Z R A
this chapter we have that grievance redressed which was complained of and
lamented in the foregoing chapter. Observe, I. How the people's hearts were
prepared for the redress of it by their deep humiliation for the sin, ver. 1.
II. How it was proposed to Ezra by Shechaniah, ver. 2-4. III. How the proposal
was put in execution. 1. The great men were sworn to stand to it, ver. 5. 2.
Ezra appeared first in it, ver. 6. 3. A general assembly was called, ver. 7-9.
4. They all, in compliance with Ezra's exhortation, agreed to the reformation,
ver. 10-14. 5. Commissioners were appointed to sit "de die in
diem"--day after day, to enquire who had married strange wives and to
oblige them to put them away, which was done accordingly (ver. 15-17), and a
list of the names of those that were found guilty given in, ver. 18-44.
1 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. 2 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. 3
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. 4 Arise; for this matter belongeth unto
thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.
5 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.
We are here told,
I. What good impressions were made upon the people by Ezra's humiliation and
confession of sin. No sooner was it noised in the city that their new
governor, in whom they rejoiced, was himself in grief, and to so great a
degree, for them and their sin, than presently there assembled to him a
very great congregation, to see what the matter was and to mingle their
tears with his, v. 1. Our weeping for other people's sins may perhaps
set those a weeping for them themselves who otherwise would continue senseless
and remorseless. See what a happy influence the good examples of great ones
may have upon their inferiors. When Ezra, a scribe, a scholar, a man in
authority under the king, so deeply lamented the public corruptions, they
concluded that they were indeed very grievous, else he would not thus have
grieved for them; and this drew tears from every eye: men, women, and
children, wept very sore, when he wept thus.
II. What a good motion Shechaniah made upon this occasion. The place was Bochim--a
place of weepers; but, for aught that appears, there was a profound
silence among them, as among Job's friends, who spoke not a word to him,
because they saw that his grief was very great, till Shechaniah (one of
Ezra's companions from Babylon, ch. viii. 3, 5) stood up, and made a
speech addressed to Ezra, in which,
1. He owns the national guilt, sums up all Ezra's confession in one word, and
sets to his seal that it is true: "We have trespassed against our God,
and have taken strange wives, v. 2. The matter is too plain to be
denied and too bad to be excused." It does not appear that Shechaniah was
himself culpable in this matter (if he had had the beam in his own eye, he
could not have seen so clearly to pluck it out of his brother's eye), but his
father was guilty, and several of his father's house (as appears v.
26), and therefore he reckons himself among the trespassers; nor does he seek
to excuse or palliate the sin, though some of his own relations were guilty of
it, but, in the cause of God, says to his father, I have not known him,
as Levi, Deut. xxxiii. 9. Perhaps the strange wife that his father had married
had been an unjust unkind step-mother to him, and had made mischief in the
family, and he supposed that others had done the like, which made him the more
forward to appear against this corruption; if so, this was not the only time
that private resentments have been over ruled by the providence of God to
serve the public good.
2. He encourages himself and others to hope that though the matter was bad it
might be amended: Yet now there is hope in Israel (where else should
there be hope but in Israel? those that are strangers to that commonwealth are
said to have no hope, Eph. ii. 12) even concerning this thing.
The case is sad, but it is not desperate; the disease is threatening, but not
incurable. There is hope that the people may be reformed, the guilty
reclaimed, a stop put to the spreading of the contagion; and so the judgments
which the sin deserves may be prevented and all will be well. Now there is
hope; now that the disease is discovered it is half-cured. Now that the
alarm is taken the people begin to be sensible of the mischief, and to lament
it, a spirit of repentance seems to be poured out upon them, and they are all
thus humbling themselves before God for it, now there is hope that God
will forgive, and have mercy. The valley of Achor (that is, of trouble)
is the door of hope (Hos. ii. 15); for the sin that truly troubles us
shall not ruin us. There is hope now that Israel has such a prudent, pious,
zealous governor as Ezra to manage this affair. Note, (1.) In melancholy times
we must see and observe what makes for us, as well as what makes against us.
(2.) There may be good hopes through grace, even when there is the sense of
great guilt before God. (3.) Where sin is seen and lamented, and good steps
are taken towards a reformation, even sinners ought to be encouraged. (4.)
Even great saints must thankfully receive seasonable counsel and comfort from
those that are much their inferiors, as Ezra from Shechaniah.
3. He advises that a speedy and effectual course should be taken for the
divorcing of the strange wives. The case is plain; what has been done amiss
must be undone again as far as possible; nothing less than this is true
repentance. Let us put away all the wives, and such as are born of them,
v. 3. Ezra, though he knew this was the only way of redressing the
grievance, yet perhaps did not think it feasible, and despaired of ever
bringing the people to it, which put him into that confusion in which we left
him in the foregoing chapter; but Shechaniah, who conversed more with the
people than he did, assured him the thing was practicable if they went wisely
to work. As to us now, it is certain that sin must be put away, a bill of
divorce must be given it, with a resolution never to have any thing more to do
with it, though it be dear as the wife of thy bosom, nay, as a right eye or a
right hand, otherwise there is no pardon, no peace. What has been unjustly got
cannot be justly kept, but must be restored; but, as to the case of being unequally
yoked with unbelievers, Shechaniah's counsel, which he was then so clear
in, will not hold now; such marriages, it is certain, are sinful, and ought
not to be made, but they are not null. Quod fierinon debuit, factum
valet--That which ought not to have been done must, when done, abide. Our
rule, under the gospel, is, If a brother has a wife that believeth not,
and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away, 1 Cor.
vii. 12, 13.
4. He puts them in a good method for the effecting of this reformation, and
shows them not only that it must be done, but how. (1.) "Let Ezra, and
all those that are present in this assembly, agree in a resolution that this
must be done (pass a vote immediately to this effect: it will now pass nemine
contradicente--unanimously), that it may be said to be done according
to the counsel of my lord, the president of the assembly, with the
unanimous concurrence of those that tremble at the commandment of our God,
which is the description of those that were gathered to him, ch. ix. 4.
Declare it to be the sense of all the sober serious people among us, which
cannot but have a great sway among Israelites." (2.) "Let the
command of God in this matter, which Ezra recited in his prayer, be laid
before the people, and let them see that it is done according to the law;
we have that to warrant us, nay, that binds us to what we do; it is not an
addition of our own to the divine law, but the necessary execution of
it." (3.) "While we are in a good mind, let us bind ourselves by a
solemn vow and covenant that we will do it, lest, when the present impressions
are worn off, the thing be left undone. Let us covenant, not only that, if we
have strange wives ourselves, we will put them away, but that, if we have not,
we will do what we can in our places to oblige others to put away
theirs." (4.) "Let Ezra himself preside in this matter, who is
authorized by the king's commission to enquire whether the law of God be duly
observed in Judah and Jerusalem (ch. vii. 14), and let us all resolve
to stand by him in it (v. 4): Arise, be of good courage.
Weeping, in this case, is good, but reforming is better." See what God
said to Joshua in a like case, Josh. vii. 10, 11.
III. What a good resolution they came to upon this good motion, v. 5.
They not only agreed that it should be done, but bound themselves with an oath
that they would do according to this word. Fast bind, fast find.
6 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. 7 And
they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of
the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto
Jerusalem; 8 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. 9 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. 10 And Ezra the priest stood up,
and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to
increase the trespass of Israel. 11 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. 12 Then all the
congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must
we do. 13 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. 14 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.
We have here an account of the proceedings upon the resolutions lately taken
up concerning the strange wives; no time was lost; they struck when the iron
was hot, and soon set the wheels of reformation a-going. 1. Ezra went to the
council-chamber where, it is probable, the priests used to meet upon public
business; and till he came thither (so bishop Patrick thinks it should
be read), till he saw something done, and more likely to be done, for the
redress of this grievance, he did neither eat nor drink, but continued
mourning. Sorrow for sin should be abiding sorrow; be sure to let it continue
till the sin be put away. 2. He sent orders to all the children of the
captivity to attend him at Jerusalem within three days (v. 7,
8); and, being authorized by the king to enforce his orders with penalties
annexed (ch. vii. 26), he threatened that whosoever refused to obey the
summons should forfeit his estate and be outlawed. The doom of him that would
not attend on this religious occasion should be that his substance should, in
his stead, be for ever after appropriated to the service of their religion,
and he himself, for his contempt, should for ever after be excluded from the
honours and privileges of their religion; he should be excommunicated. 3.
Within the time limited the generality of the people met at Jerusalem and made
their appearance in the street of the house of God, v. 9. Those
that had no zeal for the work they were called to, nay, perhaps had a dislike
to it, being themselves delinquents, yet paid such a deference to Ezra's
authority, and were so awed by the penalty, that they durst not stay away. 4.
God gave them a token of his displeasure in the great rain that happened at
that time (v. 9 and again v. 13), which perhaps kept some away,
and was very grievous to those that met in the open street. When they wept the
heavens wept too, signifying that, though God was angry with them for their
sin, yet he was well pleased with their repentance, and (as it is said, Judg.
x. 16) his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel; it was also an
indication of the good fruits of their repentance, for the rain makes the
earth fruitful. 5. Ezra gave the charge at this great assize. He told them
upon what account he called them together now, that it was because he found
that since their return out of captivity they had increased the trespass of
Israel by marrying strange wives, had added to their former sins
this new transgression, which would certainly be a means of again introducing
idolatry, the very sin they had smarted for and which he hoped they had been
cured of in their captivity; and he called them together that they might confess
their sin to God, and, having done that, might declare themselves ready
and willing to do his pleasure, as it should be made known to them (which all
those will do that truly repent of what they have done to incur his
displeasure), and particularly that they might separate themselves from all
idolaters, especially idolatrous wives, v. 10, 11. On these heads, we
may suppose, he enlarged, and probably made such another confession of the sin
now as he made ch. ix., to which he required them to say Amen.
6. The people submitted not only to Ezra's jurisdiction in general, but to his
inquisition and determination in this matter: "As thou hast said, so
must we do, v. 12. We have sinned in mingling with the heathen, and
have thereby been in danger, not only of being corrupted by them, for we are
frail, but of being lost among them, for we are few; we are therefore
convinced that there is an absolute necessity of our separating from them
again." There is hope concerning people when they are convinced, not only
that it is good to part with their sins, but that it is indispensably
necessary: we must do it, or we are undone. 7. It was agreed that this affair
should be carried on, not in a popular assembly, nor that they should think to
go through with it all on a sudden, but that a court of delegates should be
appointed to receive complaints and to hear and determine upon them. It could
not be done at this time, for it was not put into a method, nor could the
people stand out because of the rain. The delinquents were many, and it would
require time to discover and examine them. Nice cases would arise, which could
not be adjudged without debate and deliberation, v. 13. "And
therefore let the crowd be dismissed, and the rulers stand to receive
informations; let them proceed city by city, and let the offenders be
convicted before them in the presence of the judges and elders of their own
city; and let them be entrusted to see the orders executed. Thus take time
and we shall have done the sooner; whereas, if we do it in a hurry, we
shall do it by halves, v. 14. If, in this method, a thorough
reformation be made, the fierce wrath of God will be turned from us,
which, we are sensible, is ready to break forth against us for this
transgression." Ezra was willing that his zeal should be guided by the
people's prudence, and put the matter into this method; he was not ashamed to
own that the advice came from them, any more than he was to comply with it.
15 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. 16 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. 17 And they made an end with all the men that
had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month. 18
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. 19 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.
20 And of the sons of Immer; Hanani, and Zebadiah. 21 And of the
sons of Harim; Maaseiah, and Elijah, and Shemaiah, and Jehiel, and Uzziah.
22 And of the sons of Pashur; Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethaneel, Jozabad,
and Elasah. 23 Also of the Levites; Jozabad, and Shimei, and
Kelaiah, (the same is Kelita,) Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.
24 Of the singers also; Eliashib: and of the porters; Shallum, and Telem, and
Uri. 25 Moreover of Israel: of the sons of Parosh; Ramiah, and
Jeziah, and Malchiah, and Miamin, and Eleazar, and Malchijah, and Benaiah.
26 And of the sons of Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and
Jeremoth, and Eliah. 27 And of the sons of Zattu; Elioenai,
Eliashib, Mattaniah, and Jeremoth, and Zabad, and Aziza. 28 Of the
sons also of Bebai; Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai.
29 And of the sons of Bani; Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah, Jashub, and Sheal,
and Ramoth. 30 And of the sons of Pahath-moab; Adna, and Chelal,
Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezaleel, and Binnui, and Manasseh.
31 And of the sons of Harim; Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchiah, Shemaiah,
Shimeon, 32 Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah.
33 Of the sons of Hashum; Mattenai, Mattathah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai,
Manasseh, and Shimei. 34 Of the sons of Bani; Maadai, Amram,
and Uel, 35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Chelluh, 36 Vaniah,
Meremoth, Eliashib, 37 Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasau,
38 And Bani, and Binnui, Shimei, 39 And Shelemiah, and Nathan, and
Adaiah, 40 Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 41 Azareel,
and Shelemiah, Shemariah, 42 Shallum, Amariah, and
Joseph. 43 Of the sons of Nebo; Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina,
Jadau, and Joel, Benaiah. 44 All these had taken strange wives:
and some of them had wives by whom they had children.
The method of proceeding in this matter being concluded on, and the
congregation dismissed, that each in his respective place might gain and give
intelligence to facilitate the matter, we are here told, 1. Who were the
persons that undertook to manage the matter and bring the causes regularly
before the commissioners--Jonathan and Jahaziah, two active men,
whether of the priests or of the people does not appear; probably they were
the men that made that proposal (v. 13, 14) and were therefore the
fittest to see it pursued; two honest Levites were joined with them, and helped
them, v. 15. Dr. Lightfoot gives a contrary sense of this: only
(or nevertheless) Jonathan and Jahaziah stood against this matter
(which reading the original will very well bear), and these two Levites
helped them in opposing it, either the thing itself or this method of
proceeding. It was strange if a work of this kind was carried on and met with
no opposition. 2. Who were the commissioners that sat upon this matter. Ezra
was president, and with him certain chief men of the fathers who
were qualified with wisdom and zeal above others for this service, v.
16. It was happy for them that they had such a man as Ezra to head them; they
could not have done it well without his direction, yet he would not do it
without their concurrence. 3. How long they were about it. They began the
first day of the tenth month to examine the matter (v. 16), which
was but ten days after this method was proposed (v. 9), and they
finished in three months, v. 17. They sat closely and minded their
business, otherwise they could not have despatched so many causes as they had
before them in so little time; for we may suppose that all who were impeached
were fairly asked what cause they could show why they should not be parted,
and, if we may judge by other cases, provided the wife were proselyted to the
Jewish religion she was not to be put away, the trial of which would require
great care. 4. Who the persons were that were found guilty of this crime.
Their names are here recorded to their perpetual reproach; many of the
priests, nay, of the family of Jeshua, the high priest, were found guilty (v.
18), though the law had particularly provided, for the preserving of their
honour in their marriages, that being holy themselves they should not marry
such as were profane, Lev. xxi. 7. Those that should have taught others the
law broke it themselves and by their example emboldened others to do likewise.
But, having lost their innocency in this matter, they did well to recant and
give an example of repentance; for they promised under their hand to
put away their strange wives (some think that they made oath to do so with
their hands lifted up), and they took the appointed way of obtaining
pardon, bringing the ram which was appointed by the law for a trespass
offering (Lev. vi. 6), so owning their guilt and the desert of it, and
humbly suing for forgiveness. About 113 in all are here named who had married
strange wives, and some of them, it is said (v. 44), had children by
them, which implies that not many of them had, God not crowning those
marriages with the blessing of increase. Whether the children were turned off
with the mothers, as Shechaniah proposed, does not appear; it should seem not:
however it is probable that the wives which were put away were well provided
for, according to their rank. One would think this grievance was now
thoroughly redressed, yet we meet with it again (Neh. xiii. 23 and Mal. ii.
11), for such corruptions are easily and insensibly brought in, but not
without great difficulty purged out again. The best reformers can but do their
endeavour, but, when the Redeemer himself shall come to Sion, he shall
effectually turn away ungodliness from Jacob.