New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Ezra 9:1 Now when these things were done- There is an intended anticlimax here, a juxtaposition of God's amazing grace to the exiles in Ezra 8 now contrasted with their fall into sin. The same thing happens at Acts 5:1, and often in the Biblical record.

The princes drew near to me saying, The people of Israel, and the priests and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands and are following their abominations, even those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites- See on :14; Ezra 6:21. Ez. 42:20 commands for the restored Kingdom: “He measured it by the four sides: it had a wall round about, five hundred reeds long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place”. This reflected the difference between God’s people, His “sanctuary” (Ps. 114:2), and the surrounding world. But Judah did not ‘separate’ themselves from the surrounding tribes but instead married them and worshipped their idols (s.w. Ezra 9:1 “The people of Israel... have not separated themselves from the people of the land, doing according to their abominations...for they have taken of their daughters for themselves”). The same word for “abominations” occurs in the same context in Mal. 2:11: “Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god”. Yet it had been emphasized that the temple system Ezekiel described was to be free of all the “abominations” [s.w.] previously committed by Israel (Ezekiel 43:8; 44:6,7,13).

Ezra 9:2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy seed have mixed themselves with the peoples of the lands. Yes, the hand of the princes and rulers has been chief in this trespass-
These relationships and children are defined as being part of mixing with the abominations of the peoples (:1). And "abominations" always refers to idol worship. So it could be that the relationships with "their daughters" were a result of sleeping with cult prostitutes and having children thereby. There was therefore far more to what happened than simply marrying out of the faith. To 'take daughters for themselves' may not mean marriage itself, but could refer to the kind of cultic relationships which went along with idol worship at the shrines. This is why the separation from these women with whom they had had children (Ezra 10:3) would not then be quite the same as breaking up marriage and full blown family life. Israel are only specifically called "the holy seed" in Is. 6:13, where the idea was that after their experience of judgment, those who survived would be a "holy seed" who would shoot forth the Messianic "Branch" from the decaying stump of the house of David. But now the "holy seed" had corrupted themselves; for they were the minority preserved from judgment, and now they had corrupted their holiness. So the possibilities of the reestablishment of the Kingdom of God in Israel which the prophets were full of... was now precluded. They failed to see themselves and their offspring as anything so "holy" to Yahweh. This is the root of all sin- a failure to appreciate our holy standing in His eyes, our sanctification in Christ.

Ezra 9:3 When I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down confounded-
The temple still lay “waste” (Hag. 1:4,9) just as it had lain “desolate” [s.w. Jer. 33:10,12] after the Babylonian destruction. The ‘restoration’ was in fact not really a restoration at all, in God’s eyes. Thus Ezra sat down desolate [s.w. "confounded"] at the news of Judah’s apostasy in having children by the surrounding women; using the very same word as frequently used to describe the ‘desolate’ / 'confounded' Jerusalem that was to be rebuilt (Ezra 9:3 cp. Is. 49:8,19; 54:3; 61:4). He tore his priestly garment (Ezra 9:3), as if he realized that all Ezekiel’s prophesies about those priestly garments now couldn’t come true (s.w. Ez. 42:14; 44:17,19). Is. 58:12,13 prophesied that the acceptable rebuilding of Zion was dependent upon Judah keeping the Sabbath acceptably; and yet Nehemiah’s record makes clear their tragic abuse of the Sabbath at the time of the restoration; and this therefore meant that the rebuilding of the temple and city were not going to fulfill the Messianic prophecies about them which existed.

The Lord would have meditated upon the way righteous men had taken upon themselves the sins of their people. Thus Jeremiah speaks as if he has committed Israel's sins; Ezra rends his clothes and plucks off his hair, as if he has married out of the Faith (Ezra 9:3 cp. Neh. 13:25; the Lord received the same sinner's treatment, Is. 50:6). Moses' prayer for God to relent and let him enter the land was only rejected for the sake of his association with Israel's sins (Dt. 3:26).

Ezra 9:4 Then were assembled to me all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat confounded until the evening offering-
See on :7. The double reference in Is. 66:1-5 to trembling at Yahweh’s word is a definite prediction of the situation in Ezra 9:4; 10:3, where the same rare Hebrew word is used regarding how those of the exiles who repented for their marriage out of the Faith trembled before the word in repentance. Then, at that point, the Kingdom blessings could have been brought about, as described in the rest of Is. 66. But again, there was no staying power in their repentance. By Nehemiah’s time, and by Malachi’s time even after his, marriage out of the Faith was still their weakness.  


Ezra 9:5 At the evening offering I arose up from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn; and I fell on my knees, and spread out my hands to Yahweh my God-
"Rose up / arose" is a word used often of the 'rising up' of the exiles to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5; 3:2; 9:5; Neh. 2:18; 3:1). This was a fulfilment of the command to "Arise... Jerusalem!" (Is. 51:17; 52:2; 61:4). Perhaps Ezra was motivated by these prophecies to now "arise", hoping that somehow his people would still be raised up. But this 'arising' was to be associated with the dawning of Zion's light in the form of Yahweh's glory literally dwelling over Zion (Is. 60:1). This didn't happen at the time, because the appearance of 'arising' by the exiles was only external and wasn't matched by a spiritual revival. Ezra was driven to appeal to God directly and solely from himself with his priestly garments now in ruins. I have noted earlier that his focus upon teaching the law of Moses was rather missing the point- that the old covenant had been broken by Judah, and they could only throw themselves upon the grace of the new covenant.

Ezra 9:6 and I said, My God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have increased over our head, and our guiltiness has grown up to the heavens-
The description of Ezekiel's Temple was to be given to the captives in Babylon by Ezekiel, to lead them to repentance and to assure them of what could be if they repented. Then when the invitation to leave Babylon and return came in the time of Ezra, they ought to have been motivated to return to the land and build the temple which Ezekiel had explained to them. But sadly most of them weren’t very deeply motivated at all; they wanted to build a temple, but not to the extent Ezekiel had outlined. Consider in this light Ez.  43:10-11: “Thou son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, shew them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them”. Then, when the temple was built, they were to be obedient in all the ways in which they hadn’t been obedient in the past, with the result that they were now sitting in captivity (E. 44:24). This was the tragedy felt by Ezra, when he realized the exiles were not living as they should be: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased” (Ezra 9:6). Israel would only be able to build the temple properly if they were “ashamed of their iniquities” (Ez. 43:10). And Ezra knew they weren’t. And thus he sought to take upon himself that shame, believing that God would accept his shame on behalf of the people. Note in passing how he speaks of blushing before God. You only blush in someone’s presence. And this was how close and real Ezra felt his God to be.  Perhaps this repentance of a remnant explains why in fact the record of Ezekiel's temple was written down at all- for Ez. 43:11 seems to say that it would be written down if Judah were ashamed of their sins. Ezekiel's opening chapters record him being forewarned by God that they would not generally be responsive to his ministry; and yet some were, like Ezra, and maybe this was eagerly seized upon by God as the basis for allowing the writing down and preservation of the specifications we have in Ez. 40-48.

Isaiah 45 is as clear a prophecy as any could wish. God categorically stated that Cyrus would be raised up by Him in order to release the captives in Babylon, and to enable the building of Jerusalem (Is. 45:12); all because God had formed the land [AV “earth”] of Israel to be inhabited and not to be left without His people dwelling upon it. And this happened; the captives were released (although most preferred to stay put in Babylon), and the building of Jerusalem was enabled (although the work was not done very enthusiastically by Judah, and they preferred to build their own houses rather than Yahweh’s). But the prophecy goes on in Is.  45:13-17: “I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts. Thus saith the LORD, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God...They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them: they shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols. But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end”. But the Egyptians and Ethiopians didn’t come and fall down before Judah, as the Queen of Sheba had before Solomon. Nor did they accept Yahweh as the only God, and ditch their idols. Instead, the returned Jews worshipped the idols of Egypt, and married their women (Ezra 9:1). And thus Israel were ashamed and confounded in the future. The same Hebrew words for “ashamed [and] confounded” occur in Ezra 9:6, where as a result of Ezra realizing that Judah had married the local women and broken covenant with Yahweh, he admits: “I am ashamed and blush [s.w. ‘confounded’] to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased....”. The words of Is. 45 could have had their fulfilment in the time of Cyrus; the surrounding nations could have come and worshipped before Judah, and the whole earth quit their idols and look unto Yahweh as a just God and a saviour. But Judah would not. Judah in the new temple would not “defile” Yahweh’s Name any more (Ez. 43:7,8); but they were lazy to keep the uncleanness laws, they did defile Yahweh by touching dead bodied and then offering the sacrifices (Hag. 2:13,14 s.w.), just as Israel previously had been defiled by touching the dead bodies of their kings and then offering sacrifices (Ez. 43:7); but now, Judah thought they were above God’s law, and therefore did exactly the same things which had caused the temple to be destroyed in the first place. The promise that Yahweh would dwell in the new temple was conditional on them not touching dead bodies (Ez. 43:9); but Hag. 2:13 makes it apparent that they did this very thing at the time of the restoration. 

Ezra 9:7 Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty to this day; and for our iniquities we, our kings and our priests, have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder and to confusion of face, as it is this day- The sins of those who returned are styled "the transgression of those that had been carried away" (Ezra 9:4). Yet those who returned to the land weren't mainly the generation who had been carried away. The intended confusion is surely to suggest that those who returned committed the same sins as had led Judah into captivity a generation earlier. And Ezra comments on this fact here in his subsequent prayer. He feels shame of face just as his people did.

Ezra 9:8 Now for a little moment grace has been shown from Yahweh our God, to leave us a remnant to escape-
See on :13. Ezra saw that “little moment" or "space” as a time when they received grace; he understood the prophecy of the figs in Jer. 24, that it was only through the captivity and the fact God had graciously not destroyed them but rather preserved them there, that there was the opportunity for a remnant to re-establish the Kingdom. What may appear to some as forsaking is in fact God’s grace to us, when spiritually discerned- whether it be deep within our own lives, or in the state of affairs upon this planet. Yet it should be noted that the prophecy of Jer. 24:6,7 about the good figs seems not to have come true at the restoration- although it could potentially have done so.

And to give us a nail in His holy place- I submit that the Messianic prophecies of the restoration prophets could have had their fulfilment in Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel, or some other Messianic figure at that time. Everything was made possible to enable this- Joshua, who couldn’t prove his Levitical genealogy, was given “a place of access” amongst the priesthood, those who “stood” before the Lord (Zech. 3:7 RV). Ezra thanked God that they had returned and that they had “a nail in his holy place” (Ezra 9:8), a reference surely to a Messiah figure whom he felt to be among them, the “nail in a sure place” of Is. 22:23. According to Mt. 1:12 and Lk. 3:27, Zerubbabel was the Prince of Judah, and the rightful heir to David’s throne. But due to his weakness, the fulfilment was deferred to Jesus.

That our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage- Blindness had been their punishment for not wanting to see; and despite little evidence that they did want to see, God was trying to open their eyes all the same, and to give them revival, new life, in bondage. For they were still in bondage to the Persians and were not independent of them. But they had spurned all that huge grace.

Ezra 9:9 For we are bondservants; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage-
Although the Apocryphal book of Baruch isn’t inspired, it gives a significant window into the mindset of the exiles in Babylon. Baruch 1:10 mentions how the attitude was that the majority wanted to send funds to support the ‘good work’ going on in Judah- but didn’t want to return there themselves. Like the book of Esther, this indicates that the exiles had soon quit languishing by the rivers of Babylon, and had quickly acquired wealth and some degree of prosperity. Inspired prophecies had warned them of the fall of Babylon, and their need to flee out of it and return to Judah. And yet Baruch 1:12 records the exiles praying “that we may live long under the protective shadow of [the] king of Babylon”. This is in sad contrast to Daniel’s prophecies that the sheltering tree of Babylon was to be cut down! There ought to have been an urgency about the need to flee from Babylon. Zech. 2:10 speaks of the need to "flee" and "escape"- the language of crisis. And the call "Ho!" means quite literally "Hey!!". The urgency to flee was spiritual rather than physical- for there's no evidence that when Babylon fell to the Persians, the Jews were punished. Indeed they appear [from Esther] to have prospered even more. Hence the urgent appeal was to flee from the spiritual crisis which they faced in Babylon. And yet they didn't perceive the danger, just as so many today don't. For the call to leave Babylon is applied in New Testament passages like 2 Cor. 6 to our call to leave the world in which we live. The urgency of 'fleeing' from Babylon was understood by Nehemiah, when he referred to those who had returned to the land as those who has "escaped" from Babylon (Neh. 1:2)- even though they had returned with every blessing from the authorities. He perceived as few did the vital danger of remaining in the soft life of Babylon. Ezra likewise had referred to the Jews in Babylon as those "in bondage... bondmen" (Ezra 9:9)- when historical records, as well as the book of Esther and the fact Nehemiah the Jew was the king's cupbearer, show that the Jews were very far from being servants in Babylonian society. Yet Ezra perceived the spiritual poverty and servanthood of remaining in that affluent society.

But has extended loving kindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins- "To give us a reviving" uses the same word for "put" when we read of God putting a new heart and spirit in His revived people if they entered the new covenant at the restoration: “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you” (Ez. 36:27-29). They revived the stones out of the heaps (Neh. 4:2). A new spirit was potentially given to them, God put in the heart of men like Nehemiah to revive the work (Neh. 2:12 s.w.). But this didn’t force them to be obedient. They chose not to be.

Ezekiel 37 had its primary fulfilment in the return under Ezra. Then, Israel was given “a quickening” (Ezra 9:9 LXX), in fulfilment of how the dry bones in captivity were revived. At that time, Judah could have fully revived. But most of them chose to stay in Babylon. If there had been a full revival, then the events of Ezekiel 38 and 39 would have taken place. It has been suggested that there was a  primary fulfilment of Ezekiel 38/9 in an unrecorded invasion of the land at the time of the restoration. However, historical evidence for this is severely lacking . And yet the Scythian tribes such as Magog, Gomer, Meshech, Tubal etc. are all recorded as being the scourge of the Middle East at that time. They were marauding into more prosperous areas “to take a spoil”, especially “cattle and goods”, at around Ezekiel’s time. They could so easily have turned their attentions toward Israel. That invasion could have happened; but it didn’t.  But because Israel were not faithful the temple was not built properly, and therefore the Ezekiel 38 invasion didn’t happen, and therefore Yahweh’s intervention and establishment of His Kingdom as described in Ezekiel 39 didn’t occur.

And to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem- Zech. 2:4 had foretold that “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein”, seeing that Yahweh Himself would be as a wall of fire around her to protect her from her adversaries (Ezra had recognized this promise, that God would be a wall to them- Ezra 9:9). Note how this prophecy is introduced by an Angel with a measuring reed measuring out the rebuilt Zion (Zech. 2:1), just as we have in Ezekiel 40. But Judah disbelieved the promise of a Divine wall of fire, and insisted on building a physical wall to protect them; and the record in Nehemiah has plenty of reference to their setting up of bars and gates in their fear (Neh. 3:3,6,13-15). By doing so they disallowed the fulfilment of Ezekiel 38:11, and thereby precluded what was prophesied as subsequently following. If they had trusted Him and paid their tithes, their cattle would have multiplied, and the Scythian tribes would have come down to seek to take them, as Ezekiel 38:12,13 foretold. But as it happened, their cattle were diseased and their agriculture not blessed because of their dilatory attention to Yahweh’s house that lay waste (Haggai 1:11). So therefore there was no invasion, and no victory against the nations, and no Kingdom established at that time. 

Ezra 9:10 Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments-
Again we note Ezra's total identity with his sinful people. This is proof enough that there is no "guilt by association" as believed by so many groups. Rather there is to be the very opposite- freewill association of ourselves with the guilt of sinners, that we might thereby appeal to them and intercede for them. And this was in fact the very basis of our redemption through the work of the Lord Jesus.

Ezra 9:11 which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets saying, ‘The land, to which you go to possess it, is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness-
The people were warned that the temple had been destroyed because of their previous “abominations”, and that the rebuilt temple was not to feature any such abominations (Ez. 43:8; 44:6,7,13). “let it suffice you of your abominations” they were told- and were then told not to allow the uncircumcised into the temple, as they had been doing (Ez. 44:6,9). This sounds as if the prophecy of Ezekiel was more command than prediction- to those of his own day. But they returned, and committed the abominations [s.w.] of the Gentiles (Ezra 9:1,11,14) and married their daughters; to the extent that Malachi commented upon this: “Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination [s.w.] is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god” (Mal. 2:11).

Ezra 9:12 Now therefore don’t give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters to your sons, nor seek their peace or their prosperity forever; that you may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever’-
This command directly addressed the human tendency to think that 'it won't happen to me / my family'. The "abominations" of the land (:11) were idolatry. Intermarriage was seen as inevitably involving the people in idolatry, as we saw in :2,3. The implication is that marriage is the most intimate of human relationships, and the spiritually weaker party will almost inevitably bring down the spiritually stronger party to their level. Solomon is the parade example. But it seems the lesson is never learnt- because there is an inbuilt

Ezra 9:13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You, our God, has punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and has given us such a remnant-
Ezra said that God had punished them less than their iniquities deserved, somehow alluding to the prophecy of Is. 40:2, which said that at the time of Zion’s restoration, God would admit to having punished her “double for all her sins”. Yahweh in His love and pity felt that He had punished them twice as much as they deserved; but Ezra realized that in reality it was less than what they deserved. See on :8.

There are evident similarities between the vocabulary and style of Zechariah, Job and the prophets of the restoration. Thus both Job and Zechariah refer to the ideas of the court of Heaven, "the satan" etc. My suggestion is that Job was rewritten during the exile, hence the many points of contact between Job and Isaiah's prophecies about the restoration. When we read that Job has suffered less than his iniquities deserve (Job 11:6), this is the very term used to describe Israel's sufferings in Babylon (Ezra 9:13). Job, "the servant of the Lord", is being set up as Israel, just as that same term is used about Israel in Babylon throughout the latter part of Isaiah. Job's mockery by the Arabian friends perhaps parallels the Samaritan and Babylonian mockery of Judah; his loss of children is very much the tragedy of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians which Lamentations focuses upon. And Job's final revival and restoration after repentance would therefore speak of the blessed situation which Judah could have had at their return to the land. Job's response to the words of God and Elihu would then speak of Judah's intended repentance as a result of God's word spoken to them by prophets like Haggai and Zechariah. There are many connections between Job and the latter parts of Isaiah which speak about the restoration.


Ezra 9:14 shall we again break Your commandments, and join in affinity with the peoples that do these abominations? Wouldn’t You be angry with us until You had consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?-
The covenant was not to be broken; the temple had been destroyed before because of breaking covenant with Yahweh (Ez. 44:7). But Judah broke covenant [s.w.] with Yahweh at the time of the restoration by marrying Gentiles and worshipping their gods (Ezra 9:1,14). They were themselves the remnant, and Ezra recognizes that now they too deserved to be destroyed, leaving God as it were with no Israel (:15). His spiritual mind however might have been driven to reason further, and perceive that indeed Israel would no longer be Yahweh's people- and therefore He would seek another people, on a different covenant basis. And that in fact was what the restoration prophets had been saying, although Ezra's obsession with the old covenant and teaching it had rather blinded him to that.

Ezra 9:15 Yahweh, the God of Israel, You are righteous-
True confession of sin always involves this recognition that God is right.

For we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is this day. Behold, we are before You in our guiltiness- We must soberly ‘think of ourselves’ as someone who has something to contribute to the rest of the body, even if first of all we are not sure what it is (Rom. 15:3-8). We feel their weaknesses as if they are our own. Self interest must die; their wellbeing becomes all consuming. This is why men like Daniel and Nehemiah could feel that “we have sinned...”- not ‘they have sinned’. Ezra said that because we have sinned, we cannot lift up ourselves before Yahweh. And he cast himself down before Yahweh in demonstration of how much he was with his people in this (Ezra 9:15; 10:1)!

For we cannot remain before You because of this- Is. 66:22 and Ez. 44:15 use the same word: “But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me [s.w. “remain before You”] to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord GOD”. But Ezra had to confess, using these very words of Isaiah and Ezekiel which he would have been familiar with, that they could not remain before Yahweh. They hadn’t lived the Kingdom life, and therefore the Kingdom prophecies could not come true in them. It makes a profitable exercise to consider all the times that Ezra and Nehemiah allude to the words of Isaiah and Ezekiel. It must have been heartbreaking for them to see the possibility of fulfilment within their grasp, and yet to know that their people didn’t see the wonder of it all.

"Remain before You" effectively means 'we cannot any longer be your people'. As discussed on :14,  Ezra recognizes that now they too deserved to be destroyed, leaving God as it were with no Israel. His spiritual mind however might have been driven to reason further, and perceive that indeed Israel would no longer be Yahweh's people- and therefore He would seek another people, on a different covenant basis. And that in fact was what the restoration prophets had been saying, although Ezra's obsession with the old covenant and teaching it had rather blinded him to that.