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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Ezra 9

 

 

Verses 1-15

§ 2. REFORMATION OF RELIGION ACCOMPLISHED BY EZRA AT JERUSALEM.

EXPOSITION

IN the interval between Zerubbabel's rule and the coming of Ezra from Babylon with a special commission appointing him governor of Judaea, the Jews seem to have been left without any strong controlling authority. The civil administration devolved upon a certain number of chiefs or "princes," who maintained order in Jerusalem, collected and remitted the tribute due to the Persian crown, and held courts to decide all causes, criminal and civil, in which only Jews were concerned. Tranquillity and order were sufficiently maintained in this way; but the governing power was weak, and in matters outside the range of the civil and criminal law men did pretty nearly "as it seemed good in their own eyes." During this interval of governmental debility, it appears that a fusion had begun between the Jews and the neighbouring nations. Although the law of Moses distinctly forbade intermarriage between the people of God and the idolatrous nations whose land they had inherited, and by implication forbade such unions with any neighbouring idolaters, the newly-returned Israelites, perhaps not fully provided with women of their own nation and religion, had taken to themselves wives freely from the idolatrous tribes and nations in their vicinity. They had intermarried with the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Amorites, the Egyptians, and even with the remnant of the Canaanites. Not only had this been done by the common people, but "the hand of the princes and rulers" had been "chief in this trespass" (Ezra 9:2). Nor had even the sacerdotal order kept itself pure. Priests and Levites, nay, the actual sons and nephews of the high priest Jeshua himself, were guilty in the matter (Ezra 10:18), had taken to themselves wives of the accursed races, and "mingled themselves with the people of the lands" (Ezra 9:2). The danger to purity of religion was great. Those who married idolatrous wives were tempted, like Solomon, to connive at their introducing unhallowed rites into the holy city; while the issue of such marriages, influenced by their mothers, were apt to prefer heathenism to Judaism, and to fall away from the faith altogether. A fusion of the Jews with the Gentiles in Palestine at this time would have meant a complete obliteration of the Jews, who would have been absorbed and swallowed up in the far larger mass of the heathen without materially affecting it. Thus God's purpose in singling out a "peculiar people" would have been frustrated, and the world left without a regenerating element. Considerations of this kind help us to understand the horror of Ezra when he understood what had taken place (Ezra 9:3-6; Ezra 10:1), and enable us to estimate at its right value the zeal that he displayed in putting down the existing practice and establishing a better order of things. His task was lightened to him by the fact that a large religious and patriotic party rallied to him, and associated itself with his reforms; a party including many of the princes and elders (Ezra 9:1; Ezra 10:8), and no doubt a certain number of the priests. He effected his reform by means of a commission of laymen (Ezra 10:16), which in the space of little more than three months inquired into all the suspected cases, and compelled every person who had married an idolatrous wife to divorce her, and send her back, with any children that she had borne him, to her own people. Thus, .for the time, the corruption was effectually checked, the evil rooted out and removed. We shall find, however, in Nehemiah, that it recurred in Nehemiah 13:23), in combination with various other abuses, and had to be once more resisted and repressed by the civil power (Nehemiah 13:30). This section is divisible into ten parts:—

1. The complaint made by the princes to Ezra concerning the mixed marriages (Ezra 9:1, Ezra 9:2);

2. Ezra's astonishment and horror (Ezra 9:3, Ezra 9:4);

3. His confession and prayer to God (Ezra 9:5-15);

4. Repentance of the people, and covenant sworn to, on the recommendation of Shechaniah (Ezra 10:1-5);

5. Ezra's fast (Ezra 10:6);

6. Proclamation summoning all the Jews to Jerusalem (Ezra 10:7-9);

7. Address of Ezra, and consent of the people to put away the strange wives (Ezra 10:10-14);

8. Opposition of Jonathan and others (Ezra 10:15);

9. Accomplishment of the work (Ezra 10:16, Ezra 10:17); and

10. Names of those who had married strange wives (Ezra 10:18-44).

Ezra 9:1-2

COMPLAINT OF THE PRINCES TO EZRA (Ezra 9:1, Ezra 9:2). It is remarkable that complaint on a matter of religious transgression should have come from the secular, and not from the ecclesiastical, authorities of the city. But there clearly appears about this time some remissness and connivance at evil, if not even participation in it, on the part of the chief ecclesiastics. On this particular occasion, actual sons and nephews of Jeshua the high priest were among those who had married idolatrous wives (Ezra 10:18), and afterwards, in Nehemiah's time, not only did the high priest's family indulge in similar alliances in Nehemiah 13:4, Nehemiah 13:28), but Eliashib actually assigned to one of the heathen, and one who was a bitter opponent of Nehemiah, a chamber in the temple itself (ibid. verses 5, 9). When the heads of the sacerdotal order were themselves implicated in the abuses prevalent, it was perhaps not unnatural, though highly reprehensible, that the inferior clergy should be silent and stand aloof. By God's good providence, however, it often happens that when things have come to this pass, and the priestly order is hopelessly corrupt, godly princes are raised up to take in hand religious reforms and carry them to a successful issue.

Ezra 9:1

When these things were done. It must have been some considerable time afterwards. Ezra reached Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month (Ezra 7:9), rested three days (Ezra 8:32), and on the fourth day of the same month made over the vessels to the temple authorities. It was not till the seventeenth day of the ninth month that, on Ezra's motion, the matter of the mixed marriages was taken in hand (Ezra 10:8, Ezra 10:9). Yet we cannot suppose that action was long delayed after the matter came to Ezra's knowledge. The princes. The civil heads of the community, whom Ezra found at the head of affairs on his arrival, and whose authority he did not wholly supersede (see Ezra 10:14, Ezra 10:16). The people of the lands. The idolatrous nations inhabiting the districts adjoining Palestine: Egyptians and Amorites on the south; Moabites and Ammonites on the east; Canaanites probably towards the north and the north-west. Doing according to their abominations. Rather, "in respect of their abominations." The complaint was not so much that the Jews had as yet actually adopted idolatrous functions, as that they did not keep themselves wholly aloof from them. The foreign wives would introduce idolatrous rites into their very houses.

Ezra 9:2

The holy seed. Compare Isaiah 6:13. The "seed of Israel," however much it polluted itself by transgressions, was still "holy" by profession, by call, by obligation, by prophetic announcement. They were "a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6); bound to be "separated from all the people that were on the face of the earth" (Exodus 33:16), and to keep themselves a "peculiar people." When they mingled themselves with the people of the lands, they not only broke a positive command (Deuteronomy 7:3), but did their best to frustrate God's entire purpose in respect of them, and to render all that he had done for them of no effect. The hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in the trespass. "Princes and rulers" are here opposed to people of the middle and lower ranks. The upper classes, whether clerical or lay, had been the chief offenders (see Ezra 10:18); and compare the similar defection of Jews of the upper classes in Nehemiah's time (Nehemiah 6:17, Nehemiah 6:18; Nehemiah 13:4, Nehemiah 13:28).

Ezra 9:3-4

EZRA'S ASTONISHMENT AND HORROR (Ezra 9:3, Ezra 9:4). In Babylonia, whence Ezra had come, the inclination to intermarry with the heathen had not, it would seem, shown itself. Exiles in a foreign land naturally cling to each other under their adverse circumstances, and, moreover, being despised by those among whom they sojourn, are not readily accepted by them into social fellowship, much less into affinity and alliance. Thus the thing was to Ezra a new thing. His familiarity with the Law, and, perhaps we may add, his insight into the grounds upon which the Law upon this point was founded, caused him to view the matter as one of the gravest kind, and to feel shocked and horror-struck at what was told him respecting it. He showed his feelings with the usual openness and abandon of an Oriental: first rending both his outer and his inner garments, then tearing his hair and his beard, and finally" sitting down astonied," motionless and speechless, until the time of the evening sacrifice. Such a manifestation of horror and amazement was well calculated to impress and affect the sympathetic and ardent people over whom Providence had placed him.

Ezra 9:3

I rent my garment and my mantle. Rending the clothes was always, and still is, one of the commonest Oriental modes of showing grief. Reuben rent his clothes when his brothers sold Joseph to the Midianites, and Jacob did the same when he believed that Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:29, Genesis 37:34). Job "rent his mantle" on learning the death of his sons and daughters (Job 1:20); and his friends "rent every one his mantle when they came to mourn with him and comfort him" (Job 2:11, Job 2:12). Rent clothes indicated that a messenger was a messenger of woe (1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2), or that a man had heard something that had greatly shocked him, and of which he wished to express his horror (2 Kings 18:37; Matthew 26:65). Ezra's action is of this last kind, expressive of horror more than of grief, but perhaps in some degree of grief also. And plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard. These are somewhat unusual signs of grief among the Orientals, who were wont to shave the head in great mourning, but seldom tore the hair out by the roots. The practice is not elsewhere mentioned in Scripture, excepting in the apocryphal books (1 Esdras 8:71; 2 Esdras 1:8; Apoc. Esther 4:2). And sat down astonied. Compare Daniel 4:19; Daniel 8:27, where the same verb is used in the same sense.

Ezra 9:4

Then were assembled unto me. The open manifestation by Ezra of his grief and horror produced an immediate effect. A crowd assembled around him, attracted by the unusual sight—partly sympathizing, partly no doubt curious. Every one came that trembled at the words of the God of Israel; by which is meant not so much all God-fearing persons (see Isaiah 66:2) as all who were alarmed at the transgression of the commands of God (Ezra 10:3), and at the threats which the Law contained against transgressors (Deuteronomy 7:4). Because of the transgression of those that had been carried away. The transgression of "the children of the captivity" (Ezra 4:1)—of those who had been removed to Babylon and had returned under Zerubbabel. I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice. As morning is the time for business in the East, we may assume that the princes had waited upon Ezra tolerably early in the day—before noon, at any rate—to communicate their intelligence. The evening sacrifice took place at three in the afternoon. Ezra must, therefore, either from the intensity of his own feelings or with the view of impressing the people, have "sat astonied"—speechless and motionless—for several hours.

Ezra 9:5-15

EZRA'S CONFESSION AND PRAYER TO GOD (Ezra 9:5-15). The most remarkable feature of Ezra's confession is the thoroughness with which he identifies himself with his erring countrymen, blushes for their transgressions, and is ashamed for their misconduct. All their sins he appears to consider as his sins, all their disobedience as his disobedience, all their perils as his perils. Another striking feature is his sense of the exceeding sinfulness of the particular sin of the time (see verses 6, 7, 10). He views it as a "great trespass"—one that "is grown up into the heavens"—which is equivalent to a complete forsaking of God's commandments, and on account of Which he and his people "cannot stand before" God. This feeling seems based partly on the nature of the sin itself (verse 14), but also, and in an especial way, on a strong sense of the ingratitude shown by the people in turning from God so soon after he had forgiven their former sins against him, and allowed them to return from the captivity, rebuild the temple, and re-establish themselves as a nation. If after their deliverance they again fell away, the sin could not but be unpardonable; and the punishment to be expected was a final uprooting and destruction from which there could be no recovery (verses 13, 14).

Ezra 9:5

At the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness. The time of sacrifice was the fittest time for prayer, especially for a prayer in which acknowledgment of sin was to form a large part. Sacrifice symbolized expiation; and Ezra probably felt that his supplication would be helped by the expiatory rite which was being performed at the time. He rent his garment and his mantle a second time, as a renewed indication of sorrow, and with the view of impressing the people who "were assembled unto him" (verse 4) the more, and stirring them up to penitence. "Segnius irritant animum demissa per aures Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus."

Ezra 9:6

I am ashamed and blush. Jeremiah had complained that in his day those who "committed abominations were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush" (Jeremiah 6:15; Jeremiah 8:12). Ezra, with these words in his thoughts possibly, begins his confession with a protestation that he at any rate is not open to this reproach—he blushes and burns with shame for the sins of his people. Our iniquities are increased over our head. i.e. have kept on rising like a flood; "gone over our head" (Psalms 38:4), and overwhelmed us. And our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Has grown to such a height that it has attracted the notice of God, and made him angry with us.

Ezra 9:7

Since the days of our fathers. The historical sketches in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:6-35) and the Acts (Acts 7:2-53) show that this phrase might be taken in a very wide sense, and be regarded as including the "fathers" of the nation who came out of Egypt; but perhaps Ezra has rather in his mind the series of idolatries belonging to the kingly period, and extending from Solomon to Zedekiah. We, our kings, and our priests, have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands. Menahem into the hand of Pul, Pekah of Tiglath-Pileser, Hoshea of Shalmaneser or Sargon, Manasseh of Esarhaddon, Josiah of Pharaoh-Necho, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, of Nebuchadnezzar. That the priests had their full share in the calamities of the captivity appears from 2 Kings 25:18; Jeremiah 52:24; Ezekiel 1:1-3. And to confusion of face. i.e. To disgrace and shame (compare Psalms 44:13-15).

Ezra 9:8

And now for a little space grace hath been showed. The "little space" must be understood relatively to the long enjoyment of Divine favour from Abraham to Zedekiah. It was a space of more than eighty years. A remnant to escape. The Hebrew has simply p'leythah, "a remnant," the "remnant" being that which had escaped the two dangers of destruction and absorption, and had returned from Babylon to Palestine. To give us a nail. "A nail" seems to mean here "a firm and sure abode," as our translators note in the margin.

Ezra 9:9

For we were bondsmen. Rather, "we are." The Jews had not recovered their independence. They continued to be the subjects of a despotic monarch, and were therefore 'abddim, "slaves." All the favour shown them by the kings of Persia had not changed this fact. To give us a wall. That is to say, "a shelter." The city wall still lay in ruins (see Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:13, etc.).

Ezra 9:11

The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land, etc. These exact words do not occur elsewhere; but the "unclean" and corrupt character of the Canaanitish nations is constantly proclaimed in the Law, and was the sole reason why their land was taken from them and given to the Israelites. On the special character of their "filthiness" and "abominations" see Deuteronomy 12:2, Deuteronomy 12:3; Le Deuteronomy 18:6 -27.

Ezra 9:12

Give not your daughters, etc. Here Deuteronomy 7:3 is plainly referred to, though not verbally quoted. This is the sole place in the Law where the double injunction is given, Exodus 34:16 referring to the taking of wives only. Nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever. So Moses had enjoined with special reference to the Moabites and Ammonites (Deuteronomy 23:6). With regard to the other idolatrous nations, the exact command was "to make no covenant with them" (Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:12), i.e. no terms of peace. Much the same was probably meant by both injunctions. That ye may be strong. See Deuteronomy 11:8. And eat the good of the land. These words are taken from Isaiah 1:19. And leave it for an inheritance, etc. No single passage seems to be referred to here, but the clause embodies the idea found in Deuteronomy 11:9; Proverbs 10:27; Ezekiel 37:25, and elsewhere.

Ezra 9:13, Ezra 9:14

After all that is come upon us, etc. After the punishments that we have suffered, the loss of our independence, of our temple, and our city, the long and weary period of captivity and servitude in a foreign land, which should have bent our stubborn spirits to obedience; and after the mercy shown us in the fact that thou hast punished us less than our iniquities deserved, and given us a deliverance, or rather a residue, such as this, which should have stirred us up to gratitude and love, should we again break thy commandments, and fall away, what can we expect but final abandonment, complete and entire destruction? If neither severity nor kindness avail anything, what can God do more? must he not view our case as hopeless, and so make an end of us altogether? (Compare Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 13:6-9).

Ezra 9:15

Thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped. Righteousness, in its widest sense, includes mercy; and so the meaning here may be, "Thou art good and gracious; of which thy having spared us is a proof;" or tsaddik may have its more usual sense of "just," and Ezra may mean to say, "Thou art just, and therefore hast brought us to the low estate in which we are to-day, and made us a mere remnant." We are before thee in our trespasses. We are here, in thy presence; here, before thy holy place (Acts 10:1); sinners, with all our sins upon us, confessing our guilt; for we cannot stand before thee—we cannot boldly stand up and face thee ("Who shall, stand in thy sight when Thou art angry? Psalms 76:7), because of this our heinous transgression, for which there is no excuse.

HOMILETICS

Ezra 9:1-4

An astounding discovery.

The previous chapter ended with every appearance of peace. The people already at Jerusalem, the new arrivals, the Persian authorities, seemed all of one mind. So far as the house and worship of Jehovah were concerned, and, therefore, so far as the welfare and prosperity of the returned remnant were concerned, there did not appear to be a cloud in the sky. But we have hardly begun this next chapter before we are in the midst of a storm. On the one side we hear the language of agitation and distress. On the other we see the silence of consternation and awe. Rightly to appreciate either we must dwell upon both. Let us ask—

I. THE ORIGIN OF THE CRY. This was traceable, we believe, in large measure, to Ezra's own arrival and influence. He had come to Jerusalem avowedly (see Ezra 7:25) for the purpose of giving instruction, and, where need was, of administering correction, in regard to that Law of Moses which he had studied so well. As we read the story, he had now been something more than three months in the holy city (comp. Ezra 7:9, and Ezra 10:8, Ezra 10:9). During that time he certainly had not been silent as to the commands of that Law; but had doubtless both explained and enforced its directions and warnings with a clearness and force that made it in those comparatively book-less days almost a new thing in Jerusalem. Consider all that is implied in this connection in Nehemiah 8:8. In the case of many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem this would have a twofold effect. It would at once enlighten their understanding (Romans 3:1-31 end Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7) and arouse their fears (2 Chronicles 34:19-21). In proportion, also, as his work in these respects was made effectual by God's blessing, in the same proportion would they be led to think and feel thus, not only about such open sins as Ezra might denounce by name, but also about any other offences which, from his position as a new-comer or other causes, might be known to themselves, but not to him. Violations of God's law in connection with the peculiar privacy of domestic life in the East would be sins of this kind. It would be very difficult for Ezra, merely by seeing the heads of households in public, to know who might be found connected with them in the women's apartments at home. Nor would he even learn this probably, in many cases, by seeing such men in their homes, as he would seldom, if ever, see the women themselves. On the other hand, amongst those who listened to him there would be many who, as resident in Jerusalem from their birth, and not hitherto separated from others as Ezra was by position and character, might be perfectly well aware of what was thus unknown to himself. Such appears to have been the case. Some of his hearers knew of many marriages in Israel at large which they now found from his teaching, or else now felt more strongly than previously, to be contrary to God's law. Such men would naturally begin to speak of these things to others like-minded, and afterwards would resolve with them unitedly on bringing the subject before their teacher. It is thus, apparently, that we find them speaking to him as in verses 1, 2 of this chapter. Ezra had influenced them to such an extent that they could not help informing him about all (comp. Acts 19:18). That was clearly the first step. What steps should be taken afterwards they would learn from himself.

II. THE CHARACTER OF THEIR CRY. In their way also of confessing the facts of the case to Ezra there is much to be noticed. We find, for example, that in speaking of the sin of these mixed marriages they acknowledge—

1. Its national bearing. "The people—the priests and the Levites"—the whole people, i.e; including even those who ought to have been furthest from such a transgression, have been concerned in this evil. Either by example, in short, or else by connivance, we are all guilty in this respect.

2. Its intrinsic wickedness. Wherein and why were they bound to be separated from the neighbouring tribes? In respect of the "abominations" practised by them, and because of the exceeding danger to the Israelites themselves of pollution thereby. This may be the reason why they make mention here of three other nations (viz; Ammon, Moab, and Egypt) besides those Canaanitish nations which are expressly mentioned in that part of the Law referred to. In their then present critical and struggling condition there was similar danger to them from these quarters as well (Lange). From all those who "hated God" (see 2 Chronicles 19:2) they rightly felt that they ought to be separated in such times as theirs.

3. Its deadly character. Instead of being thus "separated" from these dangerous neighbours, they had become united with them, in many cases, in the most intimate possible way, viz; by admitting the daughters of these idolaters to be the mothers and teachers of the Israel of the future, to the utter corruption in two ways of the "holy seed" (see Isaiah 6:13) of God's people.

4. Its special aggravations. The very hands which "bare the sword" (Romans 13:4), and ought to have "restrained" and prevented this evil, were those stained by it most. "The princes and rulers" have been "chief in this trespass."

III. The IMMEDIATE RESULTS of this unsparing confession. These appear to have been even more serious than the princes had expected.

1. On Ezra himself. What depth of grief as evidenced by the violent rending of both his outer and inner garment (verses 3 and 5), more even than we read of in the case of Job (Job 1:20) after losing all his substance, and all his children as well. What depth of indignation as shown by the sudden injury done to himself, as it were, for being identified with such a nation (comp. somewhat similar case in Nehemiah 13:25). What utter bewilderment and terror, sitting down in silence as one "stunned" and confounded, not knowing, in such circumstances, what to do or even to say. Nay, one had almost said, what despair—so remaining, as in a kind of ecstasy, till all who truly sympathised with him in Jerusalem had heard of his grief and come to him.

2. On Ezra's friends. What a picture of them is here presented to us. All "trembling" like Ezra himself. All silent, like Job's friends, when first they came to him and beheld his grief (Job 2:13). There are occasions when silence says most. It does so when it proclaims a sorrow to be too overwhelming to allow of speech. In such silence that afternoon passed, till the hour for the evening sacrifice had arrived, and the usual preparations were being made for its solemn observance. But not till that sacrifice spoke to them, as it were, like a voice from heaven was any other voice heard.

See, in conclusion, from this passage—

1. How wide the grasp of God's law. Even as given in a written form, and with a peculiar minuteness of specification, in the Pentateuch, we see that it was rather a thing of principle than precise enactment. Hence, in one way, its "exceeding breadth" (Psalms 119:96), and its applicability, as here, to analogous cases as well as direct ones. Hence, also, the way in which we read of it as being an object of "love" and "delight" (Psalms 1:2; Psalms 119:97, Psalms 119:113, Psalms 119:165, etc.). Those who love it ask not how little, but how much, it implies.

2. How subtle the infection of sin. There is danger even in being witnesses of other men's sins (Psalms 119:37). There is almost certain contraction of guilt in anything like intimacy with evil men. Observe on this point the sixfold warning of Proverbs 4:14 -16. No privileges, no office, no rank secure exemption from this peril.

3. How especially destructive the sins of God's people. What can be said or done for those who "hold the truth in unrighteousness" (see 1 Corinthians 5:11)? If it were not, in fact, for the voice of the "sacrifice," the "propitiation" appointed even for such (1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2), what must there be for them but despair?

Ezra 9:5-15

A flood of tears.

As we noticed before, and as is here noticed again, the approach of the evening sacrifice seems to have been the first thing which opened Ezra's lips. Speaking to him at last as he sat like a rock (comp. Psalms 105:41), it was answered immediately by a mingled outburst of confession and tears. Again by outward gesture expressing his sorrow, but not, as before, his indignation, he added now, by falling on his knees and spreading out his hands, the outward tokens of humiliation and prayer. And all that he says we find to be in exact accordance therewith. Unqualified shame; irresistible proof; inexcusable guilt. In these words we have a sufficient key to the nature and order of his thoughts.

I. UNQUALIFIED SHAME. How difficult a thing it is to look on any one to whom we have done wrong. How especially difficult if that other is one to whom we are especially bound to show honour. This was the great trial of the prodigal's case. He had to say to his father, I have sinned before thee (see Isaiah 1:2; Malachi 1:6). The same kind of feeling is traceable here. "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God." As one of thy chosen people Israel, how can I look on thee as things are? My own countenance proclaims its shame, its burning shame, if I do. For, indeed, there is cause for shame in this case. There is nothing else, in fact, as things are. Like a man in the waters, when, being above his head, they destroy his life, so are we overwhelmed now with our shame. Like those who have nothing to say to thee because the proof of their guilt is before thee, so are we silenced now by our shame. "Our guiltiness (margin) is grown up into the heavens" (comp. Psalms 90:8). Altogether this opening confession is like that of Job (Job 40:4; Job 42:6). Behold, I am vile, and abhor myself; or, like that of the prodigal, before referred to, "I am not worthy to be called thy son." My very privileges having become my disgrace, what disgrace can be worse?

II. IRRESISTIBLE PROOF. There being nothing perhaps less pleasing to God than to accuse ourselves before him without knowing why, such an extreme confession as the above ought not to be made without sufficient proof. This we have in abundance in the words which come next (verses 7-12). The sin which Ezra had that day heard of, and which had led him to make this confession, was in every way a reproach. It was so because committed—

1. In defiance of God's judgments. For similar sin in previous days on the part of their fathers an almost unexampled visitation of judgment had come on them as a nation. Though a people sacred to Jehovah, he had handed them over in consequence, together with their "kings and priests," the most sacred classes among them (2 Samuel 1:14, end 21; Psalms 106:16; Lain. 4:20), into the hands of their foes. Loss of life, or liberty, or substance—in the best case loss of respect—had been the result (see end verse 7). Even to that "day," in fact (ibid.), this "confusion of face," of which Daniel had spoken so feelingly some eighty years ago, after some seventy years' trial of it, remained as part of their lot. Yet, with all this in their memory and experience, what had been their reply? To repeat again now the very offence for which they had suffered so much!

2. In despite of God's mercy. Notwithstanding this heavy displeasure, there had been compassion as well. For some little time back (little in the life-history of a nation, that is to say) various signs of "grace'' or favour had been vouchsafed to them. The destruction of the people, e.g; had not been total; a "remnant" had "escaped"—a great token of good in itself (Ezekiel 14:22, Ezekiel 14:23). Nor had their dispersion from the home under God's wing been for ever. On the contrary, a "nail," or fixed habitation (Isaiah 22:23; Isaiah 33:20), had been given them "in his holy place." There was some cheerfulness also, or "lightening of the eyes," with all their "confusion of face," and some "reviving" in their death-like bondage. Truly wonderful mercy, indeed, it was!—that restored house after such long desolation; that restored "wall" or fence round such captives; how much it proved; how much it promised; what an undeserved mercy it was. How amazingly wicked, therefore, how ungrateful, to despise it as they had done.

3. In contempt of God's express will. Most clearly, most strongly, most earnestly, and that from the very first, had God declared his mind on this point. lie had done so by his words, as here quoted. He had done so by his actions, as here referred to. Why had he ever swept away from Canaan its original inhabitants? Why had he introduced the Israelites in their place

7. What had he made their inheritance of it to depend on? The answers to these various questions were clear and emphatic on this subject, and made the conduct which Ezra was bewailing like that of soldiers ordered by their commander to charge the enemy, and drawing their swords instead against himself. These were the three reasons why Ezra spoke as he did of their sin.

III. INEXCUSABLE GUILT. In circumstances such as these, what could they say or expect? After such experience, after such deliverance, and in the face of such knowledge, they had begun again the old sin. Must not this bring down again the old anger, and this time without bound (verse 14)? Even as things were, would not God be "righteous" (verse 15) if their whole remnant were destroyed? So much so, that it does not seem to occur to Ezra even to speak to God of any other course of proceeding. It is even a marvel to him, in the circumstances, that they continue "escaped." Here we are—do as thou willest—we cannot stand before thee in our trespasses (see Psalms 130:3)—we can only place ourselves before thee in the dust—we have nothing to urge. This total absence of all plea or entreaty almost reminds one of Eli's silence in 1 Samuel 3:18 (comp. also 1 Samuel 2:25), knowing as he did the inexcusable guilt and impenitence of his sons. Even Daniel, in his deepest humiliation on account of the sins of his people, could take a different line (Daniel 9:19).

CONCLUSION. In this remarkable picture of true penitence we may notice—

1. Its singular accuracy of judgment. Sin here, as with David and Joseph and all truly "God-conscious" men and minds, is an offence against God himself (see Genesis 39:9; 1 Samuel 12:23; Psalms 51:4; Romans 4:15; 1 John 3:4).

2. Its unswerving. loyalty. See the acknowledgments here of God's mercy and justice in verses 13, 15; and comp. Psalms 51:4, also Psalms 1:4, Psalms 1:6; Luke 7:29; Romans 3:4, Romans 3:19. This sin, at any rate, the sin which renders amendment and forgiveness impossible, the sin of charging God foolishly, the true penitent is free from.

3. Its unsparing sincerity. So far from denying, hiding, or palliating the evil it refers to, it seems anxious rather to bring to light and exhibit its very worst traits. We read of Elias in one place (Romans 11:2) as making "intercession against Israel." Ezra here, identifying his own case with that of Israel, may be almost said to do it against himself. Could even the great accuser (Revelation 12:10) with truth have said very much worse? Contrast Genesis 3:12, Genesis 3:13; 1 Samuel 15:13, 1 Samuel 15:20, 1 Samuel 15:21; and comp. perhaps the ἐκδίκησις of 2 Corinthians 7:11.

HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL

Ezra 9:1-4

Spiritual separation.

I. THAT SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD IS A LAW OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. The Israelites must separate themselves from the people of the land (Ezra 9:1). This separation is not

(1) local. The Israelites and Canaanites must live in the same world, in the same town, and often in the same house. This separation is not

(2) political. Both the Israelites and the Canaanites must act their part as citizens of the same state. This separation is not

1. That he may maintain the dignity of the Christian life. The Israelites were the followers of Jehovah, and could not place themselves on the same platform with idolaters. There is a moral dignity about religion which must not be sacrificed by undue familiarity with the common things of the world. There is a dignity in the Divine name, in the cross of Christ, in spiritual devotion, in the truth of the gospel, in the hopes of the believer, which the good man must maintain, which is likely to be forfeited in worldly companionships. The sacred things of God must not be profaned by worldly associations. The rose must not cast in its lot with the nettle.

2. That he may exemplify the purity of the Christian life. The land of the people was unclean (Ezra 9:11). Israel must not be contaminated by its abominations. The worldly life is sinful. The Christian life must be holy. Its commandments are holy. Its Supreme Example is sinless. Its duty is to manifest the beauty of holiness, and to inculcate the pursuit of piety. In order to this it must be separate from sinners.

3. That he may insure the safety of the Christian life. The Israelites were exposed to great danger by contact with the heathen, and separation was their only safeguard. Piety has no right to endanger itself by unholy associations; separation is safety.

4. That he may conserve the purposes of the Christian life. Israel had a mission to the other nations, and only by separation could it be accomplished; separation is necessary to the moral design of the Church.

II. THAT THE LAW OF SPIRITUAL SEPARATION IS OFTEN VIOLATED BY CHRISTIAN MEN. It is difficult to separate from those amongst whom we live. It is not easy to avoid unholy contact with the people of the land who are so near to us. There are many temptations which attract the spiritual to the carnal. The people of the land have daughters to give in marriage, they have oftentimes prosperity and wealth; and these things are calculated to tempt the godly into unholy alliance (Ezra 9:11). Great will be the condemnation of those who yield to this solicitation.

III. THAT THE LAW OF SPIRITUAL SEPARATION IS CONDUCIVE TO THE PROSPERITY or THE CHURCH. "That ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever" (Ezra 9:12).—E.

HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD

Ezra 9:1-4

Ezra's grief.

"Now when these things were done," viz; when the free-will offerings were deposited in the temple, when the sacrifices had been offered, when the king's commissions had been delivered to his lieutenants and the governors of the provinces—when all things promised well, a new cause of trouble arises. "The princes came," etc. (verses 1, 2). Here we have—

I. THE CAUSE OF EZRA'S GRIEF.

1. The law of God was violated.

2. The violation of the law was general.

3. The fact was incontestable.

II. THE DEPTH OF EZRA'S GRIEF (verses 3, 4).

1. He rent his clothes.

2. He plucked off his hair.

3. He sat down astonied.

(a) this zeal for God. This grief for his honour being outraged by sinners.

(b) This purest patriotism which repents vicariously for our people.—J.A.M.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Ezra 9:1-4

Disappointment and disobedience.

And now then for rest and saris-faction! now for spiritual enjoyment! now for the continuous exercise of the soul m sacred privileges in the holy place! now for the goodly sight of a holy people walking in the commandments of the Lord blameless I Such was probably Ezra's feeling as he first settled down in Jerusalem with the children of the captivity. It would have been natural and human for him to think thus; but if he did thus think he was mistaken. He was to be an instance of—

I. DISAPPOINTMENT—the lot of the Christian workman. Hardly had he established himself in the city of God when he found, with painful experience, that it was an earthly Jerusalem in which he had come to dwell. Zerubbabel was dead, and Haggai was no longer prophesying, and some of those who had the direction of public affairs—"princes" they are called (Verse 1)—came to Ezra with a very serious complaint. They came to tell him that several of the Jews, including many of the Levites, and even of the priests, and also (and notoriously) some of the princes, had broken the clear and plain commandment of the Law by mingling and even intermarrying with the people of surrounding lands, in fact with the heathen (see Exodus 23:32, and Exodus 34:12, Exodus 34:15, Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3). It is not quite certain that they had not gone further than this in the way of laxity and worldliness; but as far as this they had certainly gone, and the fact that the leaders, secular and spiritual, were setting the example (verse 2) made the matter one of the greatest consequence. The soul of Ezra was filled with sadness; with extreme disappointment and dismay that there should be found so serious a blemish in the holy nation. When he was thinking that everything promised well, here was an evil in the midst of them which threatened to undo all that had been done, to bring down the wrath of God, and to demolish the good work which he and others before and beside him had so laboriously built up. He "rent his garment and his mantle;" he" sat astonied until the evening sacrifice "(verses 3, 4). Such is the common experience of Christian workmen. When the Master himself gathered disciples, the scribes and the Pharisees sought to sow estrangement and separation in their hearts. When Paul, with untiring labour, had founded Churches in Galatia, Judaising teachers followed, undermining his influence and corrupting the truth he had preached. When we think that all is going well with the cause of God, and that we may rest in spiritual enjoyment, then we, too often, find that tares are among the wheat, that dross is mixed up with the gold, that error is falsifying and distorting truth, that sin is in the Church of Christ. We need not look out for disappointment as a thing to be certainly found, but when it comes we may remember that it has been an invariable ingredient in the Christian workman's cup, from the Master down to the humblest teacher, from apostolic clays to our own. It is trying in the last degree. It tries our patience, our trust in God, our confidence in his truth; but it leads us to him, as then it led Ezra, in humble, earnest, united prayer. The Jewish people at this period afford an instance of—

II. DISOBEDIENCE—a recurring note in the life of the Christian Church. Disobedience had seriously affected the Jews from the highest social rank to the lowest. Princes, priests, Levites, and the common people were all compromised to a greater or less degree. The wrong-doing may not seem so flagrant to us as it did to Ezra, for wide-spread intercourse, national intermingling, is a marked feature of our times. But the one special virtue the Jewish Church was bound to exemplify was purity; its principal duty was to maintain separateness from surrounding evil. It was now failing in that respect in which it was most urgently required to be steadfast and true. Hence the intensity of the feeling of Ezra and those who "trembled at the words of the God of Israel" (verses 3, 4). How often and how sadly has the Christian Church disappointed its Lord by disobedience to his will.

(a) idolatrous, or

(b) licentious, or

(c) convivial, or

(d) untruthful, or

(e) dishonest practices of an unrenewed, unpurified world;

(a) disfigure the beauty of the Church,

(b) disappoint and displease the Master, and

(c) delay the conversion of the world.—C.

Ezra 9:4-15

Sensibility.

Ezra was a man not only of vigorous mind and strong will, with whom things soon took shape and form, but also of keen sensibility, into whose heart things cut deeply, and whose soul was stirred with strong emotion. Therefore he knew not only great joys, but great sorrows also.

"Dearly bought the hidden treasure

Finer feelings can bestow;

Chords that vibrate deepest pleasure

Thrill the deepest notes of woe."

When he learnt how the children of Israel had gone astray in the matter of the mixed marriages, he was overwhelmed with strong and profound feeling. There was—

I. DISMAY AT THE PRESENCE OF SIN (verse 5). He sat "astonished until the evening sacrifice" (verse 4), having just given way to an Oriental exhibition of extreme agitation (verse 3). This blow seems to have stunned him. He was simply dismayed, appalled. After a burst of grief he sat overwhelmed with a sense of the exceeding great folly and iniquity of the people.

II. SHAME UNDER A SENSE OF SIN (verses 5, 6, 15). Placing himself in penitential attitude, he addressed himself to God, and said, "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee "(verse 6). He went on to identify himself (though personally guiltless) with his people: "Our iniquities," etc. (verse 6). "We are before thee in our trespasses" (verse 15). And he concluded by saying, "We cannot stand before thee because of this" (verse 15). Such was his intense fellow-feeling and sympathy with those whom he was serving, that he felt overwhelmed with shame under a consciousness of their guilt. Sin, the sin of our family, of our city, of our country, of our race—quite apart from our personal share in it—is a shameful thing, something to humiliate us and cause us "confusion of face."

III. FEAR OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN. "Wouldest thou not be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us," etc. (verse 14). He lamented that the brief sunshine they were enjoying would probably disappear, in God's rekindled wrath, in utter darkness. God's mercy was for a space encompassing them, and now they were going to throw it, desperately and wantonly, away. No sooner were they out of bondage than they were inviting the great Disposer, in his righteousness, to send them back into captivity. Sin had ruined them before, and would surely ruin them again, and this time utterly and completely (verses 7, 8, 9, 14). What insensate folly!

We may look at sensibility in respect of sin as it relates to—

1. Our Divine Lord himself. He became man in order that he might suffer in our stead; in order that, as man, he might bear the penalty we must otherwise have borne. The Sinless One was never conscious of sin, nor yet of shame as we know it; but by becoming a member of our race, thus entering into perfect fellowship and intense sympathy with us, he could be affected, sorrowfully and sadly, by a sense of human sin. He did, in a way necessarily mysterious to us, thus suffer for us. It was to his soul a dreadful, horrible, shameful thing that mankind—to whose family he belonged, and of which he was a member—should have sinned so grievously as it had.

2. Our own souls. It is well for us indeed when we have come to feel the shamefulness of our own sin. The heart that, thus affected, can say, "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face unto thee" (verse 6), is in that state of contrition, of poverty of spirit, "of which is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Sin is shameful because

(a) multiplied his mercies unto us in so many ways, and

(b) borne so long with us, and

(c) done and suffered, in Christ, so much to reclaim us; and because

3. Our fellows. We may well be sympathetically affected by the sins of others—our kindred, our fellow-citizens, our fellow-men. Rivers of water should run down our eyes because men keep not his law. We may well be ashamed and appalled, and pour out our souls to God, under a sense of the guilt of the world.—C.

HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD

Ezra 9:5

The dawn of hope.

Here is a graphic scene. Behold Ezra, the chief man of his nation, and a prince of the Persian Empire, with his garment and his mantle rent, his hair and beard torn and disordered, bowed in silent grief, and surrounded by the best men of his people, all trembling at the word of God. But lo! a ray of hope from the fire of the altar kindles in his soul. "And at the evening sacrifice," etc. Here learn—

I. THAT THE ONE WAY TO GOD IS THROUGH THE BLOOD OF ATONEMENT.

1. Ezra sat astonied until the evening sacrifice.

2. Now he is encouraged to pray.

II. THAT HE MUST BE APPROACHED IN THE SPIRIT OF HUMILIATION.

1. Ezra rent his garment and his mantle.

2. This he now did the second time.

3. Ezra also now fell upon his knees.

III. THAT WE MUST DRAW NEAR TO GOD IN FAITH. Ezra "spread out his hands to the Lord his God."

1. He recognised God as his covenant friend.

(3) The covenant,, relationship evermore recognises Christ who is the Covenant of his people, and whose blood is the "blood of the covenant." The recognition of all this is faith, and when this recognition is raised in us by the Spirit of God the faith becomes saving.

2. Therefore he spread out his hands.

HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL

Ezra 9:5-15

A good man's sight of sin.

I. That the sight of sin AWAKENS WITHIN THE GOOD MAN A SPIRIT OF EARNEST PRAYER. "I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God" (Ezra 9:5).

1. The humility of the prayer. Ezra fell upon his knees in deepest self-abasement; he did not stand erect like the Pharisee in the temple, but smote upon his breast like the publican (Luke 18:13). Surely the sin of God's chosen people could not but inspire humility within the patriot.

2. The earnestness of the prayer. Ezra spread out his hands in earnest entreaty before God; the solemnity of the circumstance awakened him to holy fervour. At such a time a lifeless prayer could be of no avail.

3. The direction of the prayer. Ezra directed his prayer to the Lord his God; he felt the vanity of human help, and that God only could avert the consequence of their transgression. A sense of sin should lead to God.

4. The personal claim of the prayer. "My God," "O my God."

II. THAT THE SIGHT OF SIN AWAKENS WITHIN THE GOOD MAN A SENSE OF SHAME. "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 (verse 6). He is ashamed—

1. Because he is morally sensitive to sin. Purity is sensitive to evil.

2. Because he understands the true nature of sin. "Our iniquities," "our trespass."

3. Because he realises the magnitude of sin. "Our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up to heaven." Sin brings shame; this the good man feels.

III. THAT THE SIGHT OF SIN AWAKENS WITHIN THE GOOD MAN MEMORIES OF SORROW. "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" (verse 7).

1. A memory of degradation. Sin will send kings and priests into degrading captivity.

2. A memory of cruelty. Sin delivers men as to the sword.

3. A memory of bondage. Sin is slavery.

4. A memory of loss. Sin spoils men of their best treasures. The history of sin is a history of sorrow, and the sight of sin calls up to the mind of the good man sad memories.

IV. THAT THE SIGHT OF SIN AWAKENS WITHIN THE GOOD MAN THE THOUGHT OF THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD.

1. Its mercy. "And now for a little space grace hath been showed from the Lord our God" (verses 8, 9).

2. Its fidelity. "Yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage" (verse 9).

3. Its forbearance. "Seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve" (verse 13). This life is not the scene of complete punishment.

4. Its delay. "For we remain." Sin is not immediately punished in this life.

5. Its rectitude. "O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous" (verse 15). "Its retribution. "For we cannot stand before thee because of this" (verse 15). Thus Ezra viewed the sin of Israel in its relation to the moral government of God.—E.

HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD

Ezra 9:6-15

Ezra's prayer.

While the smoke of the altar rises to heaven from the evening sacrifice, lo! there is Ezra before the temple of the Lord with rent garments and disordered hair, bowed upon his knees, and with lifted hands, pouring out confession of sin in tones of plaintive grief and shame and terror. "O my God,! am ashamed," etc. In this prayer we mark—

I. THE CRIME CONFESSED (verses 11, 12).

1. Here were open violations of the law of God.

2. The reasons given for this law are most weighty.

3. Nothing should induce men to commit this sin.

II. THE AGGRAVATIONS ACKNOWLEDGED. Ezra confessed for his people—

1. That their experiences in the captivity should have taught them differently (verse 7).

2. The mercy of God should have been better requited (verses 8, 9). That mercy was shown—

III. THE SUBMISSION TO THE JUDGMENT OF MERCY (verses 6 and 15).

1. Here he awaits the judgment of the Lord.

2. Here is no formal plea for mercy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezra 9:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/ezra-9.html. 1897.

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Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
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