Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Ezra's Proceedings in the Severance of the Strange Women from the Congregation of Israel - Ezr 9:1
When Ezra, some time after his arrival, was in the temple at Jerusalem, the princes of the people informed him that the Israelites had mingled themselves by marriage with the people of the lands (Ezr 9:1-2). Deeply moved by this communication, he sat astonished till the time of the evening sacrifice, while all who feared God's word assembled about him (Ezr 9:3, Ezr 9:4). At the evening sacrifice he fell upon his knees and prayed, making a touching confession of sin before God, in the name of the congregation (Ezr 9:5-15). During this prayer many were gathered around him weeping, and Shecaniah coming forth from their midst, acknowledged that transgressions of the congregation, and declared that they would make a covenant with God to put away all the strange wives (Ezr 10:1-4). After making the princes, the priests, and Levites take an oath that they would do according to the declaration thus made, Ezra left the temple and retired to the chamber of Johanan, to fast and mourn over the transgression of those who had returned from captivity (Ezr 10:5, Ezr 10:6). An assembly at Jerusalem was then proclaimed, and those who should not attend it were threatened with heavy penalties (Ezr 10:7-9). At this assembly Ezra reproved the people for their transgression, and called upon them to separate themselves from the people of the countries, and from the strange wives (Ezr 10:10, Ezr 10:11); upon which the assembly resolved to appoint a commission to investigate and decide upon individual cases. In spite of the opposition of some, this proposal was accepted, and the commission named (Ezr 10:12-17), which held its sittings from the first day of the tenth month, and made an end of its investigations into all cases brought before it by the close of the year. Then follows the list of those who had taken strange wives (10:18-44), with which the book concludes.
Information given of the intermingling of Israel with the heathen nations of the land by marriage (Ezr 9:1-4), and Ezra's prayer and confession (Ezr 9:5-15). - Ezr 9:1, Ezr 9:2. "When this was done, the princes came to me, and said, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, do not separate themselves from the people of the lands, according to their abominations, (even) of the Canaanites; ... for they have taken (wives) of their daughters for themselves and for their sons, and the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of the lands." What now follows is placed in close chronological sequence with what precedes by the formula אלּה וּככלּות, at the time of the completion of these things; comp. Ch2 31:1; Ch2 29:29; Ch2 7:1. אלּה are the things related Ezr 8:33-36. Of these the delivery of the gifts took place on the fourth day after Ezra's arrival at Jerusalem, i.e., on the fourth or fifth day of the first month (comp. Ezr 8:32, etc., with Ezr 7:9). The sacrifices (Ezr 8:35) would undoubtedly be offered immediately; and the royal orders would be transmitted to the satraps and governors (Ezr 8:36) very soon after. As soon, then, as Ezra received intelligence concerning the illegal marriages, he took the matter in hand, so that all related (Ezr 9:3-10) occurred on one day. The first assemblage of the people with relation to this business was not, however, held till the twentieth day of the ninth month (Ezr 10:9); while on the calling of this meeting, appearance thereat was prescribed within three days, thus leaving apparently an interval of nine whole months between Ezra 8 and Ezr 9:1-15. Hence Bertheau conjectures that the first proclamation of this assembly encountered opposition, because certain influential personages were averse to the further prosecution of this matter (Ezr 10:15). But though Ezr 10:4-7 does not inform us what period elapsed between the adoption of Shecaniah's proposal to Ezra, and the proclamation for assembling the people at Jerusalem, the narrative does not give the impression that this proclamation was delayed for months through the opposition it met with. Besides, Ezra may have received the information concerning the unlawful marriages, not during the month of his arrival at Jerusalem, but some months later. We are not told whether it was given immediately, or soon after the completion of the matters mentioned Ezr 8:33-36. The delivery of the royal commands to the satraps and governors (Ezr 8:36) may have occupied weeks or months, the question being not merely to transmit the king's decrees to the said officials, but to come to such an understanding with them as might secure their favour and goodwill in assisting the newly established community, and supporting the house of God. The last sentence (Ezr 8:36), "And they furthered the people and the house of God," plainly shows that such an understanding with the royal functionaries was effected, by transactions which must have preceded what is related Ezr 9:1-15.
This matter having been arranged, and Ezra being now about to enter upon the execution of his commission to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of his God (Ezr 7:12), he received information of the illegal marriages. While he was in the temple, the princes (השּׂרים, the princes, are those who give the information, the article being used e.g., like that in הפּליט, Gen 14:13) came to him, saying: The people (viz., Israel, the priests, and the Levites; the three classes of the Israelite community) do not separate themselves from the people of the lands; comp. Ezr 6:21. כּתעבתיהם, with respect to their abominations, i.e., as Israel should have done with respect to the abominations of these people. The ל to לכּנעני might be regarded as introducing the enumeration of the different nations, and corresponding with מעמּי; it is, however, more likely that it is used merely as a periphrasis for the genitive, and subordinates the names to תּעבתיהם: their, i.e., the Canaanites', etc., abominations, the suffix relating, as e.g., at Ezr 3:12 and elsewhere, to the names following. Give Canaanitish races are here named, as in Exo 13:5, with this difference, that the Perizzites are here substituted for the Hivites, while in Exo 3:8; Exo 23:23, both are enumerated, making six; to these are added in Deu 7:1 the Girgashites, making, generally speaking, seven nations. Ammonites, Moabites, and Egyptians are here cited besides the Canaanitish races. The non-severance of the Israelites from these nations consisted, according to Ezr 9:2, in the fact of their having contracted marriages with them. In the law, indeed (Exo 34:16; Deu 7:3), only marriages with Canaanitish women were forbidden; but the reason of this prohibition, viz., that Israel might not be seduced by them to idolatry, made its extension to Moabites, Ammonites, and Egyptians necessary under existing circumstances, if an effectual check was to be put to the relapse into heathenism of the Israelitish community, now but just gathered out again from among the Gentiles. For during the captivity idolaters of all nations had settled in the depopulated country, and mingled with the remnant of the Israelites left there. By "the people of the lands," however, we are not to understand, with J. H. Michaelis, remnants of the races subjugated by Nebuchadnezzar and carried to Babylon, - who were now, after seventy years, returning, as well as the Jews, to their native lands under Cyrus; in support of which view Mich. incorrectly refers to Jer 25:9, etc. - but those portions, both of the ancient Canaanitish races and of the Moabites and Ammonites, who, escaping the sentence of captivity, remained in the land. נשׂאוּ is naturally completed by נשׁים from the context; comp. Ezr 10:44; Ch2 11:21, and other passages. The subject of התערבוּ is the collective הקּדשׁ זרע, the holy seed, i.e., the members of the nation called to holiness (Exo 19:5). The appellation is taken from Isa 6:13, where the remnant of the covenant people, preserved in the midst of judgments, and purified thereby, is called a holy seed. The second part of Ezr 9:2 contains an explanatory accessory clause: and the hand of the princes and rulers hath been first in this unfaithfulness (מעל, comp. Lev 5:15), i.e., the princes were the first to transgress; on the figurative expression, comp. Deu 13:10. סגנים is an Old-Persian word naturalized in Hebrew, signifying commander, prefect; but its etymology is not as yet satisfactorily ascertained: see Delitzsch on Isa 41:25.
This information threw Ezra into deep grief and moral consternation. The tearing of the upper and under garments was a sign of heartfelt and grievous affliction (Jos 8:6); see remarks on Lev 10:6. The plucking out of (a portion of) the hair was the expression of violent wrath or moral indignation, comp. Neh 13:25, and is not to be identified with the cutting off of the hair in mourning Job 1:20). "And sat down stunned;" משׁומם, desolate, rigid, stunned, without motion. While he was sitting thus, there were gathered unto him all who feared the word of God concerning the transgression of those that had been carried away. חרד, trembling, being terrified, generally construed with על or אל (e.g., Isa 66:2, Isa 66:5), but here with ב (like verbs of embracing, believing), and meaning to believe with trembling in the word which God had spoken concerning this מעל, i.e., thinking with terror of the punishments which such faithless conduct towards a covenant God involved.
Ezra's prayer and confession for the congregation. - Ezr 9:5 And at the time of the evening sacrifice, I rose up from my mortification (תּענית, humiliation, generally through fasting, here through sitting motionless in deep affliction of soul), and rending my garment and my mantle. These words contribute a second particular to קמתּי, and do not mean that Ezra arose with his garments torn, but state that, on arising, he rent his clothing, and therefore again manifested his sorrow in this manner. He then fell on his knees, and spread out his hands to God (comp. Kg1 8:22), to make a confession of the heavy guilt of the congregation before God, and thus impressively to set their sins before all who heard his prayer.
9:6, etc. The train of thought in this prayer is as follows: I scarcely dare to lift up my fact to God, through shame for the greatness of our misdeeds (Ezr 9:6). From the days of our fathers, God has sorely punished us for our sins by delivering us into the power of our enemies; but has now again turned His pity towards us, and revived us in the place of His sanctuary, through the favour of the king of Persia (Ezr 9:7). But we have again transgressed His commands, with the keeping of which God has connected our possession of the good land given unto us (Ezr 9:10). Should we then, after God has spared us more than we through our trespasses have deserved, bring His wrath upon us, till we are wholly consumed? God is just; He has preserved us; but we stand before Him with heavy guilt upon us, such guilt that we cannot endure God's presence (Ezr 9:13). Ezra does not pray for the pardon of their sin, for he desires only to bring the congregation to the knowledge of the greatness of their transgression, and so to invite them to do all that in them lies to atone for their guilt, and to appease God's wrath.
"I am ashamed, and am covered with shame, to lift up my face to Thee, my God." ונכלמתּי בּשׁתּי united, as in Jer 31:19, comp. Isa 45:16, and other passages. נכלם, to be covered with shame, is stronger than בּושׁ. "For our iniquities are increased over our head," i.e., have grown above our head. ראשׁ למעלה, to or over the head. למעלה serves to enhance the meaning of רבוּ, like Ch1 23:17. "And our guiltiness is great, (reaching) unto the heavens;" comp. Ch2 28:9.
"Since the days of our fathers, have we, our kings, our priests, been delivered into the hands of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to shame of face." The words from בּחרב onwards serve to explain what is meant by being delivered into the hand of strange kings. On the expression פּנים בּשׁת, comp. Dan 9:7, etc., Ch2 32:21. הזּה כּהיּום, as it is this day, as is to-day the case; see remarks on Dan 9:7. The thought is: We are still sorely suffering for our sins, by being yet under the yoke of foreign sovereigns.
"And now for a little moment there has been mercy from the Lord our God, to leave us a rescued remnant, 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." He calls the short interval between their release from captivity by Cyrus, and the time when he is speaking, רגע כּמעט, a little moment (comp. Isa 26:20), in comparison with the long period of suffering from the times of the Assyrians (comp. Neh 9:32) till the reign of Cyrus. פּליטה, a rescued remnant, is the new community delivered from Babylon, and returned to the land of their fathers. In proportion to the numerous population of former days, it was but a remnant that escaped destruction; but a remnant which, according to the predictions of the prophets, was again to grow into a large nation. A foundation for this hope was given by the fact that God had given them "a nail in the place of His sanctuary." The expression is figurative. יתד is a nail or peg struck into the wall, to hang any kind of domestic utensils upon; comp. Isa 22:23, etc. Such a nail was the place of God's sanctuary, the temple, to the rescued community. This was to them a firm nail, by which they were borne and upheld; and this nail God had given them as a support to which they might cling, and gain new life and vigour. The infinitive clauses following, להאיר and לתתּנוּ, are dependent upon the preceding infinitives להשׁאיר and ולתת, and state the purpose for which God has given a nail in His house to this remnant. That our God may enlighten our eyes, i.e., may bestow upon us new vitality; comp. Psa 13:4. Suffering and misfortune make the eyes dim, and their light is quenched in death: the enlightened or beaming eye is an image of vital power; comp. Sa1 14:27, Sa1 14:29. מחיה לתתּנוּ is not to be translated, ut daret nobis vivificationem, the suffix to לתתּנוּ being not dative, but accusative. The literal rendering is: that He may make us a slight reviving. מחיה, the means of supporting life, restoration to life; see on Ch2 14:13. Ezra adds מעט; for the life to which the community had attained was but feeble, in comparison with a vigorous social life. Their deliverance from Babylon and return to the land of their fathers was, so to speak, a revival from death; compare the embodiment of this figure in Ezekiel's vision, Eze 37:1-14 : they were, however, still in a state of vassalage, and had not yet regained their independence. This thought is further carried out in Ezr 9:9 : "For we are bondmen, yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy to us before the kings of Persia; so that they have given us a reviving to build up the house of our God, and to repair its ruins, and have given us a wall about us in Judah and Jerusalem." They who have returned to Jerusalem and Judah are still bondmen, for they are yet under the Persian yoke; but God has disposed the kings of Persia so to favour them as to give them a reviving, to enable them to rebuild the house of God. Cyrus and Darius had not merely permitted and commanded the building of the temple, but had also furnished them with considerable assistance towards the carrying out of this work; comp. Ezr 1:3, etc. Ezr 6:7-9. The suffix in חרבתיו alludes to אלהים בּית. The words of the last sentence are figurative. גּדר means the wall of a vineyard, the wall or fence built for its protection (Isa 5:2, Isa 5:5). Hence the wall, or enclosure, is an image of protection from the incursions and attacks of enemies. Such a wall has been given them in Judah and Jerusalem by the kings of Persia. "The meaning is not that they possess a place defended by walls (perhaps, therefore, the temple) in Jerusalem and Judah, but that the Persian kings have given to the new community a safe dwelling-place (or the means of existence), because the power of the Persian empire secures to the returned Israelites continued and undisturbed possession of the city and the land." (Bertheau.)
After this statement concerning the divine favour, Ezra next sets himself to describe the conduct of his countrymen with respect to the mercy extended to them.
"And now, O our God, what can we say after this? That we have forsaken Thy commandments," זאת, i.e., such proofs of the divine compassion as have just been mentioned. The answer which follows commences with כּי, before which נאמר is mentally repeated: "we can only say that we have forsaken Thy commandments, requited Thy kindness with sins."
Namely, the commandments "which Thou hast commanded by Thy servants the prophets, saying, The land unto which ye go to possess it is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the people of the lands, through their abominations, wherewith they have filled it from one end to another through their impurity. And now give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons (for wives), nor seek their peace nor 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 for ever." The words of the prophets introduced by לאמר are found in these terms neither in the prophetical books nor the Pentateuch. They are not, therefore, to be regarded as a verbal quotation, but only as a declaration that the prohibition of intermarriage with the heathen had been inculcated by the prophets. The introduction of this prohibition by the words: the land unto which ye go to possess it, refers to the Mosaic age, and in using it Ezra had chiefly in view Deu 7:1-3. He interweaves, however, with this passage other sayings from the Pentateuch, e.g., Deu 23:7, and from the prophetic writings, without designing to make a verbal quotation. He says quite generally, by His servants the prophets, as the author of the books of Kings does in similar cases, e.g., Kg2 17:23; Kg2 21:10; Kg2 24:2, where the leading idea is, not to give the saying of some one prophet, but to represent the truth in question as one frequently reiterated. The sayings of Moses in Deuteronomy also bear a prophetical character; for in this book he, after the manner of the prophets, seeks to make the people lay to heart the duty of obeying the law. It is true that we do not meet in the other books of Scripture a special prohibition of marriages with Canaanites, though in the prophetical remarks, Jdg 3:6, such marriages are reproved as occasions of seducing the Israelites to idolatry, and in the prophetic descriptions of the whoredoms of Israel with Baalim, and the general animadversions upon apostasy from the Lord, the transgression of this prohibition is implicitly included; thus justifying the general expression, that God had forbidden the Israelites to contract such marriages, by His servants the prophets. Besides, we must here take into consideration the threatening of the prophets, that the Lord would thrust Israel out of the land for their sins, among which intermarriage with the Canaanites was by no means the least. Ezra, moreover, makes use of the general expression, "by the prophets," because he desired to say that God had not merely forbidden these marriages one or twice in the law, but had also repeatedly inculcated this prohibition by the prophets. The law was preached by the prophets when they reiterated what was the will of God as revealed in the law of Moses. In this respect Ezra might well designate the prohibition of the law as the saying of the prophets, and cite it as pronounced according to the circumstances of the Mosaic period.
(Note: It is hence evident that these words of Ezra afford no evidence against the single authorship of the Pentateuch. The inference that a saying of the law, uttered during the wanderings in the wilderness, is here cited as a saying of the prophets the servants of Jahve, is, according to the just remark of Bertheau, entirely refuted even by the fact that the words cited are nowhere found in the Pentateuch in this exact form, and that hence Ezra did not intend to make a verbal quotation.)
The words: the land into which ye go, etc., recall the introduction of the law in Deu 7:1, etc.; but the description of the land as a land of uncleanness through the uncleanness of the people, etc., does not read thus either in the Pentateuch or in the prophets. נדּה, the uncleanness of women, is first applied to moral impurity by the prophets: comp. Lam 1:17; Eze 7:20; Eze 36:17, comp. Isa 64:5. The expression מפּה אל־פּה, from edge to edge, i.e., from one end to the other, like לפה פּה, Kg2 10:21; Kg2 21:16, is taken from vessels filled to their upper rim. ועתּה introduces the consequence: and now, this being the case. The prohibition וגו תּתּנוּ אל is worded after Deu 7:3. The addition: nor seek their peace, etc., is taken almost verbally from Deu 23:7, where this is said in respect of the Ammonites and Moabites. תּחזקוּ למאן recalls Deu 11:8, and the promise: that ye may eat the good of the land for ever, Isa 1:19. לבניכם והורשׁתּם, and leave it for an inheritance to your children, does not occur in this form in the Pentateuch, but only the promise: that they and their children should possess the land for ever. On הורישׁ in this sense comp. Jdg 11:24; Ch2 20:11.
And after all, continues Ezra, taking up again the אחרי־זאת of Ezr 9:10, - "after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass - yea, Thou our God has spared us more than our iniquity deserved, and hast given us this escaped remnant - can we again break Thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? Wilt Thou not be angry with us even to extirpation, so that no residue and no escaped remnant should be left?" The premiss in Ezr 9:13 is followed in Ezr 9:14 by the conclusion in the form of a question, while the second clause of Ezr 9:13 is an explanatory parenthesis. Bertheau construes the passage otherwise. He finds the continuation of the sentence: and after all this ... in the words וגו אתּה כּי, which, calmly spoken, would read: Thou, O God, hast not wholly destroyed us, but hast preserved to us an escaped remnant; while instead of such a continuation we have an exclamation of grateful wonder, emphatically introduced by כּי in the sense of כּי אמנם. With this construction of the clauses, however, no advance is made, and Ezra, in this prayer, does but repeat what he had already said, Ezr 9:8 and Ezr 9:9; although the introductory אהרי leads us to expect a new thought to close the confession. Then, too, the logical connection between the question Ezr 9:14 and what precedes it would be wanting, i.e., a foundation of fact for the question Ezr 9:14. Bertheau remarks on Ezr 9:14, that the question: should we return to break (i.e., break again) the commands of God? is an antithesis to the exclamation. But neither does this question, to judge by its matter, stand in contrast to the exclamation, nor is any such contrast indicated by its form. The discourse advances in regular progression only when Ezr 9:14 forms the conclusion arrived at from Ezr 9:13, and the thought in the premiss (13a) is limited by the thoughts introduced with כּי. What had come upon Israel for their sins was, according to Ezr 9:7, deliverance into the hand of heathen kings, to the sword, to captivity, etc. God had not, however, merely chastened and punished His people for their sins, He had also extended mercy to them, Ezr 9:8, etc. This, therefore, is also mentioned by Ezra in Ezr 9:13, to justify, or rather to limit, the כּל in כּל־הבּא. The כּי is properly confirmatory: for Thou, our God, hast indeed punished us, but not in such measure as our sins had deserved; and receives through the tenor of the clause the adversative meaning of imo, yea (comp. Ewald, 330, b). למטּה מ חשׂכתּ, Thou hast checked, hast stopped, beneath our iniquities. חשׂך is not used intransitively, but actively; the missing object must be supplied from the context: Thou hast withheld that, all of which should have come upon us, i.e., the punishment we deserved, or, as older expositors completed the sense, iram tuam. מעוננוּ למטּה, infra delicta nostra, i.e., Thou hast punished us less than our iniquities deserved. For their iniquities they had merited extirpation; but God had given them a rescued remnant. כּזאת, as this, viz., this which exists in the community now returned from Babylon to Judaea. This is the circumstance which justifies the question: should we, or can we, again (נשׁוּב is used adverbially) break Thy commandments, and become related by marriage? (חתחתּן like Deu 7:3.) התּעבות עמּי, people who live in abominations. The answer to this question is found in the subsequent question: will He not - if, after the sparing mercy we have experienced, we again transgress the commands of God - by angry with us till He have consumed us? כּלּה עד (comp. Kg2 13:17, Kg2 13:19) is strengthened by the addition: so that there will be no remnant and no escaping. The question introduced by הלוא is an expression of certain assurance: He will most certainly consume us.
"Jahve, God of Israel, Thou art righteous; for we remain an escaped remnant, as (it is) this day. Behold, we are before Thee in our trespass; for no one can stand before Thy face, because of this." Ezra appeals to the righteousness of God, not to supplicate pardon, as Neh 9:33, for the righteousness of God would impel Him to extirpate the sinful nation, but to rouse the conscience of the community, to point out to them what, after this relapse into their old abominations, they had to expect from the justice of God. נשׁארנוּ כּי is confirmatory. God has shown Himself to be just by so sorely punishing this once numerous nation, that only a small remnant which has escaped destruction now exists. And this remnant has again most grievously offended: we lie before Thee in our trespass; what can we expect from Thy justice? Nothing but destruction; for there is no standing before Thee, i.e., no one can stand before Thee, על־זאת, because of this (comp. Ezr 8:23; Ezr 10:2), i.e., because of the fresh guilt which we have incurred.