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.Ezra 10:1. There assembled unto him a very great congregation — The account of his grief and public expressions thereof in the court before the temple, being in an instant dispersed over all the city, brought a great company together; of men, women, and children — Awakened by the words and examples of this holy priest and wise ruler. See what a happy influence the example of great ones may have on their inferiors!
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.Ezra 10:2. We have trespassed against our God — He says we, in the name of the people, and their several families, and his own among the rest. For this man’s name is not in the following catalogue, but there we have his father Jehiel, and his father’s brethren, five other sons of his grandfather Elam, Ezra 10:26. It was therefore an evidence of his great courage and disinterested faithfulness, that he durst so freely discharge his duty, whereby he showed that he honoured God more than his nearest and dearest relations, and set an admirable example of zealous integrity. And have taken strange wives — Into conjugal society with ourselves. Yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing — The case is sad, but not desperate: the disease threatening, but not incurable. Our ruin may yet be prevented by repentance and reformation. And 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. Therefore, let us not sorrow like persons without hope, or sit down in despair, but let us fall upon action, and amend our errors, and then trust to God’s mercy.
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.Ezra 10:3. To put away all the wives, and such as are born of them — If this seem to any to have been an act of great severity, if not injustice, “let it be observed that the law (Deuteronomy 7:1, &c.) was express, and enforced with weighty reasons against these pagan marriages; and, therefore, since whatever is done contrary to law is, ipso facto, null and void, these marriages with idolatrous women, which were strictly forbidden by God, were, properly speaking, no marriages at all; and the children which proceeded from them were in no better condition than those whom we call bastards. No interposition of civil authority was therefore needful to dissolve these marriages; the infidelity and idolatry of the party espoused were as much an interdiction as any the most proximate degree of consanguinity, which, by the laws of all civilized nations, is known to vacate the marriage. But even suppose the civil authority thought proper to interpose in this matter, yet wherein had the Jews any reason to complain, if, in just punishment of their wilful breach of a known and positive law, they were excluded from cohabiting with these illegal wives; those Jews, who, for every light and trivial cause, made no scruple to give even their lawful wives a bill of divorcement, and might, therefore, with much less difficulty, be supposed willing to repudiate those whom the laws of their God, for fear of their catching the infection of idolatry, had forbidden them to live with?” — Dodd. See Selden, Uxor. Hebrews, 50:3, c. 18. It may be observed further here, that these wives and children were only cast out of the commonwealth of Israel, but were not utterly forsaken: probably care was taken by authority that they should have some provision made for them. For all was to be done according to the counsel of Ezra, and other good men, who feared God, and would not enjoin or advise any thing that was unjust or unmerciful. They would also probably take care that the children should be educated in the Jewish religion.
Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.Ezra 10:4-5. Arise, for this matter belongeth unto thee — Who hast a perfect knowledge of the law, and full power from the king of Persia to see every thing done according to it; and who hast most skill to manage this matter. We also will be with thee: be of good courage — He promises him his assistance, and that of many other principal persons, which might give him confidence of success. Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, &c., to swear — He admonished them of their duty in the name of God, and then persuaded them to take a solemn oath, which they did, to put away their strange wives.
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.
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.Ezra 10:6. Then rose up Ezra from before the house — This seems to imply that he made them swear before he would rise up; and went into the chamber of Johanan — That, with the princes and elders, he might consult about the execution of their resolution. And when he came thither — The word when is not in the Hebrew: the clause, therefore, had better be translated, Till he came thither; that is, till he saw something done, he ate nothing.
And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem;
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.Ezra 10:8. That whosoever would not come, &c., all his substance should be forfeited — In the Hebrew it is devoted, which signifies that his goods were to be so forfeited as to become sacred to God, and so rendered incapable of being restored to the former owner, being put into the treasury of God’s house. And himself separated from the congregation, &c. — No longer counted a Hebrew, but looked upon as a Gentile, and excluded all communication with the Israelites: shut out from the church, and people, and house, and public worship of God: “excommunicated,” says Mr. Locke, “by which he was excluded from all society; was not permitted to come within four cubits of the altar till absolved upon repentance. After sixty days contumacy, the anathema or execration followed, which, however, was rescinded upon repentance: nevertheless, it was not allowable for any one to kill the person under such an anathema, but he might be supported in a tent or cottage entirely separated from all society.” See Dodd.
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.Ezra 10:9. Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin, &c. — Not only of these two tribes, as appears from the following catalogue, in which there are priests and Levites; but all the Israelites, (Ezra 10:25,) who are thus described, because the greatest part of them were of these tribes, though others were mixed with them: and because they all now dwelt in that land, which formerly was appropriated to those tribes. All the people sat in the street — Hebrew, ברחוב, birchob, LXX., εν πλατεια, in a broad, open place, of the house of God. Houbigant renders it, the court, namely, that in which the people stood when they worshipped. This, lying open, and not being yet enclosed by a wall, as may be conjectured from Nehemiah 2:8, is called in the original an open place, or street, and not חצר, chatser, the name usually given to the court. Here the people were not only within view of the temple, but in a place adjoining to it, that so they might be as in God’s presence, and be thereby awed to a more faithful and vigorous prosecution of their work. Trembling because of this matter — The offence they had committed against God, and the consequences thereof; and for the great rain — Hebrew, םiהגשׁמי, haggeshamim, the rains, or showers. It was now the depth of winter, when the rains in Judea are extremely cold; and the people seem to have taken the heavy rains on this occasion as a token of God’s displeasure.
And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel.
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.Ezra 10:11-12. Make confession unto the Lord; and do his pleasure — You have sinfully pleased yourselves, now please God, by your obedience to his command. And separate yourselves from your strange wives — There being no mention made here of putting away their children, but only their wives, it has been thought by some that they kept their children, and, by circumcision, dedicated them to God. For, though Shechaniah proposed the putting them away, yet it may seem not improbable that Ezra, to whom the matter was referred, when he came to order what should be actually done, mitigated the severity of the proposal. As thou hast said, so must we do — They saw no other remedy, and so submitted to what he required.
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.
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.Ezra 10:14. Let now our rulers stand — They propose that the rulers in Jerusalem should meet, to take cognizance of this matter, and to judge and determine in all particular cases: and that, at appointed times, the offenders in every city should be brought before them by the elders and judges of those cities, who should either testify against them for offending, or witness that they had seen the divorces made, and their strange wives put away. For these elders and judges of the several cities were best able to inform the great council at Jerusalem, concerning the quality of the persons accused, and all matters of fact, and circumstances. And this proceeding, they proposed, should continue as long as there remained any thing to be done in this business, that the wrath of God might be turned away from them.
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.Ezra 10:15. Only Jonathan and Jahaziah were employed — To take care that the business should be executed in the manner proposed, that the officers and delinquents of every city should come successively, in convenient time and order, as these should appoint, to keep an exact account of the whole transaction, and of the names of the cities and persons whose causes were despatched; to give notice to others to come in their turns; and to prepare the business for the hearing of the judges. These two were priests, as their helpers were Levites, that so they might inform the persons concerned, in any matter of doubt.
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.Ezra 10:16-17. Ezra the priest, &c., were separated, and sat down — Sequestered themselves from all other business, and gave themselves wholly to this. They made an end, by the first day of the first month — Three months, therefore, were spent in this disquisition, which shows that it was very exact.
And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month.
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.Ezra 10:18-19. Among the sons of the priests there were found, &c. — No wonder the people broke the law, when so many of those who were supposed to understand it best, namely, the priests, yea, some of the sons of the high-priest, set them such a foul example of lust and levity. And they gave their hands — They covenanted or swore by giving their hands, which was the usual ceremony in such cases, to put away their strange wives, and avoid such offences in future. Offered a ram of the flock for their trespass — Hereby confessing their guilt, and the desert of it, humbly suing for pardon, and taking the prescribed way of obtaining it, by bringing the trespass-offering appointed in the law, Leviticus 6:6. All those named to the end of Ezra 10:22, were priests, who, being deep in this guilt, and public persons, imboldened others to go fearlessly into the same sin.
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.
And of the sons of Immer; Hanani, and Zebadiah.
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.
Moreover of Israel: of the sons of Parosh; Ramiah, and Jeziah, and Malchiah, and Miamin, and Eleazar, and Malchijah, and Benaiah.Ezra 10:25. Moreover of Israel — Of the people of Israel, distinguished from the priests and Levites hitherto named, who before, Ezra 10:9, were called Judah and Benjamin.
And of the sons of Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Eliah.
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.Ezra 10:44. All these had taken strange wives — “The number is not very great,” says Dr. Dodd, “if compared with all who came out of captivity; but they seem to have been eminent persons, and their examples would, doubtless, have spread the contagion, if a speedy stop had not been put to the evil.” Some of them had wives by whom they had children — This implies, that most of their wives were barren; which came to pass by God’s special providence, to manifest his displeasure against such matches, and that the putting them away might not be encumbered with too many difficulties. One would think this grievance altogether removed; yet we meet with it again, Nehemiah 13:22. Such corruptions are easily and insensibly brought in, though not easily purged out. The best reformers can but do their endeavour. It is only the Redeemer himself, who, when he cometh to Sion, will effectually turn away ungodliness from Jacob. It may not be amiss to add here a remark of Mr. Locke: “Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho, says that the following speech of Ezra was in the ancient Hebrew copies of the Bible, but was expunged by the Jews, namely: ‘And Ezra said to the people, This passover is our Saviour, and our Refuge,’ (namely, a type of him,) ‘and if you will be persuaded of it, and will let it enter into your hearts, that we are to humble him in a sign, and afterward shall believe in him, this place shall not be destroyed for ever, saith the God of hosts; but if you believe not in him, neither hearken to his preaching, ye shall be a laughingstock to the Gentiles.’”