Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.IX.
(1) Now when these things were done.—The remainder of the book is occupied with the execution of Ezra’s function as a moral reformer. One chief disorder is mentioned, that of the mixed marriages (Ezra 9:2), which the new lawgiver evidently regarded as fatal to the purity of the Divine service, and to the design of God in separating for a season this peculiar people.
(1-4) The report of the abuse of mixed marriages is formally brought before Ezra.
(1) The princes—Heads of tribes, native rulers of Jerusalem, as distinguished from the satraps and governors. Zerubbabel’s office had no successor; and the term princes expressed rather their eminence than their authority, which had been powerless to check the abuses they complain of.
Doing according to their abominations.—Rather, as it regards their abominations. They are not charged with abandonment to idolatry, but with that peculiar laxity which appears in the sequel.
The Ammonites.—It is remarkable that all the ancient proscribed races are mentioned, and not the specific nations by the names of which the Samaritans were known, as if to make the case as hateful as possible. At the same time, many of these races still lingered in the neighbourhood of Judæa.
(2) The holy seed.—The “holy nation” or “peculiar people” of Exodus 19:6 is called the “holy seed” by Isaiah (Ezra 6:13), with reference to its being preserved and kept holy amidst judgments; and here the same term is used with reference to its desecration by being made common among the nations.
The princes and rulers.—The upper classes, whether priests and Levites or laymen.
This trespass.—There is no question as to the unlawfulness of these intermarriages, nor any palliation on account of necessity. The rulers report it, and Ezra receives the report as evidence that the whole purpose of God with regard to the people was, at the very outset of their new economy, in course of being defeated by the guilt of the heads of Israel. Their delinquency as such is admitted on all hands.
(3) I rent my garment and my mantle.—The actions of Ezra betoken his horror and grief. But both the rending of the outer and inner garment and the plucking the hair were symbolical acts, teaching their lesson to the people who witnessed, and, as we see, were deeply impressed.
(4) Trembled.—In fear of the Divine judgments.
Transgression of those that had been carried away.—The usual name of the people at this time. During their captivity, however, they had not been thus guilty. It was the aggravation of their guilt that they committed the trespass now.
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 prayer of confession and deprecation.
(5) And at the evening sacrifice I arose up.—Until the afternoon Ezra had sat silent and in grief before the Temple, and in presence of the people. Then, amidst the solemnities of the sacrifice, he uttered the prayer which he had been meditating.
(6) And said, O my God.—The confession begins with “O my God;” but Ezra is the representative of the people, and it proceeds “O our God” (Ezra 9:10), without once returning to the first person.
(7) Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass.—In these Common Prayers of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel, the race of Israel is regarded as one, and national sins as one “great trespass.” The repetition of “this day” at the beginning and at the end of the verse is to be observed: in the former place in reference to the sin; in the latter in reference to the punishment.
(8) A little space.—The “little” here and at the close of the sentence are emphatic. All the present tokens of mercy are said at the conclusion of the prayer (Ezra 9:14) to be conditional in their continuance. The little space from the time of Cyrus was nearly two generations; but it was a moment only in relation to the past and the possible future. The idea is inverted in Isaiah 54:7 : “For a small moment have I forsaken thee.”
Nail in his holy place.—The Temple was itself the sure nail on which all their hopes hung.
A little reviving.—Literally, make us a little life. The present revival was but the beginning, and still by manifold tokens precarious.
(9) We were bondmen.—Better, we are bondmen. In this lies the emphasis of the appeal.
A wall.—Like “the nail,” a figurative expression for security. The literal wall was not yet rebuilt. This completes the description of Divine mercy: first, the people were a delivered remnant; the Temple was a sure nail for the future of religion; and their civil estate was made secure.
(10) After this.—But all was a mercy for which there had been no adequate return.
(11) Saying.—In the later Old Testament Scriptures the quotation of the earlier is often of this character, giving the substance of many passages. The same style is observable in the New Testament.
(12) Give not your daughters.—See Deuteronomy 7:3, the only place where the interdict includes both daughters and sons. It is observable that the giving of daughters in marriage to heathens is not mentioned either in Ezra or in Nehemiah.
Nor seek their peace.—An evident echo of that most stern injunction in Deuteronomy 23:6.
(15) O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous.—The solemn invocation shows that this is a summary of the whole prayer: God’s righteousness is magnified, as accompanied by the grace which had preserved them, although as only a remnant; and as such covered with their trespasses; and especially with “this” the present trespass, the guilt of which underlies all.