Ezra came up out of Babylon thirteen years before Nehemiah came, yet we
have here a piece of good work which he did, that might have been done
before, but was not done till Nehemiah came, who, though he was not
such a scholar nor such a divine as Ezra, nor such a scribe in the law
of his God, yet was a man of a more lively active spirit. His zeal set
Ezra's learning on work, and then great things were done, as we find
here, where we have,
I. The public and solemn reading and expounding of the law,
II. The joy which the people were ordered to express upon that occasion,
III. The solemn keeping of the feast of tabernacles according to the
|The Explanation of the Law.
||B. C. 444.|
1 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man
into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake
unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which
the LORD had commanded to Israel.
2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation
both of men and women, and all that could hear with
understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.
3 And he read therein before the street that was before the
water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the
women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the
people were attentive unto the book of the law.
4 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they
had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and
Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his
right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and
Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for
he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the
people stood up:
6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people
answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed
their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the
7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub,
Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan,
Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the
law: and the people stood in their place.
8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and
gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
We have here an account of a solemn religious assembly, and the good
work that was done in that assembly, to the honour of God and the
edification of the church.
I. The time of it was the first day of the seventh month,
That was the day of the feast of trumpets, which is called a
sabbath, and on which they were to have a holy
But that was not all: it was one that day that the altar was set up,
and they began to offer their burnt-offerings after their return out of
captivity, a recent mercy in the memory of many then living; in a
thankful remembrance of that, it is likely, they had kept this feast
ever since with more than ordinary solemnity. Divine favours which are
fresh in mind, and which we ourselves have been witnesses of, should
be, and usually are, most affecting.
II. The place was in the street that was before the water-gate
a spacious broad street, able to contain so great a multitude, which
the court of the temple was not; for probably it was not now built
nearly so large as it had been in Solomon's time. Sacrifices were to be
offered only at the door of the temple, but praying, and praising, and
preaching, were, and are, services of religion as acceptably performed
in one place as in another. When this congregation thus met in the
street of the city no doubt God was with them.
III. The persons that met were all the people, who were not compelled
to come, but voluntarily gathered themselves together by common
agreement, as one man: not only men came, but women and children, even
as many as were capable of understanding what they heard. Masters of
families should bring their families with them to the public worship of
God. Women and children have souls to save, and are therefore concerned
to acquaint themselves with the word of God and attend on the means of
knowledge and grace. Little ones, as they come to the exercise of
reason, must be trained up in the exercises of religion.
IV. The master of this assembly was Ezra the priest; he presided in
this service. None so fit to expound and preach as he who was such a
ready scribe in the law of his God.
1. His call to the service was very clear; for being in office as a
priest, and qualified as a scribe, the people spoke to him to bring
the book of the law and read it to them,
God gave him ability and authority, and then the people gave him
opportunity and invitation. Knowledge is spiritual alms, which those
that are able should give to every one that needs, to every one that
2. His post was very convenient. He stood in a pulpit or tower of wood,
which they made for the word (so it is in the original), for
the preaching of the word, that what he said might be the more
gracefully delivered and the better heard, and that the eyes of the
hearers might be upon him, which would engage their attention, as
3. He had several assistants. Some of these stood with him
six on his right hand and seven on his left: either his pulpit was so
contrived as to hold them all in a row, as in a gallery (but then it
would scarcely have been called a tower), or they had desks a
degree lower. Some think, that he appointed them to read when he was
weary; at least his taking them as assessors with him put an honour
upon them before the people, in order to their being employed in the
same service another time. Others who are mentioned
seem to have been employed at the same time in other places near at
hand, to read and expound to those who could not come within hearing of
Ezra. Of these also there were thirteen priests, whose lips were to
It is a great mercy to a people thus to be furnished with ministers
that are apt to teach. Happy was Ezra in having such assistants as
these, and happy were they in having such a guide as Ezra.
V. The religious exercises performed in this assembly were not
ceremonial, but moral, praying and preaching. Ezra, as president of the
1. The people's mouth to God, and they affectionately joined with him,
He blessed the Lord as the great God, gave honour to him by praising
his perfections and praying for his favour; and the people, in token of
their concurrence with him both in prayers and praises, said, Amen,
Amen, lifted up their hands in token of their desire being towards
God and all their expectations from him, and bowed their heads
in token of their reverence of him and subjection to him. Thus must we
adore God, and address ourselves to him, when we are going to read and
hear the word of God, as those that see God in his word very great and
2. God's mouth to the people, and they attentively hearkened to him.
This was the chief business of the solemnity, and observe,
(1.) Ezra brought the law before the congregation,
He had taken care to provide himself with the best and most correct
copies of the law; and what he had laid up for his own use and
satisfaction he here brought forth, as a good householder out of his
treasury, for the benefit of the church. Observe,
[1.] The book of the law is not to be confined to the scribes' studies,
but to be brought before the congregation and read to them in their own
[2.] Ministers, when they go to the pulpit, should take their Bibles
with them; Ezra did so; thence they must fetch their knowledge, and
according to that rule they must speak and must show that they do so.
2 Chronicles 17:9.
(2.) He opened the book with great reverence and solemnity, in the
sight of all the people,
He brought it forth with a sense of the great mercy of God to them in
giving them that book; he opened it with a sense of his mercy to them
in giving them leave to read it, that it was not a spring shut up and a
fountain sealed. The taking of the books, and the opening of the
seals, we find celebrated with joy and praise,
Let us learn to address ourselves to the services of religion with
solemn stops and pauses, and not to go about them rashly; let us
consider what we are doing when we take God's book into our hands, and
open it, and so also when we bow our knees in prayer; and what we do
let us do deliberately,
(3.) He and others read in the book of the law, from morning till
and they read distinctly,
Reading the scriptures in religious assemblies is an ordinance of God,
whereby he is honoured and his church edified. And, upon special
occasions, we must be willing to attend for many hours together on the
reading and expounding of the word of God: those mentioned here were
thus employed for six hours. Let those that read and preach the word
learn also to deliver themselves distinctly, as those who understand
what they say and are affected with it themselves, and who desire that
those they speak to may understand it, retain it, and be affected with
it likewise. It is a snare for a man to devour that which is
(4.) What they read they expounded, showed the intent and meaning of
it, and what use was to be made of it; they gave the sense in other
words, that they might cause the people to understand the
[1.] It is requisite that those who hear the word should understand it,
else it is to them but an empty sound of words,
[2.] It is therefore required of those who are teachers by office that
they explain the word and give the sense of it. Understandest thou
what thou readest? and, Have you understood all these
things? are good questions to be put to the hearers; but, How
should we except someone guide us? is as proper a question for them
to put to their teachers,
Reading is good, and preaching good, but expounding brings the reading
and the preaching together, and thus makes the reading the more
intelligible and the preaching the more convincing.
(5.) The people conducted themselves very properly when the word was
read and opened to them.
[1.] With great reverence. When Ezra opened the book all the people
thereby showing respect both to Ezra and to the word he was about to
read. It becomes servants to stand when their master speaks to them, in
honour to their master and to show a readiness to do as they are
[2.] With great fixedness and composedness. They stood in their
several ministers were reading and expounding at some distance from
each other, and every one of the people kept his post, did not go to
hear first one and then another, to make remarks upon them, but stood
in his place, that he might neither give disturbance to another nor
receive any disturbance himself.
[3.] With great attention and a close application of mind: The ears
of all the people were unto the book of the law
were even chained to it; they heard readily, and minded every word. The
word of God commands attention and deserves it. If through carelessness
we let much slip in hearing, there is danger that through forgetfulness
we shall let all slip after hearing.
9 And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest
the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all
the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not,
nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of
10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink
the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is
prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye
sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your
peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.
12 And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and
to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had
understood the words that were declared unto them.
We may here observe,
I. How the people were wounded with the words of the law that were read
to them. The law works death, and speaks terror, shows men their sins,
and their misery and danger because of sin, and thunders a curse
against every one that continues not in every part of his duty.
Therefore when they heard it they all wept
it was a good sign that their hearts were tender, like Josiah's when he
heard the words of the law. They wept to think how they had offended
God, and exposed themselves, by their many violations of the law; when
some wept all wept, for they all saw themselves guilty before God.
II. How they were healed and comforted with the words of peace that
were spoken to them. It was well that they were so much affected with
the word of God, and received the impressions of it; but they must not
yield unduly to their mourning, especially at this time, because the
day was holy to the Lord; it was one of the solemn feasts, on which it
was their duty to rejoice; and even sorrow for sin must not hinder our
joy in God, but rather lead us to it and prepare us for it.
1. The masters of the assembly endeavoured to pacify them and encourage
them. Now Nehemiah is brought in, and not before, in this chapter; he
took notice of the people's weeping. Ezra was pleased to see them so
affected with the word, but Nehemiah observed to him, and Ezra
concurred in the thought, that it was now unseasonable. This day was
holy (it is called a sabbath,
Lev. xxiii. 24),
and therefore was to be celebrated with joy and praise, not as if it
were a day to afflict their souls.
(1.) They forbade the people to mourn and weep
Be not sorry
hold your peace, neither be you grieved,
Every thing is beautiful in its season; as we must not be merry when
God calls to mourning, so we must not frighten and afflict
ourselves when God gives us occasion to rejoice. Even sorrow for sin
must not grow so excessive as to hinder our joy in God and our
cheerfulness in his service.
(2.) They commanded them to testify their joy, to put on the
garments of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness. They allowed
them, in token of their joy, to feast themselves, to eat and drink
better than on other days, to eat the fat and drink the sweet;
but then it must be,
[1.] With charity to the poor: "Send portions to those for whom
nothing is prepared that your abundance may supply their want, that
they may rejoice with you and their loins may bless you." Christ
directs those that make feasts to invite their poor neighbours,
But it is especially the duty of a religious feast, as well as of a
religious fast, to draw out the soul to the hungry,
God's bounty should make us bountiful. Many will eat the fat and drink
the sweet themselves, even to excess, that will never allow portions,
nor scarcely crumbs, to the poor, who may read their own doom in the
parable of the rich man,
&c. But such know not, or consider not, what God gave them their
estates for. Observe, We must not only give to those that offer
themselves, but send to those that are out of sight. The liberal
devises liberal things, and seeks objects of charity.
[2.] It must be with piety and devotion: The joy of the Lord is your
strength. Let it not be a carnal sensual joy, but holy and
spiritual, the joy of the Lord, joy in the goodness of God,
under the direction and government of the grace of God, joy arising
from our interest in the love and favour of God and the tokens of his
favour. "This joy will be your strength, therefore encourage it; it
will be your strength, First, For the performance of the other
duties of the feast." The more cheerful we are in our religious
exercises the more we shall abound in them. Secondly, "For all
that which you have to do in conformity to the law of God which has
been read to you." Holy joy will be oil to the wheels of our obedience.
Thirdly, "For the resisting of your enemies that are plotting
against you." The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of
our spiritual enemies, and put our mouths out of taste for those
pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.
2. The assembly complied with the directions that were given them.
Their weeping was stilled
and they made great mirth,
Note, We ought always to have such a command of every passion as that,
however it may break out, it may soon be restrained and called in again
when we are convinced that it is either unreasonable or unseasonable.
He that has such a rule as this over his own spirit is better than
the mighty. Observe,
(1.) After they had wept they rejoiced. Holy mourning makes way for
holy mirth; those that sow in tears shall reap in joy; those
that tremble at the convictions of the word may triumph in the
consolations of it.
(2.) The ground of their joy was very good. They made mirth, not
because they had the fat to eat and the sweet to drink, and a great
deal of good company, but because they had understood the words that
were declared to them. note,
[1.] To have the holy scriptures with us, and helps to understand them,
is a very great mercy, which we have abundant reason to rejoice in.
Bibles and ministers are the joy of God's Israel.
[2.] The better we understand the word of God the more comfort we shall
find in it; for the darkness of trouble arises from the darkness of
ignorance and mistake. When the words were first declared to them they
wept; but, when they understood them, they rejoiced, finding at length
precious promises made to those who repented and reformed and that
therefore there was hope in Israel.
|The Joy of the People.
||B. C. 444.|
13 And on the second day were gathered together the chief of
the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto
Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law.
14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had
commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in
booths in the feast of the seventh month:
15 And that they should publish and proclaim in all their
cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and
fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and
palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as
it is written.
16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made
themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in
their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the
street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of
17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of
the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since
the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the
children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he
read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven
days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according
unto the manner.
We have here,
I. The people's renewed attendance upon the word. They had spent the
greatest part of one day in praying and hearing, and yet were so far
from being weary of that new moon and sabbath that the next day after,
though it was no festival, the chief of them came together again to
hear Ezra expound
which they found more delightful and gainful than any worldly pleasure
or profit whatsoever. Note, The more we converse with the word of God,
if we rightly understand it and be affected with it, the more we shall
covet to converse with it, and to increase in our acquaintance with it,
saying, How sweet are thy words unto my mouth! Those that
understand the scriptures well will still be desirous to understand
them better. Now the priests and the Levites themselves came with
the chief of the people to Ezra, that prince of expositors,
to understand the words of the law, or, as it is in the margin,
that they might instruct in the words of the law; they came to
be taught themselves, that they might be qualified to teach others.
1. Though, on the first day, Ezra's humility had set them on his
right hand and on his left, as teachers with him
yet now, they being by trial made more sensible than ever of their own
deficiencies and his excellencies, on the second day their humility set
them at Ezra's feet, as learners of him.
2. Those that would teach others must themselves receive instructions.
Priests and Levites must be taught first and then teach.
II. The people's ready obedience to the word, in one particular
instance, as soon as they were made sensible of their duty therein. It
is probable that Ezra, after the wisdom of his God that was in his
when they applied to him for instruction out of the law on the second
day of the seventh month, read to them those laws which concerned the
feasts of that month, and, among the rest, that of the feast of
Ministers should preach not only that which is true and good, but that
which is seasonable, directing to the work of the day in its
day. Here is,
1. The divine appointment of the feast of tabernacles reviewed,
They found written in the law a commandment concerning it.
Those that diligently search the scriptures will find those things
written there which they had forgotten or not duly considered. This
feast of tabernacles was a memorial of their dwelling in tents in the
wilderness, a representation of our tabernacle state in this world, and
a type of the holy joy of the gospel church. The conversion of the
nations to the faith of Christ is foretold under the figure of this
they shall come to keep the feast of tabernacles, as having here
no continuing city. This feast was to be proclaimed in all their
cities. The people were themselves to fetch boughs of trees (they of
Jerusalem fetched them from the mount of Olives) and to make booths, or
arbours, of them, in which they were to lodge (as much as the weather
would permit) and to make merry during the feast.
2. This appointment religiously observed,
Then we read and hear the word acceptably and profitably when we do
according to what is written therein, when what appears to be our duty
is revived after it has been neglected.
(1.) They observed the ceremony: They sat in booths, which the
priests and Levites set up in the courts of the temple; those that had
houses of their own set up booths on the roofs of them, or in their
courts; and those that had not such conveniences set them up in the
streets. This feast had usually been observed
(2 Chronicles 5:3,Ezr+3:4),
but never with such solemnity as now since Joshua's time, when they
were newly settled, as they were now newly re-settled in Canaan. That
man loves his house too well that cannot find in his heart to quit it,
awhile, in compliance either with an ordinance or with a providence of
(2.) They minded the substance, else the ceremony, how significant
soever, would have been insignificant.
[1.] They did it with gladness, with very great gladness,
rejoicing in God and his goodness to them. All their holy feasts, but
this especially, were to be celebrated with joy, which would be much
for the honour of God, and their own encouragement in his service.
[2.] They attended the reading and expounding of the word of God during
all the days of the feast,
They improved their leisure for this good work. Spare hours cannot be
better spent than in studying the scriptures and conversing with them.
At this feast of tabernacles God appointed the law to be read once in
seven years. Whether this was that year of release in which that
service was to be performed
does not appear; however they spent all the days of the feast in that
good work, and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, as God had
appointed, in which they finished the solemnity the twenty-second day
of the month, yet did not separate, for the twenty-fourth day was
appointed to be spent in fasting and prayer. Holy joy just not
indispose us for godly sorrow any more than godly sorrow for holy