Ezr_9:13-14. After all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; should we again break thy commandments?
THE intention of God in all his dispensations, whether of providence or of grace, is to deter men from sin: and it becomes all his people to co-operate with him in this important work. Rulers in particular are invested with power by God himself for this very end: nor do they ever appear to more advantage than when they exert themselves to the uttermost in the support of God’s authority, and in promoting the best interests of those over whom they are placed.
Ezra, perhaps about eighty years after the return of the Jews from Babylon, was permitted by Artaxerxes king of Persia to go and visit his brethren in Judea, and was empowered by him to rectify all abuses that he might find among them. After his arrival, he heard, to his unspeakable grief, that many of them had joined in marriage with heathen women. He therefore humbled himself before God on their account; and looking back upon all that they had suffered for their iniquities, and on the marvellous deliverance which God had vouchsafed unto them, he expressed his surprise, his horror, his indignation at their great impiety.
From his words we shall take occasion to consider,
God’s diversified dispensations towards us—
God visited his people of old with alternate mercies and judgments: and thus he has dealt with us also.
He has visited our sins with judgments—
[The judgments which we have of late experienced, have been exceeding heavy [Note: Here particulars should be mentioned.] — — — And it is of the utmost importance that we should acknowledge the hand of God in them. They spring not out of the dust: they arise not merely from the ambition of our enemies, or the errors of our own government. God uses men as instruments, just as he did the Assyrians and Chaldeans, to punish his people: but still it is His hand alone that inflicts the stroke [Note: Psa_17:13. Isa_10:5-7; Isa_10:13-15; Isa_37:24-26. Gen_45:8.]: and, if we do not trace his displeasure in all that we have suffered, it is not possible that we should ever make a proper improvement of it.
We must confess, however, that our sufferings have by no means equalled our deserts [Note: Psa_103:10.]. Take any one of our national sins [Note: Our contempt of the Gospel, our open profaneness, our traffic in human blood, &c.], and it might well bring down upon us all that we have endured. If God had proceeded against us according to the tremendous aggregate of our iniquities, we should have been made as Sodom and Gomorrha.]
He has now also vouchsafed us a deliverance—
[The “deliverance” granted to the Jews in their return from Babylon, was not inferior to that which they had formerly experienced in their departure from Egypt. And has not ours also been exceeding great [Note: Here it should be set forth.]? — — — In this too must we view the hand of God. Whoever were the means, God was the author of it. It is he who produces all the changes that arise in the state of individuals [Note: 1Sa_2:6-8.], or of kingdoms [Note: Jer_18:6-7; Jer_18:9.]. And as the discerning of his agency in our afflictions is necessary to effect our humiliation, so the beholding of it in our mercies is necessary to excite our gratitude.]
To promote a suitable improvement of these dispensations, let us consider,
The effect they should have upon us—
If the destruction of sin be the end which God proposes to himself in all his conduct towards us, then we should endeavour to make every thing subservient to that end. The pointed interrogation in the text strongly shews in what light we should view a renewed violation of God’s commandments, after he has taken such pains to enforce the observance of them.
How unreasonable would it be!
[No man can read the account of Pharaoh’s obstinacy in the midst of all his successive judgments and deliverances, and not stand amazed at his more than brutish stupidity. Yet it is precisely thus that we shall act, if we do not now put away our sins, and submit ourselves entirely to God’s revealed will. And how unreasonable, or rather we should say irrational, such conduct would be, God himself tells us: he even calls heaven and earth to express their astonishment at it, as not only levelling us with the beasts, but reducing us to a state far below them [Note: Isa_1:2-3.]. And if we be guilty of it, he will justly vent his indignation against us, as he did against his people of old; “They are a perverse and crooked generation. Do ye thus requite the Lord? O foolish people, and unwise [Note: Deu_32:5-6.]!”]
[Ingratitude is considered as one of the greatest aggravations that can be found in any offence of man against his fellow-man: and how much more must it enhance the guilt we contract in our disobedience to God! See what stress God himself lays upon this in the transgressions of David [Note: 2Sa_12:7-9.], and Solomon [Note: 1Ki_11:9.], and Hezekiah [Note: 2Ch_32:25.]; and will it not stamp a ten-fold malignity also on our offences [Note: See what construction God himself puts upon such conduct, Jer_7:9-10.]?]
[This is particularly noticed by Ezra, in the words following the text: and the state of the Jews at this moment is an awful comment upon it. We are yet in the hands of our God; and if we still rebel against him, he can easily bring again upon us the calamities which he has just removed, or send others far more afflictive. He tells us, that, as the impenitence of the Jews was the reason of his continuing to afflict them [Note: Isa_9:12; Isa_9:17; Isa_9:21; Isa_10:4.], so he will “punish us seven times more for our sins [Note: Lev_26:18; Lev_26:21; Lev_26:24; Lev_26:28.],” if we now continue in them. To what a state of misery and dereliction we may in that case expect to be reduced, we may judge from what was actually experienced by the Jewish nation [Note: Jdg_10:11-14.]. But the Lord grant that we may not so provoke the Majesty of heaven!]
[Remember that God is not an indifferent spectator of our conduct. Sin is “that abominable thing which his soul hateth [Note: Jer_44:4.]:” and he will surely destroy either it, or him that retains it. And if his judgments be not inflicted on the sinner in this life, there still is a future day of retribution, when every man shall give account of himself to God, and receive the just recompence of all his actions.
Let this then be the improvement which we determine, through grace, to make of God’s present dispensations. Let us reflect upon them as means of exciting us to holy obedience; and let every one of us shudder at the thought of ever again breaking the least of God’s commandments.]