The princes inform Ezra that many of the people now settled in the had married heathen wives; and several of the rulers were principal offenders in this thing, 1,2. He is greatly afflicted, 3,4. His prayer to God on thus account, 5-15.
Notes on Chapter 9
The people of Israel
These were they who had returned at first with Zerubbabel, and were settled in the land of Judea and whom Ezra found on his arrival to be little better than the Canaanitish nations from whom God had commanded them ever to keep separate.
Hath been chief in this trespass.
They who are the first men have been the most capital offenders; so VIRGIL, AEn. ix. 783:-
Unus homo, vestris, o cives, undique septus Aggeribus, tantas strages impune per urbem Ediderit? Juvenum primos tot miserit orco?
"Shall one, and he enclosed within your walls, One rash imprisoned warrior, vanquish all? Calm you look on, and see the furious foe Plunge crowds of heroes to the shades below!" PITT.
The first of the Trojan youth were the chief, the most illustrious; so we say the first men of the kingdom for the nobles,
I rent my garment and my mantle
The outer and inner garment, in sign of great grief. This significant act is frequently mentioned in the sacred writings, and was common among all ancient nations.
Plucked off the hair
Shaving the head and beard were signs of excessive grief; much more so the plucking off the hair, which must produce exquisite pain. All this testified his abhorrence, not merely of the act of having taken strange wives, but their having also joined them in their idolatrous abominations.
Those that had been carried away
Those that had returned long before with Zerubbabel; see Ezra 9:1.
Until the evening sacrifice.
The morning sacrifice was the first of all the offerings of the day, the evening sacrifice the last. As the latter was offered between the two evenings, i.e., between sunset and the end of twilight, so the former was offered between break of day and sunrise. Ezra sat astonied-confounded in his mind, distressed in his soul, and scarcely knowing what to do. He probably had withdrawn himself into some sequestered place, or into some secret part of the temple, spending the time in meditation and reflection.
Fell upon my knees
In token of the deepest humility. Spread out my hands, as if to lay hold on the mercy of God. We have already had occasion to explain these significant acts.
I am ashamed and blush
God had been so often provoked, and had so often pardoned them, and they had continued to transgress, that he was ashamed to go back again to the throne of grace to ask for mercy in their behalf. This is the genuine feeling of every reawakened backslider.
And now for a little space
This interval in which they were returning from servitude to their own land.
Grace hath been showed
God has disposed the hearts of the Persian kings to publish edicts in our favour.
To leave us a remnant to escape
The ten tribes are gone irrecoverably into captivity; a great part even of Judah and Benjamin had continued beyond the Euphrates: so that Ezra might well say, there was but a remnant which had escaped.
A nail in his holy place
Even so much ground as to fix our tent-poles in.
May lighten our eyes
To give us a thorough knowledge of ourselves and of our highest interest, and to enable us to re-establish his worship, is the reason why God has brought us back to this place.
A little reviving
We were perishing, and our hopes were almost dead; and, because of our sins, we were sentenced to death: but God in his great mercy has given us a new trial; and he begins with little, to see if we will make a wise and faithful use of it.
What shall we say after this?
Even in the midst of these beginnings of respite and mercy we have begun to provoke thee anew!
Have filled it from one end to another
The abominations have been like a sweeping mighty torrent, that has increased till it filled the whole land, and carried every thing before it.
Hast punished us less than our iniquities
Great, numerous, and oppressive as our calamities have been, yet merely as temporal punishments, they have been much less than our provocations have deserved.
Thou art righteous
Thou art merciful; this is one of the many meanings of the word tsedek; and to this meaning St. Paul refers, when he says, God declares his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, Romans 3:25. See the note there.
We remain yet escaped
Because of this righteousness or mercy.
In our trespasses
We have no righteousness; we are clothed and covered with our trespasses.
We cannot stand before thee because of this.
The parallel place, as noted in the margin, is Psalms 130:3: If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? Every man must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ: but who shall stand there with joy? No man against whom the Lord marks iniquities. There is a reference here to the temple service: the priests and Levites stood and ministered before the Lord, but they were not permitted to do so unless pure from all legal pollution; so no man shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ who is not washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Reader, how dost thou expect to stand there?