Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IT CONTAINED A FULL CONFESSION OF SIN (ver. 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 (Psalm 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 (ver. 26). He was in a position to know that the "sore weeping" of the people, sympathetic with the weeping of Ezra (ver. 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 (ver. 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, 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 (התאראשׂ כרת) 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. (ver. 5). "Them is a tide in the affairs of men," etc. - J.A.M.
I. EXHIBITION OF FEELING. "When Ezra had prayed... weeping and casting himself down," etc. (ver. 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" (ver. 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" (ver. 3). "Then arose Ezra, and made... all Israel to swear that they should do according to his word" (ver. 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 (ver. 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 (ver. 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" (ver. 6). "Whosoever would not come all his substance should be forfeited (ver. 8). Ezra showed some little
(1) severity toward himself: he neither ate nor drank (ver. 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 (ver. 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, 23). - C.
I. THE PROCLAMATION.
1. This was drawn up in the temple (vers. 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 ver. 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 (vers. 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 (comp. 1 Samuel 12:18). 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.
(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 (vers. 16, 17). During this time 113 delinquents were convicted (vers. 18-44).
(2) Amongst these were members of the high priest's family. They gave their hands in token of their submission (see 1 Chronicles 29:24, margin) 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 (ver. 3; also Leviticus 6:4, 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.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THEIR SIN, AND OF ALL SIN. It was
(a) widespread (vers. 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 "(ver. 18); "also of the Levites" (ver. 23); "of the singers also, and of the porters" (vers. 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" (ver. 13); and (b) amendment - "They gave their hands that they would put away their wives" (ver 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 (vers. 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.