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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] We now enter upon the second and concluding part of this book, which treats of the return of certain Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem under Ezra, and the reformation which he accomplished amongst the people (chap. Ezra 7:10). The first section of this part gives the history of the return of Ezra and his company from Babylon to Jerusalem, with the names of “the chief of their fathers” and the numbers of the respective families (chaps. 7 and 8). The present chapter contains—(i.) The genealogy of Ezra and a brief statement of his journey with others to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:1-10). (ii.) The commission given by Artaxerxes the king to Ezra (Ezra 7:11-26). (iii.) Ezra’s praise to God for the favours received from the king (Ezra 7:27-28).
Ezra 7:1. Now after these things] Fifty-seven years had elapsed since the events recorded in the close of the preceding chapter. “Such gaps,” as Schultz observes, “the ancient sacred history has again and again; it is silent respecting the times between Joseph and Moses, respecting the time passed by the generation rejected of God in the wilderness, respecting the time of the exile. There was lacking in these times useful material calculated for the edification of the congregation.” Artaxerxes king of Persia] Heb. Artachshasta. Artaxerxes Longimanus, son of Xerxes and grandson of Darius, is meant. Ezra the son of Seraiah] “Ezra was probably the great-great-grandson of Seraiah; for the high priest Jeshua, who had gone to Jerusalem seventy-eight years before with Zerubbabel, was a grandson of Seraiah. One hundred and thirty years had already passed since the execution of the latter (2 Kings 25:18-21) in the year 588.”—Schultz. According to the usage of the writers of Scripture, every descendant is designated a “son,” and every progenitor, a “father.”
Ezra 7:1-5] A number of generations are not mentioned between Ezra and Aaron. Three names are omitted between Ezra and Seraiah (Ezra 7:1), and “in Ezra 7:3 six members of the line are passed over between Azariah and Meraioth (according to 1 Chronicles 6:7-10), without doubt only for the sake of brevity, as is frequently the case in the longer genealogies.”
Ezra 7:6. A ready scribe in the law of Moses] “The word סוֹפֵר means in older works writer or secretary; but even as early as Jeremiah 8:8, the lying pen of the סֹפְרִים is spoken of, and here therefore סוֹפֵר has already attained the meaning of one learned in the Scripture, one who has made the written law a subject of investigation. Ezra is, however, the first of whom the predicate הַסּ֜פֵר, ὁ γραμματεύς is used as a title.”—Keil. Which the Lord God of Israel had given] It thoroughly accords with the piety of Ezra to regard and speak of the law as the gift of God. And the king granted him all his request] “The question how this favouring of Ezra is related to the writing of Artaxerxes given in chap. 4, is best answered by the fact that Ezra’s journey occurred somewhat later, that Artaxerxes, since he had been moved to that writing by his officials, had paid more attention to the Jews, and that he furthered Ezra’s journey in order to strengthen the Jewish congregation; perhaps also in order to show thereby that he actually was ready to be as just as possible, notwithstanding the prohibition issued respecting the walls of the city. It is shown then by this approval that he would perhaps recall at a suitable time even that prohibition which indeed had been issued at first only provisionally.”—Schultz. According to the hand of the Lord his God upon him] This expression is found only here and in Ezra 7:9; Ezra 7:28; Ezra 8:18; Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 2:18; and with slight variations in chap. Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:31; and it signifies, according to the favour and furtherance which God had granted to him.
Ezra 7:7. And there went up some of the children of Israel] &c. (Comp. chap. Ezra 2:70.)
Ezra 7:9. For upon the first day of the first month] &c. The journey occupied exactly four months, which seems an unnecessarily long time. “The direct distance of Babylon from Jerusalem,” says Rawlinson, “is no more than about five hundred and twenty miles; and it may therefore seem surprising that the journey should have occupied four months. But no doubt the route followed was that circuitous one by Carchemish and the Orontes valley, which was ordinarily taken by armies or large bodies of men, and which increased the distance to about nine hundred miles. Still the time occupied is long, and must be accounted for by the dangers alluded to in chap. Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:31, which may have necessitated delays and detours to avoid conflicts.” Moreover, we read of one rest of three days by the river of Ahava (chap. Ezra 8:15), and there might have been other rests during the journey.
Ezra 7:12. Artaxerxes, king of kings] One of the recognised titles of the Persian monarchs, to whom were subject a number of tributary sovereigns. Perfect peace] “Peace” has been supplied by the translators of the A.V., and that improperly, in the opinion of some Hebraists. The explanation of גְּסִיר (from נָּמַר = to complete) is difficult. Fuerst says it is the passive participle. Keil is inclined “to regard it as an adverb used adjectively: To the scribe in the law of God perfectly, for the perfect scribe, &c., corresponding with the translation of the Vulgate, doctissimo.” The correct meaning is probably that which is given in the margin of the A.V., “Unto Ezra the priest, a perfect scribe of the law of the God of heaven.” And at such a time] Rather: et cetera, and so forth. (Comp. chap. Ezra 4:11.) The letter of the king is given in the Chaldee original.
Ezra 7:14. His seven counsellors] constituted the supreme court of the kingdom. (Comp. Esther 1:14.) To inquire concerning Judah] &c. “Probably the commission was general to inquire into the state of the province. According to Xenophon (Cyrop. VIII., vi. 16), it was a part of the Persian system for the king to send an officer once a year into each province to inspect and report upon it.”—Rawlinson. According to the law of thy God] &c. i.e. “righteously and justly, according to the principle of thy religion.”
Ezra 7:15-16. And to carry the silver and gold] &c. “Three kinds of offerings for the Temple are here spoken of: 1st, the gifts of the king and his counsellors for the service of the God of Israel; 2d, the gold and the silver that Ezra should obtain in the province of Babylon, i.e. by the collection which he was consequently empowered to make among the non-Israelite population of Babylon; 3d, the freewill offerings of his fellow-countrymen.”—Keil.
Ezra 7:20. Out of the king’s treasure house] i.e. the royal treasury. “The Persian system of taxing the provinces through the satraps involved the establishment in each province of at least one local treasury. Such treasuries are mentioned occasionally in Greek history (see Arrian, Exp. Alex. I. 17; III. 18, 19, &c.).”—Rawlinson.
Ezra 7:22. Here the limit is stated which the treasurers were not to exceed in their grants to Ezra. An hundred talents of silver] According to Bishop Cumberland’s computation of the Hebrew silver talent, this would amount to about £35,350. According to Dr. Arbuthnot’s tables it would amount to £34,218, 15s. But according to Mr. R. S. Poole (“Dict. of the Bible,” articles, Money, and Weights and Measures), it would be as much as £40,000. But it is not certain that the Hebrew talent was meant. An hundred measures of wheat] Margin: Chald. cors. Cor is the later word for homer. It was equal to ten ephas or baths, almost two bushels (1 Kings 5:11; Ezekiel 45:14). The bath was equal to seven and a half gallons, according to Dr. Arbuthnot; but, according to the Rabbinists, to between four and five gallons, while, according to Josephus, it was between eight and nine gallons. Wheat, wine, oil, and salt] were required by the Jews for their meat offerings; and “as the Persian tribute was paid partly in money and partly in kind, the treasuries would be able to supply them as readily as they could furnish money.”
Ezra 7:23. Let it be diligently done] Keil translates, “completely done.” So does Schultz also. Why should there be wrath] &c. (Comp. Ezra 6:10.)
Ezra 7:24. We also certify you] or, “and to you it is made known.” “The treasurers which are beyond the river” are still addressed. Or ministers] Rather, “and ministers.” “The expression comprises any servants of the Temple who might have been omitted in the classes enumerated.”—Keil. It shall not be lawful to impose] &c. In this respect “the decree of Artaxerxes was, more favourable to the Jews than those of all previous Persian monarchs.” Toll, tribute, or custom] (See notes on chap. Ezra 4:13.)
Ezra 7:25. That is in thine hand] i.e. “which thou possessest.” All the people that are beyond the river] is limited to Israelites or Jews by the following clause, all such as know the laws of thy God. And teach ye them that know them not] These words do “not refer to the heathen, but to born Israelites or Jews, who, living among the heathen, had not hitherto made the Mosaic law the rule of their lives. Such were the judges to constrain to the observance and obedience of the law.
“By granting these privileges, Artaxerxes was not only treading in the footsteps of Cyrus and Darius Hystaspes, but even going beyond these princes in granting to the Jews a jurisdiction of their own.”—Keil.
Ezra 7:27-28. Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers] &c. “This abrupt transition from the words of Artaxerxes to those of Ezra may be compared with the almost equally abrupt change in Ezra 6:6. The language alters at the same time from Chaldee to Hebrew, continuing henceforth to be Hebrew till the close of the book.”—Rawlinson.
Ezra 7:28. And hath extended mercy unto me before the king] i.e. hath awakened in him such a kind disposition towards me. And I gathered together] &c. Ezra regards this as a result of his being “strengthened.” Chief men to go up with me] These chief men being heads of households, their families would accompany them to the land of their fathers.
EZRA THE DISTINGUISHED
In this paragraph Ezra appears before us as—
I. A man of distinguished ancestry. “Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, &c.” (Ezra 7:1-5). He was able to trace his pedigree up to Aaron the high priest; and he was “descended from the heads of that line.” To have descended from godly progenitors is a blessing of incalculable worth. This blessing comprises—
1. The inspiration of noble examples.
2. The inheritance of excellent constitutional moral tendencies. (a).
3. The rich results of parental prayers. (b).
“My boast is not that I deduce my birth
From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth;
But higher far my proud pretensions rise—
The son of parents passed into the skies.”
II. A man of distinguished attainments.
1. Here are distinguished attainments. “This Ezra was a ready scribe.” This does not mean merely a ready writer; but, as Bishop Patrick observes, “he calls himself a scribe, from his declaring and explaining the things contained in the Scriptures. The word in the original signifies one skilled and learned in that which was the Book by way of eminence, a teacher and expounder of it; and he was a ‘ready scribe,’ because he was peculiarly expert and understanding in the law, both in matters which related to the priesthood, and to the civil authority.”
2. Distinguished attainments in a great subject. “He was a ready scribe in the law of Moses.” Ezra was famous for his learning and skill, not in any trivial matters, or in things of inferior importance, but in themes and things of the most vital and enduring interest. He was “mighty in the Scriptures.” And, passing over the Jewish traditions concerning him in this respect, we may observe, quoting the words of Bishop Hervey, “that the pointed description of Ezra (Ezra 7:6) as ‘a ready scribe in the law of Moses,’ repeated in 11, 12, 21, added to the information concerning him that ‘he had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments’ (Ezra 7:10), and his commission to teach the laws of his God to such as knew them not
(25), and his great diligence in reading the Scriptures to the people, all give the utmost probability to the account which attributes to him a corrected edition of the Scriptures, and the circulation of many such copies. The books of Nehemiah and Malachi must indeed have been added later, possibly by Malachi’s authority.” (c).
3. Distinguished attainments in a great subject by a great Author. “He was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given.” In the estimate of Ezra, the law was not a human code which originated with Moses; the Scriptures were not merely the richest treasures of their national literature, which had required many ages for their accumulation. They had God for their author; they were His special gift to His chosen people; they were sacred things to this earnest and reverent student of them.
III. A man in the enjoyment of distinguished favour. “This Ezra went up from Babylon, … and the king granted him all his request.” It is probable that the officers of the Persian government in Syria were not faithfully and fully carrying out the decree of Darius as regards the grant of supplies for the Jewish worship at Jerusalem (chap. Ezra 6:9-10), and that Ezra, representing the elders of the Jews, requested the king to issue new commands concerning them; for the commission of Ezra from the king provides fully for these things (Ezra 7:15-23). His request seems also to have been for permission for himself to go up to Jerusalem, and for all such as were disposed to accompany him, that they might be allowed to do so. And this pious and patriotic scribe stood so high in the estimation of Artaxerxes that “the king granted him all his request.” That he should enjoy so much of the confidence and favour of such a monarch as Artaxerxes is a valuable testimony to the worth of Ezra. “The king’s favour is toward a wise servant.”
IV. A man of distinguished influence. “And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests,” &c. (Ezra 7:7). Ezra was trusted not only by the king and his counsellors, but by his own countrymen also, with whom he had great influence. This influence was over—
1. Various classes of men. Priests, Levites, people of the other tribes, not set apart for religious services, and Nithinim, accompanied him to Jerusalem from Babylon.
2. Large numbers of men. Of all classes there were upwards of 1770 adult males in the party which went up to Jerusalem with Ezra; so that the total, including wives, children, and servants, would probably be from 8000 to 9000 souls. (d).
V. A man of distinguished success. We have an example of this in his journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. “He came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For upon the first,” &c. (Ezra 7:8-9). This journey was—
1. Long. About nine hundred miles by the route which they probably pursued.
2. Difficult. It was by no means an easy matter to conduct so large a number of persons, including many women and “little ones,” through so long a journey in those times and countries. (Comp. chap. Ezra 8:21.)
3. Perilous. They were in danger of being attacked by Arabian freebooters, by whom the country through which they had to travel was infested. (Comp. chap. Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:31.)
4. Successful. “On the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.”
VI. A man of distinguished aim. “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord,” &c. (Ezra 7:10). We see that he aimed at—
1. The acquisition of the highest knowledge. “He had prepared”—set or fixed—“his heart to seek the law of the Lord.” He resolutely sought thoroughly to know the Scriptures.
2. The practice of the highest knowledge. “And to do it.” He endeavoured to conform his life to the law of Jehovah. (e).
3. The importation of the highest knowledge. “And to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” By both precept and example he strove to bring the people to know and obey the Divine law. We must know ourselves what we would teach others; and if we would teach with practical effect, we must ourselves practise what we teach.
VII. A man of distinguished blessing. “The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him.… Came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.”
1. The blessing of God rested upon him. By reason of it he was protected in journeyings, and prospered in his undertakings.
2. The blessing of God was acknowledged by him. He traced his successes to their First Cause; and gratefully acknowledged the gracious providence of God in his life. (f)
We are all recipients of the manifold blessings of God; let us also heartily recognise them as such, and gratefully bless the Giver.
(a) If you plant seeds for apple-stalks, you are obliged to graft every one of them; but if you take from a good apple-tree a cutting, it will grow up and bear the same kind of fruit which that tree bears. Now, I do not say that literally there is a transfer of qualities from parents to children, as there is a literal transfer of fruit from the original tree to the tree which is produced from a cutting, so that the apples are greenings or pippins according to the stock from which they sprung; but I believe it is substantially like that. I believe it is in the power of father and mother to rear the child so that from its earliest periods it shall be drawn by the Spirit of God.—H. W. Beecher.
Your father was a holy man,—will you undertake to break the line of a holy succession? Ought not the fame of his holiness to awaken your own religious concern? Are you prepared to make yourself the turning-point in the line of a pious ancestry? Beware lest you say in effect, “For generations my fathers have trusted in God and looked to Him for the light of their lives, but now I deliberately disown their worship and turn away from the God they loved.” This you can say if you be so minded. God does not force Himself upon you. You may start a pagan posterity if you please.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) Though God has not bound Himself to hear the prayers of any one for the salvation of the soul of another, yet He frequently does so; and hence perhaps, though grace does not run in the blood, yet we frequently see it runs in the line. Many more of the children of God’s children prove gracious than those of others.—Dr. Ryland.
(c) That is a good day in which you learn something new of the Bible. Do not keep treading around in just the same place, reading the same Psalms of David over and over again because they are short, while you neglect other portions of the Gospel. If your friend writes you a letter written on four sides of a letter-sheet, you do not stop after you have read the first page. You do not treat him well unless you read the second page, the third page, and the fourth page, as well as the first. God our Father has written us a very long letter, all full of affection and counsel; and what a mean thing it is if we only read one or two of the pages when all of them demand our attention. How many verses could you quote to me from Obadiah, or Habakkuk, or Nahum, or Leviticus? Not one. Find out what part of the Bible you know the least about, and study it. Do not spend your entire time under one tree when there is around about you a great orchard.—T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.
(d) The greatest works that have been done, have been done by the ones. The hundreds do not often do much, the companies never do; it is the units, just the single individuals that, after all, are the power and the might. Take any Church—there are multitudes in it; but it is some two or three that do the work. Look on the Reformation!—there might be many reformers, but there was but one Luther: there might be many teachers, but there was but one Calvin. Look ye upon the preachers of the last age, the mighty preachers who stirred up the churches!—there were many coadjutors with them; but, after all, it was not Whitefield’s friends, nor Wesley’s friends, but the men themselves, that did it. Individual effort is, after all, the grand thing. A man alone can do more than a man with fifty men at his heels to fetter him. Look back through all history. Who delivered Israel from the Philistines?—it was solitary Samson. Who was it gathered the people together, to rout the Midianites?—it was one Gideon, who cried, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” Who was he that smote the enemy?—It was Shamgar, with his ox-goad; or it was an Ehud, who, with his dagger, put an end to his country’s tyrant. Separate men—Davids with their slings and stones—have done more than armies could accomplish.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(e) I ask you to remember, at home, in the shop, and in the counting-house, that you are epistles of Christ; and that in your spirit, habits, and character, His very thoughts are to be translated into forms which common men can read and understand. You would condemn with heaviest censure the presumptuous hand which wilfully corrupted the text of the printed book in which the acts and thoughts of God are preserved for the instruction of the world; you would condemn with censure hardly less severe the carelessness which should omit chapter after chapter, and give false readings instead of true. But you are the living revelation of God to mankind. Through you it is meant that the Holy Ghost should speak, not in mere words, but in acts, which are more intelligible and emphatic than words. The very life of the Spirit of God is intended to be manifest in your conduct, as the life of a plant is manifested in the flower, and the life of a tree in the fruit. Are you giving a true revelation to mankind, or are you perverting, corrupting, falsifying it?
Your religious emotions irreligious men can know nothing of, but your virtues and vices are a language plain and familiar to them as their mother tongue. They can read these without note or comment. They can judge of the Divine inspiration of these without any argument from miracles. As the style of a great artist is recognised in the drawing and colouring of his pictures; as the genius of Mozart or Beethoven may be known at once by the movement of the melody and the flowing sweetness or mysterious complexity of the chorus, so—if you are really God’s workmanship—there ought to be the manifested impress of the Divine hand in your character, and to those who know you well, your life ought to be plainly the revelation of a Divine idea.—R. W. Dale, M.A., D.D.
(f) When men have had a successful season in merchandise, they are apt to attribute it to their own acumen or their partners in business. When men have had a successful season in husbandry, they attribute it to the phosphates used, or to the agricultural journal that gave them the right kind of information. How seldom it is that men first of all go to the Lord, who is the owner of the field, and who presides over all merchandise, and who gives us all our worldly as well as our spiritual success!—T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.
STUDYING, PRACTISING, AND TEACHING THE SACRED SCRIPTURES
The conduct of Ezra as described here is eminently worthy of imitation. Let us contemplate its chief features—
I. The acquisition of Divine truth for himself. “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord.” In aiming at the attainment of a knowledge of the Divine law, Ezra adopted—
1. The right method. He sought for the knowledge which he desired; he put forth efforts to acquire it. Would any one attain a competent knowledge of any science? He must seek it, he must read, think, experiment, &c. Would any one “know the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make him wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”? He must “search the Scriptures,” &c. Personal effort is indispensable.
2. The right manner. Ezra sought for this knowledge resolutely and earnestly. “He had prepared”—i.e., fixed or set—“his heart to seek the law of the Lord.” He who would seek successfully must seek resolutely. It is the earnest student who overcomes obstinate difficulties, disentangles bewildering perplexities, and makes glorious discoveries. Moreover, though it is not mentioned in this verse, we have abundant evidence of the fact that Ezra was a devout student of the Scriptures. In this province of investigation, reverence is as important as earnestness. “The meek will He guide in judgment,” &c. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” &c.
3. The right place. Ezra sought “the law of the Lord” in the Holy Scriptures. Divine truth may be discovered in the material creations of God, in the revolutions of human history, &c. But he who would acquaint himself with moral law, let him “search the Scriptures;” he who would know the redemptive truth of God, let him study the Bible.
II. The embodiment of Divine truth in his life. Ezra had set his heart not only to seek the law of the Lord, but also “to do it.” He translated his discoveries into deeds. The truth which he acquired by his heart and mind, he practised in his life. In this also he is an example to us. And the importance of imitating him in this respect will appear if we consider that knowledge misapplied is—
1. Useless. Knowledge of the laws of nature benefits us only as it leads us to act in harmony with those laws. And knowledge of Gospel truth becomes a blessing to us only as we receive it into our heart by faith, and give practical expression to it in our lives. “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven,” &c. (Matthew 7:21-27). It is the “doer of the work” that is “blessed in his deed” (James 1:25). (a).
2. Anoccasion of condemnation. “That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes,” &c. (Luke 12:47-48). (b).
III. The communication of Divine truth to others. Ezra had set his heart also “to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” A solemn obligation rests upon man not only to acquire truth, but also to impart it. He who has learned of others must himself in his turn become a teacher of others. Here is the Divine law on the question: “Freely ye have received, freely give.”
“Thyself and thy belongings
Are not thine own so proper, as to waste
Thyself upon thy virtues, them on thee.
Heaven doth with us, as we with torches do:
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touched,
But to fine issues; nor nature never lends
The smallest scruple of her excellence,
But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines
Herself the glory of a creditor,
Both thanks and use.”—Shakespeare.
“Measure for Measure,” i. 1.
Ezra first learned the truth for himself, then practised it in his own life, and then taught it to others. He taught others both by his speech and by his action. Merely verbal teaching will not bear comparison with that which is also of the character and conduct. The latter is—
1. More intelligible. Minds which would utterly fail to follow our arguments can understand our actions.
2. More continuous. Instruction by means of sermons or lessons is necessarily occasional, but the teaching of the life is constant. (c).
3. More influential. “How forcible are right words!” But how much more forcible are right works! Ezra’s power as an expository preacher was great, as we see from Nehemiah 8:0; but his power as a holy and zealous man was greater. And it seems to us that much of his power as a preacher arose from the saintliness and strength of his character. (d).
Let all Christians, but especially Christian preachers and teachers, copy the example of Ezra, and first study the Scriptures for themselves, then live the Scriptures for themselves, and then teach the Scriptures to others.
(a) As compared with professions, good deeds are put into ever-lustrous eminence, both by their solid quality, and by that grand refutation of all talking hypocrisy and ceremonial cant, from the mouth of the Judge Himself, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father.” We cannot be wrong—if there is such a thing as truth in God’s universe, we must be right—in esteeming one palpable and ponderable action in Christ’s name before a library of dogmatic credos, subscription to the straitest ecclesiastical vows, or the handsomest adjustment of the mantle of public conformity. If we must have one without the other, an acre of statements must be let go rather than an ounce of life.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
I beseech you more earnestly endeavour to reduce the things you know to practice. Nothing can be more absurd than to content ourselves with only a notional knowledge of practical matters. We should think so in other cases; as if any man should satisfy himself to know the use of food, but famish himself by never eating any, when he hath it at hand! Oh, what holy and pleasant lives should we lead in this world, if the temper and complexion of our souls did but correspond to the things we know. The digesting our food is what God eminently calls for.—John Howe.
(b) The more any one doth only nationally know in the matters of religion, so as that the temper of his spirit remains altogether unsuitable to the design and tendency of the things known, the more he hath lying ready to come in judgment against him; and if, therefore, he count the things excellent which he knows, and only please himself with his own knowledge of them, it is but a like case as if a man should be much delighted to behold his own condemnation written in a fair and beautiful hand; or as if one should be pleased with the glittering of that sword which is directed against his own heart; and so little pleasant is the case of him who thus satisfies his own curiosity with the concerns of eternal life and death, that any serious person would tremble on his behalf, at that wherein he takes pleasure, and apprehend just horror in that state of the case whence he draws matter of delight.—Ibid.
(c) If we distinguish man as a creature of language, and thus qualified to communicate himself to others, there are in him two sets or kinds of language,—one which is voluntary in the use, and one that is involuntary; that of speech in the literal sense, and that expression of the eye, the face, the look, the gait, the motion, the tone or cadence, which is sometimes called the natural language of the sentiments. This natural language, too, is greatly enlarged by the conduct of life, that which, in business and society, reveals the principles and spirits of men. Speech, or voluntary language, is a door to the soul, that we may open or shut at will; the other is a door that stands open evermore, and reveals to others constantly, and often more clearly, the tempers, tastes, and motives of their hearts. Within, as we may represent, is character, charging the common reservoir of influence, and through these twofold gates of the soul, pouring itself out on the world. Out of one it flows at choice, and whensoever we purpose to do good or evil to men. Out of the other it flows each moment, as light from the sun, and propagates itself in all beholders.
The door of involuntary communication, I have said, is always open. Of course we are communicating ourselves in this way to others at every moment of our intercourse or presence with them. But how very seldom, in comparison, do we undertake by means of speech to influence others! Even the best Christian, one who most improves his opportunities to do good, attempts but seldom to sway another by voluntary influence, whereas he is all the while shining as a luminous object unawares, and communicating of his heart to the world.—H. Bushnell, D.D.
(d) If every disciple is to be an “epistle known and read of all men,” what shall we expect but that all men will be somehow affected by the reading? Or, if he is to be a light in the world, what shall we look for, but that others, seeing his good works, shall glorify God on his account? How often is it seen, too, as a fact of observation, that one, or a few good men, kindle at length a holy fire in the community in which they live, and become the leaven of a general reformation! Such men give a more vivid proof in their persons of the reality of religious faith, than any words or arguments could yield. They are active; they endeavour, of course, to exert a good voluntary influence; but still their chief power lies in their holiness, and the sense they produce in others of their close relation to God.
… Where the direct or active influence of men is supposed to be great, even this is due, in a principal degree, to that insensible influence by which their arguments, reproofs, and persuasions are secretly invigorated. It is not mere words which turn men; it is the heart mounting uncalled into the expression of the features: it is the eye illuminated by reason—the look beaming with goodness; it is the tone of the voice, that instrument of the soul, which changes quality with such amazing facility, and gives out in the soft, the tender, the tremulous, the firm, every shade of emotion and character. And so much is there in this, that the moral stature and character of the man that speaks are likely to be well represented in his manner. If he is a stranger, his way will inspire confidence and attract good will. His virtues will be seen, as it were, gathering round him to minister words and forms of thought, and their voices will be heard in the fall of his cadences.—Ibid.
THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
This learned and pious priest is an eminent model for the study of those who are engaged in the public service of God. Born in Babylon, he nevertheless became an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile. His zeal for the pure worship of God—for the reformation of social manners and faithful administration of the law; his personal consecration, his profound study of the sacred writings, his deep views of the evil of sin, his power with God in prayer, his personal humility and true nobleness of character, entitle him to rank among the most illustrious of God’s worthies in the ancient Church.
The text points out some indispensable qualifications for an able minister of the New Testament.
I. Devotedness to God’s Word.
1. The minister is called to this; it is the indispensable requirement of his office.
2. Its inexhaustible riches require profound and constant research.
3. Prayer is absolutely necessary for the right understanding of the Scriptures.
II. Personal religion.
1. Without this all other qualifications will prove unavailing.
2. Its influence upon the minister’s own heart and life is necessary to his success.
3. Its power over others.
III. Public instruction.
1. Its subjects. Scripture:—God in Christ, sin, salvation.
2. Its spirit. Dependent on Divine aid, faithful, bold.
3. Its manner. Simple, unaffected, earnest, practical, affectionate.—The Preacher’s Portfolio.
In most operations due sequence is of as great importance, in order to success, as correct action or proper quality. To transpose the order in a succession of processes is certain failure. How manifestly fatal as to the result, for a farmer to sow before ploughing, or to harrow before sowing! How vain the blacksmith’s labour if he smite the iron first, and then make it hot! Everything in its due order is a universal law. It applies to Sabbath-school teaching as inexorably as to other matters, and to ignore it is culpable folly. The law of true sequence in this case is plainly taught in the Word of God, and is forcibly illustrated in the conduct of Ezra.
I. There must be diligent searching for the law of God. “Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord.” Teachers must know before they can teach, and there is need for searching in order to knowledge. “Search the Scriptures” is the first step in the Divine sequence. “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.” And for effective teaching, to head-knowledge there must be heart-sympathy.
II. There must be a hearty doing of the discovered will. Ezra prepared his heart not only to seek, but “to do” the law of the Lord, and this is the second process in the Divine order. Alas! for him who seeks to teach others laws which he does not himself obey, and to enforce commands which he himself defies! Doing, moreover, stands in double relation to knowing and teaching. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17). Hence its importance in relation to knowledge. It is also indispensable to true teaching for by our lives we must teach, even though we be very unskilful with our tongues. “Whosoever shall do and teach, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
III. Then may we teach the law of the Lord. This is the last step in the Divine sequence; and how firm a foundation will the teaching rest upon if the sequence has been duly observed! Knowledge treasured in the heart and acted in the life will give power and energy to the teachings, such as can in no other way be gained. How forcible will such teaching be—how irresistible! What efficacy the observance of this Divine sequence gave to Ezra’s teaching may be learned from his subsequent history, for all the congregation were by his words convinced of their sin, and truly repenting, they cried, “As thou hast said, so must we do” (chap. Ezra 10:12), and they did it. So will our scholars act, if we faithfully fulfil the Divine conditions. Let us give heed to this sequence. It is taught in many parts of Scripture; but let Ezra’s embodiment of it make it plain. Let his example stir our emulation, and his success whet our desire for a like result.—B. P. P., in The Sunday School Teacher.
THE COMMISSION OF ARTAXERXES TO EZRA
I. The granting of this commission. This letter, conveying such large powers, was given—
1. In answer to the request of Ezra. We see this from Ezra 7:6 : “the king granted him all his request;” and from Ezra 7:28 : God “hath extended mercy unto me before the king and his counsellors,” &c. It was a courageous thing for Ezra to make such a request before such an assembly (comp. Nehemiah 2:2; Esther 4:11); and the fact that it was granted is a forcible testimony to the very high esteem in which he was held.
2. By the supreme authority of the empire. “Thou art sent of the king and of his seven counsellors” (Ezra 7:14). “God hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes” (Ezra 7:28). Thus the commission carried the greatest weight and importance.
II. The articles of this commission.
1. Those which are addressed to Ezra.
(1.) Permission for him to go up to Jerusalem with as many of his fellow-countrymen as wished to do so. “I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel,” &c. (Ezra 7:13). This permission was necessary to enable them to go forth, because they were captives. And it was simply a cordial permission; it was not a sentence of banishment from Babylon. The Jews were not sent away, but freely allowed to go if they desired to do so.
(2.) Authority to investigate the affairs of those Jews who were already settled in their own land. “Thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to inquire,” &c. (Ezra 7:14). The subject of the inquiry is not stated; and it cannot be determined whether it referred to their general condition and progress, or more particularly to their religious condition. But the rule by which the inquiry was to be conducted is clearly laid down: “according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand.” Thus the Divine law was honoured by the Persian monarch and his supreme council.
(3.) Authority to receive, convey, and distribute money and other valuables for the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem (Ezra 7:15-19). Notice—(i.) The treasures committed to him. “The silver and gold which the king and his counsellors freely offered,” &c. (Ezra 7:15). The contributions of money which the non-Israelite population in all the province of Babylon, and such Jews as elected still to remain in Babylon, were disposed freely to contribute for the worship of the God of Israel. “And all the silver and gold that thou canst find,” &c. (Ezra 7:16). And certain vessels which had been given for use in the Temple—service at Jerusalem. “The vessels also that are given thee,” &c. (Ezra 7:19). It is probable that the sacred vessels which Zerubbabel had taken to Jerusalem were inadequate to their requirements at the great religious festivals. (ii.) The use to be made of these treasures. The vessels were to be delivered up in the Temple to the proper persons for use in its services. “The vessels … deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem.” The money was to be employed in the purchase of animals and other things for religions sacrifices. “That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks,” &c. (Ezra 7:17). And the residue of the money was to be appropriated to such religious uses as seemed good to Ezra and to his brethren. “And whatsoever shall seem good to thee and to thy brethren,” &c. (Ezra 7:18).
(4.) Authority to obtain further needful supplies from the royal treasury in Syria. “And whatever more shall be needful for the house of thy God,” &c. (Ezra 7:20). The requirements at Jerusalem could not be fully known by Ezra until he had looked into the state of affairs there; hence this warrant concerning further supplies was both thoughtfully and generously given. And such a use of royal revenues was both wise and worthy in the highest degree.
(5.) Authority to appoint magistrates and judges with full judicial powers. “And thou Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges,” &c. (Ezra 7:25-26). Observe: (i.) Their jurisdiction was over the Jews and the proselytes to the Jewish religion. They were to “judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God,” &c. (ii.) Full power was granted to them for maintaining their authority and enforcing their decisions. They were authorised to inflict the severest penalties which the law prescribed. “Whosoever will not do the law of thy God,” &c. (Ezra 7:26). They were “responsible to the king alone for the exercise of their authority.”
2. Those which are addressed to the Persian treasurers in Syria. “And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river,” &c. (Ezra 7:21-24). These commands refer to two things—
1. To contributions which they were to make to Ezra. They were to furnish him with certain supplies for the service of the Temple of the God of heaven, according to his request.
(1.) These supplies were liberal. “Unto an hundred talents of silver,” &c. (Ezra 7:22, and see explanatory note).
(2.) These supplies were to be quickly and fully furnished. “Whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily.… Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be completely done,” &c.
(3.) The reason assigned for furnishing these supplies is significant. “For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?” This inquiry implies a conviction of several things:—e.g., that the God of heaven is almighty; that the neglect of His worship was likely to awaken His anger; that His anger should be earnestly dreaded and deprecated; and that a liberal regard for His worship was likely to secure His favour.
2. To exemptions from taxation which they were to make. Every minister of the Temple, from the high priest to the humblest of the Nethinim, was to be entirely relieved of government taxation. “Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites,” &c. (Ezra 7:24). This was at once a liberal favour and an honourable distinction for all those whom it concerned.
This official letter reflects very great credit upon Artaxerxes. It is, as M. Henry observes, “to the praise of this heathen king, that he honoured the God of Israel though His worshippers were a despicable handful of poor men, who were not able to bear the charges of their own religion, and were now his vassals, and that, though he was not wrought upon to quit his own superstitions, yet he protected and encouraged the Jews in their religion, and did not only say, ‘Be you warmed, and be you filled,’ but gave them such things as they needed.”
III. The spirit of this commission.
The letter indicates clearly a spirit of—
1. Great reverence for God. Thrice it speaks of Him as “the God of heaven,” thus showing that Jehovah was regarded by the king not as a mere local deity, but as the Supreme Being. And the inquiry, “Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?” implies (as we have mentioned above) certain important convictions concerning Jehovah, God of Israel. (a).
2. Profound respect for the law of God. “According to the law of thy God which is in thine hand” (Ezra 7:14). “Do after the will of your God” (Ezra 7:18). “Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be completely done,” &c. (Ezra 7:23). Ezra is commissioned to teach those persons the laws of God who did not know them (Ezra 7:25). And, according to Ezra 7:26, the law of Jehovah was made the law of Artaxerxes so far as the Jews were concerned. “The law of thy God, and the law of the king.” (b).
3. Sincere regard for the worship of God (Ezra 7:15-24). The munificence of the royal grant for this worship indicates the depth and sincerity of his regard for it.
4. Hearty appreciation of the character of a good man. That this large and liberal commission was granted to Ezra in answer to his request is an evidence—
(1.) That the life of Ezra must have been distinguished by wisdom, uprightness, and piety.
(2.) That Artaxerxes sincerely appreciated the wisdom and worth of Ezra, for in honouring him the king seems to have taken pleasure. This letter is greatly to the praise of both the monarch of Persia and the scribe of the law of Jehovah. (c).
The liberal gifts of Artaxerxes for the support of the worship of God may be exhibited as—
1. A rebuke to the parsimony of many Christians in this respect.
2. An example to all Christians. (d).
(a) How should we reverence that God that hath a throne encompassed with such glorious creatures as angels, whose faces we are not able to behold though shadowed in assumed bodies! How should we fear the Lord of Hosts, that hath so many armies at His command in the heavens above, and in the earth below, whom He can dispose to the exact obedience of His will! How should men be afraid to censure any of His actions, to sit judge of their Judge, and call Him to an account at their bar! How should such an earthworm, a mean animal as man, be afraid to speak irreverently of so great a King! Not to fear Him, not to reverence Him, is to pull His throne from under Him, and make Him of a lower authority than ourselves, or any creature that we reverence more.—S. Charnocke, B.D.
(b) We cannot be too strongly impressed with the goodness or benevolence of the Divine law. Right and good are correlative ideas, but we are not equally affected by them. More spontaneously can we conclude that all good is right, than that all right is good. And we more slowly confess the good of law, because we commonly regard law itself as restraint rather than as protection. We forget that it is far more restraint upon others than upon ourselves, and that our protection is in that restraint. Every interdict is on all, and each one obtains the benefit. Every obligation binds the whole race to the security and welfare of the individual. The best definition of liberty is, protection from wrong. And if we inspect the great social law, what is it but a fence and safeguard thrown around our dearest, most precious, interests? Its heed holds back that which receives every denouncement, when we call it lawless. Its observance defends the allegiance of our household, the sanctity of our life, the legitimacy of our offspring, the possession of our store, the reputation of our character, even to the proscription and to the driving from the heart of any secret wish that might seek to injure us. It sets a seal upon all. Our forbearance to aggrieve others, which must be harmful to ourself, is repaid by forbidding any grievance against our welfare from the millions upon millions who might otherwise inflict it. The duty which every man owes to love us as himself, is a blessed and rich return of our duty thus ourselves to love every man. The rule commands and obliges every man to love me, to uphold me,—invests him as my brother, authorises him as my keeper, arms him as my defender, pledges him as my surety, adorns him as my example, couples him as my co-heir. It is the law of love. It is the perfect commutative justice. How benign must be the univeral regulation, all whose requirements, bearings, consequences, motives, aims, are fulfilled by love! The same reflections are appropriate with respect to the claims of the Deity.… Let us honour law as the crowning blessing of blessings. Let us remember that intellectual creatureship without it is as inconceivable as it would be insupportable. Let us acknowledge it as the most sublime of ideas, the true exponent of happiness, the proper basis of dignity, the exclusive shield of freedom, the pure fountain of goodwill,—inaugurating truth in its state, decking benevolence in its majesty, lifting right to its throne, and then proclaiming with imperial authority that all this is but God, and that, therefore, there is none good but One, that is God!—R. W. Hamilton, LL.D., D.D.
(c) There is something in a holy life which wonderfully conciliates the minds of men. At first, indeed, like a strong influx of light, it offends their eyes; and the beholders, unable to bear the effulgence of its beams, turn away from it, or perhaps desire its utter extinction. But when it has shone for a long time before them, and they have had sufficient opportunity to contemplate its worth, they are constrained to acknowledge that “the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour;” and they begin to venerate the character, whose virtues at first were occasions of offence.—C. Simeon, M.A.
(d) In collecting money for the repairs of the Temple, which Athaliah and her sons had dilapidated, the good priest did a thing worth noticing. He had a chest placed right alongside the brazen altar in front of the Temple, and in the lid of the chest was a hole bored, and into the hole the priests, selected for the purpose, dropped the coins which the people brought, either as their half-shekel tax, or as the offering for vows, or as a freewill offering to the Temple of Jehovah. When I read this story and then read from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, “Upon the first day of the week” (the Lord’s-day, mind you!) “let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him,” I cannot help thinking that giving is a part of worship! Close alongside of the altar, where the type of the Lamb of God was offered up, was the money chest. How exalted giving to the Lord’s cause is in this light! And Paul calls it Sunday work, puts it with prayer, and praise, and Bible instruction, and all that is improving to the soul. I take it that if all Christians in our land would entertain the notion of Jehoiada and Paul about giving to the Lord (and it is not their notion, but the Holy Ghost’s), our spiritual temple would not be so dilapidated—thousands would flow forth from willing hearts where now hundreds are squeezed out. Take the idea, my brother with the long purse; yes, and my brother with the short purse, too. Make your giving a part of your worship, and then thank Jehoiada and Paul, but above all the Lord, for making your Christian life the happier.—Dr. Crosby.
REASONS FOR ACTIVE DEVOTEDNESS TO THE CAUSE OF GOD
Here Artaxerxes issues a decree, gives wealth, displays great zeal for God, and as though ambitious to sink the monarch in the preacher, exhorts to diligence and fervour in the work. “Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven,” &c. We may well sit at the feet of this lord of one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, and learn from heathen lips the extent of our duty and the nature of our obligations. We plead for missions.
I. To assign some reasons for active devotedness to the cause of God and truth in the world.
1. From the Divine authority by which it is enjoined. It “is commanded by the God of heaven.” We love to see the estimate of Christian duties from the men of the world, who, while they are blind as bats in discerning their own defects, are clear-sighted as eagles to mark the inconsistencies of the professed followers of Christ. They often take a just measure of our obligations, and reason with wonderful exactness and form just conclusions, from the principles which we lay down, as to the course which we ought to follow,—just as Artaxerxes did here. The text is remarkable from the quarter whence it comes; not from the hovel of poverty, but from the throne of power; not from one who prophesied in sackcloth, but from one clothed in the purple and fine linen of royal houses.
The law of love to the perishing heathen is clearly laid down. We labour under no uncertainty upon the subject. We are not left to the trembling ifs and conjectures of mere circuitous and inductive reasoning, but the rule is express and final: “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother.” The same law which says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart,” says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” We should like to see inscribed over all our missionary institutions the law, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” The same God who bids us “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” that we may be saved, bids us “Go into all the world,” &c. God makes man the medium of His blessings to man. He blesses us by making us blessings. The harvest of immortal souls is to be gathered in, but human hands are to be employed in the work. The scattered flock of Christ, wandering upon the dark mountains of the Eastern and Western world, claim your ready aid, and Jesus commissions you to bring them into the fold.
2. From the urgent necessity which exists for your exertions. “In Judah was God known; His name was great in Israel;” but His spiritual claims were unknown and disregarded everywhere else. And the Gospel cannot be proclaimed in the heathen world except Christians proclaim it; for “how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” &c. (Romans 10:14-15). We cannot plead ignorance of the state of the heathen world, or of the religious destitution of the heathen without the Gospel. It was never safe to use this plea as an excuse for indifference, but it is wholly impossible to urge it now. “We know that the whole world lieth in wickedness.” “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain,” &c. The islands and continents of the kingdoms under darkness have been completely explored. The reports of travellers, merchants, missionaries, and scientific men only confirm the testimony of Scripture as to the moral misery and degradation of mankind without the Gospel. Where Christianity is not, the race is stationary, if not retrograde; social life loses its security and charm, &c.
3. From the fearful consequences of the neglect of this duty. “For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?” The king feared God’s anger, and apprehended that the neglect of Zion’s interests would be fatal. He could not be ignorant of the ruin that had overtaken the Pharaohs of Egypt, Sennacherib of Assyria, and the monarchs of Babylon; and he trembled for himself, for his sons, and for the future stability of the Persian throne.
It is not safe for individuals to oppose the kingdom of Christ. They who “break His bands asunder,” do it at their own peril. And there is no neutrality: not to assist is to oppose; not to seek Christ is to neglect Him. Every one of us is taking a side—for Christ against Satan, or for Satan against Christ. It is not safe for churches to do so. What has become of the Jewish church? of the seven churches of Asia? &c. Their golden lamps have been extinguished. It is not safe for nations to neglect the interests of religion. “The nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish,” whether that nation be Persia or Judea, Carthage or Rome, Spain or England. I should tremble for Britain’s safety, if she forgot her obligations to the God of the Bible, and failed to pay some small fraction of the mighty debt she owes to the Providence that has exalted her, by extending the Gospel. God has not raised her so high for any mean and ignoble purpose. He has not given her the empire of the seas, and a voice among the nations at which the mightiest tremble, and an extent of colonial territory heretofore unknown, merely for purposes of national aggrandisement or personal pride; but to render us, as we hope, the world’s benefactors, the heralds of the Cross, the willing harbingers of the onward triumphs of the Prince of Peace. Fulfilling this duty, Britain stands: failing to fulfil it, Britain falls; for God’s wrath will be against the realm of the Queen and her sons.
4. From the success which has attended the fulfilment of this duty.
II. To offer some suggestions as to the spirit and mode in which this work should be carried on.
1. Earnestly, without remissness. “Let it be diligently done.” Learn a lesson from the activity of the opposite party. The infidel and socialist come into your workshops and manufactories. The emissaries of the Papacy are not idle. Popery is fighting, not for existence, but for dominion.
2. Prayerfully, without pride.
3. Speedily, without delay.
THE DECREE OF ARTAXERXES
The words before us breathe a spirit which we should scarcely have expected to find in a heathen prince; but it is remarkable that some of the richest effusions of piety in the whole Scriptures proceeded from heathen monarchs, e.g., Darius and Nebuchadnezzar. To make a due improvement of the words before us we shall consider them—
I. In reference to the Jewish Church.
1. The state of the Jewish Church at this time is not unlike to that in which it was in the days of Ezra. Though the Temple worship was restored, it was carried on by the Jews without any zeal for God’s honour, or any of that spirituality of mind which is the very essence of all acceptable worship. Nor was the law of God regarded amongst them with any just measure of submission; for, in direct opposition to its most authoritative dictates, they formed connections with the heathen round about them, &c. (chap. Ezra 9:1-9). So at this time the Jewish people are at a very low ebb, both in respect of morals and religion.… It is impossible to behold them in their religious services, and not see how thick a veil is yet upon their hearts. Nor do they manifest any respect for their own law in its sublimer precepts. Of real holiness of heart and life they are ignorant in the extreme.
2. But to us is given, no less than to Ezra, a command to advance their welfare. Ezra received a commission from Artaxerxes to go and rectify the abuses which obtained at Jerusalem, &c. And have we no command to seek the welfare of that degraded people? Are we not told what God’s purpose is respecting them; namely, to “raise up the tabernacle of David,” &c.? (Amos 9:11). This is God’s express command to us strangers of the Gentiles: “The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls,” &c. (Isaiah 60:10-12). With their material temple we have nothing to do; but for the erection of God’s spiritual temple amongst them we are bound to labour, proclaiming to them the advent of their Messiah, saying, “Behold your salvation,” &c. (Isaiah 62:11; Isaiah 40:9).
3. In this work we should engage with all diligence. It is not to be effected by good wishes merely, but by great exertions. It was not without great exertions on the part of men that the Gentiles were converted to the faith of Christ; and the same kind of efforts which the apostles made for the conversion of the Gentiles we are to make for the restoration of the Jews to the favour of their God. This is our duty. God has told us that He has made us the depositaries of His Gospel, not for our benefit merely, but for the benefit of His outcast people: “As ye in times past,” &c. (Romans 11:30-31).
II. In reference to the Church which is amongst us.
1. Ye, brethren, need to have God’s work advanced in the midst of you. Ye are God’s house (Hebrews 3:6); ye also are called the temples of God, in which He lives and dwells (2 Corinthians 6:16). But in whom is God honoured as He ought to be? In whom are found sacrifices so pure, so spiritual, so abundant, as God calls for at our hands? Truly there is much amiss in all of us; much evil to be rectified, and much defective to be supplied.
2. I call upon you, then, to engage in the Lord’s work with your whole hearts. We will suppose that you are built upon the Lord Jesus Christ, as the foundation which God has laid in Zion (Isaiah 28:16). But no man is contented with having laid a foundation; he proceeds to build upon it, and never considers his work as finished till he has brought forth the top-stone. So it must be in this spiritual building which is begun within us. We must come to Christ daily “as lively stones, that we may be built up,” &c. (1 Peter 2:4-6). To this, then, would I call you, &c. Oh! learn of a heathen to venerate the Divine authority, and to exert yourselves to the uttermost to promote the Divine glory.
Let me call you to obey this imperial mandate—
1. In a way of personal reformation. At the time of the Passover, the Jews swept every corner of their houses, in order to purge from them every particle of leaven which might have escaped their more general and superficial search. And this is what we are called to do. Alas! there are many evil dispositions which lurk within us, and which a superficial survey will not enable us to detect. Pride, envy, discontent, &c. Oh, be diligent in “purging out this old leaven, that ye may be a new lump” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
2. In a way of ministerial exertion. In this, persons of rank and influence ought to take the lead. Who can see a heathen monarch thus interesting himself for his Jewish subjects, and not wish that all monarchs with “their counsellors” were embarked in this holy cause? In this the clergy, also, should be most distinguished. Gladly did Ezra avail himself of the liberty accorded to him of going to Jerusalem for the purpose of remedying the evils which obtained there, &c. It was an office of great labour, yet he willingly undertook it. And does not this show, how those who are distinguished for rank and learning amongst the clergy should employ their talents and influence for the Lord?
The readiness with which the people of Babylon concurred in this good work shows how all classes of the community amongst ourselves should unite in the work. They contributed no less than eighty thousand pounds in silver, and one hundred and fifty thousand pounds in gold, besides a vast abundance of wheat, &c. This was done by heathens to honour the God of the Jews. What, then, should not be done by us Christians, who profess to serve the God of the Jews, and to feel our obligations to Him for all the wonders of redeeming love?—C. Simeon, M.A.
I. The true offerers of praise. We regard Ezra as an example of the true and acceptable worshipper. He exhibits in these verses—
1. Unaffected humility. There is not here the least indication of self-laudation or self-commendation. All thought of his own character and influence and work seems lost in his admiration and thankfulness for the doings of God. Humility is always becoming in man; but in drawing near to the great and mighty, the holy and blessed God, humility is especially incumbent upon us. (a).
2. Sincere piety. Of this here are two evidences—
(1.) Ezra traces all good to God. He looks above secondary causes to the great First Cause. The godly soul sees the hand of God in all the worthy purposes and kind actions of men, and in all that is true and good in life. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” &c. (b).
(2.) Ezra delights in the worship of God. It was matter of joy to him that the king designed “to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.” “We read not of any orders given to paint or gild it, or to garnish it with precious stones, but to be sure that the ordinances of God were administered there constantly, and carefully, and exactly, according to the institution; and that was indeed the beautifying of the Temple.” When God is honoured by the erection of beautiful temples, and more, by the presentation of spiritual and reverent worship, the good man realises great joy of spirit.
3. Practical religiousness. Ezra’s pious feelings were expressed in consistent actions. He blessed God in words, and sought to bless Him in works also. “And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.” The noblest praise that we can present to God is that of hearty conformity to His will. “Thanksgiving is a good thing; thanksliving is better. (c).
II. The grand Object of praise. “Blessed be Jehovah God of our fathers.”
1. The Supreme Being. “Jehovah God.” “Jehovah,” i.e. the Self-Existent, the Eternal, the Unchangeable One. “God,”—the primary idea of the word is the Strong One, the Almighty. The true object of worship for man is the Omnipotent and Eternal, the Supremely Great and Good.
2. The Supreme Being in covenant relation with His worshippers. “Jehovah my God” (Ezra 7:28). The Israelites had entered into solemn covenant relations with God (Exodus 24:3-8). God by the Psalmist speaks of them thus: “My saints; those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” Again He says: “I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people” (Leviticus 26:3-13). And the true worshippers to-day are in covenant relation with God; they have embraced Him as their Supreme Good, and have fully given themselves to Him.
3. The Supreme Being whom our fathers worshipped. There is pathos in the expression “Jehovah God of our fathers.” That they worshipped Him binds us tenderly yet tenaciously to His service. There is inspiration also here. He who proved Himself the unfailing Friend and Helper of our fathers is worthy of our trust: He will not fail us, &c.
“In Thee our fathers put their trust;
Thy ways they humbly trod:
Honoured and sacred is their dust,
And still they live to God.
Heirs to their faith, their hope, their prayers
We the same path pursue:
Entail the blessing to our heirs;
Lord, show Thy promise true.”
III. Good reasons for praise. “Blessed be Jehovah God of our fathers, which hath put,” &c.
1. He inspires the worthy purposes of men. He put it into “the king’s heart to beautify the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem.” “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will.” “All holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed” from Him.
2. He beneficently influences the moral judgments of men. “And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and all his mighty princes.” The influence of Ezra over the sovereign and these mighty princes was very great; and to his mind the secret of it was that God had inclined them to regard him with esteem, and to give their judgment in his favour.
3. He invigorates the heart and life of His servants. “And I was strengthened as the hand of Jehovah my God was upon me,” &c. God encouraged His servant in order that he might carry out his sacred mission, and he at once proceeded to do so. The strength which God gives must be used in accordance with His will, and for His glory. “If God gives us His hand, we are bold and cheerful; if He withdraws it, we are weak as water. Whatever service we are enabled to do for God and our generation, God must have all the glory of it. Strength for it is derived from Him, and therefore the praise of it must be given to Him.” (e).
(a) Two men went up into the Temple to pray, the one a very righteous man, as he seemed to himself and to others; but God, who seeth not as man seeth, accounted the unrighteous man the more righteous of the two. So have I seen two flowers, side by side, the one erect, and without a misgiving, looking up to heaven; the other, with its head all adown upon its breast, looking only to the earth. But the flower that looked earthward, as though not worthy to look heavenward, was the more heavenly of the two. Then said I, Pride and self-sufficiency are a miserable insufficiency; but meekness and self-distrust are allied to All-sufficiency. Question: Does God always give least to those who think themselves greatest, and most to those who think least of themselves? Answer: Humility hath the palm.—John Pulsford.
(b) As rivers empty their streams again into the bosom of the sea, whence they at first received them; so men give the praise of what they do unto that by which they do it. If they attempt any enterprise with their own wit, you shall have them bring the sacrifice to their own wit or net. But faith teaches the creature to blot out his own name, and write the name of God in its room upon all he hath and doth.—W. Gurnall.
What I have done is worthy of nothing but silence and forgetfulness; but what God has done for me is worthy of everlasting and thankful remembrance.—Bishop Hall.
(c) Holiness was meant, our New Testament tells us, for everyday use. It is homemade and home-worn. Its exercise hardens the bone, and strengthens the muscle in the body of character. Holiness is religion shining. It is the candle lighted, and not hid under a bushel, but lighting the house. It is religious principle put into motion. It is the love of God sent forth into circulation, on the feet, and with the hands, of love to man. It is faith gone to work. It is charity coined into actions, and devotion breathing benedictions on human suffering, while it goes up in intercessions to the Father of all pity. Prayers that show no answers in better lives are not true prayers. Of religion without holiness—or the spurious pretence current under that name—the world has seen enough; it has more than once made society, with all its reforms, go backward; it has sharpened the spear of the scorner, and sealed the sceptic’s unbelief. It has hidden the Church from the market. It has gone to the conference and communion-table, as to a sacred wardrobe, where badges are borrowed to cloak the iniquities of trade. It has said to many an outcast and oppressed class, “Stand by thyself; the Master’s feast is for me, and not for you.” It has thinned the ranks of open disciples, and treacherously offered to objectors the vantage-ground of honesty. My friends, get faith, and then use it. Gain holiness, and wear it. Pray, and watch while you pray. Keep the Sabbath; keep it so carefully that it shall keep you all the week,—a mutual friendship. Come to the church; come to carry the church back with you, not in its professions nor its external credit, but its interior substance, into a consistent holiness.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(d) The covenant made with the Patriarch was made with Abraham and his seed after him. Throughout the Mosaic period, children were included with their fathers in all the blessings of the elder Testament. “The promise is unto you and your children,” is the constant doctrine through all God’s messages to the Israelites. We are expressly told, that under Christ, in the New Testament, the same covenant is renewed, only expanded and deepened. Throughout, the law of descent is carefully respected. The hereditary tie is recognised. Offspring, at birth, are supposed to be bound up in the same bond of Christian privileges and helps which encircles their believing progenitors.—Ibid.
(e) What reward shall we give unto the Lord for all the benefits He hath bestowed? From the cheerless gloom of non-existence He waked us into being; He ennobled us with understanding; He taught us arts to promote the means of life; He commanded the prolific earth to yield its nurture; He bade the animals to own us as their lords. For us the rains descend; for us the sun sheddeth abroad its creative beams; the mountains rise, the valleys bloom, offering us grateful habitation and a sheltering retreat. For us the rivers flow; for us the fountains murmur; the sea opens its bosom to admit our commerce; the earth exhausts its stores; each new object presents a new enjoyment; all nature pouring her treasures at our feet, through the bounteous grace of Him who wills that all be ours.—Basil.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/