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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Ezra 9

 

 

Verses 1-15

THE HISTORY OF all the revivals, that God grants in His mercy, seems to be the same: a bright beginning, followed by declension more or less rapid. There is this constant tendency to forsake the fountain of living waters, and hew ourselves out broken cisterns that can hold no water (see Jeremiah 2:13). Thus it has been from ancient times to our own day. Many of us may have inherited good things from more recent revivals, granted in the mercy of God; but how are we holding and profiting by these things? Or, are we neglecting them and letting them slip away?

Ezra had been so prospered of God in the enterprise he had undertaken that he may well have arrived in Jerusalem with high hopes. If so, the information he at once received must have come to him with very painful force. Among the people then in the land, there were certain princes who realized the sad declension that had taken place. That which had started so brightly under Zerubbabel and Jeshua had been gravely marred. Not only the com. mon people, but also priests, Levites, and even princes and rulers, had been involved in the trespass. They had failed to maintain the necessary separation from the varied heathen nations that surrounded them. Intermarrying with them, they had learned their customs and had practised their abominable sacrifices and ways.

If we read the first six verses of Deuteronomy 7:1-26, we find that seven nations, who were greater and mightier than Israel, were in the land that God had given to them; they were to destroy them and contract no marriages with them, so that they might not be perverted to their ways. Even under the faithful Joshua this was only partially done, and now many centuries later we see the effects of their failure. In the first verse of our chapter the nations mentioned are almost the same as those we find in Deuteronomy 7:1-26, and to them the Egyptians are added, making eight in all.

The people had been warned through Moses of the disastrous effects that would flow from alliance with these peoples, and those effects had come to pass in the history of both the ten tribes and the two, and had led to the scattering and the captivity. Now once again the same snare had entangled the returned remnant, in spite of a bright start, and hearing of it, Ezra was overwhelmed.

And we have painfully to reflect that the same snare, though it is mainly exercised in a rather different way, underlies much of the almost apostate conditions that prevail in Christendom today. The evil set in when there was the merging of the Church and the world under the Roman Emperor Constantine, which in the course of a few centuries led to the rise of the Papacy as a great world-power. And later again, after the Reformation, state churches came into existence, in which those truly converted and the unconverted are mixed together, and so on. The damaging effect of this is all too evident on every hand.

Have our eyes been opened to see the terrible failure that has marked the church in this thing? And if we have seen it, have our reactions been at all similar to that displayed by Ezra? We fear it has not been so. We shall do well to take very careful notice of the effect which the sad discovery had upon him.

Here was a man singularly free from the evil that was uncovered before him, yet he smote himself, instead of starting to smite the guilty parties. According to the customs of those days, he rent his clothes, but not content with this he smote himself, by plucking out hair from his head and beard — a painful process. Having done so, he sat down 'astonied', or 'overwhelmed'. He began with himself in humiliation before God.

Starting thus, the effect was immediate. Amongst the returned remnant there were those who were conscious of the widespread transgression of the law in this matter, but who had not the energy, and perhaps not the position among the people, to do anything about it. These were at once stirred up by Ezra's drastic action, and identified themselves with him, as verse Ezra 9:4 records. They were those who 'trembled at the words of the God of Israel', and these, being like Ezra, are just the people to whom God will look in His mercy, as stated in Isaiah 66:2.

At the time of the evening sacrifice, when there was a small typical representation of the sacrifice of Christ, Ezra arose with his rent garments and fell on his knees to approach God in the remarkable prayer, which is recorded in verses Ezra 9:6-15; a prayer in which no actual request was made; consisting as it did from first to last in humble and heartbroken confession of sins, in which he personally had not shared.

One remarkable feature, characterizing the whole confession, is that he identified himself with the people, and confessed the evils as though they were his own. From beginning to end he uses 'we' and 'us', where we might have expected 'they' and 'them' to appear. Moreover he acknowledged that the evils that had confronted him were a reviving of the sins that had defiled his people from the outset, or as he put it, 'since the days of our fathers', but aggravated by the fact that they were being repeated after God had shown such mercy in relieving them of the governmental consequences of their former sins.

This prayer of Ezra contains admonition for ourselves of a solemnizing kind, so we do well to consider it. In the history of Christendom great mercy has been shown, and from the time of the Reformation revivings have taken place, but only to be marked by this same tendency to revert to former evils. It would indeed be well if every true saint today was on his or her knees before God with words like Ezra's, springing from convictions and a heart like his. And all too often we should have to make our confession as having been involved in the sin and defilement, and not, like Ezra, as identifying ourselves with those who have done so.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Ezra 9:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/ezra-9.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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