Ezr_9:5-6. 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 the Lord 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.
IT is common both for individuals and Churches to appear hopeful before men, when a nearer acquaintance with them would furnish us with abundant cause of grief and shame. At Ezra’s coming to Jerusalem, about fourscore years after the Babylonish captivity, he found the temple built, and the ordinances of religion statedly performed. But on inquiring more particularly into the state of those who now inhabited the Holy Land, he received such information as filled him with the deepest anguish.
We propose to consider,
The reason of his sorrow—
Many of the people had connected themselves in marriage both with the Canaanites and other heathens around them. This he justly regarded as a most heinous evil,
As being a violation of an express command—
[Ezra himself speaks of it in this view [Note: ver. 10–12. compared with Deu_7:2-3.]. It is possible that, whilst the generality sought only the gratification of their own corrupt appetites, “the princes and rulers, who were chief in this matter,” justified their conduct on the ground of policy. They might urge, that, being few in number, it was desirable, for their own preservation, to make alliances with those whose hostility they feared. It is certain that in this way many set their own reasoning in opposition to God’s revealed will. But reason is altogether out of its place on such occasions. God’s authority is not to be trampled on by us: we are not at liberty to sit in judgment on his commands, and to determine how far it is expedient to obey them: when once we are told, “Thus saith the Lord,” we have no option, no alternative left: a cheerful and unreserved compliance is our bounden duty, and our highest wisdom.]
As having an evident tendency to bring the people back to idolatry—
[It was for their idolatries more especially that the nation had been sent into captivity; and a recurrence of the same evils was most likely to result from so intimate a connexion with idolaters. This danger had been particularly pointed out, when the prohibition had been originally given [Note: Deu_7:4.]: and their disregard of this danger shewed how little they had profited by the judgments that had been inflicted on them, or the mercies that had been vouchsafed unto them. But thus it is with all who seek the friendship of the world: God has told them, that “friendship with the world is enmity with God [Note: Jam_4:4.];” that it is impossible to maintain communion with both [Note: Mat_6:24, and 2Co_6:14-15.]; and that therefore all who cultivate the friendship of the world will be regarded and treated as the enemies of God [Note: 1Jn_2:15-17.]: yet they will run the risk, and for the sake of gratifying their corrupt wishes, will endanger the everlasting salvation of their souls. O that those who are inclined to take worldly persons for their associates, and especially those who are tempted to unite with them in the indissoluble bonds of marriage, would consider the guilt and danger of such measures, ere they bring upon themselves the wrath of an offended God! If only they would look around them and see the injury which others have sustained in their souls by such conduct, they would pause, and not venture to purchase any fancied good at so great a price.]
How great his sorrow on this occasion was, we may judge from,
The expressions of it—
That which first calls for our notice is, the expression of his grief the instant he was informed of their misconduct—
[This was more violent than any of which we read in the Holy Scriptures. Often have men rent their mantle and their garments; but of him alone we are told that “he plucked off the hair of his head and of his beard.” In the first paroxysm of his grief he was almost distracted; yea, he was so overwhelmed as to be incapable of speech or action: hence “he sat down astonied,” as one altogether stupified through excess of sorrow. And shall we think all this extravagant? No truly, if we duly estimate the evil they had committed, and the danger to which the whole nation was reduced [Note: ver. 14.]. We are told of David, that “horror took hold upon him,” and that “rivers of tears ran down his cheeks, because of those who kept not God’s law:” and St. Paul appeals to God himself, that he had “great sorrow and continual heaviness in his heart for his brethren’s sake [Note: Rom_9:1-3.].” We may be sure therefore that the grief which Ezra manifested was no more than what the occasion called for.]
But his humiliation before God is that which more particularly demands our attention—
[“At the time of the evening sacrifice,” as if revived and encouraged by the consideration of the great atonement, “he arose from his heaviness, and fell upon his knees, and spread out his hands unto the Lord his God,” and confessed with shame and anguish of heart both his own sins and the sins of all the people. What a just view had he of national transgressions! Many would have thought, that, because he disapproved of the evils that had been committed, he had no share in the guilt contracted by them, nor any occasion to humble himself before God on account of them: but the members of the body politic are, in their corporate capacity, like the members of the natural body, all to a certain degree responsible for those evils, which generally, though not universally, prevail among them. At the day of judgment indeed, none will have to answer for any thing but what they themselves were personally guilty of; but in this world, where alone nations can be dealt with as nations, we should consider ourselves as participating in whatever relates to the nation at large.
And here we cannot but admire the humility with which he confessed the sins of the nation before God, and the fervour with which he implored the forgiveness of them. O that we felt even for our own sins, as he felt for the sins of others! However “fools may make a mock at it,” sin is no light evil: there is no contrition too deep for us to feel on account of sin, nor any earnestness too great to use in order to obtain the remission of it. Let the view then of this holy man put us all to shame: let us bluch and be confounded at the thought that our repentance from day to day is so cold and superficial; and let us tremble for ourselves, lest we be found at last to have been hypocrites and dissemblers with God. We are told plainly enough what is that repentance which godly sorrow will produce [Note: 2Co_7:10-11.]: let us therefore look to it that we “approve ourselves to be clear in this matter.”]
[And now, methinks, the evening sacrifice is just offered: “now once, in the end of the world, hath Christ appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself [Note: Heb_9:26.].” O let our eyes be fixed on that “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!” Let us spread before him both our national and personal transgressions; and let us lay them all on the head of that heavenly victim; not doubting but that, “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [Note: 1Jn_1:9.].”]