When Ezra found himself in the midst of the people, there was a solemn and painful sight that met him (Ezra 9). There was this humiliation even in the captivity before he entered the land; but when he comes into the land it is a most painful sight. Those that had already returned from the captivity - those that were gathered towards the name of Jehovah in Jerusalem - he found in the most painful circumstances. He found sources of shame and sorrow. He found cases of evil. He found the most grievous sights and sounds among them.
Oh, beloved friends, what a sad thing for the heart of the man that had been afflicting himself before God away from the land among some of the people that were there. Now he came up and found that those that ought to have been so impressed with the sense of the grace of God, and so resting upon His protecting hand, were themselves in a state of carelessness, laxity, departure inwardly from His ways. They are outwardly near Him, but inwardly far from Him. So we are told. "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" (Ezr_9:1). It was not even so with the Samaritans. Positively, here were persons that were in Jerusalem, and not only people, but priests, doing after the abominations of the Canaanites. And you are sometimes surprised, beloved friends, that among those that are gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus there should be distressing developments of evil. Why, it must be so. They were not walking with God. The very worst forms of evil will be found where you are closest to the Lord if you are not walking with Him - if you are not kept by Him; because Satan's great effort is against that. It is that which he hates above all that is on the face of the earth.
When people are walking hand in hand with the world, Satan can leave them. He knows where the world will lead them, and if flesh and spirit are joined hand in hand it is always flesh that gets the uppermost. The only way to walk in the Spirit is to judge the flesh - to have nothing to do with it, but denounce it - to mortify our members that are upon the earth. But all attempts to have a friendly harmony between the flesh and the Spirit is vain. Therefore Satan can leave that harmony to take its course. He knows right well that that which is fleshly will always break down in the things of God, whatever there may be of the Spirit connected with it. But where persons come out from the world and are on the professed ground of the judgment of the flesh, if the world is allowed by the heart, or the flesh is tampered with, and, above all in the worship of God - in the meeting of His people - if we indulge any personal feelings, or allow our own thoughts to govern us or our own feelings - what can it come to but the most distressing and unnatural sights? It is even worse than in the decent world. The decent world will, at any rate, keep an appearance; but where we have learned the vanity of appearance, and where it must be either Spirit really or flesh really, if there is a tampering with evil there, and the allowance of it there, flesh will come out in its worst form and Satan will bring the deepest dishonour on the name of the Lord.
So it was here. It was not in Babylon, but in Judæa, that they were doing after the manner of the Canaanites. It was not the persons that were far away from Jerusalem. It was the people and the priests here who had slipped away from the will of the Lord. It was they that were "doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the head of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass." Oh, think of that! "The head of the princes and rulers have been chief in this trespass." And do you suppose, beloved brethren, that we are clear from such dangers? In no wise. Let us then look earnestly to God; but let us remember this, that all true blessing for us must begin with individual blessing, and that the secret of individual blessing will always be found to have its root in self-judgment before God. We shall find that this is exactly so with Ezra who had been afflicting his soul and getting others to afflict their souls down in the captivity. So also in Jerusalem.
"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 astonied. 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 astonied until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto Jehovah my God, and said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. And now for a little space grace hath been showed from Jehovah our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place." And thus, you see, Ezra takes a place of deeper humiliation than that. It was not merely a fast now, but there is this sign of more profound humiliation - the rending his garments - the sitting astonished even till the evening sacrifice, and only then spreading out his hands to the Lord to pray for his people as well as to confess.