Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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.CHAPTER 9
1. Ezra’s astonishment and grief (Ezra 9:1-4)
2. Ezra’s confession and prayer (Ezra 9:5-15)
Ezra 9:1-4. When all these things had been done (that are related in chapter 8:33-36) Ezra was confronted by a very sad condition of the people, and even the priests and the Levites. The princes (civil leaders) came to Ezra and told him that the demanded separation according to the law, between God’s people and the Canaanitish inhabitants of the land, had not been obeyed. The people had taken of their daughters for themselves and of their sons “so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of the lands; yea the hand of the princes and rulers hath been first in this trespass.” Not alone had they intermarried, but they were also doing according to their abominations. Not alone had they fallen into the evil things of the former inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, but they were also contaminated with the wicked things of the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. In doing this they had wilfully broken the command of the Lord as given in Exodus 34:12-16. God’s people were to be holy, a separated people. Israel was married unto Jehovah; their marriage to the heathen was disobedience to the law and unfaithfulness to Jehovah. It was an alliance with the world. God demanded separation of Israel; He demands the same of His people in the New Testament. “But as He who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1Peter 1:15-16). Like Israel, believers in the New Testament are said to be married unto Christ (Romans 7:4; 2Corinthians 11:2). And therefore God’s Spirit warns against alliance with the world. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2Corinthians 6:14). “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1John 2:15). “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world, maketh himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). That the returned remnant, after a few years of the completion of the temple and after the gracious and remarkable deliverance from Babylon, could plunge into such depths of degradation, shows what the heart of man is. As it has been said, when saints fall into sin, it is sometimes into worse and grosser forms of sin than those committed by the people of the world. It equally manifests the infinite patience and long-suffering of God, in bearing with His people and not dealing with them at once in judgment.
Let us listen to the words of pious Ezra, what he said and did after receiving this sad report. “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 astonished. 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 astonished until the evening sacrifice.” He was seized with horror. The rending of his garments was the outward expression of his indignation and grief (Genesis 37:29; Leviticus 10:6; Judges 11:35; Esther 4:1). The plucking of the hair is also a sign of sorrow (Job 1:20; Ezekiel 7:18). But how his heart must have felt the dishonor done to Jehovah’s holy Name! How he was deeply affected by the sins of the people. Would to God such a spirit of deep grief and humiliation were more manifested today over the sad and worldly conditions of those who profess that worthy Name! His grief and sorrow brought others, who were also trembling at the words of God, to his side, and he sat in their presence astonished till the evening sacrifice.
Ezra 9:5-15. When the evening sacrifice came he arose from his deep affliction and sorrow, with his garments rent. It is the sacrifice, the burnt offering, which leads him to approach God; he trusted in the efficacy of the sacrifice as the ground on which he could appear before God. He knew by sacrifice he could come near to God and receive the answer. All this blessedly foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ and our approach to God through His finished work on the cross. The prayer which follows is like Daniel’s great prayer (Daniel 9:4-19). Daniel also received his answer at the time of the evening sacrifice. Ezra fell upon his knees and spread out his hands unto the LORD. What a confession of sins and deepest humiliation breathe in the opening sentences of this remarkable prayer! He is ashamed and blushes to lift his face up to God. Iniquities are owned as covering the head of the people and “the guiltiness is grown unto the heavens.” Not alone is the present guilt acknowledged, but he owns the guilt of the nation from its very start. Furthermore he declares God’s righteousness and justice in dealing with them in judgment. “For our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hands of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to spoiling, and to confusion of face, as it is today.” He confessed the sins of the people and owned it all in His presence. Such humiliation and confession is always pleasing to God, for “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6).
Then, after having confessed and owned the sins of his brethren and justified God in His judgment upon them, he mentions the grace which had been manifested towards the people in bringing back the remnant from the captivity. The remnant through His mercy had escaped, and God had given them “a nail in His holy place” (Isaiah 22:23). Like a nail in the wall fixed and immovable, so God had established them in Jerusalem. And after the recital of all these mercies, he brings into the light of God’s presence their sin, their disobedience and ingratitude once more (Ezra 9:10-12).
It should also be observed that Ezra does not once pray for forgiveness. Nay, with any intelligence of the mind of God, it was impossible that he should do so. When there is known evil in our hearts or in the assembly, our first responsibility is to judge it, not to pray for forgiveness. Thus, when Joshua lay on his face before the LORD, after the defeat of Israel by the men of Ai, the LORD said, “Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” Israel hath sinned,” etc. And yet how often does Satan beguile the LORD’s people, in a time of manifested evil, by suggesting through one or another, Let us pray about it. Confess our sins we surely should, but even then only as seeking grace and strength to deal with the evil, and to separate ourselves from it; for if Ezra lay before the LORD in this chapter owning his people’s guilt, we shall see him in the next energetic in dealing with the sin he had confessed, and resting not until it had been put away. (E. Dennett, Exposition of Ezra.)