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REPENTANCE OF THE PEOPLE, AND COVENANT SWORN TO, ON THE RECOMMENDATION OF SHECHANIAH (Ezra 10:1-5). While Ezra was uttering his prayer aloud, upon his knees, in front of the temple, where the evening sacrifice was being offered upon the great brazen altar (Ezra 3:2), the people gathered about him, heard what he said, and had their feelings so stirred that numbers of them burst into tears and "wept very sore" (Ezra 10:1). When he had ended, Sheehaniah, the son of Jehiel, took the word, and suggested an immediate step towards that reformation which Ezra seemed to him to have had in his mind and to have tacitly recommended. This step was that all present should at once enter into a special covenant with God that they would do their utmost to have the mixed marriages dissolved, and the idolatrous wives, with their children, sent out of the country. The idea of such a special covenant was no new thing. One such had been made under Asa (2 Chronicles 15:12) against idolatry; another, more general, under Josiah (2 Kings 23:3); a third, nearly parallel with this, since it touched a single point of the law only, under Zedekiah (Jeremiah 34:8). The proposition of Shechaniah approved itself to Ezra, who "arose, and made the chief priests and Levites" present and "all the people" present, to swear to this covenant. "And they swore." An engagement of a most sacred character was thus entered into by a number of influential persons, and the way was prepared for the actual reformation which followed.
When Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed. Rather, "As Ezra prayed, and as he confessed." (Vulg.: "Orante Esdra et implorante." LXX.: Ὡς προσηύξατο Ἔσδρας καὶ ὡς ἐξηγόρευσε.) Weeping and casting himself down. Ezra had knelt at first (Ezra 9:5); but as he proceeded, and felt more and more the heinousness of the people's transgression, he threw himself forward upon the ground, in the attitude of extremest humiliation. Before the house of God. So far as can be gathered from the context, Ezra was in the great court of the temple when the princes came to him with their information (Ezra 9:1). He at once "sat down astonied" (verse 8). So he remained until preparations began to be made for the evening sacrifice, when he arose, and took up a position directly in front of the altar and the holy place, towards which he proceeded to pray. Doubtless he had in his mind the words of Solomon, assented to by God (1 Kings 9:3), and pleaded by Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:9): "What prayer and supplication be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands towards this place: then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and forgive, and do," etc. (1 Kings 8:38, 1 Kings 8:39).
Jehiel. Probably the "Jehiel" mentioned again in Ezra 10:26, who was "of the sons of Elam," and had married an idolatrous wife. Yet now there is hope. The penitence of the people, evidenced by their "sore weeping, gave hope that they might be brought to amend their ways and return to God.
Now therefore let us make a covenant. Shechaniah had probably in his thoughts the (comparatively) recent covenant which the people had made in the reign of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 34:15) on the subject of releasing their Hebrew slaves after six years of servitude. That covenant was entered into before God, in the temple, by the princes and all the people (ibid. Ezra 10:10). To put away all the wives. Shechaniah probably held that marriages made contrary to the law were not merely wrongful, but invalid. At any rate, since the law of Moses, as interpreted by the Rabbis, allowed divorce "for every cause" (Matthew 19:3), the remedy suggested was feasible, though scarcely one which the civil power could enforce. And such as are born of them. "Filii matrem sequuntur" was a maxim of Roman, and, apparently, also of Jewish law. Young children require especially a mother's care. Older ones might be already tainted with idolatry. It was best, Shechaniah thought, to make a clean sweep, and dismiss the children as well as the mothers. According to the counsel of my lord. Ezra had not yet advised any course; but Shechaniah gathers from the horror which he has expressed what his wishes must be. Let it be done according to the law. Either, "Let the law, which forbids these marriages, be in this way satisfied" (Dathe); or, "Let the repudiation of the wives take place in the mode prescribed by the law" (see Deuteronomy 24:1).
This matter belongeth unto thee. Ezra's commission was to "let judgment be executed on those who would not do the law of God" (Ezra 7:26), and so to constrain them to obedience. It was therefore his place to inquire into the serious matter brought before him, and set it right. We will be with thee. We, the "very great congregation" which had gathered around Ezra, and of whom Shechaniah was the spokesman, undertake to be with thee, and support thee, in the steps which thou takest in this matter. Only be of good courage, and act.
Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests … to swear. Rather, "made the princes, the priests, etc. to swear" LXX.). That they would do according to this word. That they would act in the matter as Shechaniah had recommended, and put away the idolatrous wives.
EZRA'S FAST (Ezra 10:6). Matters having reached this point, the covenant having been made, and the only question remaining for consideration being how the decision come to should be carried out, Ezra "rose up," and withdrew himself for a time from the people, entering into one of the side chambers of the temple, and secluding himself there. The guilt of his brethren still pressed heavily on his spirit, and he continued the mourning which he had commenced as soon as it came to his ears. To this mourning he now joined a fast of the strictest kind, an entire abstinence both from eating and drinking, like that of Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Natural piety seems to have taught men generally (Jonah 3:5-7), and the Jews among them, that such abstinence was a fitting accompaniment of penitential prayer, and might be counted on to lend it additional force with Almighty God. Compare the private and personal fasts of David (2 Samuel 12:16), Ahab (1 Kings 21:27), Daniel (Daniel 9:3), and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4).
The chamber of Johanan. On the temple chambers see comment on Ezra 8:29. Johanan appears by Nehemiah 12:22, Nehemiah 12:23, compared with Nehemiah 12:10-11, to have been really the grandson of Eliashib, who, as high priest, would have the right of assigning him a chamber in the temple (compare Nehemiah 13:4, Nehemiah 13:5). I did eat no bread nor drink water. Strict fasts of this kind had been observed by Moses twice (Exodus 34:28, and Deuteronomy 9:18), and by the Ninevites (Jonah 3:7), but they were very uncommon. Usually it was considered enough to abstain from eating (1Sa 1:7; 1 Samuel 20:34; 2 Samuel 3:35). Sometimes the person who fasted merely abstained from "meat and wine, and pleasant bread (Daniel 10:3). Ezra's great earnestness appears in the severity of his fast, which (it is to be remembered) was not for his own sins, but for those of his brethren.
PROCLAMATION MADE, SUMMONING ALL THE JEWS TO JERUSALEM (Ezra 10:7-9). After due deliberation between Ezra, the princes, and the elders (verse 8), it was resolved, as a first step, to summon all Jews—or, rather, all those who had returned from the captivity, whether they were Jews or Israelites—to Jerusalem, in order that the decision come to with respect to the mixed marriages might be communicated to them. The limit of three days was fixed as the latest date at which any one might make his appearance, and absentees were threatened with the heavy penalties of excommunication and forfeiture of all their possessions. Proclamation having been made to this effect "throughout Judah" (verse 7), there was a gathering of all the males of full age to Jerusalem within the prescribed time. The place of meeting was the great court of the temple (verse 9). According to Hecataeus of Abdera (Fr. 14), this was "a stone-walled enclosure, about 500 feet long and 150 feet wide," which might perhaps afford sitting room for 20,000 men. Deducting the aged and infirm, the sick, and those between twelve and twenty years of age, the country Jews would scarcely have reached this number.
They made proclamation. Literally, "they made to pass a voice" (παρήνεγ καν φωνήν—LXX.). They sent criers to make the matter known. To all the children of the captivity. i.e. to all those who, having returned from the captivity, were now in the land. The expression is a favourite one with Ezra (see Ezra 2:1; Ezra 4:1; Ezra 6:16, Ezra 6:19; Ezr 8:1-36 :85, etc.).
Within three days. The limits of Judaea at this time appear to have been Bethel on the north, Beersheba on the south, Jericho on the east, and the Mediterranean upon the west. As the frontier was nowhere much more than forty miles from Jerusalem, three days from the day that they heard the proclamation would be sufficient time to allow all the able-bodied men to reach the capital. Forfeited. Literally, "devoted," i.e. confiscated to the temple treasury. Separated from the congregation. i.e. excommunicated.
All the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem. This is of course to be understood with certain necessary or natural exceptions, as of the sick, the aged and infirm, and the youths under full age. Still it would be a vast gathering, doubling probably for the time the population of the city. It was the ninth month. The month Chisleu, corresponding nearly to our December. All the people sat in the street of the house of God. The word translated "street" means any broad open space, and is probably used here to designate the great court of the temple (Patrick). By "all the people" we must understand as many as the court would conveniently hold. If the court had the dimensions given it by Hecataeus of Abdera, it may have accommodated the whole body of the country Jews. The great rain. December is a rainy month in Palestine; and the incidental mention of "the great rain" is one of those small touches which stamp the writer as an eyewitness.
ADDRESS OF EZRA, AND CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE TO PUT AWAY THE STRANGE WIVES (Ezra 10:10-14). Hitherto Ezra seems to have allowed the leading part in the matter to be taken by the civil authorities, whom he had found established in Jerusalem on his arrival (Ezra 9:1-8). Now he came forward boldly, denouncing the sin committed, and as supreme governor commanding the repudiation of the strange wives. The assembled multitude consented, but urged that the matter required time; that the season was unsuitable for a prolonged stay of the whole body of country Jews at Jerusalem, and that the business would be most conveniently carried through by a standing commission consisting of the chief authorities of the city of Jerusalem, who should take the case of each country town separately, and, in conjunction with the elders and judges of each town, investigate the alleged mixed marriages of each locality, and adjudicate upon them. By this arrangement the bulk of the country Jews would be allowed at once to return home; and the case of each locality being taken separately, only a small number would at any given time be suffering the inconvenience of a compulsory absence from their residences, and the expense of a stay of some duration in the capital. The proposal was reasonable, and it appears to have approved itself to Ezra and his advisers, and to have been at once adopted.
Ezra the priest stood up. Now that the time had come for action, Ezra was not wanting to his duties. The chief authority had been put into his hands by the Persian king (Ezra 7:25, Ezra 7:26), and he was bound to exercise it. Accordingly, the great bulk of the nation being assembled in obedience to the proclamation, Ezra came forward in person, and declared that the "strange wives" must be put away. Ye have taken strange wives. Literally, "have caused to dwell," i.e. have made them come and live with you in the holy land.
Make confession. This is undoubtedly the true meaning of t'nu thodah in this place, and not "give praise" (δότε αἴνεσιν), as the LXX. render. Separate yourselves from the people of the land. The marriages naturally led on to familiar intercourse with the relatives and friends of the women, and so tended to break down the barrier between Jew and Gentile which it had been the special object of the Mosaic legislation to erect.
We are many that have transgressed. The marginal rendering, "we have greatly offended in this thing," is nearer to the original. No doubt, however, the greatness of the offence consisted partly in the large number that had offended.
Let now our rulers of the congregation stand. Let Ezra, together with the princes and the elders at Jerusalem (verse 8), form a standing body to act with the elders and judges of the provincial towns in this matter, and let the case of each town be taken separately, and the inhabitants of each attend at Jerusalem in their turn. Until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us. This is probably the true meaning of the writer, but it is not to be obtained from the ordinary text. To produce it we must read by עַל for עַד and haddabar for laddabar hazzeh. As the text stands, it is unintelligible.
OPPOSITION OF JONATHAN AND OTHERS (Ezra 10:15). It was natural that some opposition should manifest itself when so trenchant a measure was announced as that which Ezra had declared to be necessary. To compel men to divorce their wives was to touch many in the tenderest place. Nor was it difficult to bring forward very plausible arguments to show that the marriages—or at any rate some of them—were allowable. Joseph had married an Egyptian (Genesis 41:45), Moses a Midianite (Exodus 2:21). True, these marriages had taken place before the law was given; but subsequently, also, Boaz had married Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 4:13); David had taken to wife Maacah, a Geshurite (2 Samuel 3:3); and Solomon had without blame married the daughter of a Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). These examples might be pleaded in proof that the Law admitted of exceptions, and individuals might argue that their cases were of an exceptional character. Again, in some instances the foreign wives may have become proselytes, and the children may have been circumcised, and so accepted into the congregation; which would give them a claim to remain, which would extend in some degree to the mothers. We therefore cannot be surprised that an opposition was made. Rather, it is remarkable that it was so slight, only extending (so far as appears) to four persons, and so easily quelled.
Only Jonathan … and Jaha-ziah … were employed about this matter. If this were the true meaning of the passage it would contradict the next verse, by which it appears that Ezra himself, together with several "chiefs of the fathers"—probably identical with the "rulers and elders" of verse 14—took the matter in hand, and were occupied with it for three months. The true meaning of the clause, however, is almost certainly that which was assumed in the preceding paragraph: "Only Jonathan and Jahaziah stood up against this matter," or "opposed" it (see 1 Chronicles 21:1; Daniel 8:25; Daniel 11:14, where the same expression has the sense of "oppose, resist"). Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them. The "Meshullam" intended is perhaps the person of the name mentioned in verse 29 as having married an idolatrous wife. The others seem not to have had any personal interest in thwarting Ezra and preventing the reform.
SETTLEMENT OF THE WHOLE MATTER BY THE REPUDIATION OF THE STRANGE WIVES (Ezra 10:16, Ezra 10:17). The opposition made did not delay the business more than a few days. The great assembly had been held on the twentieth day of the ninth month. On the first day of the tenth month, little more than a week later, the commission for examining into the matter met under the presidency of Ezra, and commenced proceedings. The method of proceeding suggested at the great meeting was no doubt followed. The case of each city was taken separately. Its male inhabitants of full age attended, and its "elders" and "judges" sat on the commission as assessors while the conjugal position of their townsfolk was being investigated. Where a "mixed marriage" was proved the wife was repudiated. In 112 cases the necessity of repudiation was made out to the satisfaction of the commission, and this number of wives was put away. Probably the entire number of cases adjudicated upon was very much greater, since the commission continued at work for three months, and probably sat on seventy-five different days, judging three or four cases a day. On the whole, the small extent to which the evil had prevailed is remarkable; for 112 mixed marriages in a population where the adult males were about 40,000 would give only one such marriage to three hundred or three hundred and fifty legitimate ones. Nevertheless, evils in a community are not to be judged simply by their prevalence. Great evils must be checked at once, even though they have not extended far, lest, if they spread at all widely, they become irremediable. Ezra is to be commended for having perceived the greatness of the peril, and for having taken prompt and decided measures to check it, without waiting till it had got to a head, and so become uncontrollable.
The children of the captivity did so. The people generally, notwithstanding the opposition of Jonathan, acquiesced in Ezra's decision, and acted accordingly. Ezra the priest, with certain chief of the fathers. There is no "with," or other connective, in the original; but our translators did right in supplying one, since the conjunction ,ו "and," has almost certainly fallen out of the text by the mistake of a copyist. After the house of their fathers. Rather, "for each father's house"—i.e. "for each family." It would seem from this clause that each recognised family was represented on the commission by its head. The number of such families appears by Ezra 2:3-61 to have been ninety-eight. And all of them by their names. Compare with this Ezra 8:20. In both places Ezra probably means that a list of the names was made out, and was in his possession, though he does not think it necessary to give them. Were separated. i.e. "set apart for the business." And they sat down, i.e. "began their sittings," on the first day of the tenth month, the month Tebeth, corresponding nearly to our January.
They made an end with all the men. They ran through the whole list of those who were accused of having taken strange wives, and adjudicated on every case, by the first day of the first month, Nisan, corresponding nearly with our April. Deducting Sabbaths, the number of days in the three months would be seventy-five or seventy-six; but it is of course possible that the court did not sit continuously.
THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO HAD MARRIED THE STRANGE WIVES (Ezra 10:18-44). Aware of the danger that the nation might relapse into the sin which he was seeking to root out, Ezra punishes the wrong-doers by placing their names on record, that others might fear to do the like. He assigns the first place in his catalogue of offenders to the priests, doubtless because in them the sin was greatest; they, as the special custodians of the Law, were most bound to have observed the Law. Next to the priests he puts the Levites, on the same principle, because of their semi-sacerdotal character. He then concludes with the laymen, arranged under their several families. By the list of laymen it appears that ten only out of some thirty-six lay families were implicated in the sin. Three of the four priestly families, on the other hand, and even the near-kindred of the high priest, were among the guilty. It is remarkable that it is Ezra, a priest, and one by many accused of over-sacerdotalism, who gives this testimony against his own order.
Joshua the son of Jozadak is, undoubtedly, the high priest of Joshua 3:1-17. and 5. Four members of his family had committed the sin (compare Nehemiah 13:28).
They gave their hands that they would put away their wives. It is not clear whether this is intended to be said of Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah only, or of the entire body of persons found guilty of having married strange wives. Most probably the court made out the divorces in the generality of cases, but were content to take a solemn pledge from members of the high priest's family.
On the priestly families of Immer, Harim, and Pashur see above, Ezra 2:37-39.
The singers and porters. These were special subdivisions of the Levitical order, appointed originally by David (2 Chronicles 25:1; 2 Chronicles 26:1-19).
Of Israel. i.e. "of the laity."
Jehiel. Probably the father of the Shechaniah who counselled Ezra (Ezra 10:2-4).
And some of them had wives by whom they had children. Rather, "And there were some among the wives who had given birth to children." The fact is implied above in the advice of Shechaniah (Ezra 10:3), but is here alone distinctly asserted. No doubt it was more difficult to arrange the terms of the divorce where the marriage had been fruitful.
A gleam of hope.
The only trace of comfort in Ezra's previous prayer (Ezra 9:6-15) was of a negative kind. Notwithstanding all the aggravated evil which he had had to confess, the people were not destroyed. That, at least, could be said, "We remain yet escaped." That being the case, "who can tell" (see Jonah 3:9) what it may please God to do for us? In the present passage this little suspicion of light becomes a positive ray of encouragement, gradually bringing before us
(1) hopeful feelings,
(2) hopeful thoughts, and
(3) hopeful resolves.
I. HOPEFUL FEELINGS. There was something of this description—
1. In Ezra himself From sitting originally in almost despairing astonishment (Ezra 9:3, Ezra 9:4), he had afterwards knelt in prayer (Ezra 9:5); and now, in the depth and intensity of his feelings, he seems to have cast himself prostrate before the house of God. The more he turns the matter over, the more he feels it. This is a good sign in repentance. A good sign because a sign of sincerity, without which there is no possible room for any hope (Ezekiel 14:1-8).
2. In the people at large. Not only were more persons continually led to sympathise with his sorrow, until "there assembled to him out of Israel a very great congregation;" but this congregation was composed of persons of both sexes and various ages ("men and women and children") whose influence would tell respectively in the state, the home, and the future, and who were affected, also, with a degree of grief hardly less than his own (see end of verse 1). In a case such as this, in which a national sin was involved, this was also a very good sign. The more numerous and varied the penitents, and the deeper their sorrow, the better, of course, the prospect of that thoroughly national repentance which was required in this case. So far, therefore, things were of such a nature as to give a ground of hope, though not more. It was something to find, in so many quarters, so much sorrow for sin.
II. HOPEFUL THOUGHTS. One man, e.g; out of the many present next expressed such thoughts for the rest. His words were all the more worthy of attention because the evil bewailed seems to have had place amongst his own family and connections; possibly in the household of his own father, Jehiel (comp. verses 2 and 26). Yet even he felt, though so near the evil, that the case was not beyond hope. It was not a case, i.e.,
(1) in which a remedy of any kind was impossible. There are some evils which, if once begun, must necessarily continue; but that was clearly not the case here. Besides the obvious fact that there was no necessity for any further marriages of this unhappy description, it was at least possible to think of a method of undoing, to some extent, the harm already accomplished. Wherever such forbidden wives had been "taken," or brought home to dwell (Lange), they might be again "brought forth" (margin), or brought out—the exactly opposite course (Lange again). Even if children had been born to them—a worse form of the evil no doubt on many accounts—there was still a remedy conceivable, however distressing it might be, and however harsh it might seem. These children might be sufficiently provided for, and then sent away with their mothers, as at once the most salutary and the most natural course of proceeding. Only, in short, let all those concerned "covenant with their. God" to act in this manner, and it would evidently be possible for them to become free of this plague.
(2) The case was one in which such a remedy was quite lawful. They would not be endeavouring, by the proposed process, to get rid of one sin by another. The plan proposed, in fact, was the "counsel" of Ezra himself. Either he had taught as much beforehand in explaining generally the Law of Moses, or they understood as much now from his actions, or from some unrecorded words of his at this time. In any case, as being h/s counsel, it was the counsel of an adequate authority—of one to be addressed as "my Lord"—on this subject. It was also the counsel of all those among the people who were known for their profound and even "trembling" reverence for the commandment of God. There could be no doubt, therefore, if this remedy should be adopted, that all "would be," or "would happen" (so Lange), according to the law.
(3) The proposed remedy was also feasible—another capital point. There was a fitting person to undertake its application, viz; Ezra himself. "This matter belongeth unto thee." It is the kind of thing we expect from thee; it is within thy commission to do it. There were those also ready to assist him, when once the thing was begun—even the speaker himself and his friends. One can imagine all that "great" and penitent "congregation" murmuring their willing assent at this point; and the speaker, in consequence, feeling enabled to assure him that he would be sure to succeed if he tried. "We also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it" (verse 4).
III. HOPEFUL RESOLVES. The proposal and declaration of Shechaniah were great points gained—very great—but they did not embrace all. The nail was driven through. It still required to be clenched. A mere vague and general willingness to assist in so extraordinarily difficult and invidious a task, and one affecting so many persons in so painful and (in their eyes, perhaps) so inquisitorial a manner, would never be sufficient to carry that task through. The people assembled, therefore, must be solemnly pledged and, as it were, bound over to the undertaking. What better time for so doing than that very moment before they dispersed? What better place than that very spot in front of God's house? What better manner than with Jehovah as witness, and by a solemn oath in his name? Such, accordingly, was the next thing done. "Then arose Ezra"—then at last, so it seems to signify, as though feeling at last that he could exert himself to some purpose—"and made them swear to do according to this word." "Chief priests, and Levites, and all Israel," he made them all swear, for they were all concerned in it; and were all required to help, also, in so great an enterprise. When he let them disperse, therefore, it was with the legitimate feeling, doubtless, that a beginning, at least, had been made. There was a great and dreadful evil, it was true, in their midst. But there was also among them a great and influential body who had been brought to feel it most acutely, and who had also been pledged to a distinct plan for removing it in the name of Jehovah himself. So far, in much sorrow, there was also some hope.
Observe here, in conclusion, how we find in all true repentance—
1. The idea of cessation. "Repentance is that whereby we forsake sin." "If I have done iniquity, I will do so no more" (Job 34:32). A well-known children's hymn teaches that, on this point, which many adults never learn—
"Repentance means to leave
The sins we loved before;
And show that we in earnest grieve,
By doing so no more."
2. The idea of urgency and promptness. "I made haste, and delayed not, to keep thy commandments," etc. (Psalms 119:59, Psalms 119:60).
3. The idea of restitution, or of undoing the evil done, so far as lies in our power (Luke 19:8; Acts 9:2, Acts 9:22; Acts 19:19; Ephesians 4:28).
4. But not the idea, in any way, of propitiation or atonement thereby. It is noticeable, rather, how the language employed seems to avoid this idea. The evil done to Israel by contracting such marriages can be undone (in part) by dissolving them; but as to the position of the people, in consequence, before God, they have nothing to urge (Ezra 9:15. See, also, as understood by some, Psalms 49:7; Matthew 16:1-28. end 26; Luke 7:42).
A national call.
We have traced before the probable influence of Ezra's piety and instructions; how they seem to have aroused the national conscience, and so to have brought to light the secret national sin; and how they afterwards brought together so many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, first to grieve for it, and then to renounce it, and resolve to suppress it. But these men, however influential, were only a fractional part of the nation. If their resolves were to be carried out satisfactorily, and so as to insure a truly national forsaking of the evil amongst them, they required the general consent, and, at least, the partial co-operation, of all the children of the captivity. And, as a first practical step towards obtaining these things, they would naturally desire, in Jerusalem itself, the presence of all such. Accordingly, we find described to us in this section
(1) such a national call to assemble, and
(2) such a national call to amend.
I. THE CALL TO ASSEMBLE. This call is deserving of notice—
1. As to its origin. Where did it really arise? In that chamber to which we find Ezra retiring after pledging the assembled inhabitants of Jerusalem to suppress the evil bewailed by them. At first sight it seems strange, when there was so much requiring to be done in public, that he should seek privacy in this manner; but doubtless in that priestly chamber (see Nehemiah 12:10, Nehemiah 12:22) to which he retired he was in frequent communication with the most like-minded of the princes and priests; and doubtless, also, his penitent abstinence there from bread and water, with other signs of his still continuing grief and alarm, would be an effectual means of stirring them up to do their part of the work. Wherever he was, at this time, there was but one thought in his heart. This would lead in them to but one endeavour, that of putting a stop to the plague. Hence the "proclamation" which "they made" (verse 7).
2. As to its extent. Here, also, see Ezra's influence. The proclamation was universal; made "throughout," and made to "all;" to all the "children of the captivity" (verse 7)—to all "those that had been carried away" (verse 8)—to all those, i.e; for whose transgressions (verse 6) Ezra was mourning at that time. In this thrice-repeated description of them can we not trace the mainspring of his grief, the recollection, viz; of the great judgment and still greater deliverance which those who thus sinned had experienced (comp. Ezra 9:7-9)? It is to all such, therefore, as thus described, that the proclamation goes forth.
3. As to its urgency. How speedily these "children of the captivity" are called to come up. Within "three days" they must all be at Jerusalem. One day, probably, for receiving the message; one day for preparing and travelling; on the third day to be there. Also, how peremptorily. Every man summoned must come up on pain of two things, the confiscation of his property (comp. Ezra 7:26, as connecting this with Ezra's influence) and the excommunication of his person. No man so refusing would be considered by the returned remnant as still belonging to their company. If he did so refuse, the sin of it should belong exclusively to himself (see 1 Timothy 5:22).
4. As to its success. "All the men of Judah and Jerusalem" came up within the required time. It is also evident that they came up in the requisite spirit. It was a great day—a wonderful scene. Both seem to have impressed themselves upon the national memory. "It was the ninth month; the twentieth day." They could see it all still; the restored house, the open court before it, the multitudes there assembled, their weary attitude, their trembling grief. They could even hear still the heavy showers—not unusual indeed at that season, yet evidently at this time of very unusual severity—which would help so much, in that land of sunshine, to intensify the prevailing gloom; not impossibly, also, reminding some of those present of 1 Samuel 12:18. See how well this call had succeeded; and how much reason there was to trace its success (when we remember Proverbs 16:1; Matthew 6:6) to the secret intercessions of Ezra in the "chamber of Johanan, the son of Eliashib."
II. THE CALL TO AMEND. This again was very successful, and, doubtless, from much the same cause. Not only had the people come together, as we have already seen, most willing to hear; but all that followed was also correspondingly bright. For example, observe—
1. How faithful the counsel given. Doubly distressing as the distress of the people must have been to Ezra himself, he will not attempt to remove it by any cry of false peace (Jeremiah 6:14). On the contrary, he states the fact plainly, "Ye have transgressed;" that is certain. Also he states it exactly, "Ye have taken strange wives;" that is the main point of your trespass. Also, once more, he states it fully," To increase the trespass of Israel;" to add to that which was already too great, and which once before, in fact, except for God's wonderful mercy, would have ruined Israel beyond recovery. That being the case, what ought to be done? First of all, let the truth be acknowledged. The sin has been public. Avow it, "therefore," publicly. Make open "confession" of it before "Jehovah;" before "Jehovah the God of your fathers," against whom ye have sinned. Next, let the sin be forsaken. You have greatly displeased God by this conduct. Now, therefore, seek the opposite, and be ready to "do his pleasure," and not your own. Also do it voluntarily. Separate yourselves from these evil associations; and that, more-over, at whatever sacrifice, and with however much pain—"from the people of the land, and from the strange wives." To all this observe—
2. How hearty their response Observe its purport, as direct as an echo: "As thou hast said, so must we do." Its unanimity, from "all" those present, however many, however diverse. Its manner, with outspoken clearness, and therefore without hesitation, or reluctance, or false shame, or indifference—all these, as we know, being things which restrain the utterance and prevent it from being "loud." Very grave, very brave, very distinct, and very determined, in the midst of the descending rain-storm, was this their response—a truly national, a truly faithful pledge of amendment of life.
Hence we may see, in conclusion—
1. How national affairs are determined, viz; so far as men are concerned, rather by the supplication of God's servants than by the proclamations of rulers. Not cabinet councils so much as closet prayers shape the history of the world. The will of Ezra in Johanan's chamber was in communication, by the way of God's throne, with all the wills in the land (comp. Genesis 18:23-33; Genesis 19:29; Gen 20:7; 1 Samuel 7:5; Job 42:8; 1 Timothy 2:1, 1 Timothy 2:2; and, in a certain sense, 1 Kings 19:16; Psalms 149:5-9; Jeremiah 1:10).
2. How national judgments may be averted, viz; by that which amounts, however expressed, to a really national confession and subsequent forsaking of sin. The exact mode of making this confession is of minor importance, and may perhaps be a subject admitting of considerable diversity of opinion, provided only that there is no real room for uncertainty as to its meaning and scope. The voice that said what was forbidden, must be the voice, it is clear, to unsay it, so far as lies in its power. This applies not only to nations, but to cities, to Churches, to families, to all associations, in fact, of human beings. Wherever there is association in evil, there must be like association in its repudiation. The fact, also, that such repudiation of evil is the only step that we can take on our part towards its ultimate forgiveness, only makes the duty of taking it, if that be possible, more imperative still (see Jeremiah 3:12, Jeremiah 3:13). The less God asks, the less excuse for our refusing to give it (see 2 Kings 5:13).
A satisfactory close.
When a nation has openly resolved on the reformation of a national sin, there is still one thing remaining to be accomplished, viz; that reformation itself. This, accordingly, is that which we read of in the remaining part of this chapter. "As thou hast said, so must we do." Such was the resolve of all as expressed in Ezra 10:12. In Ezra 10:13-44, which come before us now, we see that resolve carried out. We shall find that it was so carried out, first, with very great zeal; and secondly, with very great care.
I. VERY GREAT ZEAL. When the people had spoken, as just noted, they did not stop short. Neither did they wait for Ezra or the riflers to arrange proceedings for them. They themselves, on the contrary, made proposals for so doing. We may suppose that they all, as a body, joined in the resolve of verse 12. Afterwards, probably, some one or two of them spoke in the name of the rest, suggesting the method of action described to us in verses 13, 14. This spontaneous promptness in such a direction was itself a proof of much zeal. It is true of all men in earnest that they show their desire of success by the plans which they form for securing it (see Psalms 36:4; Isaiah 32:8). In the present instance, moreover, it is to be noticed that the people formed such plans
(1) in the face of great difficuties. It was no light task which had been resolved on by them. With all the good will in the world they could not do it where and as they were then—their numbers so great, their circumstances so trying, the operation required so cumbrous, the transgression itself so deep. And yet if they were once allowed to disperse, how could its accomplishment be secured at all? How much might be lost in such a case beyond their power to regain! Equally unattainable the thing appeared, whatever they did. Any persons less in earnest would have given it up altogether. With them, however, this only caused them to form their plans
(2) with very great wisdom. That which they suggested met fully all the difficulties in question. First of all there was to be a tribunal—a "commission," as we might call it—a tribunal easily constituted and recognised because composed in the main of the acknowledged national heads ("the rulers of all the congregation")—on whom was to rest the responsibility of seeing this thing carried through. Next, this commission, sitting at Jerusalem, was to have power, by the vote of that assembly, to appoint times and summon persons as they might find to be needed, care being taken, in every separate case of investigation, to have the support of the local "elders" with their weight of influence and character, and the assistance of the local "judges" with their weight of authority and knowledge. Also the powers of this commission were not to cease nor their labours to be relinquished till they had done all in this matter that could be done in the way of averting God's wrath. So feasible, so effectual, so complete was the plan they proposed in their zeal. And this wise plan was proposed
(3) with wonderful unanimity. Amongst the many heads of households directly concerned in this evil, there must have been some who, from pride of wealth or position, or dread of public exposure, or strength and tenacity of natural affection, would be tempted to feel peculiar repugnance to such a proposal. It does not appear, however, that any of these said anything against it. If any others did on their behalf, we have their names in verse 15, as some understand one expression in the former half of that verse. But if, on the other hand, we rather understand that the four persons there referred to were, as it were, the two secretaries and two "assistant secretaries" of this commission, who therefore at once "stood" to organise and arrange for the commission according to the just-carried "resolution" of that great assembly, then we have no expressed divergency of opinion at all. In either case the practical unanimity was exceedingly great; so great, in the one case, that the opposition of these four conspicuous Israelites could do nothing against it; so great, in the other, that there was no opposition in existence worthy of being named.
II. VERY GREAT CARE. These things being agreed on, the meeting, no doubt, dispersed. No time appears to have been lost in carrying out the resolution passed. We find evidences, however, of the care this was done with—
1. In the final settlement of the commission resolved on. Ezra, it appears (so some understand verse 16), did not take all those who were qualified by position to act upon it; but himself "separated" off only "certain" men of each principal "house" among them. Also, in order to prevent all mistake, or confusion, or subsequent possibility of objection, he enrolled and announced publicly the "names" of all such. And, finally, notwithstanding the. urgency of the matter, he took ten full days for this work of selection and enrolment, viz; from the twentieth day of the ninth month to the first day of the tenth. This was time, we may be certain, very well spent, but it was in great contrast to the "three days" of verse 8, and a great evidence, therefore, of his great care in preparing for this work.
2. In the actual operations of the commission, when thus fixed. The very manner, e.g; of their commencing seems to be indicative of this spirit. "They sat down to examine this matter," as men who felt how long and arduous a task they had on their hands, and who wished, therefore, to give to it their undivided attention and care (comp. Matthew 27:36). We see the same spirit in the long continuance and perseverance of their work. It took them three months to "make an end' of the examination; but it was a full end when they did. By the "first day of the first month" (verse 17), of the next year, there was nothing left to be done. And we see it also in the impartiality and thoroughness of their work. On the one hand, there was no respect of persons on the side of the great. "Among the sons of the priests" (verse 18) were found those who had taken strange wives, some of these being even amongst the high priest's own relations. What was to be done about these? As teachers and ministers of the truth, were they in as much danger as others from idolatrous connections in their houses? Even if so, was it necessary for their severance from such connections to be made an occasion of public scandal? Must the names of each be made known? Must they be made known as those of offenders? Must men of such standing be openly bound over to reform their households? If these questions were ever asked, we see from verse 19 how they were answered. If anything, the severest measure was dealt out to these distinguished offenders. They had to lead the way in repentance; also a written promise of amendment, and an open confession of transgression, were required in each case. On the other hand, there was no respect of persons with regard to the lowly (Exodus 23:3). Whosoever had offended, whether priests (verses 20-22), or Levites (verse 23), or singers (verse 24), or porters, or lay members of the house of Israel; and however difficult and painful in some cases the circumstances might be (end verse 44), there was but one measure for all. This, indeed, is what makes this catalogue here a fit conclusion to the whole. This apparently unnecessary list of names had great value in its day. It was the formal "report," so to speak, of Ezra and his brother "commissioners," the last part of their labours, the final proof of their care. That "report" being presented, the "commission" ceased to exist.
Let us learn, in conclusion, the following lessons respecting the eradication of evil in God's congregation, viz.—
1. Its peculiar difficulty. From the time when Ezra first heard of this mixed-marriages evil to the last day of the last month of that year, when the last case of the kind was disposed of, what a long succession of difficulties and obstacles he had to encounter and overcome! Also, what tears, prayers, lastings, watchings, efforts, and seeming extremity of severity on his part and that of others were required in order to overcome them! Yet, even so, some years afterwards, what do we find (Nehemiah 13:23-29)?
2. Its peculiar costliness. See what had to be given up in this particular case. It reminds one of Matthew 5:30; Deuteronomy 13:6-11. The only way to prevent the destruction of the whole house of Israel and of each individual Israelite, by the spreading of the infection, was by "stamping it out," wherever found, and whatever the cost.
3. Its peculiar importance. If it costs much, how much more is it worth! Well does the account of the completion of this reformation come in at the end of this book. It is indeed "the crowning of the edifice," to borrow a modern phrase. All that we read of in the previous chapters would have been valueless without this. Of what avail the strongest fortification, if in treacherous hands. It was much to have restored to them the material house of God's presence. It was much more to have such a reformed spiritual "house," or congregation, rightly to use that material house for God's glory. So much more, in fact, this spiritual congregation, when it finally arrives at its best, will be without any house of that other kind (Revelation 21:22).
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The speech of Shechaniah.
Ezra was a very remarkable man. He represented the Persian court as governor in Judaea. But this was the least feature of his distinction. He was a man of the most exemplary piety, a very profound scholar, and withal the subject of Divine inspiration. When it was noised in the city that such a man had rent his clothes, there was naturally a vast concourse of people. In the presence of this assembly he offered his prayer to God, in the whole of which there is not an expression of hope. This stirred the soul of Shechaniah to deliver his speech, which was eminently wise and most appropriate to the occasion.
I. IT CONTAINED A FULL CONFESSION OF SIN (verse 2).
1. This had been done before by/Ezra.
(1) He did this for himself, to express to God the grief of his soul that the Divine honour should have been so insulted; that his people should have been so wicked and foolish as to have exposed themselves to the vengeance of heaven.
(2) But not on the part of the people who Were involved in the crime. Ezra had no ground for hope; for without repentance a sinner has no plea for mercy (Psalms 66:18; Isaiah 1:11-15). To Ezra, therefore, the smoke of the evening sacrifice could only be a symbol of wrath.
2. Now it is done on behalf of the people. He does not appear himself to have been guilty; but his father and other members of his family were implicated (verse 26). He was in a position to know that the "sore weeping" of the people, sympathetic with the weeping of Ezra (verse 1), was the expression of a genuine contrition. Note—By weeping for the sins of others we may set them weeping for themselves.
II. IT PROPOSED A NATIONAL REPENTANCE AND REFORMATION (verse 3).
1. They were to pledge themselves to put away all the strange wives and their issue.
(1) This extreme measure was required by the law. For in ancient times it was the duty of the children of Israel to exterminate the idolatrous people of the land (Deuteronomy 7:1-3).
(2) The genius of the gospel is different (see 1 Corinthians 7:12, 1 Corinthians 7:13). Now if there be one believing parent the offspring may receive baptism and Church recognition.
2. This was to be done in the most solemn manner.
(1) "Let us make a covenant," literally, let us cut (כרת carath) a covenant. The allusion is to the custom of dividing a victim, and laying the pieces over against each other, so that the people covenanting might pass between them (see Genesis 15:10).
(2) This ceremony on the part of the people expressed their willingness to be treated as the victim had been, viz; to be cut up by the sacrificing knife of Divine justice if they proved faithless to their pledges (see Jeremiah 34:18-20).
(3) This ceremony points to the gospel of Christ, who is our covenant or purification-sacrifice, securing to us all blessings if we comply with the terms of mercy. It also admonishes us that if we do not comply, then the sword of flame will be turned upon us, and we shall be made ourselves the sacrifices for our sin.
III. IT SUGGESTED MEASURES FOR CARRYING OUT THE REFORMATION.
1. Ezra was himself to be the prime actor in this. "This matter belongeth unto thee."
(1) He had the moral qualifications for the work. His very soul was in it. His influence with his people was unequalled. He was the most eminent servant of God.
(2) He had the political qualifications. Governor, etc.
2. He was to associate with him as his council "those that tremble at the commandment of God."
(1) These were the godly persons whose sympathies led them first to gather round him (Ezra 9:4).
(2) With such a council the reformation would be the more likely to be carried out "according to the law."
3. The chiefs of the people pledged themselves to be with him.
(1) Surely then "there is hope in Israel." "The valley of Achor," i.e. of trouble, has ever been "the door of hope" (Hosea 2:15). God promises to return to those who return to him (1 Samuel 7:8; Isaiah 55:7; Hosea 6:1).
(2) This speech of Shechaniah was surely God's answer to the prayer of Ezra. He was to Ezra what the angel was to Daniel (comp. Daniel 9:20).
(3) Now is the moment for action, and Ezra is equal to the occasion. "Then arose Ezra," etc. (verse 5). "Them is a tide in the affairs of men," etc.—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Human life is a river which flows evenly along from day to day; but it is a river like the Zambesi or the Congo (Livingstone), not without its rapids and its falls. Usually it flows silently, but sometimes it dashes along with impetuosity and uproar. So is it with our Christian life, with our religious course. There are things exceptional as well as things ordinary and regular, for which room must be made by ourselves and allowance by other people. There may be, as here at this juncture in the life of Ezra and the returned Jews, a time of exceptional—
I. EXHIBITION OF FEELING. "When Ezra had prayed … weeping and casting himself down," etc. (verse 1). Ezra "wept," i.e. made lamentation, audible and visible, in presence of all the people, and instead of standing or kneeling he cast himself down, and lay prostrate in the temple court, in order to impress on the multitude the strength of his feeling, and the critical character of the present emergency. And his example proved contagious, for all the people "wept very sore" (verse 1), and there was a great and general outpouring of emotion. Ordinarily our feelings are wisely kept under control. In this country we are, indeed, apt to press this a few points too far, and let self-control pass into a chill or cold reserve. But self-control gives force and dignity to character, and almost anything is better than habitually giving way to tempestuous feeling. Men that are constantly violent in their expression of feeling are disregarded if not despised; they lose all influence over others; they expend themselves in trifles, and have nothing in reserve for large occasions. But there are times when feeling may be freely poured forth; when, as in Ezra's case, there is
(1) urgent reason for exciting others to feel as we do; or when, as in the case of the people, there is
(2) general fervour in which it would be unsympathising or unpatriotic not to share. It is a very noble sight when a whole people mourns with an honourable repentance, or arises in holy indignation, or braces itself up to a generous struggle, or rejoices with a pure and holy joy. Then let feeling swell to its highest tide; let it pour itself forth as "the mighty waves of the sea."
II. ATTESTATION. "Let us make a covenant with our God" (verse 3). "Then arose Ezra, and made … all Israel to swear that they should do according to his word" (verse 5). Usually, as our Lord tells us, it is far better to speak simply without strengthening our word by protestation or oath (Matthew 5:33-37); but there are times when we feel called on to add to the word of promise which we make either to God or to man, something which shall confirm and secure it. We may
(1) make a formal covenant with God, as Shechaniah recommended (verse 3); we may take upon us his vows, alone or in company,
(a) to do some duty which is binding on us, but which we are strongly tempted to leave undone; or
(b) to render some service which we may lawfully leave alone, but which, in our better hours, we are inspired to undertake; or
(c) to leave untouched that which is either wrong in itself or dangerous or hurtful to ourselves or those we have in charge. Or we may
(2) enter into a solemn and sacred pledge with our fellows. Ezra felt that this was an occasion on which it was of the utmost consequence that everything should be done thoroughly; not only begun in zeal, but carried out and perfected; and for this purpose he made the chief priests, Levites, and all Israel bind themselves with a solemn oath to sustain him (verse 5), and they did so. It is right and wise, on occasion, to require something more than a word of promise. We do well to demand a written engagement, or even a declaration made before God that what is promised shall be done.
III. SEVERITY. "When he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water" (verse 6). "Whosoever would not come all his substance should be forfeited (verse 8). Ezra showed some little
(1) severity toward himself: he neither ate nor drank (verse 6). He allowed the public concerns so to occupy his mind and affect his heart that he gave himself no time or felt in himself no inclination for the ordinary comforts and refreshments of life. We, too, on occasion, if not only sincere but zealous for the public good, shall deny ourselves that which we usually and rightly allow ourselves. There are demons (iniquities, sins, propensities) only to be cast out with that intensity of thought, and feeling, and action which implies "prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21). He also showed considerable
(2) severity toward others. With the concurrence of the leaders (princes), those who did not present themselves in three days were to suffer forfeiture of goods and excommunication (verse 8)—a heavy penalty for recusancy. Severe crises justify strong measures. There are times when leniency is only another name for cruelty. An Achan must perish that Israel may be saved; the immoral member of Corinth must be cast out that the Church may be pure. We must "make a difference" according to requirement (Jude 1:22, Jude 1:23).—C.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
Roused by the speech of Shechaniah to the work of reformation, Ezra promptly took his measures. These are set forth in the words before us. The consideration of the subject may be conveniently arranged under three heads, viz.—
I. THE PROCLAMATION.
1. This was drawn up in the temple (verses 6, 7).
(1) In the "chamber of Johanan, the son of Eliashib." Eliashib was high priest, in which office he was succeeded by his son Joiada (Nehemiah 12:10). Some think Johanan was another name for Joiada; but Joiada had a son Jonathan, who more probably was this Johanan (Nehemiah 12:11). In this case Ezra consulted with the grandson of Eliashib. Sagacity for counsel is not always found with age.
(2) Perhaps the chamber of Johanan was the place in which a council of priests assembled. The plural "they" who "made proclamation" shows that Ezra did not issue it upon his sole authority. It would go forth with the sanction of the civil and ecclesiastical rulers of the nation (see verse 8).
(3) It was also drawn up in a spirit suited to the solemnity of the occasion and the place. Ezra still continued his fast; "for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away." Mourning should not cease until sin is abandoned. Under the influence of this true spirit the document was framed.
2. Its measures were strong and peremptory.
(1) All the children of the captivity were to assemble in Jerusalem within three days. Sufficient time was given. No man can plead that God has not given him sufficient time for the securing of his salvation. But there was no time to waste. We must not play with repentance. Procrastination is peril.
(2) Failing to appear, the ecclesiastical penalty was excommunication. Exclusion from the society of God's people upon earth is a fearful forfeiture But what must be the calamity of permanent exclusion from the holy universe!
(3) There was also a civil penalty, viz; "that all his substance should be forfeited." The Hebrew for "forfeited" here is in the margin construed "devoted,'' which suggests that it should be given to the sacred uses of the temple. This was fitting where civil and ecclesiastical laws were the same; but here is no justification for the infliction of civil penalties by ecclesiastical authority under the gospel.
II. THE APPEAL (verses 10, 11).
1. The people were prepared to hear it.
(1) The fear of God was upon them. "All the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter." The Spirit of God had wrought this conviction m their hearts in answer to Ezra's prayer.
(2) They were also terrified because of the rain. This rain may have been natural and seasonable, for it was then December, and the Septuagint construes the word for "rain" by winter. It was probably miraculous. This agrees best with the terror it occasioned.
2. It urged upon them the duty of reformation.
(1) It brought home to them their sin. Simply the heads of the discourse are given here; but many arguments were doubtless used to force home conviction.
(2) It urged them to make full confession to God. Where conviction is deep and real there will be full confession. God requires this (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9).
(3) It moved them to forsake their sin. There is an impudent confession of sin which aggravates its turpitude. Sincere confession leads to reformation.
III. THE RESPONSE.
1. The people consented to the reformation.
(1) The consent was emphatic. "As thou hast said, so must we do." We must do it, or we are undone.
(2) It was hearty. They said this "with a loud voice." It is well to pronounce ourselves against our sins. It strengthens our courage for God.
(3) It was unanimous. "All the congregation answered." There is a wonderful unanimity in seasons of religious revival. God uses the sympathy of numbers.
2. They suggested measures for carrying it on.
(1) The business was too heavy to be finished m a day. Nice points might arise to be considered. For example, some of the reputed strange wives may have become Jewish proselytes.
(2) The rulers of all the congregation were to be represented by the elders of every city and the judges. Before these local courts justice might be carried out with reasonable expedition.
3. Ezra consented to their proposal.
(1) Three months were accordingly occupied with this business (verses 16, 17). During this time 113 delinquents were convicted (verses 18-44).
(2) Amongst these were members of the high priest's family. They gave their hands in token of their submission to put away their wives. They also offered a ram for their trespass. This example was doubtless followed by the people, for everything was to be done according to the law (verse 3; also Le Ezra 6:4, Ezra 6:6).
(3) In these sacrifices the gospel was foreshadowed. Note—"All the children of the captivity" appear to have been settled "in Judah and Jerusalem," which suggests that there were but few of the "ten tribes" among them, who would naturally seek their inheritance in other parts of Palestine. Agreeably to this, the people who assembled in response to the proclamation are described as "all the men of Judah and Benjamin."—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Sin and repentance.
A very memorable scene was witnessed that day, the twentieth of the ninth month, in the year of Ezra's return. All the Israelites of Judah and Benjamin assembled together in the courts of the temple, shaken, troubled, trembling for fear of the anger of an offended God, ready to yield to the demands of his faithful servant who spoke in his name, even to the breaking up of their domestic ties; it was an hour when sin was coming out into the light, and was to be sternly cast out from the midst of them. We look at—
I. THE CHARACTER OF THEIR SIN, AND OF ALL SIN. It was
(a) widespread (verses 18, 23, 24), not touching the top only, or only sinking to the bottom of their society. It went quite through the whole mass. Among them that had taken strange wives were "sons of the priests "(verse 18); "also of the Levites" (verse 23); "of the singers also, and of the porters" (verses 23, 24). No class or grade was free from its infection. It was something
(b) that struck home; it was not a mere political offence; it invaded their family life; it was under their roof; it concerned their dearest affections, their tenderest ties, their brightest hopes; it was a matter with which their own wives and their children had closely to do. Moreover, it was
(c) a radical fault. They existed, as a nation, on purpose that, being separated from the surrounding people by very distinct lines drawn by the hand of the Supreme, they might bear witness to certain great truths in the preservation of which lay the one hope of the race. But by this step they were becoming mixed up with the heathen world; their one characteristic was being lost; their virtue was being assailed; their very life was at stake. Their separateness gone, everything for which they existed would be gone too; they might perish, for they answered no end. The salt would have lost its savour; let it be cast out and trodden underfoot of men. This is the character of all sin.
(a) It is widespread. As the leprosy, which was the chosen picture and type of it, spreads over the whole body, so sin spreads over all the nature, poisoning every faculty and instinct of the soul; communicating itself from one member of society to another, till the whole social body is covered with its loathsome and deathful malady.
(b) It is something that strikes home; it works discord in the family circle; it introduces strife and contest into the sanctuary of a man's spirit, making it the arena on which conscience and passion, heavenly wisdom and worldly ambition, voices of good and voices of evil, continually and fiercely battle. Moreover,
(c) it is a radical fault. It is the soul turning away from the purpose for which it was created, failing to be and to do that for which its Creator brought it into being.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THEIR REPENTANCE, AND OF ALL REPENTANCE. It included (a) contrition—"We are many that have transgressed" (verse 13); and (b) amendment—"They gave their hands that they would put away their wives" (verse 19). The Jews who had offended saw that they were guilty; they freely acknowledged their fault, and, what was the best sign and proof of their shame, they resolved to put away the evil; they set about it vigorously and methodically, as men that seriously meant to do that to which they "gave their hands," to which they solemnly pledged themselves (verses 13, 14, 19). All repentance is of this character. Its essentials are—
(a) Contrition. There must be a real recognition by the soul of the evil of sin. Something' more than mere catching up and repeating the formulae of repentance; the falling into the ruts of expression made by those who have gone before us. Not, necessarily, the violent, pungent, overwhelming feelings which have shaken some souls, and found vent in agonising utterances; but a genuine and deep regret and shame, more or less agitating, under a sense of wrong-doing in the past life and of sin within the soul.
(b) Confession and amendment. There must be a solid and living determination to "put away the evil thing," whatever it may be; to surrender the long-cherished and perhaps much-loved habit which is hurtful and injurious; to turn from selfishness and from worldliness and from pride; to separate the soul from all that offends God, that corrupts the nature, that works mischief; and to walk in purity of heart and blamelessness of life before God, the heavenly Father; unto Christ, the Divine Redeemer; by help of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezra 10". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20