In this chapter we have that grievance redressed which was complained
of and lamented in the foregoing chapter. Observe,
I. How the people's hearts were prepared for the redress of it by their
deep humiliation for the sin,
II. How it was proposed to Ezra by Shechaniah,
III. How the proposal was put in execution.
1. The great men were sworn to stand to it,
2. Ezra appeared first in it,
3. A general assembly was called,
4. They all, in compliance with Ezra's exhortation, agreed to the
5. Commissioners were appointed to sit "de die in diem"--day after
day, to enquire who had married strange wives and to oblige them to put
them away, which was done accordingly
and a list of the names of those that were found guilty given in,
||B. C. 456.|
1 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.
2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam,
answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God,
and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now
there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.
3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away
all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the
counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment
of our God; and let it be done according to the law.
4 Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will
be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.
5 Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and
all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word.
And they sware.
We are here told,
I. What good impressions were made upon the people by Ezra's
humiliation and confession of sin. No sooner was it noised in the city
that their new governor, in whom they rejoiced, was himself in grief,
and to so great a degree, for them and their sin, than presently there
assembled to him a very great congregation, to see what the
matter was and to mingle their tears with his,
Our weeping for other people's sins may perhaps set those a weeping for
them themselves who otherwise would continue senseless and remorseless.
See what a happy influence the good examples of great ones may have
upon their inferiors. When Ezra, a scribe, a scholar, a man in
authority under the king, so deeply lamented the public corruptions,
they concluded that they were indeed very grievous, else he would not
thus have grieved for them; and this drew tears from every eye: men,
women, and children, wept very sore, when he wept thus.
II. What a good motion Shechaniah made upon this occasion. The place
was Bochim--a place of weepers; but, for aught that
appears, there was a profound silence among them, as among Job's
friends, who spoke not a word to him, because they saw that his
grief was very great, till Shechaniah (one of Ezra's companions
stood up, and made a speech addressed to Ezra, in which,
1. He owns the national guilt, sums up all Ezra's confession in one
word, and sets to his seal that it is true: "We have trespassed
against our God, and have taken strange wives,
The matter is too plain to be denied and too bad to be excused." It
does not appear that Shechaniah was himself culpable in this matter (if
he had had the beam in his own eye, he could not have seen so clearly
to pluck it out of his brother's eye), but his father was guilty, and
several of his father's house (as appears
and therefore he reckons himself among the trespassers; nor does he
seek to excuse or palliate the sin, though some of his own relations
were guilty of it, but, in the cause of God, says to his father, I
have not known him, as Levi,
Perhaps the strange wife that his father had married had been an unjust
unkind step-mother to him, and had made mischief in the family, and he
supposed that others had done the like, which made him the more forward
to appear against this corruption; if so, this was not the only time
that private resentments have been over ruled by the providence of God
to serve the public good.
2. He encourages himself and others to hope that though the matter was
bad it might be amended: Yet now there is hope in Israel (where
else should there be hope but in Israel? those that are strangers to
that commonwealth are said to have no hope,
even concerning this thing. The case is sad, but it is not
desperate; the disease is threatening, but not incurable. There is hope
that the people may be reformed, the guilty reclaimed, a stop put to
the spreading of the contagion; and so the judgments which the sin
deserves may be prevented and all will be well. Now there is
hope; now that the disease is discovered it is half-cured. Now that
the alarm is taken the people begin to be sensible of the mischief, and
to lament it, a spirit of repentance seems to be poured out upon them,
and they are all thus humbling themselves before God for it, now
there is hope that God will forgive, and have mercy. The valley
of Achor (that is, of trouble) is the door of hope
for the sin that truly troubles us shall not ruin us. There is hope now
that Israel has such a prudent, pious, zealous governor as Ezra to
manage this affair. Note,
(1.) In melancholy times we must see and observe what makes for us, as
well as what makes against us.
(2.) There may be good hopes through grace, even when there is the
sense of great guilt before God.
(3.) Where sin is seen and lamented, and good steps are taken towards a
reformation, even sinners ought to be encouraged.
(4.) Even great saints must thankfully receive seasonable counsel and
comfort from those that are much their inferiors, as Ezra from
3. He advises that a speedy and effectual course should be taken for
the divorcing of the strange wives. The case is plain; what has been
done amiss must be undone again as far as possible; nothing less than
this is true repentance. Let us put away all the wives, and such as
are born of them,
Ezra, though he knew this was the only way of redressing the grievance,
yet perhaps did not think it feasible, and despaired of ever bringing
the people to it, which put him into that confusion in which we left
him in the foregoing chapter; but Shechaniah, who conversed more with
the people than he did, assured him the thing was practicable if they
went wisely to work. As to us now, it is certain that sin must be put
away, a bill of divorce must be given it, with a resolution never to
have any thing more to do with it, though it be dear as the wife of thy
bosom, nay, as a right eye or a right hand, otherwise there is no
pardon, no peace. What has been unjustly got cannot be justly kept, but
must be restored; but, as to the case of being unequally yoked with
unbelievers, Shechaniah's counsel, which he was then so clear in,
will not hold now; such marriages, it is certain, are sinful, and ought
not to be made, but they are not null. Quod fierinon debuit, factum
valet--That which ought not to have been done must, when done,
abide. Our rule, under the gospel, is, If a brother has a wife
that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let
him not put her away,
1 Corinthians 7:12,13.
4. He puts them in a good method for the effecting of this reformation,
and shows them not only that it must be done, but how.
(1.) "Let Ezra, and all those that are present in this assembly, agree
in a resolution that this must be done (pass a vote immediately to this
effect: it will now pass nemine contradicente--unanimously),
that it may be said to be done according to the counsel of my
lord, the president of the assembly, with the unanimous concurrence
of those that tremble at the commandment of our God, which is
the description of those that were gathered to him,
Declare it to be the sense of all the sober serious people among us,
which cannot but have a great sway among Israelites."
(2.) "Let the command of God in this matter, which Ezra recited in his
prayer, be laid before the people, and let them see that it is done
according to the law; we have that to warrant us, nay, that binds
us to what we do; it is not an addition of our own to the divine law,
but the necessary execution of it."
(3.) "While we are in a good mind, let us bind ourselves by a solemn
vow and covenant that we will do it, lest, when the present impressions
are worn off, the thing be left undone. Let us covenant, not only
that, if we have strange wives ourselves, we will put them away, but
that, if we have not, we will do what we can in our places to oblige
others to put away theirs."
(4.) "Let Ezra himself preside in this matter, who is authorized by the
king's commission to enquire whether the law of God be duly observed in
Judah and Jerusalem
and let us all resolve to stand by him in it
Arise, be of good courage. Weeping, in this case, is good, but
reforming is better." See what God said to Joshua in a like case,
III. What a good resolution they came to upon this good motion,
They not only agreed that it should be done, but bound themselves with
an oath that they would do according to this word. Fast bind, fast
6 Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into
the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib: and when he came
thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned
because of the transgression of them that had been carried away.
7 And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem
unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather
themselves together unto Jerusalem;
8 And that whosoever would not come within three days,
according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his
substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the
congregation of those that had been carried away.
9 Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves
together unto Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth
month, on the twentieth day of the month; and all the people
sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of
this matter, and for the great rain.
10 And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have
transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the
trespass of Israel.
11 Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your
fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the
people of the land, and from the strange wives.
12 Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud
voice, As thou hast said, so must we do.
13 But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain,
and we are not able to stand without, neither is this a work of
one day or two: for we are many that have transgressed in this
14 Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let
all them which have taken strange wives in our cities come at
appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the
judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter
be turned from us.
We have here an account of the proceedings upon the resolutions lately
taken up concerning the strange wives; no time was lost; they struck
when the iron was hot, and soon set the wheels of reformation a-going.
1. Ezra went to the council-chamber where, it is probable, the priests
used to meet upon public business; and till he came thither (so
bishop Patrick thinks it should be read), till he saw something done,
and more likely to be done, for the redress of this grievance, he
did neither eat nor drink, but continued mourning. Sorrow for sin
should be abiding sorrow; be sure to let it continue till the sin be
2. He sent orders to all the children of the captivity to attend him at
Jerusalem within three days
and, being authorized by the king to enforce his orders with penalties
he threatened that whosoever refused to obey the summons should forfeit
his estate and be outlawed. The doom of him that would not attend on
this religious occasion should be that his substance should, in his
stead, be for ever after appropriated to the service of their religion,
and he himself, for his contempt, should for ever after be excluded
from the honours and privileges of their religion; he should be
3. Within the time limited the generality of the people met at
Jerusalem and made their appearance in the street of the house of
Those that had no zeal for the work they were called to, nay, perhaps
had a dislike to it, being themselves delinquents, yet paid such a
deference to Ezra's authority, and were so awed by the penalty, that
they durst not stay away.
4. God gave them a token of his displeasure in the great rain that
happened at that time
which perhaps kept some away, and was very grievous to those that met
in the open street. When they wept the heavens wept too, signifying
that, though God was angry with them for their sin, yet he was well
pleased with their repentance, and (as it is said,
his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel; it was also an
indication of the good fruits of their repentance, for the rain makes
the earth fruitful.
5. Ezra gave the charge at this great assize. He told them upon what
account he called them together now, that it was because he found that
since their return out of captivity they had increased the trespass
of Israel by marrying strange wives, had added to their
former sins this new transgression, which would certainly be a means of
again introducing idolatry, the very sin they had smarted for and which
he hoped they had been cured of in their captivity; and he called them
together that they might confess their sin to God, and, having
done that, might declare themselves ready and willing to do his
pleasure, as it should be made known to them (which all those will do
that truly repent of what they have done to incur his displeasure), and
particularly that they might separate themselves from all idolaters,
especially idolatrous wives,
On these heads, we may suppose, he enlarged, and probably made such
another confession of the sin now as he made
to which he required them to say Amen.
6. The people submitted not only to Ezra's jurisdiction in general, but
to his inquisition and determination in this matter: "As thou hast
said, so must we do,
We have sinned in mingling with the heathen, and have thereby been in
danger, not only of being corrupted by them, for we are frail, but of
being lost among them, for we are few; we are therefore convinced that
there is an absolute necessity of our separating from them again."
There is hope concerning people when they are convinced, not only that
it is good to part with their sins, but that it is indispensably
necessary: we must do it, or we are undone.
7. It was agreed that this affair should be carried on, not in a
popular assembly, nor that they should think to go through with it all
on a sudden, but that a court of delegates should be appointed to
receive complaints and to hear and determine upon them. It could not be
done at this time, for it was not put into a method, nor could the
people stand out because of the rain. The delinquents were many, and
it would require time to discover and examine them. Nice cases would
arise, which could not be adjudged without debate and deliberation,
"And therefore let the crowd be dismissed, and the rulers stand to
receive informations; let them proceed city by city, and let the
offenders be convicted before them in the presence of the judges and
elders of their own city; and let them be entrusted to see the orders
executed. Thus take time and we shall have done the sooner;
whereas, if we do it in a hurry, we shall do it by halves,
If, in this method, a thorough reformation be made, the fierce wrath
of God will be turned from us, which, we are sensible, is
ready to break forth against us for this transgression." Ezra was
willing that his zeal should be guided by the people's prudence, and
put the matter into this method; he was not ashamed to own that the
advice came from them, any more than he was to comply with it.
15 Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of
Tikvah were employed about this matter: and Meshullam and
Shabbethai the Levite helped them.
16 And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the
priest, with certain chief of the fathers, after the house of
their fathers, and all of them by their names, were separated,
and sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the
17 And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange
wives by the first day of the first month.
18 And among the sons of the priests there were found that had
taken strange wives: namely, of the sons of Jeshua the son of
Jozadak, and his brethren; Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and
19 And they gave their hands that they would put away their
wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for
20 And of the sons of Immer; Hanani, and Zebadiah.
21 And of the sons of Harim; Maaseiah, and Elijah, and
Shemaiah, and Jehiel, and Uzziah.
22 And of the sons of Pashur; Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael,
Nethaneel, Jozabad, and Elasah.
23 Also of the Levites; Jozabad, and Shimei, and Kelaiah, (the
same is Kelita,) Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.
24 Of the singers also; Eliashib: and of the porters; Shallum,
and Telem, and Uri.
25 Moreover of Israel: of the sons of Parosh; Ramiah, and
Jeziah, and Malchiah, and Miamin, and Eleazar, and Malchijah, and
26 And of the sons of Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel,
and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Eliah.
27 And of the sons of Zattu; Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, and
Jeremoth, and Zabad, and Aziza.
28 Of the sons also of Bebai; Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai,
29 And of the sons of Bani; Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah,
Jashub, and Sheal, and Ramoth.
30 And of the sons of Pahath-moab; Adna, and Chelal, Benaiah,
Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezaleel, and Binnui, and Manasseh.
31 And of the sons of Harim; Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchiah,
32 Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah.
33 Of the sons of Hashum; Mattenai, Mattathah, Zabad,
Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei.
34 Of the sons of Bani; Maadai, Amram, and Uel,
35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Chelluh,
36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib,
37 Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasau,
38 And Bani, and Binnui, Shimei,
39 And Shelemiah, and Nathan, and Adaiah,
40 Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai,
41 Azareel, and Shelemiah, Shemariah,
42 Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.
43 Of the sons of Nebo; Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina,
Jadau, and Joel, Benaiah.
44 All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had
wives by whom they had children.
The method of proceeding in this matter being concluded on, and the
congregation dismissed, that each in his respective place might gain
and give intelligence to facilitate the matter, we are here told,
1. Who were the persons that undertook to manage the matter and bring
the causes regularly before the commissioners--Jonathan and
Jahaziah, two active men, whether of the priests or of the
people does not appear; probably they were the men that made that
and were therefore the fittest to see it pursued; two honest Levites
were joined with them, and helped them,
Dr. Lightfoot gives a contrary sense of this: only (or
nevertheless) Jonathan and Jahaziah stood against this matter
(which reading the original will very well bear), and these two
Levites helped them in opposing it, either the thing itself or
this method of proceeding. It was strange if a work of this kind was
carried on and met with no opposition.
2. Who were the commissioners that sat upon this matter. Ezra was
president, and with him certain chief men of the fathers
who were qualified with wisdom and zeal above others for this service,
It was happy for them that they had such a man as Ezra to head them;
they could not have done it well without his direction, yet he would
not do it without their concurrence.
3. How long they were about it. They began the first day of the
tenth month to examine the matter
which was but ten days after this method was proposed
and they finished in three months,
They sat closely and minded their business, otherwise they could not
have despatched so many causes as they had before them in so little
time; for we may suppose that all who were impeached were fairly asked
what cause they could show why they should not be parted, and, if we
may judge by other cases, provided the wife were proselyted to the
Jewish religion she was not to be put away, the trial of which would
require great care.
4. Who the persons were that were found guilty of this crime. Their
names are here recorded to their perpetual reproach; many of the
priests, nay, of the family of Jeshua, the high priest, were found
though the law had particularly provided, for the preserving of their
honour in their marriages, that being holy themselves they should not
marry such as were profane,
Those that should have taught others the law broke it themselves and by
their example emboldened others to do likewise. But, having lost their
innocency in this matter, they did well to recant and give an example
of repentance; for they promised under their hand to put away
their strange wives (some think that they made oath to do so with their
hands lifted up), and they took the appointed way of obtaining
pardon, bringing the ram which was appointed by the law for a
so owning their guilt and the desert of it, and humbly suing for
forgiveness. About 113 in all are here named who had married strange
wives, and some of them, it is said
had children by them, which implies that not many of them had, God not
crowning those marriages with the blessing of increase. Whether the
children were turned off with the mothers, as Shechaniah proposed, does
not appear; it should seem not: however it is probable that the wives
which were put away were well provided for, according to their rank.
One would think this grievance was now thoroughly redressed, yet we
meet with it again
for such corruptions are easily and insensibly brought in, but not
without great difficulty purged out again. The best reformers can but
do their endeavour, but, when the Redeemer himself shall come to
Sion, he shall effectually turn away ungodliness from