Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore.X.
(1-6) The covenant of repentance and amendment. Here the narrative assumes another form; and, in accordance with the solemnity of a great public transaction, Ezra adopts the third person.
(1) Before the house of God.—Prostrating himself towards the Temple in the court, where all the people saw him and marked his distress.
Wept very sore.—The evil penetrated domestic life, and the punishment, as was already foreseen by “the women bringing the children with them,” brought special family distress.
(2) Shechaniah.—The son of one of the transgressors (Ezra 10:2), whose action as the representative of the people gives him an honourable memorial in Scripture.
There is hope in Israel.—A noble sentiment for a reformer even at the worst of times.
(3) Special covenants with God—general, as in 2Kings 23:3, and in regard to particular offences, as here, and in Jeremiah 34:8—were familiar in Jewish history. And at all times of critical sin or danger the voluntary intervention of individuals was held in honour. (Comp. Numbers 25:12 seq.)
According to the counsel of my lord.—Better, according to, or in, the counsel of the Lord. Ezra would hardly be called “my lord,” nor had he given any counsel.
According to the law.—Which in Deuteronomy 24 prescribes the terms of divorce.
(4) Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee.—The commission given to Ezra (Ezra 7:11 seq.) seems specially referred to, and the deep prostration of his spirit renders the encouragement here given very appropriate. It had its effect: as Ezra’s grief had made the people sorrowful, so their vigour made him energetic.
(5) According to this word.—“According to” occurs three times, and each instance must be noted. First, it was “in the counsel of the Lord” as God’s law, rightly interpreted, demanded this measure, however seemingly harsh; secondly, it was to be done “according to the law;” and, thirdly, according to the present covenant, which, went beyond the law of Moses.
(6) The chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib.—Ezra retired for fasting and prayer into one of the chambers opening on the court. It seems impossible to identify these names with the Eliashib of Nehemiah 12:10 and his grandson. Both names were common.
And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem;(7-17) Conference of the people and commission to try individual cases.
(8) Forfeited.—This, as also what precedes and what follows, again recalls the express commission of Ezra 7. But “according to the counsel” removes all appearance of arbitrariness on the part of Ezra.
(9) Within three days.—From the time of hearing the summons. No town was more than forty miles distant; and of course only those would come that were able, and who came within the scope of the proclamation, the precise terms of which are not given. They were not more than could assemble “in the street,” or open court of the Temple. The minute specifications of date, and the two reasons for the trembling of the people, and the whole strain of the narrative, bear witness to the veracity of an eye-witness.
It was the ninth month.—Chisleu, our December, the rainy month in Palestine.
(10) Ezra the priest.—He stood up, not as the commissioner of Artaxerxes, not at this moment as the scribe, but as the representative of God.
(11) Do his pleasure.—This procedure, humanly severe, is connected with the Divine will.
From the people of the land, and from the strange wives.—The marriages were but a subordinate branch, though a very important one, of the wider sin: that of confederacy with idolators.
(13) We are many.—Better, we have greatly offended in this thing. The greatness of the offence of course implied the number of the offenders.
(14) Stand.—As a representative body in session.
Until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us.—A difficult verse, owing to a slight peculiarity in the original. The meaning seems to be: until the fierce wrath of our God—fierce while this matter lasts—be turned away from us.
(15) Were employed about.—Rather, stood against. Nothing is said as to the reason for opposition on the part of these and the two who abetted them. But the reason is obvious enough. Some modern expositors are of their mind, and regard the act of Ezra as remedying one sin by another still greater. They bring Malachi (Ezra 2:15) to their support; but nothing in his prediction about “the wife of thy youth,” rightly understood, tends to condemn the conduct here described.
(16) By their names.—As in Ezra 8:20, the names were before the writer, but are not given.
And sat down.—That is, held a session. This was ten days after the general assembly.
(17) And they made an end.—Though the number of transgressors was only one hundred and thirteen, two months were occupied, which shows the care taken to do justice, especially to the claims of the women put away.
And among the sons of the priests there were found that had taken strange wives: namely, of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren; Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and Gedaliah.(18-44) List of the transgressors.
(19) They gave their hands.—The four members of the high priest’s family were peculiarly dealt with. They gave their distinct pledge, and offered each a special trespass offering. It is one among a multitude of similar tokens of authenticity in the history; and inventor would have given some reason for the peculiarity.
(22) Pashur.—Comparing Ezra 2:36-39, we find that all the priestly families that returned with Zerub-babel were implicated in the national offence.
(25) Of Israel.—Of the laity eighty-six are mentioned, belonging to ten races which returned with Zerubbabel.
(34) Bani.—Probably this should be some other name, as Bani occurs before. The peculiarly large number of the representatives of his race suggests that there is some confusion in the present text.
(44) All these had taken strange wives.—Though the numbers are not summed up and distributed, it is evident that this closing sentence is emphatic. Ezra ends his history with a catalogue of the delinquents—strong testimony to the importance he attached to the reformation. The last words—literally, and there were of them wives who had brought forth children—tend in the same direction. Not even this pathetic fact restrained the thoroughness of the excision. But the Book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:23 seq.) will show that it was thorough only for a time.