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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
Ezra 9

 

 

Verses 1-15

Chapter 9

The Break-Down By Amalgamation

There is perhaps no greater trial a man can be called upon to face, than to take, through grace, a position he has seen from the word of God to be scriptural, and then to be rudely awakened to the realization that the people who were in that position before him, are not what he had hoped to find them. Yea, that they are even less spiritual, less devoted, less zealous for God, than some he has left behind him in systems where quasi-darkness prevailed. Then indeed one needs to be firmly held by truth, or he is likely to be altogether overcome and completely disheartened. Many an unstable soul has, by such a test, been utterly swept away from his moorings. Such often go back in despair to the unscriptural positions they had abandoned, and give out a bad report of the land, thus hindering others from following the light vouchsafed to them. While some, with too much conscience to build again the things they had destroyed, become what one might call spiritual free lances-and sometimes, alas, spiritual Ishmaelites, their hand against every man, and every man’s hand against them; criticizing, fault-finding, restless and unhappy; occupied with evil; lamenting the conditions of the times; bewailing the unfaithfulness of anybody and everybody but themselves; and so falling into a spirit of Pharisaism that is helpful to no one, and a hindrance to all they come in contact with.

Now all this results from occupation with persons instead of with Christ. It is supposed that because people occupy a position of peculiar favor, and have been blessed with special light, they must needs be personally more to be relied on than the generality of Christians, and that the flesh is less likely to act in them than in others. Often one hears of people “coming out to certain brethren,” or “joining” this or that company of saints. All this is bound to result in disaster.

It is to Christ alone we are called to go forth, without the camp, bearing His reproach. He, blessed be God, never disappoints. If the eye be fixed on Him-if the heart be occupied with Him-if He be recognized as the one only Centre-then, let saints be what they may as to their spiritual state, there can be no lasting disappointment, for Christ abides.

If I see it to be according to Scripture to gather with fellow-believers to the name of the Lord Jesus, owning that “there is one body, and one Spirit,” the behaviour of those already so gathered cannot alter the truth for one moment. Rather does it call for exercise of soul on my part that I may be a help to them, stirring them up to fresh devotedness and renewed zeal in self-judgment.

It is far easier to stand aside and point out the low state of the rest-even to withdraw altogether from their company-than to emulate Ezra who, by his personal faithfulness, lifted the whole company to a higher plane. There will be less trouble, less perplexity, less concern, if one simply turns away and leaves the rest to go on as they will; but God is not, thereby glorified nor are failing saints recovered.

The position of gathering to the name of the Lord in simplicity as members of the one body, is not one in which there is no trouble. Far from it. But it is a place where all trouble can be set right and every difficulty met by the word of God alone; and this is what cannot be said of any sect in Christendom. There human ingenuity, man-made regulations, carnal laws and ordinances are relied on to keep things in order and to settle disputes. But those who turn, in faith, from all this to Christ alone as Centre and the Word alone for guide and disciplinary instruction, find that Word all-sufficient if there be but obedience to its principles. Of all this the present and the last chapters furnish us with a most blessed illustration.

The first burst of praise and worship over, for Ezra there came this rude awakening to which I have referred above. One can imagine the awful disappointment, the poignant grief that were his when the sad state of affairs that had developed among the separated Jews was revealed to him. No description can bring it before us more vividly than his own words.

“Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons; so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the peoples of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass: and when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied” (vers. 1-3).

Devoted and faithful steward of God! How our hearts are moved by his bitter grief when he is thus brought to realize the low condition of the people who are in the only right position. Could one be astonished if he had turned heartsick away from them all, and in lofty seclusion of spirit endeavored to go on alone with God, giving up all hope of corporate testimony?

But this he does not do. In faithfulness to God he cannot forego the position, and he loves the people of the Lord too much to give them up.

One thing is encouraging to begin with. While, alas, “the nobles and princes were chief in this trespass,” yet there were princes who were, clearly, not of the mind of the rest, but “who sought and cried because of the abominations done in their midst.” The very fact that these men sought Ezra out to lay the true condition of affairs before him, was evidence of their desire to help and deliver the rest.

It is pitiable indeed when among those outwardly separated, links are formed and maintained that deny the integrity of that separation; and it is unspeakably sad when the leaders fail in this very thing and thus encourage the simple in departure from God. More than once have we seen people who would not tolerate an ecclesiastical yoke with unbelievers, yet uniting with the world in business, even in marriage, and in kindred ways. This is similar to what we have here in Ezra.

The people were out of Babylon as to their bodies, but the spirit of Babylon possessed them still. This it was led to amalgamation with the uncircumcised nations of the land. The same evil principle frequently works in a directly op- posite way. Often have we seen those who were supposed to have judged the sin of sectarianism and left human systems, yet maintain as sectarian a spirit when gathered out as any could possibly have who contended for the most rigid denominationalism. It is related of Luther that he said in the beginning he had spent much time in denouncing the people of Rome, until he found “every man had a greater pope in his own heart than ever sat in the papal chair.” This is the fruit of legality; while what we have in our chapter is rather an unholy license-a “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness”-an utter misuse of that grace.

Almost heart-broken, Ezra manifested all the signs of deepest distress of spirit, and sat down in bitter astonishment. That such things prevailed in Babylon would not have amazed him. That they could be tolerated among those gathered to the place of the Name, dumbfounded him.

But at once the news of his grief spread among the people with a blessed and soul-cheering result. That all were not in sympathy with the looseness that had come in soon became evident. “Then were assembled unto me,” he tells us, “everyone that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice” (ver. 4). God had said, long before, by Isaiah, “To this man will I look; to him that is humble and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). Such there were still among the remnant, and upon them the Lord could look in blessing. These men and Ezra, acting with God, would be a majority, however few in number. Such men are likely to be regarded by the un-spiritual as troublers and “old fogies;” but where there is real exercise of soul, God can be depended on to show whom He recognizes, in due time.

It was “at the evening sacrifice” that Ezra arose from his heaviness and was uplifted in spirit above the depressing circumstances that had so bowed him with grief. The evening sacrifice speaks of the cross. It was “the continual burnt offering”-Christ the holy One doing the will of God even unto death-“a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savor.” As this blessed odor greets Ezra’s nostrils, he is delivered from his speechless anguish and enabled to pour out his soul in confession and prayer.

And is it not ever thus? As Christ and His cross are before the soul one is raised above occupation with evil and depression of spirit because of failure on the part of one’s brethren.

Falling upon his knees, and spreading out his hands-“holy hands, without wrath and doubting”-before God, he opened his mouth in a petition that is most affecting in its humility, its regard for God’s holiness and truth, and the wonderfully blessed way in which he, personally pure (as Daniel, in his ninth chapter, and Nehemiah’s companions in his), identifies himself with the people in all their failure and sin.

The balance of the chapter is entirely devoted to this prayer; it will repay the closest study and meditation: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand 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” (vers. 6, 7). In these words, observe, how far back Ezra goes in tracing the present evil to its source. It was the sin that had resulted in the captivity which had never been really judged, and had been the parent sin of all the rest. The low state of the whole nation affected even the returned remnant. And so it is in Christendom. We have sinned since the days of our fathers. First love was left at the very beginning and true recovery there has never been. Who has really felt the sin of the Church in turning from her glorified Head and linking herself with the world? Here and there the Spirit of God produces contrition and some sense of the failure, but who has fully fathomed it? Yet ever and anon God works in revival, drawing a few back in heart to Christ; but declension almost invariably follows. It has been said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” and it is as true in spiritual things as in carnal.

Ezra details before God the work His grace had wrought; only the more to emphasize the insubordination that had misused that grace so sadly. “And now for a little space grace hath been showed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in His holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are [not 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, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (vers. 8, 9). The reference to the “nail” is doubtless a recognition of Isaiah’s prophecy of the “nail in a sure place,” upon which Jehovah’s glory was to hang, which is, in the full sense, Christ Himself (Isaiah 22:21-25). A partial fulfilment had already been given; God had acted in great grace in thus giving a “little reviving,” though they were still bondmen; for they share in the failure of the whole nation. It was no time for fleshly exultation, no time for pride of position; but only for lowliness of spirit and humiliation of soul because of the dark record of evil in which all had their share.

Ezra next recalls the special sin of the remnant, and here again he confesses all as his sin. “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken Thy commandments” (yet he who so speaks had possibly been less than a week among them. What an example for any who would walk with God to-day, and what a rebuke to the Pharisaism that would coldly point out the failure of others, while professing to have no part in it oneself!)-“we have forsaken Thy commandments, which Thou hast commanded by Thy servants the prophets, saying, The land unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncle an-ness. Now, therefore, give not your daughters unto their sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth forever; that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever” (vers. 10-12). Thus had God spoken. Alas, how had this word been forgotten by those who had in other respects honored His truth, by returning to the divinely-appointed Centre. Separation would have been their strength. Amalgamation was likely to be but their ruin; unless, indeed, the evil were judged and put away from their midst. And this snare of amalgamation with the ungodly is ever a lurking danger to the children of God. I do not for a moment speak of the coming together of believers, who have been kept apart by dissension and unscriptural judgments, as amalgamation. God forbid! When that which is of the same nature flows together, it is not amalgamation but unity. Things different in character are amalgamated to form a union which can never be a true unity. It is against such amalgamation we are warned in 2 Cor. 6: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath a believer with an unbeliever? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said: I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God and they shall be My people” (vers. 14-16). In the beginning “God divided the light from the darkness,” and it has been the business of the devil ever since to seek to link the twain together.

Feeling in his soul the seriousness of so unholy a union, Ezra goes on to own God’s justice in visiting them with His displeasure. “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 peoples of these abominations, wouldst not Thou be angry with us till Thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?” (vers. 13, 14). Light obeyed, results in greater light; but “if the light that is in thee become darkness how great is that darkness.” God must visit those in chastisement who trifle with His truth. The more truth, the greater the responsibility, and the more severe the displeasure of the Lord if it be set at naught or spurned.

Feeling all this deeply, Ezra can only conclude with a fuller expression of confession than ever, and a throwing himself and the people, in all their wretched condition, right into the arms of the God they have sinned against. “O Lord God of Israel, Thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold we are before Thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before Thee because of this” (ver. 15). And so he concludes his prayer and leaves the case in the hands of God, who, though Ezra knew it not, had even then begun to work, as the concluding chapter gives abundant witness.

How much greater might be the blessing in many a similar time of distress, were there more of such dealing with God and less of appeal to man; more humiliation and confession and less publishing the sorrows abroad; more spreading out the hands unto the Lord and less pamphleteering. Oh for grace to hearten unto the lesson here given for our learning!

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezra 9:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/ezra-9.html. 1914.

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Friday, January 24th, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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