Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The princes inform Ezra that many of the people now settled in the had married heathen wives; and several of the rulers were principal offenders in this thing, Ezr 9:1, Ezr 9:2. He is greatly afflicted, Ezr 9:3, Ezr 9:4. His prayer to God on thus account, Ezr 9:5-15.
The people of Israel - These were they who had returned at first with Zerubbabel, and were settled in the land of Judea and whom Ezra found on his arrival to be little better than the Canaanitish nations from whom God had commanded them ever to keep separate.
Hath been chief in this trespass - They who are the first men have been the most capital offenders; so Virgil, Aen. ix. 783: -
Unus homo, vestris, o cives, undique septus
Aggeribus, tantas strages impune per urbem Ediderit?
Juvenum primos tot miserit orco?
"Shall one, and he enclosed within your walls,
One rash imprisoned warrior, vanquish all?
Calm you look on, and see the furious foe
Plunge crowds of heroes to the shades below!"
The first of the Trojan youth were the chief, the most illustrious; so we say the first men of the kingdom for the nobles, etc.
I rent my garment and my mantle - The outer and inner garment, in sign of great grief. This significant act is frequently mentioned in the sacred writings, and was common among all ancient nations.
Plucked off the hair - Shaving the head and beard were signs of excessive grief; much more so the plucking off the hair, which must produce exquisite pain. All this testified his abhorrence, not merely of the act of having taken strange wives, but their having also joined them in their idolatrous abominations.
Those that had been carried away - Those that had returned long before with Zerubbabel; see Ezr 9:1.
Until the evening sacrifice - The morning sacrifice was the first of all the offerings of the day, the evening sacrifice the last. As the latter was offered between the two evenings, i.e., between sunset and the end of twilight, so the former was offered between break of day and sunrise. Ezra sat astonied - confounded in his mind, distressed in his soul, and scarcely knowing what to do. He probably had withdrawn himself into some sequestered place, or into some secret part of the temple, spending the time in meditation and reflection.
Fell upon my knees - In token of the deepest humility. Spread out my hands, as if to lay hold on the mercy of God. We have already had occasion to explain these significant acts.
I am ashamed and blush - God had been so often provoked, and had so often pardoned them, and they had continued to transgress, that he was ashamed to go back again to the throne of grace to ask for mercy in their behalf. This is the genuine feeling of every reawakened backslider.
And now for a little space - This interval in which they were returning from servitude to their own land.
Grace hath been showed - God has disposed the hearts of the Persian kings to publish edicts in our favor.
To leave us a remnant to escape - The ten tribes are gone irrecoverably into captivity; a great part even of Judah and Benjamin had continued beyond the Euphrates: so that Ezra might well say, there was but a remnant which had escaped.
A nail in his holy place - Even so much ground as to fix our tent-poles in.
May lighten our eyes - To give us a thorough knowledge of ourselves and of our highest interest, and to enable us to re-establish his worship, is the reason why God has brought us back to this place.
A little reviving - We were perishing, and our hopes were almost dead; and, because of our sins, we were sentenced to death: but God in his great mercy has given us a new trial; and he begins with little, to see if we will make a wise and faithful use of it.
What shall we say after this? - Even in the midst of these beginnings of respite and mercy we have begun to provoke thee anew!
Have filled it from one end to another - The abominations have been like a sweeping mighty torrent, that has increased till it filled the whole land, and carried every thing before it.
Hast punished us less than our iniquities - Great, numerous, and oppressive as our calamities have been, yet merely as temporal punishments, they have been much less than our provocations have deserved.
Thou art righteous - Thou art merciful; this is one of the many meanings of the word צדק tsedek; and to this meaning St. Paul refers, when he says, God declares his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, Rom 3:25 (note). See the note there.
We remain yet escaped - Because of this righteousness or mercy.
In our trespasses - We have no righteousness; we are clothed and covered with our trespasses.
We cannot stand before thee because of this - The parallel place, as noted in the margin, is Psa 130:3 : If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? Every man must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ: but who shall stand there with joy? No man against whom the Lord marks iniquities. There is a reference here to the temple service: the priests and Levites stood and ministered before the Lord, but they were not permitted to do so unless pure from all legal pollution; so no man shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ who is not washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Reader, how dost thou expect to stand there?