For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

9:1.  “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, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.”


These were all original inhabitants of the land, Canaanite meaning trafficker; Hittites terror; Perizzites rustic: squatter; Jebusites he will be trodden down; Ammonite tribal: peoplish; Moabite from father: what father: from (her)[the mother’s]) father: Egyptian double straits: Amorite sayer.


Eight tribes of the Canaanites are mentioned here, and since eight is the number that speaks of a new beginning, the fact that the Israelites were adopting their evil ways, declares that in spite of their having had a new beginning, they were choosing to adopt the evil lifestyles of the people God had commanded them to destroy.  The spiritual lesson is crystal clear.  Many who have become believers make no attempt to break old evil habits and to sever associations with unconverted friends, with the sad result that they bring dishonor on the name of Christ, and spoil their own Christian lives, so that when they stand before the Lord at the Bema, they will have little or no reward.


The meanings of the Canaanite tribal names have also something to teach us.  The Christian who fails to separate himself from the evils of his former lifestyle becomes the spiritual counterpart of the Canaanite tribes listed here: he is a trafficker, i.e., he uses spiritual things in hope of entering heaven, but he also uses the things of the world for present gain and pleasure, thus marring what feeble testimony he may have, and incurring the scorn of the men of the world who view him as a hypocrite.


He becomes also a spiritual Hittite terror, for instead of enjoying the peace that accompanies obedience, he lives with constant doubt as to the reality of his conversion, and the certainty of entering heaven.


He is also a Perizzite rustic: squatter.  He is spiritually uncouth, untaught, unable to grasp spiritual things, capable only of comprehending what pertains to the things of this world.  And he is a spiritual Jebusite, i.e., one who will be trodden down spiritually because of his inability to develop spiritually.  His Ammonite character will also overshadow what little spirituality he may have, for he will continue to be “tribal, peoplish,” i.e., he will be more like a man of the world than a child of God, the old Adamic nature predominating over the new.


He will continue also to manifest that he is more Moabite than Christian, for while he may, in the company of Christians, claim to have God as his Father, there will be little in his life to substantiate his claim, but much to indicate Satanic rather than Divine parentage.


His Egyptian ancestry will also manifest itself in that he will be continually in “double straits,” i.e., in difficulty, distress, need, for he will be unable to enjoy fully either the things of this world or of heaven.  And he will be also a spiritual Amorite a sayer, professing to be a Christian, but manifesting little or no Christlikeness in his daily life.


9:2.  “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 hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.”


The same evil path is trodden today as believers marry unbelievers, in spite of the clarity of God’s proscription, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial?  or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God ....” 2 Cor 6:14-16.  Nor is the prohibition limited to marriage: it applies equally to business partnerships, membership in clubs, societies, organizations, etc.


The princes and rulers were the principal offenders.  It is imperative that the lives of elders and older Christians in general be a good example for young believers.  And it is instructive to note that the word trespass is associated with the idea of treachery and falsehood.


9:3.  “And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment (robe) and my mantle (cloak, outer garment), and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied (appalled).”


Some idea of the enormity of their sin may be deduced from the fact that upon hearing of the evil, Ezra tore both his robe and his cloak or outer garment, and plucked the hair from his head and beard; and it surely requires little mental effort to see in the condition of the distraught prophet a foreshadowing of what befell the Lord at the hands of His enemies in the halls of Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod on the night of His betrayal, and at Calvary when He expiated all our sin, and redeemed our souls by dying in our guilty stead.


Since garments symbolize righteousness - our own imagined righteousness, or the perfect righteousness of Christ which clothes every believer - Ezra’s rending his garments is his symbolic disclaimer of any self-righteousness. 


It is to be noted incidentally, that unknown to them, their stripping Christ of His garments at His crucifixion, was His enemies’ symbolic way of declaring that in their estimation He had no righteousness.  God’s permitting it may have been His way of declaring that when the Lord hung on the cross it was as our sin Bearer, He having taken our sins upon Himself, and being Himself made sin, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. 


9:4.  “Then were assembled unto me everyone that trembled at (reverenced) the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away; and I sat astonied (appalled) until the evening sacrifice.”


Those who reverenced the word of God were a small minority in the midst of a largely apostate nation, and only the spiritually blind will fail to see that the same condition prevails today in an equally apostate Christendom.  Those godly few had good cause to fear, for the fact is that the righteous in every generation frequently have also to suffer when the judgment of God falls upon the unrighteous majority, e.g., the righteous were carried captive to Babylon along with their ungodly fellows, the only difference being that they had the assurance of God’s presence with them, and the comfort of knowing that even should death touch them it would simply transport them to paradise.  And so is it still.  The believer has the comfort of knowing even in the midst of adversity

that all things work together for good to those who love God.


“... until the evening sacrifice.”  Offered at the ninth hour, it was the last sacrifice of the day, and very clearly points to the the Lord’s offering of Himself without spot to God, the Divine warning relative to that sacrifice being that it too is the last sacrifice that will be offered for sin, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries,” Heb 10:26-27.


9:5.  “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.”


“... heaviness” is also translated humiliation, sorrow, abasement, fasting, stupor, affliction.  As the offering of the evening sacrifice ended Esra’s humiliation, and enabled him to approach God, so does the Lord’s sacrifice enable us to approach into the presence of God without fear, but not without the reverence that becomes the creature in the presence of the Creator.  That even believers have lost that reverential fear of God, however, is declared in the flippancy with which many of them speak of Him, and address Him in prayer.


The spread out empty hands are the acknowledgement, not only of utter helplessness and penury, but also of the prophet’s expectation that God will fill them by granting what is requested.  Similar expectation should accompany the presentation of our requests to God, but always with the reservation that He knows our needs better than we, and answers according to His perfect knowledge of what is best for us, that knowledge requiring Him sometimes to deny our requests.


9:6.  “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.”


“... iniquities” is also translated perversity, evil, mischief; and “trespass,” guilt: sin; and while this same confession must be made by every man, the believer can exult in the knowledge that the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has cleansed him from all sin so that he has boldness (confidence) to enter into the Divine presence as declared in Heb 10:19-22, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus ... Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience ....”


9:7.  “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.”


Ezra freely acknowledged that their multiplied sins had cut them off from blessing, and had made them instead the objects of God’s wrath.  No segment of society was guiltless: commoner, priest, and king were all equally culpable.  Nor was the guilt confined to that present generation: from the days of their fathers evil had marked all their ways.  And so is it with the whole human race: man’s sin goes all the way back to Adam, and is the root cause of all of earth’s misery.


9:8.  “And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.”


Having confessed that their multiplied and long continued sins had made them worthy of wrath rather than blessing, he gratefully acknowledged God’s great mercy and graciousness in having delivered them from Babylonian bondage, and having permitted them to begin the journey back to Canaan.


Nail, as used here, refers to a beam extending from the inside of the wall of a house, upon which utensils or other articles were hung.  As an integral part of the wall it was strong and secure, thus ensuring the safety of the things hung on it.  It is used figuratively of the Lord Himself as the One in Whom we can place our trust with absolute confidence, see for exmaple Isa 22:23-24 “And I will fasten him (Christ) as a nail in a sure place ... and they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house,” and Zech 10:4, “Out of him (Christ) came forth the corner, out of him (Christ) the nail, out of him (Christ) the battle bow ....”


Some understand the nail to be a metaphor for the Temple.


“... that God may lighten our eyes....”  As used here lighten means to make their eyes shine with joy; and reviving means new life.


9:9.  “For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving (new life), to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.”


They had been bondmen in Persia, but God had overruled by putting it into the minds of the Persian kings to end the bondage and permit them to return to their own land again.  It was a reviving or resurrection of the nation, for apart from repatriation their national identity would eventually have ceased.  And it is instructive to note that their first work when returned to the land was the reconstruction of God’s house, the Temple, before they rebuilt their own houses.  In all things He must have the preeminence.  We rob ourselves of blessing when we fail to put God first in everything.


Since a wall speaks of protection, the metaphoric reference here is to God’s protecting care; and since Judah means he shall be praised; and Jerusalem dual peace shall be taught: lay (set) double peace, what is being stated is that their obedience in building the wall, would ensure their having cause to praise and worship Him for His preservation of peace.


9:10.  “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this?  For we have forsaken thy commandments,”


9:11.  “Which thou commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness.”


Ezra’s confession was specific.  He didn’t just generalize; and one lesson at least to be learnt from this is that confession of our own sins should be specific, for when it is general we tend to lose sight of the enormity of our offenses, and are therefore less likely to try to put them out of our lives.  For example, if I confess evil thoughts, hasty ill advised speech, rather than just saying in a general way, “I have sinned,” there is more likelihood that I will be more conscious of the sin, and will make an attempt to put it out of my life.


In telling them that the land of Canaan was unclean, and the Canaanites morally filthy, and their practices abominable, the prophets had, in fact, been warning the Israelites not to commit  the same sins, and thereby bring upon themselves the judgment of God.  Israel had rejected the warning, however, bringing upon themselves the terrible judgment of the seventy-year Babylonian captivity from which that present remnant was returning.


One obvious lesson for us is that we are not to adopt the sinful ways of this evil world through which we are to pass as pilgrims and strangers on our way home to heaven.  But sadly we have followed all too faithfully in Israel’s disobedient footsteps, and thereby robbed ourselves of the blessings God wishes to lavish upon us.


9:12.  “Now therefore, give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.”


It is instructive to note that daughters were not to be given or taken in marriage.  The female speaks of submission of the will, as the male does of its activity, so that the lesson is of the need to guard against submitting to the ways of the world.  It is  easy to reject its wickedness when it first shocks our consciences, but equally easy to become gradually inured to it so that shock gradually gives place to indifference, and eventual acceptance of the evil as simply a normal way of life.  Take, for example, the matter of dress.  The virtual nudity which is accepted today would have shocked even the most liberal-minded of an earlier generation.


“... nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever.”  God’s command to His people had been to exterminate the Canaanites, but disobedient Israel had instead taken some of them as bondservants,  had intermarried with others, and had allowed still others of them to live in the land as their neighbors, with the result that the  Israelites had quickly learned Canaanite ways.  And so has it been with the Church, the bride of Christ.  She has failed to maintain her God-ordained place of separation from the world, with the result that she has adopted its ways, thus dishonoring Him, and robbing herself of blessing.


Relative to the injunction against seeking “their wealth,” the majority of Christians are also blatantly disobedient.  They enrich the Lord’s enemies by attending theaters, sports events, etc., the admission prices to which are scandalously high; yet when it comes to their “offering” at “church,” the most paltry amount is given grudgingly.


Some understand this to be a command to believers not to seek to possess the the world’s wealth or its peace.


“... that ye may be strong.”  Obedience is the believer’s strength, for it ensures God’s blessing; but obedience is impossible apart from an understanding of Scripture, for it deprives us of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, without which no man can understand what is written, hence his inability to obey.


“... and eat the good of the land.”  What was literal for Israel is spiritual for believers today, our “eating” consisting of feeding our souls on the written Word; but here too disobedience has brought starvation, because it grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit, thus depriving us of His ministry of enlightenment, so that we can’t understand the deeper soul-nurturing meaning of Scripture, that understanding being impossible apart from His revelation.  Through disobedience the believer reduces himself to the level of the unconverted man relative to whom it is written, “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” 1 Cor 2:14.


“... and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.”  One of the great tragedies of today’s world is that many professing Christians fail to teach their children Scriptural truth, with the result that those children grow up as ignorant of spiritual things as are the children of the unconverted.  And what is worse, the disparity between the profession and the conduct of some professing Christians is so great that their children view them as hypocrites.


9:13.  “And after all this 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; “


“... all this is come upon us,” is generally understood to refer to the seventy-year Babylonian captivity from which they had just been liberated, and which had been God’s punishment for their great wickedness, trespass being related to the idea of going beyond what was permitted: it was a sin of deliberate commission rather than failure to do what was commanded.


Convicted consciences had resulted in their realizing that God’s chastisement had been less than their sin deserved, and that His gracious deliverance was more than their sin deserved.  Every honest heart must surely make the same confession relative to God’s dealings with us.  Had we received our just deserts we should have been banished into hell.


Their deliverance was from Babylonian bondage, but spiritual minds will have no trouble seeing in that emancipation a typological picture of the believer’s release from bondage to sin and death. Were we more conscious of the magnitude of our deliverance, our gratitude would be expressed in a fuller measure of devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, for He views obedience as the most perfect expression of love, as He Himself declared to His disciples, and therefore to us, “If ye love me keep my commandments .... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me ....” Jn 14:15,21.


9:14.  “Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?”


This question is rhetorical.  Ezra was stating a fact rather than asking a question.  God would most certainly destroy them if they persisted in disobedience, which in the present context refers, not only to intermarriage, but to any association whatsoever with the Canaanites.  God has issued a similar proscription relative to our association with the unconverted, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” 2 Cor 6:14.  Other than what is necessary in the course of daily living, our only business with the unconverted should be to seek their salvation.  At the cost of forfeited blessing, many professed believers today, however, have disobeyed God’s command, and have entered into all manner of associations, including marriage, with those who are Christ’s enemies, and therefore ours.  Is it any wonder that the testimony of so many professed Christians is a mere shibboleth, and their lives a contradiction of their profession?


9:15.  “O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this.”


First the prophet acknowledges the righteousness of God, Israel’s seventy year captivity in Babylon being the expression of that righteousness, for they had sinned against him, and He Who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and (who) canst not look on iniquity” Hab 1:13, must punish their wickedness and thereby vindicate His Own holiness.


But that same God has no delight in having to punish those who rebel against His just and holy government, as it is written, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live,” Ezek 33:11.  Even in judgment He remembers mercy, the deliverance of the remnant being an evidence of His compassion.


“...trespasses” is also translated sin, guilt.  They might stand before Him in their condemned state, but it is to be remembered that He had provided for the remission of their sin so that they could stand in His presence without condemnation.  They had only to present the prescribed offering - itself a type of the Lord Jesus Christ - in order to have their sin put away.  And so is it with every man.  We have simply to present Christ as our perfect sin offering, i.e., trust in Him as our Savior, to be cleansed from all sin, and thus fitted to stand unafraid in God’s presence, for “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” 1 John 1:7.

[Ezra 10]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough