Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
NOTE ON CHAPTERS 9 AND 10
The great severity which characterises Ezra’s policy, as described in these two chapters, calls for special notice. The fact that he was so close a student of the law lends peculiar importance to his acts. His own words (Ezra 9:10-12) indicate his view. The Jews by contracting marriages with strange women had violated the law of God. They had courted a renewal of national catastrophe. Their only hope lay in the renewal of God’s mercy. Their present duty was clear. They must prove the sincerity of their repentance by putting away the ‘strange women’. Though it meant ruin to the happiness of scores of homes, the step would vindicate ‘the commandment’ and eradicate the source of peril to the people.
The laws to which Ezra must have referred would have been those found in Exodus 23:31-33; Exodus 34:12-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-5.
These passages contain prohibitions, very similar in character, directed against intermarriage with the nations that dwelt in Canaan, on the ground that such marriages would inevitably lead to idolatry and to the abominations connected with idolatrous worship. The evils arising from a disregard of these laws are touched upon in Jdg 3:5-6, where the language, if based upon that of the legislation quoted above, belongs to the Compiler rather than to an early fragment of writing.
The laws themselves, which are obviously more ancient in substance than the literary shape in which they are presented to us, must indeed at an early time have become disregarded (cf. Judges 11; 2 Samuel 11:3; 1 Kings 11:1); but their antiquity is shown by the threefold treatment of the subject, perhaps also by the apparent allusions to the same subject in Genesis 24:3; Genesis 27:46.
It was not strange however that the prohibition should become a dead letter, when marriage with foreigners generally, and even with Ammonites and Moabites, was permitted by custom (cf. Leviticus 24:10; Deuteronomy 21:11-12; Ruth 1:4; 2 Samuel 3:3; 1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 14:21; 1 Chronicles 2:17; 1 Chronicles 2:34, &c.), when the rights of the stranger were respected and safe-guarded (Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22), when Edomite and Egyptian could be received in the third generation into Israelite citizenship (Deuteronomy 23:7-8).
The rigour of Ezra’s reform included all ‘foreign wives’ among the inhabitants of the seven proscribed nations of Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1-5). The severest code was accepted as the highest standard of action. The exclusiveness, which the law had required to be exercised towards Canaanites alone, was now to be practised towards all alike. If the letter of the law was exceeded, the critical position of the Jewish community explains the measure. The permanence of Judaism depended on the religious separateness of the Jews. The holy mission of the Jewish people could alone be realized by complete freedom from contamination with idolatrous influences.
By the dissolution of marriage with the heathen Ezra sought to check at its source the stream of laxer conceptions upon religious duty. By demanding of the people so heavy a penalty, he taught them that the purity of ‘the holy seed’ was worthy of so great a sacrifice. He awoke the national pride in their call to be the ‘peculiar people’ of the Lord. His action even if it strained the letter of the law, as it has been transmitted to us, enforced the sovereignty of its rule. He fenced off the people against the subtler temptations to idolatry and averted the imminent danger of his time, the fusion of the Jews at Jerusalem with the semi-heathen ‘peoples of the land’.
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.Commencement of the Religious Reform
Chap. Ezra 9:1-4. The Sin of the People
1. Now when these things were done] Cf. 2 Chronicles 31:1. A very indefinite note of time. We have two dates given by which we can conjecture the length of the interval that had occurred since the events narrated at the close of the previous chapter. (1) The sacred gifts had been handed over to the care of the priests and Levites on the 4th day of the fifth month, ch. Ezra 7:8, Ezra 8:33. (2) The summons for the general assembly, convened to enquire into the people’s sin was sent out on the 27th date of the ninth month, ch. Ezra 10:8-9.—On the one hand, it is said, not very much time could have elapsed since Ezra’s arrival; for otherwise neither the subject of the complaint could have escaped his observation, nor the information have affected him with such astonishment. On the other hand, if, as is likely, the mention of ‘these things’ refers to the communication of the king’s commissions to the neighbouring satraps and governors, Ezra himself may at first have been occupied in these trans actions and perhaps have been absent from Jerusalem, attending in person at the courts of the local governors, to claim the Jewish privileges and exemptions. Furthermore Ezra would have made his ground secure with the princes of the people (Ezra 10:6), before proceeding to meet the question that had arisen with strong measures.
We therefore conjecture that the report of ‘the princes’ described in this verse was made about four months after the events described in ch. Ezra 8:31-35, and a week or two before the summons of the general assembly.
the princes] the leaders of the people, the chiefs of the fathers’ houses. The term does not mean the whole number, but rather representatives of the class. Many princes were implicated in the charge.
came to me] R.V. drew near unto me: more literally.
The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites] The three divisions of the Jewish settlement. ‘The people, namely Israel’ are the laity as distinguished from the priests and Levites. See Ezra 6:16, Ezra 7:13.
have not separated themselves] The explanation is given in Ezra 9:2. Compare also Ezra 6:21, ‘all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land’. Idolatry was the inevitable evil attendant upon the mixed marriages with the heathen.
from the people of the lands] R.V. from the peoples of the lands—referring especially to the heathen of the neighbouring countries. See note on Ezra 6:21.
doing according to their abominations] The phrase ‘the abominations of the heathen’ (haggôyyim) is very familiar. Deuteronomy 18:9 : 1 Kings 14:24 : 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 21:2 : 2 Chronicles 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:2; 2 Chronicles 36:14. ‘The heathen’, thus usually found in connexion with this phrase, can hardly differ from ‘the peoples of the lands’. Their ‘abominations’, which primarily referred to the immoralities of their nature worship, are here associated with the mixed marriages, since the foreign wives introduced impure forms of worship among the Israelites. Others render ‘in respect of their abominations’.
even of the Canaanites &c.] The Hebrew preposition is better here rendered as expressing identification = ‘even’, ‘namely’ &c. than comparison = ‘according to’ (the abominations of). The eight nationalities here mentioned exemplify the possibilities of contamination from intercourse with ‘the peoples’. They differ therefore from the list of nations whose conquered territory the Israelites were to possess. Five in Exodus 13:5, Canaanite, Hittite, Amorite, Hivite, Jebusite: six are named in Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 9:1; Joshua 12:8, Canaanite, Hittite, Amorite, Perizzite, Hivite, Jebusite: seven in Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 24:11, Hittite, Girgashite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, Jebusite. Of the seven names occurring in these lists, two i.e. the Hivite and the Girgashite are not here mentioned. Three others are inserted, the Ammonite, the Moabite, and the Egyptian. (In the parallel passage of 1Es 8:69 ‘the Ammonites’ are omitted, and ‘the Edomites’ substituted for ‘the Amorites’—a change indicating the later date of this composition.) The position of the Ammonites, Moabites and Egyptians between the Jebusites and the Amorites is strange. But the list so far as it refers to contemporaneous influences, is illustrative rather than exhaustive of ‘peoples’ (a) not driven out of Palestine, (b) dwelling on the frontier of Israel. It combines typical names, familiar in the lists of the early writings of this people, with those of countries which were the chief source of more recent corruption.
The mention of the Ammonite, Moabite, and Egyptian together suggest the influence of Deuteronomy 23:3-7.
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.2. they have taken] i.e. ‘taken wives’ as in Ezra 10:44; 2 Chronicles 11:21; 2 Chronicles 13:21.
the holy seed] i.e. the race set apart and consecrated to God, cf. Exodus 19:5-6. The term ‘the holy seed’ is found also in Isaiah 6:13.
have mingled themselves] The same phrase occurs in a passage which well illustrates our verse. Psalm 106:34-35. ‘They did not destroy the peoples (‘ammîm) as the Lord commanded them; but mingled themselves with the nations (haggoyyim) and learned their works’.
with the people of those lands] R.V. with the peoples of the lands, as in Ezra 9:1.
the hand of the princes and rulers] marg. ‘princes and deputies’. compare the same phrase Nehemiah 5:7.
The word rendered ‘rulers’ (marg. ‘deputies’) ‘segânîm’ is of Assyrian origin. It occurs in Isaiah 41:25, and preceded by ‘pekhah’ in Jeremiah 51:23; Jeremiah 51:28; Jeremiah 51:57; Ezekiel 23:6; Ezekiel 23:12; Ezekiel 23:23 as ‘governors and deputies’; in Nehemiah 4:14; Nehemiah 4:19; Nehemiah 5:7; Nehemiah 7:5; Nehemiah 12:40; Nehemiah 13:11 as ‘rulers’ (marg. ‘deputies’).
‘The princes’ seem to have been the chief authorities. A ruler or deputy (sagan) held under the governor a post of subordinate responsibility.
chief in this trespass] R.V. marg. first. This is probably more correct; the chiefs and rulers had set the example of wrong-doing, ‘Trespass’ Ezra 9:4, Ezra 10:6. Compare the use of this word with reference to national sin, Joshua 7:1; Joshua 22:16.
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.3. I rent my garment and my mantle] Ezra’s conduct betrays his surprise, his grief, and his indignation. The rending of the clothes is frequently mentioned in Scripture as a sign of grief: Ezra here is described as rending the under-garment or tunic (the ‘begedh’) and the long loose robe (the m‘îl) in which he was attired. Reuben rent his ‘clothes’ (plur. of ‘begedh’) on not finding Joseph (Genesis 37:29): Jacob rent his ‘garments’ (plur. of ‘simlah’) on seeing Joseph’s blood-stained coat (Genesis 37:34): Joseph’s brethren rent their clothers (plur. of ‘simlah’) when the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack (Genesis 44:13): Joshua rent his ‘clothes’ (plur. of ‘simlah’) after the repulse at Ai (Joshua 7:6): Jephthah rent his clothes (plur. of ‘begedh’) on meeting his daughter (Jdg 11:35): the messenger from the field of Ziklag came with his clothes (plur. of ‘begedh’) rent (2 Samuel 1:2, cf. 1 Samuel 4:12): Job rent his mantle (‘m‘îl’) on hearing of his children’s death (Job 1:20), and his friends rent each one his mantle (‘m‘îl’) when they came to visit him (Job 2:12). These were all signs of grief. The action also denoted ‘horror’ on receiving intelligence or hearing words, which shocked: thus Hezekiah and his ministers rent their clothes (plur. of ‘begedh’) after Rabshakeh’s speech (2 Kings 18:37; 2 Kings 19:1): Mordecai rent his clothes (plur. of ‘begedh’) on hearing of Haman’s determination (Esther 4:1): the High-priest rent his garments on hearing the testimony of Jesus (Matthew 26:65). See also Isaiah 36:22; Jeremiah 41:5; 2 Chronicles 34:27.
The ‘mantle’ was a long flowing robe; by this name is designated the High-priest’s robe (Exodus 28:31; Exodus 28:34; Exodus 39:22-23); the ‘robe’ which Hannah made for Samuel (1 Samuel 2:19); Jonathan’s ‘robe’, which he presented to David (1 Samuel 18:4); Samuel’s robe (1 Samuel 15:27); Saul’s ‘robe’ (1 Samuel 24:4); the ‘robe’ which covered the apparition of Samuel (1 Samuel 28:14). Its use in metaphor (Psalm 109:29; Isaiah 59:17) agrees with this.
and pluckt off the hair &c.] This sign of grief is not described elsewhere in the O. T. Compare Esther (additions to), Esther 14:2, ‘All the places of her joy she filled with her torn hair’.
The shaven head was a common sign of mourning, e.g. Job 1:20; Ezekiel 7:18; Amos 8:10. Ezra’s action denotes in an exaggerated way his great grief.
Nehemiah’s indignation made him ‘pluck off’ the hair of his opponents (Nehemiah 13:25; cf. 2Es 1:8), but is hardly a parallel case.
and sat down astonied] cf. Daniel 4:19 ‘Then Daniel … was astonied or a while’. The word in the original is the same as that rendered ‘desolator’ (marg. desolate) in Daniel 9:27, and ‘that maketh desolate’ Daniel 11:31. Here the sense of ‘bewilderment’ is uppermost. See the use of ‘astonied’ in the R.V., Job 17:8; Job 18:20; Ezekiel 4:17; Daniel 3:24; Daniel 4:19.
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.4. There are, collected unto Ezra those who believed in the word of God and dreaded the displeasure consequent upon such transgression. Perhaps the reference is especially to the threats contained in the Law. Cf. Deuteronomy 7:1-4.
every one that trembled at the words &c.] cf. Ezra 10:3, ‘those that tremble at the commandment of our God’. Isaiah 66:2, ‘to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word’, and Ezra 9:5, ‘Hear the word of God, ye that tremble at his word’. The dread of the consequences of disobedience rather than horror at the nature of the offence seems here depicted. But if the nature of sin was not yet realised, the sovereignty of a Higher Law was recognised, and ‘sin is lawlessness’ (1 John 3:4).
of those that had been carried away] R.V. of them of the captivity. Heb. ‘haggôlah’, the collective abstract name for those who had shared the captivity.
until the evening sacrifice] R.V. until the evening oblation. This is the daily evening minkhah or meal offering. See note on Nehemiah 10:33.
It is here mentioned as a common division of the day, as in 1 Kings 18:29. Cf. Jdt 9:1, ‘about the time that the incense of that evening was offered in Jerusalem’. Ezra probably spent the greater part of the day in this posture.
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,5–15. Ezra’s Confession
5. And at the evening sacrifice] R.V. And at the evening oblation, i.e. at the time of its being offered.
I arose up from my heaviness] R.V. I arose up from my humiliation. Marg. fasting. The Hebrew word ‘Taanith’ occurs only here in the O.T.: in later Hebrew it became the accepted for religious fasting. This passage favours the original application to general humiliation rather than to abstinence from food. So the LXX. ταπείωσις.
and having rent my garment and my mantle] R.V. even with my garment and my mantle rent; and. There is no need to render as the A.V. and most commentators, as if Ezra for a second time rent his clothes. He calls attention to the fact that in the presence of the assembled people he stood before them with these evident signs of his grief and dismay, and thus by a mute appeal united them with him in his act of prayer.
fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands] We find in Scripture both kneeling and standing as the postures of prayer. For kneeling compare 1 Kings 8:54, Solomon … kneeling on his knees with his hands spread forth toward heaven. Daniel 6:10 ‘And he kneeled upon his knees three times a day.’ Psalm 95:6 ‘Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker’. Cf. Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60; Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5. For standing cf. 1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Kings 8:22; 1 Chronicles 23:30; Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:11.
The attitude of spreading out the hands expressed the desire to receive and to embrace the Divine gift, the hands open and the palms turned upwards as if to accept. Cf. Exodus 9:29; 1 Kings 8:22, Isaiah 1:15 ‘And when ye spread forth your hands’. 2Ma 3:20 ‘All holding their hands toward heaven made supplication’.
the Lord my God] Cf. Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:9; Ezra 7:14; Ezra 7:19-20; Ezra 7:25-26 and especially 28.
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.6. A brief exordium: expression of personal shame and national guilt.
I am ashamed and blush] These words occur together frequently as in Jeremiah 31:19 ‘I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth’. Isaiah 45:16; Psalm 35:4. Ezra’s expression of shame and confusion is the echo of the prophet’s words, ‘Beashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel’ (Ezekiel 36:32), the very opposite of their spirit, who ‘were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush’ (Jeremiah 6:15; Jeremiah 8:12).
to lift up my face to thee] The consciousness of sin will not permit the humble supplicant to ‘lift up so much as his eyes to heaven’ (Luke 18:13). The first person singular is here dropped.
for our iniquities are increased over our head] The metaphor is drawn from the waters of a flood (cf. Genesis 7:17-18). Compare Psalm 38:4 ‘For mine iniquities are gone over mine head’.
and our trespass] R.V. our guiltiness. The word ‘guiltiness’ (‘ashmah’, not ‘ma-al’ ‘trespass’ of Ezra 9:1) is used here and in Ezra 9:7; Ezra 9:13; Ezra 9:15, Ezra 10:10; Ezra 10:19. It is the state of guilt resulting from sin, e.g. Leviticus 4:3, ‘if the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt (ashmah) on the people’; Ezra 6:5; Ezra 6:7, 2 Chronicles 28:13 ‘For ye purpose that which will bring upon us a trespass (marg. ‘guilt’, Hebr. ‘ashmah’) against the Lord, to add unto our sins and to our trespass; for our trespass is great’, 2 Chronicles 24:18, 2 Chronicles 28:10, 2 Chronicles 33:23, Amos 8:14 ‘Swear by the sin (ashmah) of Samaria’. Psalm 69:5 ‘My sins (marg. Heb. guiltinesses) are not hid from thee’.
is grown up unto the heavens] Compare the same metaphor applied to ‘rage’, 2 Chronicles 28:9 ‘In a rage which hath reached up unto heaven’. Either, which is most probable, hyperbolically of magnitude, as of the tower of Babel, ‘whose top may reach unto heaven’ (Genesis 11:4), cities walled up to heaven (Deuteronomy 1:28), the judgement of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:9), or metaphorically, as if the magnitude of the guilt had forced itself upon the notice of God like the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-21).
6–15. Ezra’s Prayer
Ezra’s prayer, as a confession of national sin, should be compared with the prayer of the Levites (Nehemiah 9:6-38), and more especially with the prayer of Daniel (Daniel 9:4-19). As in the confession of Daniel, the personality of the speaker is merged in that of the nation, The sin of the race no less than its shame and its punishment is acknowledged in the ‘we’, ‘our’, and ‘us’. The self-abnegation and love of Ezra as of Moses (Exodus 32:32), and of Paul (Romans 9:3), accept the obligations of nationality as the source of guilt as well as on privilege to the individual.
The general plan of the confession resembles that of Daniel. It consists of (1) general confession, Ezra 9:6 (cf. Daniel 9:4-6), (2) the sins of former time, Ezra 9:7 (Daniel 9:7-8); (3) God’s mercy and goodness, Ezra 9:7-8 (Daniel 9:9); (4) Israel’s sin in the face of the Divine warning, Ezra 9:10-12 (Daniel 9:10-14); (5) the fresh guilt and final appeal, Ezra 9:13-15 (Daniel 9:15-19).
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.7. The record of Israelite history, i.e. sin and its retribution. But for their sin, the Israelites would have had a far different history.
Since the days of our fathers] The exact phrase hardly occurs elsewhere except Malachi 3:7 ‘From the days of your fathers ye have turned aside from mine ordinances’. The context there seems to show that, though the expression is purposely indefinite, it points back to the time when the Law was first given, and is equivalent to saying ‘from the first beginnings of the Israelite people’.
have we been in a great trespass] R.V. we have been exceedingly guilty. Marg. Heb. in great guiltiness. See note on Ezra 9:6.
we, our kings, and our priests] i.e. the nation, with its civil and sacred chiefs. Cf. the fuller category Nehemiah 9:32 ‘Our kings … our princes … our priests … our prophets … our fathers’.
the kings of the lands] With special reference to ‘the kings of Assyria’ (Nehemiah 9:32) and Babylon.
sword … captivity … spoil (R.V. spoiling) … confusion of face] Life, freedom, property, honour: items of the penalty. ‘Confusion of face’, lit. shame of face, i.e. dishonour. Cf. Daniel 9:7-8 ‘Unto us confusion of face, as it is this day’, ‘To us belongeth confusion of face’. 2 Chronicles 32:21 ‘So he returned with shame of face’. ‘Spoiling’: a late Hebrew word, occurring also in Esther 9:10; Esther 9:15-16; Daniel 11:24; Daniel 11:33; 2 Chronicles 14:14; 2 Chronicles 25:13; 2 Chronicles 28:14.
as it is this day] cf. Ezra 9:15; Nehemiah 9:10; Deuteronomy 6:24; Jeremiah 44:22.
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.8. The period since the decree of Cyrus a divinely appointed respite of probation.
And now for a little space] R.V. And now for a little moment. ‘For a little moment’, as in Isaiah 26:20 ‘Hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast’. Ezra means that as compared with the long periods of Israel’s disobedience (Ezra 9:7), and Israel’s punishment, the interval of eighty years since Zerubbabel’s return was but a short chapter in the people’s history.
grace] The word in the Hebrew is practically always elsewhere in the O.T. rendered ‘supplication’ (e.g. 1 Kings 8:30; 1 Kings 8:38; 1 Kings 8:52; 1 Kings 9:3; Psalm 6:9; Psalm 55:1; Psalm 119:170; Jeremiah 36:7; Jeremiah 37:20; Jeremiah 38:26; Jeremiah 42:9; Daniel 9:20; 2 Chronicles 6:19; 2 Chronicles 6:29; 2 Chronicles 6:35; 2 Chronicles 6:39; 2 Chronicles 33:13). The only possible exception is Joshua 11:20 ‘That they might utterly destroy them, that they might have no favour’ (marg. Or, might not sue for favour). Here the word clearly means the favour or grace, for which the supplication is made.
to leave us a remnant to escape] A remnant to escape (p‘lêtah) (1) from the destruction of Jerusalem, as in Ezekiel 14:22 ‘Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be carried forth’, (2) from the evils and degenerating influences of the captivity, as in Nehemiah 1:3 ‘I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem’.
and to give us a nail in his holy place] R.V. marg. ‘See Isaiah 22:23’, ‘And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place’, referring to Eliakim. The writer makes use of a metaphor, which to us is a little obscure. The passage from Isaiah gives us the image of a nail or peg firmly fastened into a wall so that vessels could be hung from it securely. Others have derived the metaphor from camp life: upon the peg being driven into a firm soil depended the security of the tent. Cf. Isaiah 54:2 ‘lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes’ (or nails). In either case the nail is that which holds up or supports. Its power to do so, however strong the nail may be itself, depends upon the firmness of that into which it is driven.—‘The nail’ here is neither the Temple, as some have supposed, nor the princes and priests, but the community returned from Babylon established at Jerusalem. Upon this community depended the whole hopes of Israel. Ezra acknowledges the mercy which has permitted ‘the nail’ of the new Israel to be fixed once more in the place which God had chosen.
in his holy place] i.e. in Jerusalem, and at his Temple. The phrase occurs again in Psalm 24:3 ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place’? cf. Isaiah 60:13. That ‘holy place’ was the centre of the nation’s life, the witness to the Divine Presence. ‘The nail’ fixed there should bear any weight and resist all pressure; it was ‘the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, the mount Zion’ (Isaiah 18:7), ‘the place which the Lord shall choose’ (Deuteronomy 12:14 passim), cf. ‘the holy mountain of my God’ Daniel 9:20 (16, 24), ‘the holy city’ Matthew 4:5; Matthew 27:53.
that our God may lighten our eyes] The period of punishment had been one of night and gloom. The new gracious period of respite had brought daylight and brightness, cf. Psalm 13:3 ‘Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death’.
and give us a little reviving in our bondage] The restoration of the Jews had been a renewal of life (cf. Ezekiel 32:1-14) out of death. Ezra says ‘a little’; for (1) the period had been short, (2) they were still subject to foreign rulers. But it was a rekindling of the vital spark—a reviving. The Hebrew word is not very common, comp. Genesis 45:5 ‘God did send me before you to preserve life’ (lit. for reviving or the maintenance of life).
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.9. For we were bondmen] R.V. For we are bondmen. Ezra explains his words ‘in our bondage’. The bondage is not past. The Jews are still bondmen, in servitude to the king of Persia.
yet our God, &c.] The hand of God’s mercy could be discerned in the events of past history.
extended mercy] Cf. Ezra 7:28.
to give us … to set up … to repair] God, by the kings of Persia, gave the ‘reviving’; through their favour the Jews had been able ‘to set up’ the Temple and ‘to repair’ its ruins; the royal favour acted as a fence to the Jews against the neighbouring nations.
the desolations] R.V. the ruins. Marg. waste places. Isaiah 44:26 ‘I will raise up the waste places thereof’, Isaiah 61:4 ‘And they shall build the old wastes’. Here where the word is applied to the house and is found in connexion with the ‘repair’ (lit. ‘cause to stand’ or ‘set up’ as in Nehemiah 6:1) ‘ruins’ seems the best English equivalent.
a wall] So also R.V. text. R.V. marg. ‘a fence’. The Hebrew word (‘gâdêr’) is specially used of a fence round a vineyard. It is used by Isaiah ‘I will break down the fence thereof’ (Isaiah 5:5) in the celebrated allegory in which Israel is the vineyard. It occurs also in the Psalm (Psalm 80:12) ‘Why hast thou broken down her fences?’, where the same image of the sacred vine is employed. The use of the word here is perhaps an allusion to these well-known passages. It is not a literal ‘fence’ or ‘wall’, but ‘protection’ and ‘defence’.
in Judah and in Jerusalem] Cf. Ezra 2:1, Ezra 4:6, Ezra 5:1.
And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments,10. A sudden apostrophe. God’s mercy has been great; but now, in spite of all, Israel has broken this command: what does she deserve?
And now … after this] It has been very generally supposed that ‘after this’ means ‘after this manifestation of Divine clemency’. But it seems better to suppose that Ezra breaks abruptly off at Ezra 9:9. The thought of God’s favour in the past makes Ezra mentally compare it with the present position of the Jews. ‘And now, at this moment, after this fresh violation of commandment, after this further proof of our guiltiness, what can we say?’
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.11. The Divine commands which Israel had violated had been conveyed to them expressly by the prophets. The people were without excuse.
commanded by thy servants the prophets] Lit. ‘by the hand of’. To command by ‘the hand of’ occurs often, as in the Heb. of Nehemiah 8:14; Leviticus 8:36; Numbers 16:40; Numbers 36:13; Jdg 3:4, &c.: cf. ‘to speak by the hand of’, 2 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 21:10; 2 Kings 24:2.
saying] The prophetic word is contained in this and the following verse. There is no passage in the prophets resembling the words here given. It is generally supposed that Ezra is citing from Deuteronomy 7:1-3, and that the expression ‘thy servants the prophets’ alludes to Moses. But it must be remembered that ‘the law of Moses’ in these books is always directly referred to, e.g. Ezra 3:2; Ezra 6:18; Ezra 7:6; Nehemiah 8:1; Nehemiah 8:14; Nehemiah 13:1; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 2 Chronicles 25:4; 2 Chronicles 30:16; 2 Chronicles 35:12. It is better then to regard the passage as a perfectly general statement by Ezra of prophetical teaching upon the subject of intermarriage with foreign nations. Such a statement would naturally reecho the Deuteronomic law, and even repeat words and phrases which, by oral as well as by written tradition, would be familiar. We are forcibly reminded how much of the teaching of the prophets has never come down to us. On the other hand it is no less instructive to observe that the prophetical teaching seems naturally to embody itself in a form, which recalls the language of the Deuteronomic legislation, e.g. ‘The land unto which ye go to possess it’, cf. Deuteronomy 7:1 ‘Then the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it’.
The land … is an unclean land] This expression (lit. land of unclean ness) is not found in the Pentateuch with reference to the promised land.
with the filthiness of the people of the land] R.V. through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands. The same word ‘uncleanness’ (niddah) is used here as in the phrase an ‘unclean land’. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 29:5 ‘carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place’. Cf. Lamentations 1:17. It is a strong word to denote anything that would convey defilement.
with their abominations] R.V. through their abominations. Added by way of explanation. On the word see note on Ezra 9:1. The ‘abominations’ are described as acts of impurity because these were the accompaniment of the local worship. Cf. Leviticus 18:27 ‘All these abominations (Ezra 9:6-15) have the men of the land done … and the land is defiled’.
from one end to another] Lit. ‘from mouth to mouth’. Cf. almost the same expression in 2 Kings 10:21; 2 Kings 21:16. It means ‘from one extremity to another’; perhaps the metaphor has been taken from a drinking vessel.
with their uncleanness] R.V. with their filthiness. The same word in the Hebrew as that rendered ‘filthiness’ in chap. Ezra 6:21. It denotes ‘impurity’, ‘defilement’ generally. Cf. Zechariah 13:2 ‘I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land’. See, for the special application, the whole passage Leviticus 18:24-30.
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.12. Now therefore give not, &c.] This sentence reproduces the substance of Deuteronomy 7:3 ‘Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son’.
nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever] R.V. … or their prosperity.… This phrase is found in Deuteronomy 23:6 ‘Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever’, where the Ammonites and Moabites are especially referred to. The words had probably become almost proverbial. Here its application is destitute of any reference to the context in Deuteronomy 23. The thought reproduces the prohibition of Exodus 23:32 ‘Thou shalt make no covenant with them (i.e. the inhabitants of the land) nor with their gods’. Compare Jeremiah 29:7 ‘And seek the peace of the city, whither I have caused you to be carried away captive’.
that ye may be strong] The same blessing is promised Deuteronomy 11:8 ‘Therefore shall ye keep all the commandment … that ye may be strong’. The power to maintain God’s gift was the measure of their true prosperity.
and eat the good of the land] Isaiah 1:19 ‘If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land’. The present enjoyment of the gift. The clause, in spite of the reference to ‘the land’, has no verbal parallel in the Pentateuch.
and leave it for an inheritance] The blessing perpetuated. Practically equivalent to ‘That thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee’. Cf. Deuteronomy 11:9. The allusion to Proverbs 13:22; Ezekiel 37:25 can only be of the most shadowy kind.
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;13. great trespass] R.V. great guilt. Cf. on Ezra 9:7. Not an isolated offence, but the condition of deep obligation for sin.
seeing that thou … hast, &c.] According to this rendering, Ezra asks as it were in grief and dismay, ‘After all that is past, shall we take advantage of God’s mercy to sin yet once more and offend against His majesty?’ Another rendering, more difficult but quite admissible, translates the conjunction ‘seeing that’ (ki), as the mark of an exclamation. ‘After all that has happened, to think that God should have so spared us!—shall we then provoke Him again by our disobedience?’
hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve] The words in the original are difficult. Literally, ‘hast kept back, downward, from our sins’. Some have rendered ‘hast as it were held back, and kept down from rising to view, many of (partitive) our sins’. Others, ‘hast spared beneath our sins’, i.e. thy mercy has been out of all proportion greater than our sins, has as it were gone deeper than our iniquities. The R.V. gives the general sense. The LXX. ἐκούφισας ἡμῶν τὰς ἀνομίας and Vulg. ‘liberasti nos de iniquitate nostra’ are paraphrastic.
such deliverance as this] R.V. such a remnant. The same word as in Ezra 9:8.
13–14. Great as have been our punishments in the past, they have been less than we deserved. Now that we have sinned yet again, what do we deserve but extermination?
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?14. should we again, &c.] R.V. shall we again.
break thy commandments] The work rendered ‘break’ is found with ‘commandment’ in Numbers 15:31, and is especially frequently found with ‘covenant’, e.g. Genesis 17:14; Deuteronomy 31:16; Jdg 2:1; Isaiah 24:5; Jeremiah 31:32; Ezekiel 17:16 in the sense of ‘annul’, ‘violate’. Compare its use in Ezra 4:5 ‘frustrate their purpose’.
join in affinity] This word occurs once only in the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 7:3.
with the people of these abominations] R.V. with the peoples that do these abominations. See note on Ezra 9:11.
wouldest thou not be angry, &c.] The question expects the answer ‘yes’. Ezra recalls the declarations of God’s displeasure in such passages as Deuteronomy 7:4 ‘For he will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and he will destroy you utterly’, Deuteronomy 11:17; Joshua 23:16. The tense is missed in the LXX. μὴ παροξυνθῇς and the Vulg. ‘numquid iratus es’.
till thou hadst consumed us] The precise form of this phrase only occurs elsewhere in 2 Kings 13:17; 2 Kings 13:19 ‘till thou have (hadst) consumed them’; but a very similar form of it appears in 2 Chronicles 24:10 ‘until they had made an end’, 2 Chronicles 31:1 ‘until they had destroyed them all’. It means ‘up to the point of extinction’. Cf. LXX. ἕως συντελείας. Vulg. ‘usque ad consummationem’.
no remnant nor escaping] R.V. no remnant nor any to escape. It is hard to render the two words in English. ‘Any to escape’ is the same word as ‘remnant’ in Ezra 9:8; Ezra 9:13. The two words occur together in 1 Chronicles 4:43 ‘they smote the remnant of the Amalekites that escaped’. The former word denotes simply the ‘remainder’; the latter has the idea of ‘survival from flight’ (cf. Ezra 9:15). The LXX. distinguishes by ἐγκατάλειμμα καὶ διασωζόμενον. The Vulgate renders ‘reliquias ad salutem’.
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.15. The prayer ends in expression of complete surrender. There is no excuse to plead. The nation stands in its sin in the presence of the perfect God, and awaits the sentence of ‘righteousness’.
O Lord God of Israel] R.V. O LORD, the God of Israel. See on Ezra 1:3. The prayer had begun ‘O my God’ (Ezra 9:6). It ends, O Lord the God of Israel. The thought of his nation overmastered the supplicant.
thou art righteous] This must not be softened down as if it were ‘thou art gracious’. The words are an acknowledgement of the perfect justice of God’s dealings with Israel in the past. The next sentence ‘for we are left a remnant’ is not uttered in gratitude for the mercy which spared ‘a remnant’, but is added to express the greatness of the catastrophe, which had carried off the whole nation except ‘a remnant’. And yet the visitation had been just. The prayer of Ezra (?) in Nehemiah 9 has a very similar phrase, Nehemiah 9:33 ‘Howbeit thou art just (çaddîq) in all that is come upon us; for thou hast done truly, but we have done wickedly’. Thou art righteous (çaddîq), and we who are left ‘a remnant’ have failed to profit by the righteous judgement of the past. God is called ‘righteous’ in reference to the ‘fixed and unalterable rule of truth and goodness’. Cf. Nehemiah 9:8; 2 Chronicles 12:6; Psalm 119:137; Psalm 129:4; Psalm 145:7. (See Cheyne on Psalm 7:17.)
as it is this day] Cf. Ezra 9:7.
we are before thee] i.e. arraigned as it were before thy judgement seat. Ezra was praying ‘before the house of God’ (Ezra 10:2).
in our trespasses] R.V. in our guiltiness. See on Ezra 9:7. Fresh guilt has been added to the old. There is nothing to plead in extenuation. Nor had there been in the past. Righteous as Jehovah was, He had granted ‘a remnant’: now the guiltiness of the remnant seemed to merit its extinction.
for we cannot stand before thee because of this] R.V. for none can stand before thee because of this. None, for all Israelites, innocent as well as guilty, are bound up together in that responsibility for the nation’s guilt. Cf. Psalm 76:7 ‘And who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?’ Psalm 130:3 ‘If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?’ Nahum 1:6 ‘Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?’ The Spirit alone gives the power to ‘stand before’ God and to hear His word. Ezekiel 2:1-2.
because of this] See note on Ezra 8:23, Ezra 10:2 : i.e. on account of this last sin, in which the people have once more offended their God.