Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God…
Human life is a river which flows evenly along from day to day; but it is a river like the Zambesi or the Congo (Livingstone), not without its rapids and its falls. Usually it flows silently, but sometimes it dashes along with impetuosity and uproar. So is it with our Christian life, with our religious course. There are things exceptional as well as things ordinary and regular, for which room must be made by ourselves and allowance by other people. There may be, as here at this juncture in the life of Ezra and the returned Jews, a time of exceptional -
I. EXHIBITION OF FEELING. "When Ezra had prayed... weeping and casting himself down," etc. (ver. 1). Ezra "wept," i.e. made lamentation, audible and visible, in presence of all the people, and instead of standing or kneeling he cast himself down, and lay prostrate in the temple court, in order to impress on the multitude the strength of his feeling, and the critical character of the present emergency. And his example proved contagious, for all the people "wept very sore" (ver. 1), and there was a great and general outpouring of emotion. Ordinarily our feelings are wisely kept under control. In this country we are, indeed, apt to press this a few points too far, and let self-control pass into a chill or cold reserve. But self-control gives force and dignity to character, and almost anything is better than habitually giving way to tempestuous feeling. Men that are constantly violent in their expression of feeling are disregarded if not despised; they lose all influence over others; they expend themselves in trifles, and have nothing in reserve for large occasions. But there are times when feeling may be freely poured forth; when, as in Ezra's case, there is
(1) urgent reason for exciting others to feel as we do; or when, as in the case of the people, there is
(2) general fervour in which it would be unsympathising or unpatriotic not to share. It is a very noble sight when a whole people mourns with an honourable repentance, or arises in holy indignation, or braces itself up to a generous struggle, or rejoices with a pure and holy joy. Then let feeling swell to its highest tide; let it pour itself forth as "the mighty waves of the sea."
II. ATTESTATION. "Let us make a covenant with our God" (ver. 3). "Then arose Ezra, and made... all Israel to swear that they should do according to his word" (ver. 5). Usually, as our Lord tells us, it is far better to speak simply without strengthening our word by protestation or oath (Matthew 5:33-37); but there are times when we feel called on to add to the word of promise which we make either to God or to man, something which shall confirm and secure it. We may
(1) make a formal covenant with God, as Shechaniah recommended (ver. 3); we may take upon us his vows, alone or in company,
(a) to do some duty which is binding on us, but which we are strongly tempted to leave undone; or
(b) to render some service which we may lawfully leave alone, but which, in our better hours, we are inspired to undertake; or
(c) to leave untouched that which is either wrong in itself or dangerous or hurtful to ourselves or those we have in charge. Or we may
(2) enter into a solemn and sacred pledge with our fellows. Ezra felt that this was an occasion on which it was of the utmost consequence that everything should be done thoroughly; not only begun in zeal, but carried out and perfected; and for this purpose he made the chief priests, Levites, and all Israel bind themselves with a solemn oath to sustain him (ver. 5), and they did so. It is right and wise, on occasion, to require something more than a word of promise. We do well to demand a written engagement, or even a declaration made before God that what is promised shall be done.
III. SEVERITY. "When he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water" (ver. 6). "Whosoever would not come all his substance should be forfeited (ver. 8). Ezra showed some little
(1) severity toward himself: he neither ate nor drank (ver. 6). He allowed the public concerns so to occupy his mind and affect his heart that he gave himself no time or felt in himself no inclination for the ordinary comforts and refreshments of life. We, too, on occasion, if not only sincere but zealous for the public good, shall deny ourselves that which we usually and rightly allow ourselves. There are demons (iniquities, sins, propensities) only to be cast out with that intensity of thought, and feeling, and action which implies "prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21). He also showed considerable
(2) severity toward others. With the concurrence of the leaders (princes), those who did not present themselves in three days were to suffer forfeiture of goods and excommunication (ver. 8) - a heavy penalty for recusancy. Severe crises justify strong measures. There are times when leniency is only another name for cruelty. An Achan must perish that Israel may be saved; the immoral member of Corinth must be cast out that the Church may be pure. We must "make a difference" according to requirement (Jude 1:22, 23). - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: Now while Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there was gathered together to him out of Israel a very great assembly of men and women and children; for the people wept very bitterly.