Ezra 9
Pulpit Commentary
Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.
Verse 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, 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, 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.
For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.
Verse 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, 18; Nehemiah 13:4, 28). EZRA'S ASTONISHMENT AND HORROR (Ezra 9:3, 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.
And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.
Verse 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, 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, 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.
Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice.
Verse 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'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 vers. 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 (ver. 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 (vers. 13, 14).
And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,
Verse 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" (ver. 4) the more, and stirring them up to penitence. "Segnius irritant animum demissa per aures Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus."
And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.
Verse 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" (Psalm 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.
Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.
Verse 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 Psalm 44:13-15).
And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.
Verse 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.
For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.
Verse 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.).
And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments,
Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness.
Verse 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, 3; Leviticus 18:6-27.
Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.
Verse 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.
And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this;
Verses 13, 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).
Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?
O LORD God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this.
Verse 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? Psalm 76:7), because of this our heinous transgression, for which there is no excuse.

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