &c. (Luke 3:8-14).
IV. That the names and persons of genuine penitents are for ever precious to God and recorded in His book. “And among the sons of the priests there were found that had taken strange wives: of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak,” &c. (Ezra 10:18-44). They were held up as patterns of sin repented, sin forsaken, and sin forgiven.—Samuel Thodey.
THE REFORMATION EFFECTED
The great assembly having earnestly decided that the strange wives should be put away, the next consideration was as to the mode by which this decision might be carried out It is frequently, and especially in a popular assembly, much easier to resolve that a thing shall be done, than to devise a prudent and practicable method of doing it. In the paragraph now before us we see how the great reformation was carried out. It was effected—
I. Notwithstanding difficulties. Two difficulties are suggested in the thirteenth verse:—
1. The greatness of the undertaking. “Neither is this a work of one day or two; for we are many that have transgressed in this thing.” The cases being numerous, considerable time would be required to deal with them satisfactorily. Moreover, some of the cases would probably need very careful consideration. Amongst the foreign wives some perhaps had become proselytes to the Jewish religion; and amongst the children of these marriages some of the sons had perhaps been circumcised, and these wives and sons could not be put away. It was necessary that an impartial and sufficient investigation of each case should be made, and the cases were many, so that the task to be performed was not by any means a light or easy one.
2. The inclemency of the weather. “But the people are many and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without.” The reformation could not be carried out by a great popular assembly, such as that gathered before the Temple; and, even if it had been practicable in other respects, the drenching showers would have prevented it. The assembly could not have continued to sustain those showers; and there was no building in the country that could have sheltered so vast a multitude.
Learn: To eradicate sin is a task of the greatest difficulty. How hard it is to overcome a sinful habit in ourselves! Only the most patient, persistent, prayerful, and believing effort has any chance of success in such an attempt. How difficult it is to eradicate an evil, whether of belief or of practice, from the Church of God! It is a task requiring the zeal of an enthusiastic reformer, the piety of a devoted saint, and the wisdom of a profound sage. Nothing is easier than the propagation of moral evil; but its eradication is supremely difficult. (a).
II. Notwithstanding opposition. “Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah stood up against this; and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them,” that is, in their opposition to this measure of reform (see Explanatory Notes on Ezra 10:15). It is not surprising that opposition should have been offered to this matter. The severance of these marriage ties must have been very painful to most of the persons concerned therein. And very plausible objections might have been urged against their severance. The examples of distinguished Israelites might have been pleaded as precedents in favour of such marriages. Joseph had married an Egyptian (Genesis 41:45); Moses, a Midianite (Exodus 2:16; Exodus 2:21), and afterwards a Cushite (Numbers 12:1); Boaz, Ruth, a Moabitess (Ruth 4:9-13); David, Maacah a Geshurite (2 Samuel 3:3); Solomon, an Egyptian princess (1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 7:8). These cases might have been adduced and urged as making against the rigorous measure proposed at the present time. It would have been passing strange if there had been no opposition to this unsparing reformation. It is surprising that the opposition was not more extensive.
Learn: In effecting any great reformation opposition is to be expected. Such reformations injure the secular interests of some persons, run counter to the prejudices of others, make war upon the practices of others, and so awaken resistance. Great reformations are generally carried out despite determined opposition. (b).
III. With exemplary wisdom and fairness. “Let now our rulers of all the congregations stand, and let all them which have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times,” &c. (Ezra 10:14; Ezra 10:16). Thus this reformation was effected—
1. By the proper authorities. The “rulers of all the congregation,” i.e., the princes and elders of the people, were proposed as a judicial commission to conduct this matter. “And Ezra the priest, with certain chief of the fathers, after the house of their fathers, and all of them by their names were separated, and sat down to examine the matter.” The cases were investigated and determined by the rightful judicial authorities of the community, with Ezra as their president.
2. With competent and reliable witnesses. “And with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof.” “With the accused were to come the elders and judges of every city, to furnish the necessary explanations and evidence.” They would be likely to possess the requisite information as to the cases in their respective cities, and their character and position would give increased weight to their testimony.
3. In the presence of the accused. “Let all them which have taken strange wives come at appointed times” to Jerusalem for trial. No one was condemned in his absence, or without being allowed an opportunity of pleading his cause if he wished to do so.
4. With due regard for the convenience of the people. It was arranged that the cases from each city or locality should be taken by themselves “and at appointed times,” and not be mixed with the cases from other localities. By this plan the Jews from the provinces would not be unnecessarily detained in Jerusalem; but having answered the summons to appear there, the cases from their locality would be taken consecutively until they were all adjudicated, and then they would be at liberty to return to their homes and duties.
5. With careful inquiry. The time during which the judicial commission sat, and the probable number of cases investigated, furnish evidence of patient examination into the cases. The inquiry lasted for three months. They “sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month.” It is probable that they sat for seventy-five or seventy-six days, and it seems to us that they may have investigated an average of three cases a day. One hundred and thirteen persons were found to have taken foreign wives; and, in accordance with the decision of the judges, they put them away. Evidently the examination was not hurried and superficial, but patient and thorough.
The importance of combining prudence of method with earnestness of purpose in carrying out great reformations. Zeal in a good cause should be guided and regulated by sound judgment. A noble aim should be pursued by wise and worthy methods, or it may never be attained, or attained with needless loss and trouble. “Wisdom is profitable to direct.” (c).
IV. Thoroughly. “And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives.” They completely abolished the evil from the community. It was most desirable and important for the people themselves that the wrong should be courageously grappled with and utterly done away. If a surgeon has to remove diseased flesh from his patient, he must cut it completely away, or he is neither skilful in his practice nor kind to his patient. Sin is very tenacious in its hold, and though checked for a time, springs forth into new and active development. Checking is not enough, it must be killed. Notwithstanding the complete abolition of the foreign wives from the community at this time, the evil reappeared and had to be dealt with by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:23-28).
The importance of making an end of sin when we are battling with it. Let us put it utterly away, cut off all occasions of it, and shun every temptation to it. (d). And a yet more effective safeguard and surety against it, is the cultivation of the opposite virtues. Let the avaricious cultivate generosity, and the proud man seek after humility, &c. And let every one cry unto God, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.”
(a) Sometimes this separation from familiar evil is a struggle as between life and death, shaking the whole soul, and tearing its shrinking quick in torture. It is like the sword that pierceth to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. And yet, such is the power of the conviction of the Spirit of truth when humility has once begun its holy and honest work within us, how many even go out to meet that saving sorrow! Indeed, when the heart has slept too long in the lap of indulgence, there often creeps upon it, I believe, an undefined feeling that before long this rest must be ended; the foreshadow of some darker angel cast across the path. And if the ear of our sympathy were quicker and finer than it is, we should doubtless often overhear, in the tones that breathe around us, the sadness and the prayer of an unsatisfied spirit striving against the evil in it! Blessed is the mind that springs with alacrity and thanksgiving to its better ministry!
For all true souls really touched with the spirit, and consecrated to the fellowship, of Christian obedience will be ready for this sacrifice. Not all equally ready. The bonds of past practice and attachment hang unequal weights about our necks. But what awakened soul will not willingly be drifted away from the accustomed repose, if it is thereby brought nearer to the righteousness and charity of Christ? This, in fact, is the test of the sincerity of faith; the willingness to give up all that has been precious but not holy, and launch out upon the future, trusting only to the Unseen Hand—like the Patriarch, of whom that beautiful thing is written, that when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive, he obeyed, and went out, not knowing whither he went, dwelling in the land of “promise,” and looking for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Great difficulties will threaten every such obedient foot—the wilderness before, the bondage to evil behind; but God is mightier than they—a pillar of fire for the night, and of bright cloud by day: “Greater He that is for us than they that are against us.” Outside our private battle, society exposes gigantic wrongs to be redressed; but the right which is to redress them is sure, and the prophetic ear of hope hears the sound of its footsteps from afar. There are changed faces, disappointed companions, an angry class or denomination forsaken, sneers, imputations, false charges, and criticisms—such feeble weapons of the modern world’s inquisitions as betray the cowardice of persecution, without its positive creed or its power. But these are not a terror to him who hears the voice say, “Awake, arise, and Christ shall give thee light!”—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(b) It is a remarkable, but awful, fact that liberty and religion both have arisen to prosperity in the world on successive stages of blood. Blood nurtured the tree of Grecian and of Roman freedom. With bloody swords our fathers in the puritanic and covenanting days gained our civil and religious victories. Through a shower of blood came down, in 1789 and the after years, the genius of liberty to the continental shores. Even while we write (1859), the blood of John Brown of Virginia is dropping into the dust, to rear a glorious and a terrible harvest of freedom to his black countrymen. And the religion of Jesus, need we say, arises from the root of a blood-sprinkled cross. This springs, doubtless, in part from the Divine plan and purpose, but it augurs also something dreadfully wrong in the present system of things. Through the dominion of the evil power men’s minds, in every age, have been steeped in selfishness, besotted with lies; and when truth and good try to stir them, they succeed, but the stir they produce is that of rage and resistance. The darkness comprehends them not, but apprehends and destroys their votaries, and many of the followers of the prince of evil perish in the strife, too, and thus “blood toucheth blood.” Nor can we conceive the final contest of the world decided without a “great slaughter” among the “multitudes—the multitudes in the valley of decision;” and even the gorgeous Flora of the millennial meadows shall derive its glory from transmuted and transfigured blood.—G. Gilfillan, M.A.
(c) The property of cords contracting their length by moisture became generally known, it is said, on the raising of the Egyptian obelisk in the square facing St. Peter’s, at Rome, by order of Pope Sixtus V. The great work was undertaken in the year 1586; and the day for raising the obelisk was marked with great solemnity. High mass was celebrated at St Peter’s; and the architect and workmen received the benediction of the Pope. The blast of a trumpet was the given signal, when engines were set in motion by an incredible number of horses; but not until after fifty-two unsuccessful attempts had been made, was the huge block lifted from the earth. As the ropes which held it had somewhat stretched, the base of the obelisk could not reach the summit of the pedestal; when a man in the crowd cried out, “Wet the ropes!” This advice was followed; and the column, as of itself, gradually rose to the required height, and was placed upright on the pedestal prepared for it—Biblical Treasury.
(d) Clip the hairs short, yet they will grow again, because the roots are in the skull. A tree that is but pruned, shred, topped, or lopped, will sprout again; root it up, and it shall grow no more. What is it to clip the outward appearances, and to lop the superfluous boughs of our sins, when the root is cherished in the heart?—Thomas Adams, D.D.
How grand a thing to get a passion down and hold it by the throat, strangling it despite its struggles! It is fine work to hang up some old sin as an accursed thing before the Lord, just as they hung up the Canaanitish kings before the face of the sun; or if you cannot quite kill the lust, it is honourable work to roll a great stone at the cave’s mouth, and shut in the wretches till the evening comes, when they shall meet their doom. It is a joyous thing when by God’s grace under temptation you are kept from falling as you did on a former occasion, and so are made conquerors over a weakness which was your curse in past years. It is a noble thing to be made strong through the blood of the Lamb so as to overcome sin.—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE LIST OF OFFENDERS
For what purpose is this catalogue of names inserted here? The list is probably the final record or report of Ezra and his fellow—commissioners, and brought their duties in this matter to an end. But why is it preserved here in the sacred Book? Has it any moral significance? Is it of any permanent value? And if so, in what way is it valuable? We suggest, in reply—
I. As a warning against sin. This catalogue shows us—
1. Sin extending to all classes. Here are the names of seventeen priests (Ezra 10:18-22) who had committed the sin of marrying foreign wives, and four of them belonged to the family of the high priest, “Jeshua the son of Jozadak.” They had transgressed in this matter notwithstanding their sacred calling, and that they had received commands imposing special restrictions as to their marriages (Leviticus 21:7). Again, we have the names of ten Levites of three different classes, viz., assistants of the priests, singers, and porters (Ezra 10:23-24). And besides these there are the names of eighty-six laymen. A sacred calling, with its hallowed associations and solemn obligations, affords no exemption either from temptation to sin or from the liability to yield to temptation. Let Christian ministers and teachers heed well this fact. Sin is not confined to certain classes or callings. It is found amongst all classes—the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, &c. “All have sinned.” (a).
2. Sin injuring the reputation. The names of these offenders “are here recorded to their perpetual reproach.” “Sin is a reproach to any people.” Sin has covered with infamy many a name, which but for it would have been eminent and illustrious for great gifts and noble achievements.
3. Sin corrupting the influence. This must have been true of every one of these offenders. The example of each one would be morally pernicious, tending to extend the offence of marrying these foreign wives. But this was especially true in the case of the priests. Their participation in this sin would cause it to appear in the eyes of, at least, some of the people as no sin at all, but quite consistent with duty and piety. In this way their influence, which should have been morally purifying and invigorating, became corrupt and injurious. Thus this catalogue remains as a warning against sin.
II. As an example of genuine repentance. Three characteristics of true repentance marked the conduct of these offenders—
1. They confessed their sin with sorrow. “The people wept very sore. And Shechaniah answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land.” When Ezra said to the assembled people, “Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers … all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do.” Sincere and sorrowful confession of sin is a mark of true repentance, and a condition of Divine forgiveness. “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee,” &c. (Psalms 32:5). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” &c. (1 John 1:9).
2. They offered sacrifice on account of the sin. “And being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass.” This trespass offering, as Keil observes, “was imposed upon them according to the principle of the law (Leviticus 5:14-19), because they had committed a מַעַל (trespass) against the Lord, which needed expiation.” The presentation of this offering was not limited to the four priests who “gave their hands” as a pledge that they would make it. “The same obligations, namely, the dismissal of their strange wives, and the bringing of a trespass offering, were imposed on” all the other guilty persons; but these obligations, having been once stated, it was not deemed necessary to repeat. Every offender was required to bring his sacrifice, and every one did so. And now forgiveness is offered freely to the penitent sinner through the blood of Jesus Christ. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance is the condition of forgiveness, and the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus is the medium through which it is attained. (b). Where there is true repentance the need of reconciliation with God will be deeply felt, and the sacrifice of the Cross will be accepted with thankful joy. (c).
3. They forsook the sin. All the offenders put away their strange wives. Even when children had been born of these marriages, rendering the removal of the wives and mothers much more difficult and painful, the difficulties were overcome, the pain was borne, and the wives were put away. True repentance involves practical reformation—change of conduct. (d). Thus the men whose names are here recorded are examples of genuine repentance.
III. As an encouragement to genuine repentance. Their repentance was accepted by God, and as a result—
1. Their sin was forgiven. If the sinner “turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;” &c. (Ezekiel 33:14-16).
2. The Divine favour was vouchsafed. The wrath of their God for this matter was turned from them (Ezra 10:14). He approved their penitence and blessed them in their obedience.
Let sinners take encouragement to seek true repentance. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found; call ye upon Him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way; and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” &c. (Isaiah 55:6-7). “There is forgiveness with God.… With the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption.” “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (e).
(a) The world over, in its serious hours the heart longs, sighs, groans, and travails with sorrows that cannot be uttered, to be delivered from the bondage of sin and death. The Scripture has no other doctrine of the matter on any of its pages, and scarcely one page where this is not. Read the burning confessions of the fifty-first Psalm, and of many another before and after it, where the fire of remorse, which is only the lurid reflection of sin, almost visibly scorches the Psalmist’s heart; read the terrible descriptions of that state of man without his Redeemer written by Paul to the Romans; or the tragic picture of Paul’s own fearful struggles with the law of his members; or the awful prophecies of a society forgetting its Lord, given in Jude. Recall the narratives of depravity in Scripture history, and the denunciations upon it by prophets, and the thrilling exhortations against it by apostles. Remember that the Bible begins with the first inroad of sin, and finishes with warnings of its punishments. Above all, remember that the first word of the new dispensation was “Repent,” and its consummation was the cross built on Calvary to assure forgiveness to “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ;” and you will hardly need to multiply these convincing tokens that all the ministrations of our religion to the human soul presuppose that we all have sinned,—are sinners still. If any of you are disposed to complain that there is too much preaching against sin, apply your criticism to the Bible. The Christ whom we preach came to be a Saviour from sin, did He not? How much better to think and feel thoroughly what sin is now, than when the “space for repentance” is exchanged for the determination of the judgment!—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(b) Repentance is necessary to forgiveness—a sine qua non—a condition, though not in any respect in the sense of desert, yet in the sense of indispensable existence or of being something without which the blessing cannot be enjoyed. This is a truth, a Bible truth. But it is not the ground of pardon, or in any way its meritorious cause. That is the atonement. And, according to the Bible, instead of repentance being the ground of forgiveness, that which is the ground of forgiveness is itself the motive, or inducement, or persuasive, to repentance. It is that consideration by which the Spirit of God in the Word is ever urging sinners to repent and turn unto God.… Moreover, that repentance is sufficient to obtain forgiveness, there is nothing in the analogy of Providence that warrants us to conclude. There is much to the contrary. Repentance and reformation do not, in point of fact, in the present experience of mankind, place transgressors, with regard to the temporal effects of their sins, in the same state as if they never had offended. The ruined health and fortune of the intemperate and profligate are not retrieved the instant they repent and reform. Nor is there anything in reason to sustain the position. It is very manifest, that present obedience can only fulfil present obligation. There is, as has often been observed, just as good ground for affirming that former obedience atones for present sins, as there is for affirming that present obedience atones for former sins. Repentance neither alters the nature nor obliterates the guilt of what is past; and present duty, even were it free from all mixture and imperfection, can do no more than answer for itself. It cannot possess, for our former selves any more than for others, aught of the nature or efficacy of works of supererogation. There will be no such works known at the bar of God.—Ralph Wardlaw, D.D.
(c) Our want is deliverance from our evil, including both forgiveness for the past and strength now; something to
“Be of sin the double cure,—
Cleanse us from its guilt and power.”
Manifestly this cannot come from ourselves. It must come from Him whom our ingratitude has offended; from the Ruler whom our selfish wickedness has wronged. It must come from God. Look closely at this want; for it is that vital spot in all humanity where sorrow is most keen, and where relief is most joyful. The sure result of evil is pain; of persistent sin is death. Hence the voluntary surrender to pain, pain even unto the body’s death, is felt and has been ever felt, to be the natural expression of a penitent soul. It is propitiation; not because God takes pleasure in His children’s suffering, but because that is the soul’s fitting tribute to the just majesty of goodness and the holy authority of Right. Government without penalty is gone, and all its blessed protections are dissolved. Hence the honest heart cries out in its shame and fear, “Let me suffer for my sin.” Suffering for it there must be somewhere; transgression is a costly business; so it must always be and always look; right must stand at any rate; law must be sacred, or all is gone; and since nothing is so dear as life, and blood is the element of life, life itself must be surrendered, and “without the shedding of blood is no remission.” Take the next step. Just because this life is so dear, He who loves us infinitely, and to whom it is dearer than to us, will be willing to lay down for us His own. He will not even wait for our consent; but in the abundance of that unspeakable compassion, in the irresistible freedom of that goodness, He will do it beforehand—only asking of us that we will believe He has done it, and, accepting our pardon, be drawn by that faith into the same self-sacrificing spirit. Herein is love indeed. Suffering for our peace! Sacrifice, not that our service may profit and pay Him, but that our transgression of a perfect law may be pardoned, and the noble life of disinterested goodness may be begotten in ourselves.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(d) Some confess their sins without so much as intending to forsake them. Marvellous delusion! As if it were possible to impose upon the Almighty Himself. As if the hollow confession of the lips availed anything against the stubborn impenitence of the heart! Very beautiful is that liturgy of the Established Church. Yet how many are there who have knelt in silks and satins to-day, and found a certain anodyne for conscience in the mere repetition of the cry, “O God, the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us miserable sinners”? Or, not to look abroad for examples which may be found at home, how many of us within these walls have moved the lips and bent the knee, while locked up inviolate in a secure corner of the heart has lurked all the while that evil thing which the lips have professed to expel. That is not repentance. Rather, it resembles a contrivance for beginning the world upon a new score, because the old has grown inconveniently long. True repentance has always an eye to the future as well as to the past; and to confess those sins which you secretly intend to repeat, or which it is not your settled purpose to abandon, is to cheat conscience and to mock God.—J. G. Pigg, B.A.
(e) You cannot believe too much in God’s mercy. You cannot expect too much at His hands. He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” No sin is so great but that, coming straight from it, a repentant sinner may hope and believe that all God’s love will be lavished upon him, and the richest of God’s gifts granted to his desires. Even if our transgression be aggravated by a previous life of godliness, and have given the enemies great occasion to blaspheme, as David did, yet David’s penitence may in our souls lead on to David’s hope, and the answer will not fail us. Let no sin, however dark, however repeated, drive us to despair of ourselves, because it hides from us our loving Saviour. Though beaten back again and again by the surge of our passions and sins, like some poor shipwrecked sailors sucked back with every retracing wave and tossed about in the angry surf, yet keep your face towards the beach where there is safety, and you will struggle through it all, and though it were but on some floating boards and broken pieces of the ship, will come safe to land. He will uphold you with His Spirit, and take away the weight of sin that would sink you, by His forgiving mercy, and bring you out of all the weltering waste of waters to the solid shore.—Alex. Maclaren, D.D.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 10". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20