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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] We now come to the social and religious reformation effected by Ezra amongst the Jews who had previously returned to their own land (chaps. 9 and 10). And in this chapter we have—(i.) The complaint of the princes to Ezra concerning the mingling of the people of Israel with the idolatrous people of the lands (Ezra 9:1-2). (ii.) The great amazement and grief of Ezra because of this (Ezra 9:3-4). (iii.) The confession and prayer of Ezra for the people of Israel (Ezra 9:5-15).
Ezra 9:1. Now when these things were done] Some time seems to have elapsed between the events recorded in chap. 8 and those narrated in chap. 9. Ezra and his company arrived in Jerusalem “on the first day of the fifth month” (chap. Ezra 7:9), and on the fourth day of that month they delivered up the treasures in the Temple, and offered burnt offerings and sin offerings unto the Lord God (chap. Ezra 8:32-35). The next note of time is in chap. Ezra 10:9 : “It was the ninth month and the twentieth day of the month “when the great assembly took place at Jerusalem. This assembly had been summoned three days previously. So that there seems to have been an interval of more than four months between the arrival at Jerusalem and the events related in chaps. 9 and 10 Probably some portion of this time was occupied in making arrangements with the king’s satraps and governors (chap. Ezra 8:36). The people of the lands] are the dwellers in the adjacent districts, who are afterwards mentioned. Doing according to their abominations] It is better to omit “doing,” which has been unnecessarily supplied by the translators of the A.V. “Have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, according to their abominations, (even) of the Canaanites,” &c. Or, “in respect of their abominations, (even) of,” &c. The Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites] were descendants of the ancient Canaanites, whom Israel failed to exterminate, and who were not carried into captivity with the Israelites, but remained in some parts of Palestine. The Ammonites, the Moabites] dwelt on the east. The Egyptians and the Amorites] on the south.
Ezra 9:2. The holy seed] The expression is probably taken from Isaiah 6:13. By calling, by covenant, and by profession the Israelites were a separate people, a holy people (see Exodus 19:5-8; Exodus 33:16; chap. Ezra 6:20-21). Have mingled themselves with the people of the lands] thus violating an express command of the Lord their God (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Yea, the hand of the princes and rulers have been chief] &c., i.e. the upper classes were the first to transgress in this respect.
Ezra 9:3. I rent my garment and my mantle] As an indication of his great grief and horror, he rent both his outer and inner garments. The custom was a very ancient and a very common one for expressing sorrow, and is frequently mentioned in the Bible (see Genesis 37:29; Genesis 37:34; Joshua 7:6; 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:11; 2 Kings 2:12; Job 1:20, et al.) And plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard] This also was expressive of grief, horror, and moral indignation. To shave the head in great sorrow was not unfrequent amongst the Jews (Job 1:20); but this is the only example in the canonical Scriptures of a person plucking out his own hair by the roots in grief and indignation. And set down astonied] or “benumbed, stunned.”—Fuerst.
Ezra 9:4. Every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel] &c. They trembled in their alarm because of the punishments threatened in the law of God for such transgressions as had been committed. I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice] Inasmuch as business is generally transacted in the morning in the East, the princes in all probability made their complaint to Ezra in the forenoon, in which case he sat stunned and silent for several hours.
Ezra 9:5. I arose up from my heaviness] Rather, as in margin: “affliction.” Fuerst: “self-affliction.” Keil: “mortification, or humiliation.” And having rent my garment and my mantle] This does not refer to the former rending (Ezra 9:3). For the second time he expresses his grief and horror in this manner.
Ezra 9:6. I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face] &c. Keil: “I am ashamed, and am covered with shame, to lift up,” &c. The same words are used together in Isaiah 45:16; Jeremiah 31:19; and other places. Our trespass is grown up unto the heavens] Margin: “our guiltiness.” Keil: “our guiltiness is great, (reaching) unto the heavens.” (Comp.2 Chronicles 28:9; 2 Chronicles 28:9.)
Ezra 9:7. Since the days of our fathers] This expression may be taken as reaching back to the time when their fathers came out of Egypt; but it seems probable that Ezra meant by it, since the time when under their kings idolatry and idolatrous customs were practised amongst them. To confusion of face] (comp. 2 Chronicles 25:21; Daniel 9:7-8). As it is this day] They were then in subjection to Artaxerxes.
Ezra 9:8. For a little space] or, a “little moment.” The eighty years that had elapsed since the emancipation by Cyrus he speaks of as “a little moment,” as compared either “with the long period of suffering from the times of the Assyrians (comp. Nehemiah 9:32) till the reign of Cyrus” (Keil), or with “the long enjoyment of Divine favour from Abraham to Zedekiah” (Rawlinson). A remnant to escape] Keil: “rescued remnant.” Those who had returned to the land of their fathers were but “a remnant” as compared with the numerous population of former days. And to give us a nail in His holy place] Margin: “or, a pin: that is a constant and sure abode.” Fuerst: “יָתֵד = a peg, nail, driven into the wall (Isaiah 22:25; Ezekiel 15:3); a tent pin, to which a tent is fastened (Judges 4:21; Exodus 27:19); the fastening being used as an image of being established (Isaiah 22:23); of remaining (Ezra 9:8). for which גָּדֵר stands in Ezra 9:9.” Ezra seems to have regarded the Temple as a pledge of their permanence, and a means of increased life and vigour; for he goes on to say: that our God may lighten our eyes] &c.
Ezra 9:9. For we were bondmen] Rather, “we are bondmen.” They were still subject to the Persian king. Only as regards the exercise of their religion were they granted independence. And to give us a wall] &c. This must be understood figuratively; for the walls of Jerusalem were not yet rebuilt (see Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:13). God had disposed the Persian kings, Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, to protect them in the possession of their country and capital. The wall is a figure of defence, safety, and continuance.
Ezra 9:11-12. Which Thou hast commanded by Thy servants the prophets, saying, The land] &c. This is not a verbal quotation, but a statement which correctly represents many passages of Scripture (see Exodus 23:32-33; Exodus 34:12-16; Leviticus 18:24-30; Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Deuteronomy 23:6, et al.)
Ezra 9:13. Hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve] The last word is supplied by the translators of the A.V. Margin: “Heb. ‘hast withheld beneath our iniquities.’ ” Fuerst: “Thou hast delivered (us) below our iniquities, i.e. undervaluing our iniquity.” Keil: “Thou hast spared us more than our iniquity deserved.” Or, “Thou hast checked, hast stopped, beneath our iniquities.” Though not a close rendering of the Hebrew, the A.V. gives the meaning of it. And hast given us such deliverance as this] Rather, “Thou hast given us (such) a remnant as this.”
Ezra 9:15. Thou art righteous] “Ezra appeals to the righteousness of God, … to rouse the conscience of the community, to point out to them what, after this relapse into their old abominations, they had to expect from the justice of God.”—Keil. Or, he acknowledges the justice of God in His dealings with them, by which they were reduced to a mere remnant. For we cannot stand before Thee because of this] (comp. Psalms 76:7; Psalms 130:3).
THE GOOD MAN’S SORROW OVER THE PEOPLE’S SIN
I. The painful communication made to Ezra. “Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying,” &c. (Ezra 9:1-2). Information is here given to Ezra—
1. Of a great sin committed. “The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, according to their abominations,” &c. The men of Israel had taken wives of the idolatrous Canaanites and other heathen peoples.
(1.) This was a positive transgression of a plain and oft-repeated command (see Exodus 23:31-33; Exodus 34:12-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Joshua 23:12-13).
(2.) It was a perilous transgression. Every sin is perilous. But this one was especially so. The foreign and idolatrous wives were likely to lead their husbands into their sinful customs; and yet more likely to train up their children in them. This was expressly pointed out to them by Moses: “They will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods,” &c. (Deuteronomy 7:4). Their previous history contained evidence painfully abundant and conclusive of the danger of these prohibited marriages. Even Solomon, notwithstanding his great wisdom and that he was so richly blessed by God, erred greatly and sadly through the influence of heathen wives. “His wives turned away his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:1-13). And this sin the Jews who had returned to their own land were guilty of.
2. Of the prevalence of this sin. No class of the community was free from it. “The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites” (Ezra 9:1) were all guilty of it. The evil was general in the community.
3. Of the aggravations of their sin.
(1.) “The priests and the Levites” (Ezra 9:1), whose business it was to teach the law and promote obedience to it, were themselves guilty of violating it in this respect. The law for the regulation of the marriages of priests was particularly strict (Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:13-14); and by reason of this and of their sacred character and calling, their marriages with heathen wives were especially reprehensible.
(2.) The princes and rulers were foremost in the offence. “Yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.” It was their duty to have maintained and enforced the observance of the law, yet they took the lead in violating it. Other and greater princes had done the same evil thing; e.g., Solomon, Ahab, et al. Again, the eminence of their position would impart great force to their example, and it was their duty to see that the excellence of the latter corresponded with the eminence of the former; but it was the opposite of this. In this matter, at least, their example was as pernicious as it was influential. (a.) This distressing communication was made to Ezra by persons of unimpeachable credibility. They were in responsible positions—“princes;”—and in making this statement, if they did not impeach themselves, they certainly impeached their order. It is probable that they had been stirred up to do so by the influence of Ezra. During the four months which had passed since his arrival at Jerusalem, he had been inquiring into the condition of the people (comp. chap. Ezra 7:14), and the administration of justice, and the measure of their acquaintance with the law (comp. chap. Ezra 7:25-26); he had also probably been expounding and applying the law; and the result was, that the minds of these princes were enlightened, their consciences were aroused to a sense of the sin which had been committed, and they went to Ezra and made known to him the sin which was so general in the community.
II. The effect which this communication produced upon Ezra. “And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle,” &c. (Ezra 9:3). The statement caused Ezra—
1. Great amazement. “I sat down astonied”—stunned. Domestic life in the East is characterised by great privacy; so that Ezra in making inquiries into the state of the people might well have been ignorant as to the occupants of the apartments of the women. The statement of the princes was quite a revelation to him, and filled him with bitter astonishment. The sins of religious people in our day might well utterly amaze a really godly man.
2. Deep grief. “I rent my garment and my mantle.” The usual mode of expressing sorrow amongst Eastern peoples was by tearing the garment. The tearing both the outer and the inner garments may betoken the intensity of Ezra’s distress. The prevalence of iniquity is ever a source of pain to the godly. It was so to the Psalmist: “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not Thy word. Rivers of waters run down mine eyes,” &c. (Psalms 119:158; Psalms 119:136). And to Jeremiah: “Oh that my head were waters,” &c. (Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 14:17). Ill fares it with the soul when we can contemplate sin without sorrow.
3. Intense moral indignation. “I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.” Thus he expressed not only his surprise and grief, but also his utter abhorrence of the sin of which they were guilty. God has declared His hatred of sin (Jeremiah 44:4); and as His servants grow in likeness to Him, their hatred of sin will also grow. We may not hate the sinner; while we condemn we may also pity him; but it behoves us to regard sin with repugnance and anger.
III. The effect of Ezra’s grief upon others. “Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel,” &c. Thus the distress of Ezra—
1. Excited their alarm. They “trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away.” They were filled with fear lest the judgments pronounced upon those who were guilty of this sin should be inflicted upon them. They could not do otherwise than regard with consternation that which afflicted Ezra with so much distress.
2. Attracted them unto him. Every one who thus trembled at the words of God assembled unto Ezra. Some might have been drawn to him by curiosity; but certainly they who were alarmed because of the threatened punishments were not of the number. They came to him moved by deep concern on account of the guilt contracted, and by sympathy with his sorrow because of it. And he and they remained apparently speechless for a considerable time—probably for three or four hours. Emotions are sometimes too deep to find expression in words. At such times silence is more expressive than even the most mighty and moving words (comp. Job 2:13). Mark the power of one true and good man to influence others beneficially. The sorrow of such a man is deeply impressive; it awakens serious reflection, &c. And his moral indignation goes far to carry conviction of the sinfulness of that which enkindles it. (b).
1. Separation from the world is obligatory upon the true Christian. We do not by this mean neglect of the secular duties of life. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” “Diligent in business.” In business the Christian must associate with the worldly. Nor do we mean separation from political parties and pursuits. As citizens we have duties which we may not neglect without sin. Nor yet, retirement from the world into seclusion. “I pray not,” said our Lord, “That thou shouldest take them out of the world,” &c. We mean separation from the aims, principles, spirit, and society of the world. And this not from any Pharisaic conceit of our moral superiority, but for our own safety and usefulness, and for the honour of God. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate,” &c. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). (c).
2. Sin in others should be regarded by the true Christian with unfeigned sorrow, and reprobation of the sin. See how Ezra grieved! how our Lord wept over guilty Jerusalem! (d).
3. Sin in the avowed people of God is especially heinous and mournful. Their privileges are greater than those of the world, consequently their obligations also are greater, and their sin involves a darker guilt. It is a greater dishonour to God; it checks the progress of His cause and kingdom, &c.
4. Therefore it behoves Christians to give all diligence to walk holily and unblamably before God and before men. “Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord.” Let us take heed that we be not found false witnesses. “Ye are the salt of the earth,” &c. (Matthew 5:13-16). (e).
(a) If a man could be wicked and a villain to himself alone, the mischief would be so much the more tolerable. But the case is much otherwise. The plague flies abroad and attacks the innocent neighbourhood. The guilt of the crime lights upon one, but the example of it sways a multitude, especially if the criminal be of any note or eminence in the world. For the fall of such an one by any temptation (be it never so plausible) is like that of a principal stone, or stately pillar, tumbling from a lofty edifice into the deep mire of the street: it does not only plunge and sink into the black dirt itself, but it also dashes and bespatters all that are about or near it when it falls. Was it not thus with Samson, who, of a judge of Israel, and a terror to his enemies, a man all made up of miracle, rendered himself both the shame of the former and the contempt of the latter; a scoff and a byword to all the nations round about him (as every vicious and voluptuous prince must needs be); and all this by surrendering up his strength, his reason, and his royal trust to the charms of a brutish temptation, which quickly transformed and made him a more stupendous miracle of folly and weakness than ever he had been of strength; and a greater disgrace to his country than ever he had been a defence; or, in a word, from a judge of Israel, a woeful judgment upon it? And was it not thus also with David? This was the worst and most killing consequence of the temptation which he fell by (2 Samuel 12:14), that he had by that enormous act “given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” And no doubt the religion he professed, as well as the sin he had committed, was thereupon made “the song of the drunkards;” and many a biting jeer was obliquely cast at one, as well as directly levelled at the other.—R. South, D.D.
(b) The Christian ought to clear a space for himself wherever he goes. Little children, humble hearts, mourning souls, reverent, noble, heavenly-minded persons ought to come round him and say, “Welcome in God’s name. Don’t leave us; abide with us a long while.” But knaves and hypocrites, people who are rolling iniquity under their tongue as a sweet morsel—masked people—ought to feel terribly uncomfortable when a Christian man comes among them. They ought to know him from afar. There should be surrounding him a kind of atmosphere in which men that are evil cannot breathe and live—the knave should shrink away from his sight; the coward should hide himself in the lowest and vilest dust; and the man who was contemplating some keen, clever stroke, in which there should be dishonour and injustice, should feel himself paralysed, disabled, half-damned, in the presence of a man whose soul is afire with Divine truth.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(c) The Jewish law shadowed out an everlasting truth. God’s people are an exclusive nation; God’s Church is for ever separated from the world. This is her charter, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” God’s people may break that charter, but they do it at their own peril. And we may be very sure of this, when a religious person begins to feel an inclination for intimate communion with the world, and begins to break down that barrier which is the line of safety, the first step is made of a series of long, dark wanderings from God. We are to be separate, brethren, from the world. Mistake not the meaning of that word. The world changes its complexion in every age. Solomon’s world was the nations of idolatry lying round Israel. Our world is not that. The world is that collection of men in every age who live only according to the maxims of their time. The world may be a profligate world, or it may be a moral world. All that is a matter of accident. Our world is a moral world. The sons of our world are not idolaters, they are not profligate, they are, it may be, among the most fascinating of mankind. Their society is more pleasing, more lively, more diversified in information than religious society. No marvel if a young and ardent heart feels the spell of the fascination. No wonder if it feels a relief in turning away from the dulness and the monotony of home life to the sparkling brilliancy of the world’s society.… And yet now, pause.… The Christian must leave the world alone. His blessedness lies in quiet work with the Israel of God. His home in that deep, unruffled tranquillity which belongs to those who are trying to know Christ.—F. W. Robertson, M.A.
(d) You must learn to be good haters—but not of men. You do not need anything to instruct you on that point. You are too good in that already. You are to abhor evil. Ah! there are hundreds of men that know how to hate men, where there is one that knows how to love a man and hate evil. Because evil is offensive to God, because it is repugnant to the innate delicacy of every moral sentiment, because it wastes you, because it wastes your neighbour, because it is hurtful to society, because every benevolent instinct requires that you should hate that which is the common foe of all mankind, therefore you should hate evil. We are to hate all qualities and actions which corrupt the individual, which injure manhood in man; all that creates sorrow or suffering, or tends to do it. In short, we are to take our beginning in the law of God; and being filled with goodwill toward every living creature, that spirit breathing itself like summer throughout, we are to hate, come from what quarter it may, everything that injures society, that injures men in the mass, or that injures men in their individual capacity. Whether it be in their bodies, their souls, or their estate, whatever works mischief to mankind, you are to be its enemy. The want of this moral rebound, and of this indignation, will be found to be ruinous. The presence of it is wholesome. The absence of it is effeminating. It destroys the individual to whom it is lacking, and it is mischievous to the community in which it is lacking.—H. W. Beecher.
(e) It is recorded of Alexander the Great, that a soldier was reported to him as having betrayed great cowardice on a particular occasion, on which Alexander called him to him and asked his name. On hearing that his name was Alexander, he upbraided him with the dishonour that he brought on such a name, and entreated him either to change his manners or to change his name, asking him how he could dare, while known as Alexander, to act unworthily? And shall not the Christian remember the high and holy name by which he is called, and dread encountering the guilt and meanness of dishonouring his Head, who was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners”? That name, in its very signification, tells him that he is related to the anointed One, and that (as the name implies) all His members, in their measure and degree, are anointed ones. How shall they who take this sacred unction upon them dare to dishonour this name, and so sin against Christ!—H. G. Salter.
THE GOOD MAN’S CONFESSION OF THE PEOPLE’S SIN
We have here—
I. Deep personal shame and sorrow on account of the sins of the people. These feelings Ezra expresses by—
1. A symbolical action. “And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness, and rent my garments and my mantle.” Thus before the assembled people he proclaims the grief and moral indignation with which he regarded their sin.
2. A suggestive attitude. “I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God.” The posture indicates deep humiliation before God and earnest supplication unto Him.
3. An explicit avowal. Ezra said, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God.” In this avowal notice—
(1.) The shamefulness of sin. “Sin is a reproach to any people.” It is an “abominable thing.”
(2.) The good man is ashamed because of the sin of others. He feels the dishonour which is offered by it to God, and the ingratitude, folly, and wickedness of those who commit it. He cannot be an unmoved spectator of the workers of iniquity. The knowledge of human wickedness affects him as it did Ezra, or leads him to cry with the Psalmist, “Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake Thy law.”
(3.) The good man is specially conscious of the shamefulness of sin when he draws near to God in worship. In the light of His presence the exceeding deformity and heinousness of sin are painfully clear; and the godly soul, burdened in feeling with the iniquities of others, is ashamed to lift up his face to God. (Comp. Isaiah 6:1-5.) (a).
II. Humble confession of the sins of the people. Ezra confesses—
1. The great accumulation of their sins. “Our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up into the heavens.” The idea seems to be that their iniquities, like waves of the sea, rolled over them threatening to overwhelm them; and their guilt was piled up to the very heavens. The confession of the Psalmist is similar: “Mine iniquities are gone over mine head,” &c. (Psalms 38:4). “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me,” &c. (Psalms 40:12).
2. The long continuance of their sins. “Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day.” From generation to generation they had been a perverse and rebellious people. A sad continuity in sin characterised their history.
3. The sore aggravations of their sins.
(1.) That they had been committed notwithstanding the Divine judgments. “For our iniquities have we, our kings and our priests, been delivered into the hands of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.” God had visited them with heavy judgments, but they had not turned from their iniquities. He had severely reproved them, but they were not reformed. As a people they had suffered long and sorely for their sins, and yet they were still guilty of those sins.
(2.) That they had been committed notwithstanding the Divine mercies. Of these several are mentioned by Ezra. (i.) Mercy in the measure of the punishment inflicted upon them. “Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve.” God might justly have entirely forsaken them, or have made an utter end of them; but in His wrath He had remembered mercy, (ii.) Mercy in disposing the Persian monarchs to treat them with so much generosity. “For we were bondmen, yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia,” &c. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” (chap. Ezra 1:1) to grant them permission to return to their fatherland. He inclined the heart of Darius to treat them so favourably. And it was by His good hand upon Ezra that Artaxerxes “granted him all his request” (chap. Ezra 7:6). (iii.) Mercy in bringing a rescued remnant to their own land again. “And now for a little space grace hath been showed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape,” &c. A considerable remnant of the people had been safely restored and comfortably settled in the country given by God to their fathers. (iv.) Mercy in enabling them to rebuild the Temple of their God. “To give us a nail in His holy place,” &c. “To set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof.” For a people in their circumstances this was a great achievement, and a great mercy from the Lord their God. To the pious amongst them it would be the crowning blessing that the Temple was restored, and that the ordinances of their holy religion were regularly and becomingly celebrated. (v.) Mercy in granting them security in their own land. Two expressions seem to suggest this: “To give us a nail in His holy place.” Margin: “Or, ‘a pin;’ that is, a constant and sure abode.” “And to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem;” not a literal wall, for as yet the walls of Jerusalem were not restored; but a shield and shelter, peace and protection. Their Samaritan enemies were restrained, and did not trouble them. And the officers of the Persian government favoured and supported them and the house of God. Yet despite all these mercies, they were now living in the regular practice of sin against their gracious God. How black the ingratitude of such conduct! And how foolish, for their sins might lead Him to withdraw His favour from them. Neither judgments nor mercies had availed to restrain them from heinous transgression.
(3.) That they had been committed against plain and positive commands. “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken Thy commandments, which Thou hast commanded by Thy servants, the prophets,” &c. (Ezra 9:10-12, and see Explanatory Notes on them). They could not plead ignorance or uncertainty of the law as an excuse for their evil doings.
(4.) That they had been committed against commands the reasons of which had been clearly set before them. It had been shown to them that obedience to these commands was necessary for—(i.) The maintenance of their power. “That ye may be strong.” (Comp. Deuteronomy 11:8.) As they mingled with the heathen they lost strength and courage. (ii.) Their enjoyment of the produce of the land. “And eat the good of the land.” (Comp. Isaiah 1:19.) They should eat it, and not strangers. They should eat it in peace and happiness. (iii.) Their continued possession of the land. “And leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.” (Comp. Deuteronomy 11:9; Proverbs 13:22; Ezekiel 37:25.) Their separation from the heathen was necessary to their secure possession of their country. Thus, these commands were not arbitrary, but reasonable; and the reasons for them were stated. Obedience would have been both rational and advantageous; it was both their duty and their interest. Yet they transgressed these commands. No obligation seemed strong enough to bind them to their duty in this respect; no motive adequate to constrain them to obedience. Most persistent and most aggravated were their sins. (b).
III. A solemn anticipation of the consequence of the continuance of the sins of the people. “And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass,” &c. (Ezra 9:13-15).
1. Continuance in sin would lead to their utter end as a community. “And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; should we again break Thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations, wouldest not Thou be angry with us till Thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?” This inquiry does not denote doubt, but certainty. Looking at God’s commands to them, and His past dealings with them, Ezra was convinced that if they persisted in these sinful alliances God would bring them to an utter end.
2. That such a consequence of continuance in sin would be just. “O Lord God of Israel, Thou art righteous,” &c. (Ezra 9:15). In His past dealings with them God had been just and merciful. He would still be just towards them. They were guilty before Him; they had nothing to plead in extenuation of their sins, but must leave themselves in His hands.
3. That such a consequence of continuance in sin was to be dreaded. This is quite clear from the close of Ezra’s humble appeal to God (Ezra 9:13-15). If sin be not truly repented of its consequences will be found to be dreadful. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” “He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness.”
1. The great evil of sin. It is evil in itself; it is a great wrong against God; it is terrible in its consequences, &c. (c).
2. The grand hope of the sinner. God is merciful as well as just. The greatest sinner, being penitent, may approach unto Him, and, confessing his sin, may obtain full and free forgiveness. “There is forgiveness with Thee,” &c. (Psalms 130:3-4; Psalms 130:7). “If we confess our sins,” &c. (1 John 1:9). (d).
3. The right relation of the good man to sin. Like Ezra, he should hold it in abhorrence, should be burdened in feeling because of its prevalence in others, should exhibit to them its heinousness, and should humbly confess it before God. When iniquity abounds, let God’s faithful people “weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord,” &c. (Joel 2:17). (e).
(a) Our whole lives present one unbroken series of duties neglected, of favours not acknowledged. And, oh! how do they appear, when we review them in the light of God’s countenance! When we see before us our Creator, our Preserver, our Benefactor, our Sovereign, and our Heavenly Father; when we see in Him, to whom all these titles belong, infinite excellence, perfection, glory, and beauty; when we see with what profound veneration, with what raptures of holy, grateful affection He is regarded and served by all the bright armies of heaven;—and then turn and contemplate our past lives, and reflect how they must appear in His sight, can we refrain from exclaiming with Job, “We have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now our eyes see Thee: wherefore we abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes”? Must not each of us say with the Psalmist, “Innumerable evils have compassed me about; mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head; therefore my heart faileth me”? Nay, more, when you see what God is, and how He is worshipped in heaven, and then look at the coldness, the formality, the want of reverence with which you have often approached Him in prayer, and listened to His word, must you not feel conscious that should He call you into judgment you could not answer for one in a thousand of the iniquities which have stained your holy things, your religious duties?—E. Payson, D.D.
(b) The criminality of any sin is in proportion to the motives and obligations which opposed its commission. To sin against many and powerful motives indicates greater depravity, and is, of course, more criminal than to sin against few and feeble motives. Suppose a person is informed that if he commits a certain crime he shall be imprisoned. If, notwithstanding the threatening, he perpetrates the crime, he shows that be loves the crime more than he loves liberty. Again, suppose him to be assured that if he commits the crime he shall be put to death. Should he after that commit the crime, it would indicate greater depravity than before, it would show that he loved the crime more than life. But the Word of God threatens sinners with everlasting misery if they persist in sin, and promises them everlasting happiness if they will renounce it. I need not tell you that what is everlasting is in one respect infinite, viz., in duration. Here, then, are two infinitely powerful motives presented to the sinner to deter him from sin—infinite happiness and infinite misery. Every one, then, who persists in sin, notwithstanding these motives, shows that he loves sin more than everlasting happiness, that he hates holiness more than he dreads everlasting misery. His attachment to sin, and, of course, his depravity and criminality, are therefore boundless or infinite.—Ibid.
(c) Every sin is a violation of an infinitely perfect law. It will readily be allowed that to violate a good law is a greater evil than to violate a law the goodness of which is doubtful. It will also be allowed that if there were any law made by human governments, on obedience to which the honour, the welfare, and even the existence of a nation depended,—to violate that law would be the greatest crime which a subject could commit. Now the law of God is perfectly holy, just, and good. If it were universally obeyed, universal and endless happiness would be the consequence. But disobedience to this law tends to produce universal and endless misery. Take away the law and the authority of God, there would be no right but that of the strongest; violence, discord, and confusion would fill the universe; sin and misery would overspread the earth, would ascend to heaven, subvert the throne of Jehovah, and compel Him to live in the midst of a mad, infuriated mob, the members of which were continually insulting Him and injuring each other. Now every violation of God’s law tends to produce this effect.—Ibid.
Others may throw garlands upon sin, picturing the overhanging fruits which drop in her pathway, and make every step graceful as the dance; but we cannot be honest without presenting it as a giant, black with the soot of the forges where eternal chains are made, and feet rotting with disease, and breath foul with plagues, and eyes glaring with woe, and locks flowing in serpent fangs, and voice from which shall rumble forth the blasphemies of the damned.—T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.
(d) Confession is a necessary basis of forgiveness. Confession is not a simple act. Confession is in reality a multitudinous act; it is many acts in one; it is a convergence of right judgment, right feeling, and right action. There are kinds of confession which are wholly unavailing.… This is not the confession in which David poured out his soul; his words are full of heart. His language seems to be baptized with tears. Every word is a groan from the soul; and consequently his confession comes within the assurance of that world-enclosing and most blessed promise, that if we confess our sins, God will erase them from His book, and remember them no more for ever. Think of God forgetting. Think of the Infinite casting aught behind His back! Back of the Infinite! Where is that? He will put our sins away from Him, as far as the East is from the West. What geometrician can set forth in lines that distance, or tell in words the vastness of that immensity?—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(e) Abhorrence of evil is indispensable to the purity of a man’s own self who is in the midst of “a perverse and crooked generation.” I do not believe any man can avoid the formation of feeling, and to a certain extent the expression of it, and maintain himself incorrupt. It is unnatural. What would you give for a man’s humanity who could stand by and see a little boy deliberately tortured, and maintain a sweet and smiling face, and perfect equanimity, saying, “It is neither my child, nor the child of anybody that I know anything about;” and saying, “It is wrong; I suppose it is wrong; but there is no use of being excited about it”? What would you think of a man that could stand and look upon wickedness and not feel all his nature rebound at it? You cannot see a man steal (provided it is not yourself!) without the utmost horror. You never see a mean thing done (if it is only done by another) without some sensibility in regard to it.
Now, the expressions of these feelings are, by reaction, the modes in which moral sense, the repugnance to wickedness, to evil, is strengthened. And if you, for any reason, forbear to give expression to the feeling, it goes out for want of expression. It is like fire that is smothered. And the man who is so extremely prudent that he never does give utterance to his feelings of indignation against great wrongs, is a man that emasculates himself; and he becomes a moral eunuch. A man is not worthy of the name of man who has no power of indignation. A man is not worthy of being ranked in the roll of manhood who does not know how to issue soul-thunder.
The feeling, and suitable expression, of indignation, then, is not only salutary as a mode of penalty, and of restraint to the wickedness of society, but it is quite indispensable, also, to the moral purity of the individual, the spectator, himself. It is one of those exercises by which the very moral sense itself, the judge and test of all things right or wrong, is kept in tone.—H. W. Beecher.
EZRA’S HUMILIATION FOR THE SINS OF HIS PEOPLE
I. The reason of his sorrow. Many of the people had connected themselves in marriage both with the Canaanites and other heathens around them. This he justly regarded as a most heinous evil.
1. As being a violation of an express command. Ezra himself speaks of it in this view (comp. Ezra 9:10-12 with Deuteronomy 7:2-3). It is possible that, whilst the generality sought only the gratification of their own corrupt appetites, “the princes and rulers, who were chief in this matter,” justified their conduct on the ground of policy. They might urge that, being few in number, it was desirable for their own preservation to make alliances with those whose hostility they feared. In this way many set their own reasonings in opposition to God’s revealed will. But reason is altogether out of place on such occasions. We are not at liberty to sit in judgment on God’s commands, and to determine how far it is expedient to obey them, &c.
2. As having an evident tendency to bring the people back to idolatry. It was for their idolatries that the nation had been sent into captivity; and a recurrence of the same evil was likely to result from so intimate a connection with idolaters. (Comp. Deuteronomy 7:4.) Their disregard of this danger showed how little they had profited by the judgments that had been inflicted on them, or the mercies that had been vouchsafed unto them. But thus it is with all who seek the friendship of the world: God has told them that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4); that it is impossible to maintain communion with both (Matthew 6:24; 2 Corinthians 6:14-15); and that therefore all who cultivate the friendship of the world will be regarded and treated as the enemies of God (1 John 2:15-17); yet they will run the risk, and for the sake of gratifying their corrupt wishes, will endanger the everlasting salvation of their souls.
II. The expressions of his sorrow.
1. The expression of his grief the instant he was informed of their misconduct. This was more violent than any of which we read in the Holy Scriptures. Often have men rent their mantle and their garments; but of him alone we are told that “he plucked off the hair of his head and of his beard.” He was almost distracted; he was so overwhelmed as to be incapable of speech or action; “he sat down astonied,” &c. Shall we think all this extravagant? No truly, if we duly estimate the evil they had committed, and the danger to which the whole nation was reduced. We are told of David, that “horror took hold upon him,” and that “rivers of tears ran down his cheeks,” &c. St. Paul appeals to God, that he had “great sorrow and continual heaviness in his heart,” &c.
2. His humiliation before God more particularly demands our attention. “At the time of the evening sacrifice,” as if revived and encouraged by the consideration of the great atonement, “he arose from his heaviness, and fell upon his knees,” and confessed with shame and anguish of heart both his own sins and the sins of all the people. What a just view had he of national transgressions. Many would have thought that because he disapproved of the evils that had been committed, he had no share in the guilt, nor any occasion to humble himself before God on account of them; but the members of the body politic are, in their corporate capacity, like the members of the natural body, all to a certain degree responsible for those evils which generally, though not universally, prevail among them. At the day of judgment indeed, none will have to answer for anything but what they themselves were personally guilty of; but in this world, where alone nations can be dealt with as nations, we should consider ourselves as participating in whatever relates to the nation at large. Oh that we felt for our own sins as he felt for the sins of others! We are told plainly enough what is that repentance which godly sorrow will produce (2 Corinthians 7:10-11); let us therefore look to it that we “approve ourselves to be clear in this matter.”
And now the evening sacrifice is just offered; “now once in the end of the world, hath Christ appeared,” &c. (Hebrews 9:26.) Let us spread before Him both our national and personal transgressions; not doubting but that “if we confess our sins, God is faithful,” &c. (1 John 1:9).—C. Simeon, M.A.
Israel had often suffered for their sins, especially for idolatry. Worsted by enemies—latterly carried into captivity. Now, after seventy years, restored. Now Ezra relates his experience. Deep sorrow and shame for their sins (Ezra 9:2, &c.). His distress, prayer, and confession, &c. In the midst of this comes our text, full of instruction, counsel, &c. The subject shows—
I. The grace they had experienced.
1. In bondage. Not desert, but grace—undeserved favour.
2. Grace from Jehovah, their covenant God.
3. Grace to preserve. “A remnant.” Seventy years’ captivity. Not all extinguished. Some kept, sustained—and a remnant only.
4. To be restored to their land—nation—city—worship—inheritances—and home.
II. The exalted position to which they had been raised.
1. “A nail,” or pin—these were inserted in the building of the place. Designed—
(1.) For ornament.
(2.) For usefulness.
(3.) For permanence. So Christ, the Messiah (Isaiah 22:23). Levites were nails, pins. The priests—the high priest—an exalted place. The musicians.
2. In the “holy place” of God. Tabernacle—Church of the old covenant. Not in palaces—schools of learning—halls of science—academies of philosophy; but in the far higher, holier Church of the living God. Observe this is expressive—
(1.) Of their honour—true dignity.
(2.) Of their security.
(3.) Of their privileges and favours.
III. The blessings connected with these privileges.
And here there is reference—
1. To spiritual illumination. “God may lighten,” &c. (Psalms 13:3; Psalms 34:5).
(1.) Eyes to see their own unworthiness.
(2.) Their own helplessness.
(3.) The Lord’s goodness.
(4.) The Lord’s will and ways.
2. Spiritual reviving. Rekindling of the fire—stirring up—re-inspiring—re-strengthening—reviving. Faith—hope—zeal—love—obedience.
3. Gratefulness for deliverances. In our bondage—that God should show grace. Deliverance from it, &c. And now gratefully reviewed, &c.
4. The brevity of these signal mercies—“a little space.” For working—fighting—building up ourselves. Also the Church—“a little space.” We are reminded of this—
(1.) By those who have passed away. The fathers, &c. Those we have known—succeeded.
(2.) By the advance we have made in life. Look back to childhood—youth, &c. How changed!
(3.) By the uncertain, fragmentary remains, we can only possess. “Time is short,” &c. “We spend our years as a tale that is told.” The Judge at the door. “I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day,” &c. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,” &c. Let the subject be—
1. A test of character. Are we of the remnant? Called—the chosen—the faithful.
2. An appeal as to our position. In the Church, “a nail” or pin—somewhere.
3. A question as to our desires. Are we seeking the reviving?
4. An exhortation. Appeal to those outside the Church to come with us, &c.—Jabez Burns, D.D.
“Give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons.” The Israelites were prohibited from taking heathen women for their wives, and from giving their daughters in marriage to the heathen. And true Christians are commanded not to marry those who are not Christians. What are the reasons why such marriages should not be contracted? Because—
I. They are opposed to the express command of God. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” &c. (2 Corinthians 6:14). “There is,” says Barnes, “a difference between Christians and those who are not so great as to render such unions improper and injurious. The direction here refers, doubtless, to all kinds of improper connections with those who were unbelievers. It has been usually supposed by commentators to refer particularly to marriage. But there is no reason for confining it to marriage. It doubtless includes that.” And M. Henry: “Those relations that are our choice must be chosen by rule; and it is good for those who are themselves the children of God to join with those who are so likewise; for there is more danger that the bad will damage the good than hope that the good will benefit the bad.” Again, St. Paul writes that Christians are to marry “only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39); which Alford explains thus: “i.e., within the limits of Christian connection—in the element in which all Christians live and walk—‘let her marry a Christian.’ So Tertull., Cypr., Ambros., Jerome, Grot., Est., Bengel, Rosenm., Olsh., Meyer, De W.” Whitby: “She must marry a believer, one who is in Christ by faith and profession.” And Barnes: “That is, only to one who is a Christian, with a proper sense of her obligations to Christ, and so as to promote His glory.” (a).
II. They are inconsistent with the most sacred aspects and ends of marriage. Marriage was instituted by God (Genesis 2:20-24; Matthew 19:4-6); and it was intended by Him to be a union of persons not merely as regards their temporal interests, but in their spiritual sympathies. In its best aspect marriage is a union of souls. (b). They who are thus united have sympathy with each other in their deepest, highest, and holiest experiences. They are one in soul, one in Christ, and one for ever. The marriage which is not a union of souls is defective, and it degrades the Divine institution. One of the ends contemplated in the institution of marriage was that they who are joined in this relation should be mutual helpers. Woman was created to be “an help meet for” man. And this must surely hold good in relation to the highest and most important concerns of life, viz., the salvation of their souls, or their life, health, and progress as spiritual beings. Husbands and wives should aid each other in their upward and heavenward path. But how can they do this if the genuine Christian is mated with one who is not a Christian? (c). The absence of this high and holy union is sometimes mournfully manifest in married life. How inexpressibly sad it is when in the sore troubles of life husband and wife look to different quarters for relief, and consolation, and help! The true Christian looks to the Heavenly Father, and obtains calmness and peace and hope, to which the unbelieving partner is a stranger. When their union should be most closely and preciously realised, the gulf which separates them is most painfully felt. In like manner the unbeliever is utterly unable to enter into the tenderest, holiest, and most cherished experiences—those of the religious life—of the Christian partner.
III. They imperil the salvation of the soul. The believing husband or wife may be successful in leading the unbelieving partner to real trust in Christ and hearty consecration to Him. But in very many instances the actual result is the opposite of this. “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin” (Nehemiah 13:26). “There is far greater ground of fear that they shall pervert you, than there is ground of hope that you shall convert them.” The risk of this kind which such marriages involve is one which no Christian is justified in deliberately encountering. (d).
“Maid, choosing man, remember this:
You take his nature with his name;
Ask, too, what his religion is,
For you will soon be of the same.”
IV. They are inimical to wise and harmonious home government. In such marriages there is a difference of opinion as to the ends to be sought and the methods to be employed in the government of the family; and as to the spirit which should pervade the home; and, further, as to the course of life to be pursued therein. Such differences must militate against the order and harmony which should characterise family life.
V. They are detrimental to the best interests of the children of the marriage. One of the objects contemplated in the institution of marriage was the production of “a godly seed” (Malachi 2:15), and in the marriages which are Divinely forbidden this object is likely to be frustrated. The diversity of spirit, principles, aims, and methods, which exists where one parent is really a Christian and the other is not, must exert an injurious influence upon the children, (e). How many and forcible, then, are the reasons why Christians should marry “only in the Lord”!
(a) They that enter, or think of entering, into the married state, are required to do it in the Lord, as an only thing. Marry they may, “only in the Lord.” But when they neglect this, they leave out the only thing that can make a blessed marriage; which certainly must argue a very profane mind, when men and women dare venture, and rush upon a matter of so great importance as that, and leave out the very only thing that concerns them in it.—John Howe.
(b) The relation of which we now treat, instituted by the benevolent Creator Himself, is the closest, the most intimate and tender, of all earthly connections. Its closeness and endearing intimacy were evidently meant to be indicated by two circumstances:—
(1.) The manner of the formation of the first woman; not, as the man himself had been, from “the dost of the ground,” but from a bone of his own body; and that bone one of the safeguards of the most important and vital organs of his frame, being part of the protecting bulwarks of his heart—the fountain of life to his whole frame, and the seat of all his affections. I dare not for a moment doubt the emblematic significance of this remarkable fact. It is as far as possible from being fanciful. Adam himself perceived, and felt, and expressed it, when, on the delicate and lovely counterpart of himself being brought to him by the Divine Maker, he exclaimed, with new, and delightful, and sinless emotion: “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” In our language the sentiment is not, and cannot be, correctly transfused. In the original the name for woman is simply that for man, with a feminine termination, which, from the structure of our language, we cannot imitate. The nearest approximation to it would be she-man; but, unfortunately, it sounds too ludicrously to be at all sufferable. To this original formation of woman Paul beautifully alludes, when he describes the very thing of which we have been representing it as significant of the tender care with which husbands should regard and cherish the chosen partners of their lives. “So ought men to love their wives,” &c. (Ephesians 5:28-30).
(2.) The second thing by which this was indicated was the pronouncing of this relation, by Jehovah Himself, superior in its imperative requisitions to every other. The relation of child to parent is specially tender and powerful; yet it must give way before the obligation under which that child, when he becomes a husband, is laid to the “wife of his youth:” “For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.” It is the only one of life’s relations that is represented as constituting a species of identity—a dual unit: “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”—R. Wardlaw, D.D.
(c) Husband and wife should be as the milch-kine, which were coupled together to carry the ark of God; or as the two cherubim, that looked upon one another, and both upon the mercy-seat; or as the two tables of stone, on each of which were engraven the laws of God. In some families married persons are like Jeremiah’s two baskets of figs, the one very good, the other very evil; or like fire and water, whilst the one is flaming in devotion, the other is freezing in corruption. There is a twofold hindrance in holiness: first, on the right side; secondly, on the left. On the right side: when the wife would run in God’s way, the husband will not let her go: when the fore-horse in a team will not draw, he wrongs all the rest; when the general of an army forbids a march, all the soldiers stand still. Sometimes on the left: how did Solomon’s idolatrous wives draw away his heart from heaven? A sinning wife was Satan’s first ladder, by which he scaled the walls of Paradise, and took away the fort-royal of Adam’s heart from him. Thus, she that should have been the help of his flesh, was the hurt of his faith: his nature’s under propper becomes his grace’s under miner; and she that should be a crown on the head, is a cross on the shoulders. The wife is often to the husband as the ivy is to the oak, which draws away his sap from him.—W. Secker.
(d) Such unlawful unions have been usually advocated thus:—The godly party pretends to make no doubt but that the other party may be converted: “God can easily convert men when He will; and if there be but love, persons are easily won over to the same mind with those they love.” Answer—
(1.) Then it seems because you love an ungodly person, you will be easily turned to be ungodly. If so, you are not much better already. If love will not draw you to their mind to be ungodly, why should you think love will draw them to your mind to be godly? Are you stronger in grace than they are in sin?
(2.) If you knew well what grace is, and what a sinful, unrenewed soul is, you would not think it so easy a matter to convert a soul. Why are there so few converted, if it be so easy a thing? You cannot make yourselves better by adding higher degrees to the grace you have; much less can you make others better by giving them the grace which they have not.
(3.) It is true that God is able to convert them when He will; and it is true that, for aught I know, it may be done. But what of that? Will you in so weighty a case take up with a mere possibility? God can make a beggar rich, and for aught you know to the contrary, He will do it; and yet you will not therefore marry a beggar; nor will you marry a leper, because God can heal him; why then should you marry an ungodly person, because God can convert him? See it done first, if you love your peace and safety.—R. Baxter.
A consistent Christian young man became attached to a pleasure-loving and gay young lady, and married her against the advice of his brethren. Her influence silenced his prayers, estranged him from the house of God, and led him to her ways of pleasure. Sickness called his attention back to religion. Twice his wife had driven him from his duty. Now, in agony and remorse, with a fearful eternity before him, he gazed upon her and cried, “Rebecca, Rebecca, you are the cause of my eternal damnation!” and died.—Dict. of Illust.
(e) Hannah vows, if the Lord will give her a son, by bearing him, she will return that son to the Lord by serving Him (1 Samuel 1:11). A spouse should be more careful of her children’s breeding than she should be fearful of her children’s bearing. Take heed lest these flowers grow in the devil’s garden. Though you bring them out in corruption, yet do not bring them up to damnation. Those are not mothers, but monsters, that whilst they should be teaching their children the way to heaven with their lips, are leading them the way to hell with their lives. Good education it the best livery you can give them living; and it is the best legacy you can leave them dying. You let out your cares to make them great. Oh lift up your prayers to make them good; that before you die from them, you may see Christ live in them. Whilst these twigs are green and tender, they should be bowed towards God. Children and servants are in a family as passengers are in a boat; husband and wife, they are as a pair of oars to row them to their desired haven. Let these small pieces of timber be hewed and squared for the celestial building. By putting a sceptre of grace into their hands, you will set a crown of glory upon their heads.—W. Secker.
USE OF GOD’S DIVERSIFIED DISPENSATIONS
I. God’s diversified dispensations towards us. God visited His people of old with alternate mercies and judgments; and thus He has dealt with us also.
1. He has visited our sins with judgments. And it is of the utmost importance that we should acknowledge the hand of God in them. They spring not out of the dust, &c. God uses men as instruments, just as He did the Assyrians and Chaldeans, to punish His people; but still it is His hand alone that inflicts the stroke (Psalms 17:13; Isaiah 10:5-7; Isaiah 10:13-15; Isaiah 37:24-26; Genesis 45:8). We must confess, however, that our sufferings have by no means equalled our deserts (Psalms 103:10). Take any one of our national sins, &c. If God had proceeded against us according to the tremendous aggregate of our iniquities, we should have been made as Sodom and Gomorrah.
2. He has also vouchsaved us a deliverance. The “deliverance” granted to the Jews on their return from Babylon was not inferior to that which they had formerly experienced in their departure from Egypt. And has not ours also been exceeding great?… In this too must we view the hand of God. Whoever were the means, God was the author of it. It is He who produces all the changes in the state of individuals (1 Samuel 2:6-8), or of kingdoms (Jeremiah 18:6-7; Jeremiah 18:9). And as the discerning of His agency in our afflictions is necessary to effect our humiliation, so the beholding of it in our mercies is necessary to excite our gratitude.
II. The effect they should have upon us. If the destruction of sin be the end which God proposes to Himself in all His conduct towards us, then we should endeavour to make everything subservient to that end. The pointed interrogation in the text strongly shows in what light we should view a renewed violation of God’s commandments, after He has taken such pains to enforce the observance of them.
1. How unreasonable would it be! No man can read the account of Pharaoh’s obstinacy in the midst of all his successive judgments and deliverances, and not stand amazed at his more than brutish stupidity. Yet it is thus that we shall act, if we do not now put away our sins, &c. And how irrational such conduct would be God Himself tells us: He even calls heaven and earth to express their astonishment at it, &c. (Isaiah 1:2-3). And if we be guilty of it, He will justly vent His indignation against us, as He did against His people of old: “They are a perverse and crooked generation,” &c. (Deuteronomy 32:5-6).
2. How ungrateful! Ingratitude is considered as one of the greatest aggravations that can be found in any offence of man against his fellow-man; and how much more must it enhance the guilt we contract in our disobedience to God! See what a stress God Himself lays upon this in the transgressions of David (2 Samuel 12:7-9), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:9), and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:25); and will it not stamp a tenfold malignity also on our offences? (Comp. Jeremiah 7:9-10.)
3. How dangerous! This is particularly noticed by Ezra, in the words following the text; and the state of the Jews at this moment is an awful comment upon it. God tells us that, as the impenitence of the Jews was the reason of His continuing to afflict them (Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 9:21; Isaiah 10:4), so He will “punish us seven times more for our sins” (Leviticus 26:18; Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:24; Leviticus 26:28) if we now continue in them. To what a state of misery we may in that case expect to be reduced, we may judge from what was actually experienced by the Jewish nation (Judges 10:11-14).
Remember that God is not an indifferent spectator of our conduct. Sin is that “abominable thing which His soul hateth” (Jeremiah 44:4); and He will surely destroy either it or him that retains it. And if His judgments be not inflicted on the sinner in this life, there still is a future day of retribution, when every man shall give account of himself to God, and receive the just recompense of all his actions. Let every one of us shudder at the thought of ever again breaking the least of God’s commandments.—C. Simeon, M.A.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27