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.
Verse 1. - When Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed. Rather, "As Ezra prayed, and as he confessed." (Vulg.: "Orante Esdra et implorante." LXX.: Ως προσηύξατο Ασδρας καὶ ὡς ἐξηγόρευσε Weeping and casting himself down. Ezra had knelt at first (Ezra 9:5); but as he proceeded, and felt more and more the heinousness of the people's transgression, he threw himself forward upon the ground, in the attitude of extremest humiliation. Before the house of God. So far as can be gathered from the context, Ezra was in the great court of the temple when the princes came to him with their information (Ezra 9:1). He at once "sat down astonied" (ver. 8). So he remained until preparations began to be made for the evening sacrifice, when he arose, and took up a position directly in front of the altar and the holy place, towards which he proceeded to pray. Doubtless he had in his mind the words of Solomon, assented to by God (1 Kings 9:3), and pleaded by Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:9): "What prayer and supplication be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands towards this place: then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and forgive, and do," etc. (1 Kings 8:38, 39).
And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.
Verse 2. - Jehiel. Probably the "Jehiel" mentioned again in ver. 26, who was "of the sons of Elam," and had married an idolatrous wife. Yet now there is hope. The penitence of the people, evidenced by their "sore weeping, gave hope that they might be brought to amend their ways and return to God.
Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.
Verse 3. - Now therefore let us make a covenant. Shechaniah had probably in his thoughts the (comparatively) recent covenant which the people had made in the reign of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 34:15) on the subject of releasing their Hebrew slaves after six years of servitude. That covenant was entered into before God, in the temple, by the princes and all the people (ibid. ver. 10). To put away all the wives. Shechaniah probably held that marriages made contrary to the law were not merely wrongful, but invalid. At any rate, since the law of Moses, as interpreted by the Rabbis, allowed divorce "for every cause" (Matthew 19:3), the remedy suggested was feasible, though scarcely one which the civil power could enforce. And such as are born of them. "Filii matrem sequuntur" was a maxim of Roman, and, apparently, also of Jewish law. Young children require especially a mother's care. Older ones might be already tainted with idolatry. It was best, Shechaniah thought, to make a clean sweep, and dismiss the children as well as the mothers. According to the counsel of my lord. Ezra had not yet advised any course; but Shechaniah gathers from the horror which he has expressed what his wishes must be. Let it be done according to the law. Either, "Let the law, which forbids these marriages, be in this way satisfied" (Dathe); or, "Let the repudiation of the wives take place in the mode prescribed by the law" (see Deuteronomy 24:1).
Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.
Verse 4. - This matter belongeth unto thee. Ezra's commission was to "let judgment be executed on those who would not do the law of God" (Ezra 7:26), and so to constrain them to obedience. It was therefore his place to inquire into the serious matter brought before him, and set it right. We will be with thee. We, the "very great congregation" which had gathered around Ezra, and of whom Shechaniah was the spokesman, undertake to be with thee, and support thee, in the steps which thou takest in this matter. Only be of good courage, and act.
Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware.
Verse 5. - Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests... to swear. Rather, "made the princes, the priests, etc. to swear" LXX.). That they would do according to this word. That they would act in the matter as Shechaniah had recommended, and put away the idolatrous wives. EZRA'S FAST (ver. 6). Matters having reached this point, the covenant having been made, and the only question remaining for consideration being how the decision come to should be carried out, Ezra "rose up," and withdrew himself for a time from the people, entering into one of the side chambers of the temple, and secluding himself there. The guilt of his brethren still pressed heavily on his spirit, and he continued the mourning which he had commenced as soon as it came to his ears. To this mourning he now joined a fast of the strictest kind, an entire abstinence both from eating and drinking, like that of Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Natural piety seems to have taught men generally (Jonah 3:5-7), and the Jews among them, that such abstinence was a fitting accompaniment of penitential prayer, and might be counted on to lend it additional force with Almighty God. Compare the private and personal fasts of David (2 Samuel 12:16), Ahab (1 Kings 21:27), Daniel (Daniel 9:3), and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4).
Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib: and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away.
Verse 6. - The chamber of Johanan. On the temple chambers see comment on Ezra 8:29. Johanan appears by Nehemiah 12:22, 23, compared with vers. 10-11, to have been really the grandson of Eliashib, who, as high priest, would have the right of assigning him a chamber in the temple (compare Nehemiah 13:4, 5). I did eat no bread nor drink water. Strict fasts of this kind had been observed by Moses twice (Exodus 34:28, and Deuteronomy 9:18), and by the Ninevites (Jonah 3:7), but they were very uncommon. Usually it was considered enough to abstain from eating (1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 20:34; 2 Samuel 3:35). Sometimes the person who fasted merely abstained from "meat and wine, and pleasant bread (Daniel 10:3). Ezra's great earnestness appears in the severity of his fast, which (it is to be remembered) was not for his own sins, but for those of his brethren. PROCLAMATION MADE, SUMMONING ALL THE JEWS TO JERUSALEM (vers. 7- 9). After due deliberation between Ezra, the princes, and the elders (ver. 8), it was resolved, as a first step, to summon all Jews - or, rather, all those who had returned from the captivity, whether they were Jews or Israelites - to Jerusalem, in order that the decision come to with respect to the mixed marriages might be communicated to them. The limit of three days was fixed as the latest date at which any one might make his appearance, and absentees were threatened with the heavy penalties of excommunication and forfeiture of all their possessions. Proclamation having been made to this effect "throughout Judah" (ver. 7), there was a gathering of all the males of full age to Jerusalem within the prescribed time. The place of meeting was the great court of the temple (ver. 9). According to Hecataeus of Abdera (Fr. 14), this was "a stone-walled enclosure, about 500 feet long and 150 feet wide," which might perhaps afford sitting room for 20,000 men. Deducting the aged and infirm, the sick, and those between twelve and twenty years of age, the country Jews would scarcely have reached this number.
And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem;
Verse 7. - They made proclamation. Literally, "they made to pass a voice" (παρήνεγ καν φωνήν - LXX.). They sent criers to make the matter known. To all the children of the captivity. i.e. to all those who, having returned from the captivity, were now in the land. The expression is a favourite one with Ezra (see Ezra 2:1; Ezra 4:1; Ezra 6:16, 19; Ezra 8:35, etc.).
And that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away.
Verse 8. - Within three days. The limits of Judaea at this time appear to have been Bethel on the north, Beersheba on the south, Jericho on the east, and the Mediterranean upon the west. As the frontier was nowhere much more than forty miles from Jerusalem, three days from the day that they heard the proclamation would be sufficient time to allow all the able-bodied men to reach the capital. Forfeited. Literally, "devoted," i.e. confiscated to the temple treasury. Separated from the congregation. i.e. excommunicated.
Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month; and all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain.
Verse 9. - All the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem. This is of course to be understood with certain necessary or natural exceptions, as of the sick, the aged and infirm, and the youths under full age. Still it would be a vast gathering, doubling probably for the time the population of the city. It was the ninth month. The month Chisleu, corresponding nearly to our December. All the people sat in the street of the house of God. The word translated "street" means any broad open space, and is probably used here to designate the great court of the temple (Patrick). By "all the people" we must understand as many as the court would conveniently hold. If the court had the dimensions given it by Hecataeus of Abdera, it may have accommodated the whole body of the country Jews. The great rain. December is a rainy month in Palestine; and the incidental mention of "the great rain" is one of those small touches which stamp the writer as an eyewitness. ADDRESS OF EZRA, AND CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE TO PUT AWAY THE STRANGE WIVES (vers. 10- 14). Hitherto Ezra seems to have allowed the leading part in the matter to be taken by the civil authorities, whom he had found established in Jerusalem on his arrival (Ezra 9:1-8). Now he came forward boldly, denouncing the sin committed, and as supreme governor commanding the repudiation of the strange wives. The assembled multitude consented, but urged that the matter required time; that the season was unsuitable for a prolonged stay of the whole body of country Jews at Jerusalem, and that the business would be most conveniently carried through by a standing commission consisting of the chief authorities of the city of Jerusalem, who should take the case of each country town separately, and, in conjunction with the elders and judges of each town, investigate the alleged mixed marriages of each locality, and adjudicate upon them. By this arrangement the bulk of the country Jews would be allowed at once to return home; and the case of each locality being taken separately, only a small number would at any given time be suffering the inconvenience of a compulsory absence from their residences, and the expense of a stay of some duration in the capital. The proposal was reasonable, and it appears to have approved itself to Ezra and his advisers, and to have been at once adopted.
And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel.
Verse 10. - Ezra the priest stood up. Now that the time had come for action, Ezra was not wanting to his duties. The chief authority had been put into his hands by the Persian king (Ezra 7:25, 26), and he was bound to exercise it. Accordingly, the great bulk of the nation being assembled in obedience to the proclamation, Ezra came forward in person, and declared that the "strange wives" must be put away. Ye have taken strange wives. Literally, "have caused to dwell," i.e. have made them come and live with you in the holy land.
Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.
Verse 11. - Make confession. This is undoubtedly the true meaning of t'nu thodah in this place, and not "give praise" (δότε αἴνεσιν), as the LXX. render. Separate yourselves from the people of the land. The marriages naturally led on to familiar intercourse with the relatives and friends of the women, and so tended to break down the barrier between Jew and Gentile which it had been the special object of the Mosaic legislation to erect.
Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do.
But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without, neither is this a work of one day or two: for we are many that have transgressed in this thing.
Verse 13. - We are many that have transgressed. The marginal rendering, "we have greatly offended in this thing," is nearer to the original. No doubt, however, the greatness of the offence consisted partly in the large number that had offended.
Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let all them which have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us.
Verse 14. - Let now our rulers of the congregation stand. Let Ezra, together with the princes and the elders at Jerusalem (ver. 8), form a standing body to act with the elders and judges of the provincial towns in this matter, and let the case of each town be taken separately, and the inhabitants of each attend at Jerusalem in their turn. Until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us. This is probably the true meaning of the writer, but it is not to be obtained from the ordinary text. To produce it we must read by עַל for עַד and haddabar for laddabar hazzeh. As the text stands, it is unintelligible. OPPOSITION OF JONATHAN AND OTHERS (ver. 15). It was natural that some opposition should manifest itself when so trenchant a measure was announced as that which Ezra had declared to be necessary. To compel men to divorce their wives was to touch many in the tenderest place. Nor was it difficult to bring forward very plausible arguments to show that the marriages - or at any rate some of them - were allowable. Joseph had married an Egyptian (Genesis 41:45), Moses a Midianite (Exodus 2:21). True, these marriages had taken place before the law was given; but subsequently, also, Boaz had married Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 4:13); David had taken to wife Maacah, a Geshurite (2 Samuel 3:3); and Solomon had without blame married the daughter of a Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). These examples might be pleaded in proof that the Law admitted of exceptions, and individuals might argue that their cases were of an exceptional character. Again, in some instances the foreign wives may have become proselytes, and the children may have been circumcised, and so accepted into the congregation; which would give them a claim to remain, which would extend in some degree to the mothers. We therefore cannot be surprised that an opposition was made. Rather, it is remarkable that it was so slight, only extending (so far as appears) to four persons, and so easily quelled.
Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah were employed about this matter: and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them.
Verse 15. - Only Jonathan... and Jaha-ziah... were employed about this matter. If this were the true meaning of the passage it would contradict the next verse, by which it appears that Ezra himself, together with several "chiefs of the fathers" - probably identical with the "rulers and elders" of ver. 14 - took the matter in hand, and were occupied with it for three months. The true meaning of the clause, however, is almost certainly that which was assumed in the preceding paragraph: "Only Jonathan and Jahaziah stood up against this matter," or "opposed" it (see 1 Chronicles 21:1; Daniel 8:25; Daniel 11:14, where the same expression has the sense of "oppose, resist"). Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them. The "Meshullam" intended is perhaps the person of the name mentioned in ver. 29 as having married an idolatrous wife. The others seem not to have had any personal interest in thwarting Ezra and preventing the reform. SETTLEMENT OF THE WHOLE MATTER BY THE REPUDIATION OF THE STRANGE WIVES (vers. 16, 17). The opposition made did not delay the business more than a few days. The great assembly had been held on the twentieth day of the ninth month. On the first day of the tenth month, little more than a week later, the commission for examining into the matter met under the presidency of Ezra, and commenced proceedings. The method of proceeding suggested at the great meeting was no doubt followed. The case of each city was taken separately. Its male inhabitants of full age attended, and its "elders" and "judges" sat on the commission as assessors while the conjugal position of their townsfolk was being investigated. Where a "mixed marriage" was proved the wife was repudiated. In 112 cases the necessity of repudiation was made out to the satisfaction of the commission, and this number of wives was put away. Probably the entire number of cases adjudicated upon was very much greater, since the commission continued at work for three months, and probably sat on seventy-five different days, judging (we may presume) three or four cases a day. On the whole, the small extent to which the evil had prevailed is remarkable; for 112 mixed marriages in a population where the adult males were about 40,000 would give only one such marriage to three hundred or three hundred and fifty legitimate ones. Nevertheless, evils in a community are not to be judged simply by their prevalence. Great evils must be checked at once, even though they have not extended far, lest, if they spread at all widely, they become irremediable. Ezra is to be commended for having perceived the greatness of the peril, and for having taken prompt and decided measures to check it, without waiting till it had got to a head, and so become uncontrollable.
And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, with certain chief of the fathers, after the house of their fathers, and all of them by their names, were separated, and sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter.
Verse 16. - The children of the captivity did so. The people generally, notwithstanding the opposition of Jonathan, acquiesced in Ezra's decision, and acted accordingly. Ezra the priest, with certain chief of the fathers. There is no "with," or other connective, in the original; but our translators did right in supplying one, since the conjunction ו, "and," has almost certainly fallen out of the text by the mistake of a copyist. After the house of their fathers. Rather, "for each father's house" - i.e. "for each family." It would seem from this clause that each recognised family was represented on the commission by its head. The number of such families appears by Ezra 2:3-61 to have been ninety-eight. And all of them by their names. Compare with this Ezra 8:20. In both places Ezra probably means that a list of the names was made out, and was in his possession, though he does not think it necessary to give them. Were separated. i.e. "set apart for the business." And they sat down, i.e. "began their sittings," on the first day of the tenth month, the month Tebeth, corresponding nearly to our January.
And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month.
Verse 17. - They made an end with all the men. They ran through the whole list of those who were accused of having taken strange wives, and adjudicated on every case, by the first day of the first month, Nisan, corresponding nearly with our April. Deducting Sabbaths, the number of days in the three months would be seventy-five or seventy-six; but it is of course possible that the court did not sit continuously. THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO HAD MARRIED THE STRANGE WIVES (vers. 18-44). Aware of the danger that the nation might relapse into the sin which he was seeking to root out, Ezra punishes the wrong-doers by placing their names on record, that others might fear to do the like. He assigns the first place in his catalogue of offenders to the priests, doubtless because in them the sin was greatest; they, as the special custodians of the Law, were most bound to have observed the Law. Next to the priests he puts the Levites, on the same principle, because of their semi-sacerdotal character. He then concludes with the laymen, arranged under their several families. By the list of laymen it appears that ten only out of some thirty-six lay families were implicated in the sin. Three of the four priestly families, on the other hand, and even the near-kindred of the high priest, were among the guilty. It is remarkable that it is Ezra, a priest, and one by many accused of over-sacerdotalism, who gives this testimony against his own order.
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.
Verse 18. - Joshua the son of Jozadak is, undoubtedly, the high priest of chs. 3. and 5. Four members of his family had committed the sin (compare Nehemiah 13:28).
And they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass.
Verse 19. - They gave their hands that they would put away their wives. It is not clear whether this is intended to be said of Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah only, or of the entire body of persons found guilty of having married strange wives. Most probably the court made out the divorces in the generality of cases, but were content to take a solemn pledge from members of the high priest's family.
And of the sons of Immer; Hanani, and Zebadiah.
Verses 20-22. - On the priestly families of Immer, Harim, and Pashur see above, Ezra 2:37-39.
And of the sons of Harim; Maaseiah, and Elijah, and Shemaiah, and Jehiel, and Uzziah.
And of the sons of Pashur; Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethaneel, Jozabad, and Elasah.
Also of the Levites; Jozabad, and Shimei, and Kelaiah, (the same is Kelita,) Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.
Of the singers also; Eliashib: and of the porters; Shallum, and Telem, and Uri.
Verse 24. - The singers and porters. These were special subdivisions of the Levitical order, appointed originally by David (2 Chronicles 25:1; 2 Chronicles 26:1-19).
Moreover of Israel: of the sons of Parosh; Ramiah, and Jeziah, and Malchiah, and Miamin, and Eleazar, and Malchijah, and Benaiah.
Verse 25. - Of Israel. i.e. "of the laity."
And of the sons of Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Eliah.
Verse 26. - Jehiel. Probably the father of the Shechaniah who counselled Ezra (Ezra 10:2-4).
And of the sons of Zattu; Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, and Jeremoth, and Zabad, and Aziza.
Of the sons also of Bebai; Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai.
And of the sons of Bani; Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah, Jashub, and Sheal, and Ramoth.
And of the sons of Pahathmoab; Adna, and Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezaleel, and Binnui, and Manasseh.
And of the sons of Harim; Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchiah, Shemaiah, Shimeon,
Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah.
Of the sons of Hashum; Mattenai, Mattathah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei.
Of the sons of Bani; Maadai, Amram, and Uel,
Benaiah, Bedeiah, Chelluh,
Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib,
Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasau,
And Bani, and Binnui, Shimei,
And Shelemiah, and Nathan, and Adaiah,
Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai,
Azareel, and Shelemiah, Shemariah,
Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.
Of the sons of Nebo; Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jadau, and Joel, Benaiah.
All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children.
Verse 44. - And some of them had wives by whom they had children. Rather, "And there were some among the wives who had given birth to children." The fact is implied above in the advice of Shechaniah (ver. 3), but is here alone distinctly asserted. No doubt it was more difficult to arrange the terms of the divorce where the marriage had been fruitful.