Ezra: Chapters 6-10

Chapter 6
The House Completed

That God never fails an obedient and trusting people is preciously exemplified in this stirring chapter of His ways with the separated remnant of the Jews.

As when, in the book of Esther, the search of the royal records but vindicated Mordecai and led to the confusion of Haman, so here, when “search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon, there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll,” in which was found the record of king Cyrus, containing the very decree cynically referred to in the epistle of Tatnai and Shethar-boznai. There the command that the house be builded was plainly declared, together with the specifications and plans, and the order for returning the vessels of the house of God from among the pollutions of heathen idolatry to their proper home in Jerusalem, the city where Jehovah had put His name (vers. 1-5).

King Darius accordingly wrote at once warning Tatnai and his confederates to “let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place” (vers. 6, 7).

This stinging rebuke was all that these enemies of the Jews and professed loyalists to the king got for their pains. Nay, there was even greater humiliation than this for them. The decree went on to command what they should do to further this work: “That of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered; and that which they have need of, both young bullocks and rams and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests that are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savors unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons” (vers. 8-10). Moreover, it was directed, that if any one dared in any way to contravene this decree, his house was to be made a dunghill, and he himself hanged upon a scaffold made of its timbers (ver. 11).

We must remember that all this was the decree of a king, who, whatever the measure of his enlightenment (as a Persian disdaining the idols of the Babylonians), nevertheless gives no evidence of that direct inspiration of God which is declared to have been the case in regard to Cyrus and his commandment; he was definitely raised up of God, and designated before his birth by name (Isa. 44:28), and as “the righteous man from the east” who was to fulfil Jehovah’s will as to the restoration of His people (Isa. 41:2). With Darius it was otherwise. He writes as one who had great respect for the decrees of his predecessors, and he will therefore invoke fearful penalties on any who venture to act contrary to them.

The last part of his letter is such as we might expect from a king of his character, under the circumstances that had arisen: “And the God that hath caused His name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem” (ver. 12). It is a solemn fact that this curse was literally fulfilled in every instance. Antiochus defiled this house and died unnaturally under the anger of God. Herod presumed to alter and enlarge it for his own aggrandizement, and died under divine displeasure. The Romans utterly destroyed it when the days of grace for Israel had expired; but in doing so, sealed their own doom, and their mighty empire is to-day but a memory.

The celerity with which the humbled and astonished Tatnai and his friends undertook to carry out the provisions of the decree must have been a great relief to the hitherto despised Jews. It reminds one of the Lord’s words to another feeble remnant, the church of Philadelphia, who had a little strength and kept Christ’s word, not denying His name. To them them He says: “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (Rev. 3:9).

What is really of God may be despised for the moment by the unsubject and hypocritical, but the day of manifestation ever shows where the Lord has found His pleasure. Not always does this manifestation take place on earth, but in the day of Christ all that God has owned will be made plain. Yet, even here, often He shows where He has set the seal of His approval, to the discomfiture of haughty pretenders to an authority and spirituality they do not possess.

Happily, we see no evidence of carnal exultation or of haughtiness of spirit on the part of Zerubbabel and his fellow-laborers over the exposure and humbling of their opponents. Rather do we see a sincere cleaving to the Lord and rejoicing in Him who has made their mountain to stand strong. It was His work they were concerned in, not their own vindication. So, in holy serenity, “the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo” (ver. 14).

I would call the reader’s attention to the designations given these servants of God, now for the second time. Haggai is called “the prophet” as though pre-eminently that, while his companion-servant is simply declared to be “the son of Iddo.” Yet, as men generally speak, the latter it is who possesses the fullest claim to the prophetic office; for he unfolds in a wonderful manner the future in store for Israel and Judah. And this opening up of the unseen future is what is generally called prophecy. But it is otherwise in the word of God. The true prophet is the one whose words come from heaven to men on earth, searching the heart, reaching the conscience and exposing the evil that may have come in. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation (or stirring up) and comfort (or encouragement)” (1 Cor. 14: 3). Now this was exactly what Haggai did. His pungent, conscience-arousing messages were distinctly of this character, and so he is pre-eminently “the prophet.” Zechariah’s needed ministry of future things was equally of God, but it was subservient to the rousing words of his brother prophet, whose ministry was in view of the state of soul in God’s people.

A ministry like Zechariah’s will more probably be enjoyed than one of the character of Haggai’s. Carnal believers often find great pleasure in listening to dispensational and eschatological discourses, in attending what are often mis-called “prophetic” conferences; but what such really need is the trumpet-like call to consider their ways, rather than eloquent and beautiful discourses about things to come. The Haggais may not be so popular with the mass as the Zechariahs, but their ministry is ever a much needed one. He who goes on with God will welcome truth, and will thus hold the truth in its right proportions.

At last the house was finished, in the sixth year of Darius the king—a long time indeed since the work had been begun. But persistent effort had eventually prevailed, and the temple, whose foundations had been laid with praise and weeping, and whose walls had been erected with faith and prophecy, was now ready to be dedicated to the service and worship of the Lord God of Israel.

If one goes back and compares, or contrasts, the account of the dedication of the temple of Solomon with that of this house of the captivity, he cannot but feel how meagre was the service of the latter; but, on the other hand, one cannot but recognize it as of the same character. It was, in very deed, a going back to that which was from the beginning. The hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs for a peace offering, were few indeed as compared with the twenty-two thousand oxen, and the one hundred and twenty thousand sheep offered by Solomon; but all spoke of the same Christ who, “having made peace by the blood of His cross,” is now the ground of the soul’s communion with God.

In solemn contrast with the sweet savor offerings, alone mentioned in connection with Solomon’s dedication, we here read of twelve he-goats as a sin-offering for all Israel, according to the number of the tribes of Israel (ver. 17). This was eminently fitting, for all Israel had sinned; and on behalf of all Israel, the remnant confessed and judged the sin in which all had participated. Only an active conscience, truly in the light, could have led to this blessed result. The dedication was kept, we are told, with joy, and “they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses” (ver. 18).

And so, once again, we are reminded of the only way to learn the mind of God, even to consult His holy Word, in dependence on the Spirit who inspired it. “As it is written” would settle many a needless controversy among Christians if there were only grace to “search the Scriptures” and to obey what is found therein. With “It is written,” Jesus met every assault of Satan; and when he, for his own ends, misquoted, or partially quoted, from the same Word, concealing an important phrase, he was met with “It is written again,” to silence his impious suggestions. This is the path of safety for each saint; only let none suppose that a mere slavish adherence to “book, chapter and verse,” is what is here indicated. This there cannot always be; but the tenor of Scripture, the broad principles enunciated and exemplified therein, are what one needs to be familiar with. There was no specific scripture that instructed Zerubbabel to offer on this particular occasion twelve goats as a sin offering for all Israel. But it was fully in accord with the word of God so to do; it was in the spirit of the law He had given through Moses, and therefore well-pleasing to Him.

And, in the next place, in obedience to the same Word, “The children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month” (ver. 19). Great was the care exercised that all should be as God had directed. “The priests and the Levites were purified together; all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. And the children of Israel who were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the nations of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat” (vers. 20, 21).

All this is most instructive and enlightening, furnishing a helpful principle for those to act upon in any age, who would please the Lord in their public feasts of love, and their fellowship one with another. The passover was the great central feast of Israel. It was to them what the Lord’s supper is to Christians. In fact, our Lord links the two most intimately, in that it was during the celebration of the one that He instituted the other. The loaf in His hand was the unleavened Passover bread, while the cup was the Passover cup, for which Scripture gives no direct authority, but which was a natural accompaniment of a Jewish meal. Both spoke of the same blessed event—the death of Christ. The one set forth that death in prospect, the other declares that death as already having taken place. “For as oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show (or announce—it might even be rendered, preach) the Lord’s death till He come” (1 Cor. 11:26).

In the beginning all confessing Christ’s name had their place at that holy table. Then divine instruction was given not to eat with any one, called a brother, whose life was wicked. Teachers of false doctrine were likewise debarred from all Christian fellowship, which could not but include participation in the communion supper. With this, God has also warned lest any be partakers of other men’s sins, by going on with those unfitted for fellowship, thereby unfitting themselves. And so, with these broad principles to guide, it maybe confidently asserted that God has not left believers to decide for themselves the grave question of who is to be received and who refused at the table of the Lord. The unholy have no place there. Being the Lord’s table, it implies subjection to Him as such. Hence, we see the priests all purified together. To-day all believers are priests. This then is the scriptural ideal of a Christian gathering—“all of them were pure.”

To this company were received “all such as had separated themselves from the filthiness of the nations of the land to seek the Lord.” What an enlightening word is this! There are those who object to an expression long current among certain believers: “Separation from evil is God’s principle of unity.” But is not that exactly what we have here? Were not these dear Israelites one as a separated company from the abominations of the people of the land? Only as so separated could they cleave together. And in any dispensation, I apprehend, the same principle abides for faith. There can be no true practical unity save as evil is refused, and Christ becomes the object of each soul. And separation from evil involves turning to the Lord alone, for He is the one only centre, apart from all the evil. Given His rightful place, the incongruity of endeavoring to cling to what is unholy while seeking to please God, is at once made manifest. But argument avails little here. This truth, like all others, has to be learned through the conscience. Men may reason and contend about what to faith is most simple, if there be activity of conscience, enlightened by the word of God. The feeble few of Zerubbabel’s day were far beyond some now, who, despite greatly increased light are quite unable to discern the mind of God because persons are before them instead of the glory of Christ. Much grace is needed if any truth be apprehended that it may be held in the Spirit’s power; and this is especially true as to what Scripture reveals in regard to gathering to the name of the Lord Jesus.

Chapter 7
A Second Awakening

We reach a new beginning, as it were, in the present chapter, when Ezra for the first time, is definitely identified with the movement for returning to the place where God had set His name.

Another Artaxerxes is now on the throne, and in his reign God revives the spirits of many who had hitherto remained in Babylon, and fills their hearts with a desire to go up to Jerusalem. Of these Ezra himself is the leader. He was a direct lineal descendant of Phinehas, the man whose javelin had turned aside the wrath of the Lord in the days of Baal-peor, when Balaam taught Balak how to seduce Israel by unholy alliances with the daughters of Moab (Num. 25). To him had been granted an everlasting priesthood, and of this pledge Ezra is witness.

He was, we are told, “a ready scribe in the law of Moses,” and one who had the confidence of the king; so when he preferred a request to be permitted to lead another company up from Babylon to the city of God, his petition was heard, and full permission given, “according to the good hand of the Lord his God upon him.” This expression is characteristic. In all his ways Ezra recognized “the good hand of the Lord,” and to that alone, he attributes every forward step.

With Ezra went up a considerable company of the children of Israel, including priests, Levites, singers, porters and Nethinim, who left Babylon in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, and in about four months arrived in Jerusalem to join the former company, and there to set forward the work of the Lord.

Of Ezra we read that he “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (ver. 10). His was just the ministry now needed, among the returned company, and “the good hand of the Lord” supplied it. A competent, sober man of sound judgment, a man mighty in the Scriptures, and an able instructor of his brethren; how invaluable he would be at this time.

Not a mere intellectual student of the word of God, nor one teaching others what had not gripped his own heart and controlled his ways, was Ezra. He had begun by earnestly preparing his own heart to seek the law of the Lord. “The preparation of the heart in man is of the Lord.” This Ezra recognized. So it is not said that he prepared his head—but his heart. His inmost being was brought under the sway of the truth of God. His affections were controlled by the Scriptures. He might have said, with Jeremiah; “Thy words were found, and I did eat them: and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” He was personally right with God, and so was prepared to help set others right. Then there was more than inward preparation. Having learned the mind and will of God, he undertook to do it. He did not preach truth that he was not living. When under the good hand of God the king granted him all his requests, to leave Babylon and go to Jerusalem for the sake of the Name, he considered not circumstances (which might well have held him where he was, in place of going up to a desolated land and a ruined city), but he at once prepared to go forth trusting “the good hand of the Lord upon him.”

One reason there is so little power with much of the preaching and teaching of the day is a lack of consistently doing the truth ere proclaiming it. Men preach the Lord’s near coming, who give no evidence that the “blessed hope” has moulded their ways. Men teach the truth of the mystery of the one body, who yet, for filthy lucre’s sake, or because of other circumstances, abide in what practically denies it. Men proclaim the heavenly calling who have never learned to walk on earth as strangers and pilgrims. Is it any wonder their words are without power and their ministry but as clouds without water? The path of blessing is doing—then teaching. It was thus with the true Servant. Luke writes “of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). Woe be to any man, however able and gifted, who ventures to neglect the first while carrying on the second. Ezra was a pattern man in this respect. He undertook to do what he found written; then “to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Let every servant of God lay this 10th verse to heart, and ask himself: Am I thus serving my Master? No doubt such a question will at once bring before every conscientious soul much that calls for self-judgment; and Ezra himself, doubtless, would have felt the same. But the aim, the bent of the life, is what I refer to—the endeavor to carry out the order here indicated.

A copy of the letter of Artaxerxes is given in verses 12 to 26, and, as in the case of the previous decrees, this passage is reproduced in Aramaic or Chaldean, directly transcribed from the Persian records. There is something very beautiful in the salutation of this letter: “Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace,” and so forth (ver. 12). How marked the contrast between the two. How different their titles. And, in God’s sight, how much higher was Ezra’s rank than that of him who vain-gloriously designated himself by a title that properly belongs alone to the Lord Jesus Christ: “Who, in His own times shall show, who is that blessed and only Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords!”

Who that lived in those olden days would have supposed that in the course of the centuries the name and achievements of Artaxerxes would be almost unknown by millions to whom Ezra’s name and work would be as familiar, as if he had lived but yesterday! There are many such contrasts in the word of God. Ahasuerus is not even certainly identified to-day, but Mordecai is known wherever the word of God has been carried. The Pharaoh of the Exodus has been supposed to be one of half a dozen different monarchs, but no one makes a mistake as to Moses. Gamaliel is only remembered as the teacher of the devoted apostle Paul, and because of his moderation in treating the despised Nazarenes. And so with many more. Better far is it to be a child of God and to walk with Him than to wear earth’s proudest diadem or have the widest reputation among carnal men.

Nor, in writing thus, would I reflect adversely upon Artaxerxes. His letter gives good evidence of sincere regard for the glory of the God of heaven. But he takes the place of a patron, Ezra of a servant. And between the two there is a vast difference.

The decree is largely after the order of that of Cyrus. As in the former, so here, stress is laid upon the voluntariness of the project. Permission is given to any or all of the people of Israel “that are minded of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem,” to go with Ezra. God would have no coercion, hut He removes every legal barrier for those who have the heart to take the arduous journey and to retrace their fathers’ steps back to the place where His house is established.

Silver and gold, a free-will offering from the king and his counsellors, as well as from the people, for the habitation of God, Ezra is bidden to carry up to Jerusalem for sacrificial offerings, to be offered on Jehovah’s altar in Jerusalem; while full liberty was granted to use any superfluity in anyway that seemed best “after the will of their God” (vers. 16-18). Goodly vessels were also supplied for the service of the house of God out of the king’s own treasure; and assurance was given that if more were needed, they would be forthcoming (vers. 19, 20).

Commandment was likewise laid upon the king’s treasurers beyond the river to help forward the work by giving “whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the God of heaven,” might require, “unto a hundred talents of silver, and to a hundred measures of wheat, and to a hundred baths of wine, and to a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much” (vers. 21, 22).

All that they needed for the service of “the God of heaven” was to be done; and His priests and servants were to be freed from all toll or tribute. Besides all this, Ezra was commissioned to establish order throughout the province, by appointing magistrates and judges, and teaching the law of God to all ignorant of it (vers. 24, 25). And the decree closed as did that of Darius by denouncing severe penalties upon any who were hardy enough to act contrary to its provisions (ver. 26).

Ezra’s heart was filled with rejoicing as he received and perused the letter. He recognised it was a greater King who had thus moved Artaxerxes so to favor His people. In holy exultation of spirit he cries, “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is at Jerusalem: and hath extended mercy unto me before the king and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes.” Thus had the king’s gracious act produced thanksgiving to God, and joy of heart in the breast of His servant.

Again Ezra speaks of “the hand of God.” He was a man who seemed never to look at mere human instrumentality, but, back of the hand of man, he saw the guiding, or controlling, hand of the Lord. “I was strengthened,” he says, “as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me” (ver. 28).

Of the going up we have already had a brief epitome in verses 6 to 9, but we are to have a fuller description, to learn something of the difficulties to be overcome, the perils to be faced, and the testings of faith, as also its glorious triumph in the next chapter.

Every work that is really of God will have to be tried; but to the man of faith, instructed in the mind of the Lord, difficulties are never insurmountable; but he will be able in holy confidence to say with Paul, “None of these things move me.” Of such a spirit was Ezra the scribe, and of such must be all who would count for God in a day of ruin.

Chapter 8
The March Of Faith

What I would especially press upon the conscience of my reader at this juncture is this: Albeit the movement in which Ezra and his company were participants was distinct from that of Zerubbabel, Jeshua and their brethren, there were no new principles involved than those the former company had already learned from the word of God. No new centre was ever thought of. No new place to gather was suggested. Jerusalem was the one only place and Jehovah the one only Name. He had set His name at Jerusalem: consequently thitherward were the faces of all Ezra’s company turned. They were soon to learn that those who had preceded them had “made a mess and a failure”4 of the whole thing; but that did not set them inquiring if it would not be wise to gather elsewhere, to give up the principle of separation, to step aside from the movement and contentedly go back to Babylon. Not at all. God’s word remained. God’s centre remained. God’s Spirit remained,. And for this fresh company there was nothing to do, as guided by that Spirit, but to return to and continue to own the one centre in accordance with the unchanging Word.

Surely in this we may learn a lesson which some are fast letting slip—a lesson which really learned would save from much discouragement as well as from many a blunder here and from much loss at the judgment-seat of Christ.

We turn now to our chapter, and here again we have a table of the chief of the fathers—a table that God delighted to put on record, and which, like the former one, stands on the books of eternity. All will be forever remembered by Him who never overlooks anything done in faith and subjection to His Word. Had one of these turned back to Babylon He would have noted it too; and had any stopped half way between the land of Shinar and the city of God, His eye would have discerned it and His hand recorded it. Solemn considerations are these for any who might be disposed to trifle with divine truth.

Not one of the names here listed may be otherwise known to us; but all stand in God’s sight for distinct living personalities, all of whose acts and words are as clear in His mind as though they still tabernacled in flesh and blood, and walked the earth as strangers and sojourners, servants of the God of heaven, cleaving to His name in the midst of ruin. It is for us to occupy this very position to-day, as though in their place; and, if faithful in it, rest assured, He who forgets not one of them will pass by nothing in our history that He can reward in that day.

When the whole company were assembled together by Ezra’s orders, by “the river that runneth to Ahava,” they abode in tents—the sign of pilgrimage—for three days, the period of full display or testimony: and then all were reviewed before their priestly leader, who soon observed that the sons of Levi were sadly conspicuous by their absence. Not one was found among the pilgrim band. What did it mean? Evidently it was harder for these men whose whole portion must be in God, to rise to the blessedness of such a place, than for those who expected to have an inheritance in their ancient home. The Levites were settled in a large measure of comfort in the land of the stranger. To forsake it all and go forth in simplicity to the place of the Name, meant more to them than to some others.5 But, on the other hand, how much greater the blessing, when one thus puts God to the test and finds Him ever the all-sufficient One anticipating every need, and leading the soul out in a way that others seldom know.

Ezra at once sent a deputation of faithful men to lay before the Levites and the Nethinims, who were of old appointed by David to the service of the Levites, to lay before them the importance of going forth with them, “That they should bring unto us ministers for the house of our God” (vers. 55-17). And thus it was that a number of both classes were, as Ezra so beautifully puts it, “by the good hand of our God upon us,” led to join their company. Among these one is especially mentioned as “a man of understanding.” Valuable indeed in any movement of God’s Spirit are such men; like those of old, who “had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”

The company was now, one might have supposed, ready to go up to the house of God at Jerusalem. But Ezra has other thoughts. He knows the way is long and lonely. Dangers abound. There are perils of robbers and perils of wild beasts. A safe convoy is surely needed, and where shall such be found but in the living God? “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him and delivereth them.” So a fast is proclaimed by the river-side, and all the people are urged to humble themselves before God, to entreat of Him “a prosperous way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance” (ver. 21). What a lovely sight in the eyes of the Lord was that self-judged; fasting company, in the dust before. Him, crying to Him to be their Guide and Deliverer. No ark, borne on the shoulders of anointed priests, was there to lead them now. No pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night was there to guide. But they knew that He who of old had led them through the wilderness changeth not; and they sent up their petition to Him to be indeed their Shepherd, preserving them from every danger and meeting every need, all along their march of faith. It would have been easy to have applied to their royal patron, Artaxerxes, for a convoy, but this would have given the lie to the profession Ezra had made in his presence. It stirs the heart to read his reasons, so artlessly given in verse 22, for turning alone to God. “For I was ashamed,” he says, “to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to keep us against the enemy in the way; because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him; but His wrath is against all them that forsake Him.” This is most blessed. Alas, how 1ittle is the spirit of Ezra entered into in our time-serving age, when almost any means are adopted for carrying on what is called the work of the Lord, and any help is greedily sought, even from the unholy and profane, with no thought of the awful dishonor done to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Money is begged from all sources; patronage desired from the ungodly, if they have but wealth and influence—and this by professed followers of Him who said, “If I were hungry I would not tell thee;” and whose servants in apostolic days “went forth, for His name’s sake taking nothing of the Gentiles.” Ezra’s faith and godliness might well put all such to shame. His stand contrasts with the dreadful lowering of the standard so prevalent throughout Christendom.

Having borne faithful testimony to the king, he and his company turned to God in fasting and prayer, beseeching Him to lead them forth as of old; and, the record adds, “He was entreated of us” (ver. 23). And so will He ever be where there is faith to count upon Him, and holiness to refuse all that would compromise His glory.

Not only did Ezra thus honor God’s name before the powers of the world, but he was equally careful in caring for what belonged to the house of God, the treasure committed to him, “that good deposit” consisting of the gold and silver given by his brethren as an offering unto the Lord’s house, and the vessels entrusted to him by the king. All were carefully weighed and tabulated, and delivered for safe-keeping to twelve of the priests, who were especially separated for this particular trust. To them Ezra gave a solemn charge, reminding us of Paul’s charge to his son in the faith, Timothy, in the first chapter of his second epistle. “Ye are holy unto the Lord,” Ezra says to them, “the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a free-will offering unto the Lord God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the Lord” (vers. 28, 29). These were earnest and serious words, and must have made each of the twelve feel intensely the sacredness of the trust committed to them. So to us has a deposit of holy things been entrusted, even the truth of which God has seen fit to make us stewards. We are to safe-guard this holy treasure all through our journey, until we reach the place of manifestation, when all will be weighed once more in the balances of the sanctuary. Well will it be for us then if we have lost nothing on the way, but have held fast, like the beloved apostle Paul, all that has been committed unto us.

The priests and the Levites duly witnessed and tabulated the amount of gold and silver and the weight of the vessels, and the appointed guardians took all in their charge, after which, the journey was begun.

On the twelfth day of the first month the caravan left the river of Ahava, seven days after Ezra’s first start (chap. 7:9), a week having passed in needful preparation. All along the journey the hand of God was upon them, and Ezra testifies, “He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and of all such as lay in wait by the way” (ver. 31). What indeed had they to fear from the hand of the enemy when under the protecting care of the hand of God. And what has any saint to fear when that same almighty, yet infinitely tender Hand is ever upon him for good. It has well been said that God is all that we take Him for. The great trouble with many of us is we are so straitened in ourselves, and thus we limit the Holy One of Israel. “Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” is the unlimited resource available to faith.

At last Jerusalem was reached, and for three days the pilgrims rested after their long and arduous journey. Then came the day of reckoning, when account was to be made of the treasure conveyed by the twelve appointed priests. The gold and silver and the vessels were all weighed in the house of God by Meremoth, Eleazar, Jozabad and Noadiah, four men, upon the fourth day. The number in each case is significant, for throughout Scripture four speaks of testing. “By number and by weight of every one,” the test is made, and all recorded in the priestly record, and found intact. The twelve had fulfilled their trust in a way that you and I, my reader, will be glad indeed to have done, if the day of reckoning give us as clean a sheet as they obtained.

The accounting rendered in a rightful manner, the newly arrived company now flock about the altar of God as a band of worshipers, with a great number of burnt offerings; and, as at the dedication of the temple, with “twelve he-goats as a sin offering for all Israel.” They take their stand with their brethren as part of a failed people, acknowledging their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, but counting on the covenant-mercy of their faithful God (ver. 35).

It was a scene of great moral beauty, and must have deeply affected the whole company, as once more they were permitted to approach God at the appointed place, and sing the Lord’s song about His altar and in His house. Often had they longed for this hour when “by the rivers of Babylon they sat down and wept when they remembered Zion” (Ps. 137). There they had cried, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” Now they were actually in the place where Jehovah had caused His name to dwell of old, and the sweet savor of a multitude of burnt offerings ascended to His throne to testify to the gladness of their hearts; while the sin offering, burned to ashes, told how fully they recognized the evil of having departed from Him who should ever have been the joy of their souls; the God of their fathers, now fully recognized as their God, despite their feeble condition.

It has been supposed by many, on the authority of Jewish tradition, that the “Songs of degrees” (Ps. 120 to 134) were sung by Ezra and his company at various stages of the way, until at last they stood in the house of the Lord and could lift up their hands in the sanctuary and bless Jehovah. These psalms, read in this connection, are, at least, very suggestive, and lead the soul along the way from the tents of darkness to the house of God most blessedly.

The last verse of our chapter tells us that the king’s commissions were duly delivered to the authorities beyond the river, as a consequence of which they dared no longer hinder; but in accordance with their instructions “they furthered the people and the house of God.” So had the wrath of man been made to praise Him, and the remainder been restrained.

Chapter 9
The Break-Down By Amalgamation

There is perhaps no greater trial a man can be called upon to face, than to take, through grace, a position he has seen from the word of God to be scriptural, and then to be rudely awakened to the realization that the people who were in that position before him, are not what he had hoped to find them. Yea, that they are even less spiritual, less devoted, less zealous for God, than some he has left behind him in systems where quasi-darkness prevailed. Then indeed one needs to be firmly held by truth, or he is likely to be altogether overcome and completely disheartened. Many an unstable soul has, by such a test, been utterly swept away from his moorings. Such often go back in despair to the unscriptural positions they had abandoned, and give out a bad report of the land, thus hindering others from following the light vouchsafed to them. While some, with too much conscience to build again the things they had destroyed, become what one might call spiritual free lances—and sometimes, alas, spiritual Ishmaelites, their hand against every man, and every man’s hand against them; criticizing, fault-finding, restless and unhappy; occupied with evil; lamenting the conditions of the times; bewailing the unfaithfulness of anybody and everybody but themselves; and so falling into a spirit of Pharisaism that is helpful to no one, and a hindrance to all they come in contact with.

Now all this results from occupation with persons instead of with Christ. It is supposed that because people occupy a position of peculiar favor, and have been blessed with special light, they must needs be personally more to be relied on than the generality of Christians, and that the flesh is less likely to act in them than in others. Often one hears of people “coming out to certain brethren,” or “joining” this or that company of saints. All this is bound to result in disaster.

It is to Christ alone we are called to go forth, without the camp, bearing His reproach. He, blessed be God, never disappoints. If the eye be fixed on Him—if the heart be occupied with Him—if He be recognized as the one only Centre—then, let saints be what they may as to their spiritual state, there can be no lasting disappointment, for Christ abides.

If I see it to be according to Scripture to gather with fellow-believers to the name of the Lord Jesus, owning that “there is one body, and one Spirit,” the behaviour of those already so gathered cannot alter the truth for one moment. Rather does it call for exercise of soul on my part that I may be a help to them, stirring them up to fresh devotedness and renewed zeal in self-judgment.

It is far easier to stand aside and point out the low state of the rest—even to withdraw altogether from their company—than to emulate Ezra who, by his personal faithfulness, lifted the whole company to a higher plane. There will be less trouble, less perplexity, less concern, if one simply turns away and leaves the rest to go on as they will; but God is not, thereby glorified nor are failing saints recovered.

The position of gathering to the name of the Lord in simplicity as members of the one body, is not one in which there is no trouble. Far from it. But it is a place where all trouble can be set right and every difficulty met by the word of God alone; and this is what cannot be said of any sect in Christendom. There human ingenuity, man-made regulations, carnal laws and ordinances are relied on to keep things in order and to settle disputes. But those who turn, in faith, from all this to Christ alone as Centre and the Word alone for guide and disciplinary instruction, find that Word all-sufficient if there be but obedience to its principles. Of all this the present and the last chapters furnish us with a most blessed illustration.

The first burst of praise and worship over, for Ezra there came this rude awakening to which I have referred above. One can imagine the awful disappointment, the poignant grief that were his when the sad state of affairs that had developed among the separated Jews was revealed to him. No description can bring it before us more vividly than his own words.

“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 peoples 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. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons; so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the peoples of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass: and when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied” (vers. 1-3).

Devoted and faithful steward of God! How our hearts are moved by his bitter grief when he is thus brought to realize the low condition of the people who are in the only right position. Could one be astonished if he had turned heartsick away from them all, and in lofty seclusion of spirit endeavored to go on alone with God, giving up all hope of corporate testimony?

But this he does not do. In faithfulness to God he cannot forego the position, and he loves the people of the Lord too much to give them up.

One thing is encouraging to begin with. While, alas, “the nobles and princes were chief in this trespass,” yet there were princes who were, clearly, not of the mind of the rest, but “who sought and cried because of the abominations done in their midst.” The very fact that these men sought Ezra out to lay the true condition of affairs before him, was evidence of their desire to help and deliver the rest.

It is pitiable indeed when among those outwardly separated, links are formed and maintained that deny the integrity of that separation; and it is unspeakably sad when the leaders fail in this very thing and thus encourage the simple in departure from God. More than once have we seen people who would not tolerate an ecclesiastical yoke with unbelievers, yet uniting with the world in business, even in marriage, and in kindred ways. This is similar to what we have here in Ezra.

The people were out of Babylon as to their bodies, but the spirit of Babylon possessed them still. This it was led to amalgamation with the uncircumcised nations of the land. The same evil principle frequently works in a directly op- posite way. Often have we seen those who were supposed to have judged the sin of sectarianism and left human systems, yet maintain as sectarian a spirit when gathered out as any could possibly have who contended for the most rigid denominationalism. It is related of Luther that he said in the beginning he had spent much time in denouncing the people of Rome, until he found “every man had a greater pope in his own heart than ever sat in the papal chair.” This is the fruit of legality; while what we have in our chapter is rather an unholy license—a “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness”—an utter misuse of that grace.

Almost heart-broken, Ezra manifested all the signs of deepest distress of spirit, and sat down in bitter astonishment. That such things prevailed in Babylon would not have amazed him. That they could be tolerated among those gathered to the place of the Name, dumbfounded him.

But at once the news of his grief spread among the people with a blessed and soul-cheering result. That all were not in sympathy with the looseness that had come in soon became evident. “Then were assembled unto me,” he tells us, “everyone that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice” (ver. 4). God had said, long before, by Isaiah, “To this man will I look; to him that is humble and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word” (Isa. 66: 2). Such there were still among the remnant, and upon them the Lord could look in blessing. These men and Ezra, acting with God, would be a majority, however few in number. Such men are likely to be regarded by the un-spiritual as troublers and “old fogies;” but where there is real exercise of soul, God can be depended on to show whom He recognizes, in due time.

It was “at the evening sacrifice” that Ezra arose from his heaviness and was uplifted in spirit above the depressing circumstances that had so bowed him with grief. The evening sacrifice speaks of the cross. It was “the continual burnt offering”—Christ the holy One doing the will of God even unto death—“a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savor.” As this blessed odor greets Ezra’s nostrils, he is delivered from his speechless anguish and enabled to pour out his soul in confession and prayer.

And is it not ever thus? As Christ and His cross are before the soul one is raised above occupation with evil and depression of spirit because of failure on the part of one’s brethren.

Falling upon his knees, and spreading out his hands—“holy hands, without wrath and doubting”—before God, he opened his mouth in a petition that is most affecting in its humility, its regard for God’s holiness and truth, and the wonderfully blessed way in which he, personally pure (as Daniel, in his ninth chapter, and Nehemiah’s companions in his), identifies himself with the people in all their failure and sin.

The balance of the chapter is entirely devoted to this prayer; it will repay the closest study and meditation: “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. 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” (vers. 6, 7). In these words, observe, how far back Ezra goes in tracing the present evil to its source. It was the sin that had resulted in the captivity which had never been really judged, and had been the parent sin of all the rest. The low state of the whole nation affected even the returned remnant. And so it is in Christendom. We have sinned since the days of our fathers. First love was left at the very beginning and true recovery there has never been. Who has really felt the sin of the Church in turning from her glorified Head and linking herself with the world? Here and there the Spirit of God produces contrition and some sense of the failure, but who has fully fathomed it? Yet ever and anon God works in revival, drawing a few back in heart to Christ; but declension almost invariably follows. It has been said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” and it is as true in spiritual things as in carnal.

Ezra details before God the work His grace had wrought; only the more to emphasize the insubordination that had misused that grace so sadly. “And now for a little space grace hath been showed 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. For we are [not 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, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (vers. 8, 9). The reference to the “nail” is doubtless a recognition of Isaiah’s prophecy of the “nail in a sure place,” upon which Jehovah’s glory was to hang, which is, in the full sense, Christ Himself (Isa. 22: 21-25). A partial fulfilment had already been given; God had acted in great grace in thus giving a “little reviving,” though they were still bondmen; for they share in the failure of the whole nation. It was no time for fleshly exultation, no time for pride of position; but only for lowliness of spirit and humiliation of soul because of the dark record of evil in which all had their share.

Ezra next recalls the special sin of the remnant, and here again he confesses all as his sin. “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken Thy commandments” (yet he who so speaks had possibly been less than a week among them. What an example for any who would walk with God to-day, and what a rebuke to the Pharisaism that would coldly point out the failure of others, while professing to have no part in it oneself!)—“we have forsaken Thy commandments, which Thou hast 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 peoples of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncle an-ness. Now, therefore, give not your daughters unto their sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth forever; that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever” (vers. 10-12). Thus had God spoken. Alas, how had this word been forgotten by those who had in other respects honored His truth, by returning to the divinely-appointed Centre. Separation would have been their strength. Amalgamation was likely to be but their ruin; unless, indeed, the evil were judged and put away from their midst. And this snare of amalgamation with the ungodly is ever a lurking danger to the children of God. I do not for a moment speak of the coming together of believers, who have been kept apart by dissension and unscriptural judgments, as amalgamation. God forbid! When that which is of the same nature flows together, it is not amalgamation but unity. Things different in character are amalgamated to form a union which can never be a true unity. It is against such amalgamation we are warned in 2 Cor. 6: “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 a believer with an unbeliever? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said: I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God and they shall be My people” (vers. 14-16). In the beginning “God divided the light from the darkness,” and it has been the business of the devil ever since to seek to link the twain together.

Feeling in his soul the seriousness of so unholy a union, Ezra goes on to own God’s justice in visiting them with His displeasure. “And after all that 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, should we again break Thy commandments, and join in affinity with the peoples of these abominations, wouldst not Thou be angry with us till Thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?” (vers. 13, 14). Light obeyed, results in greater light; but “if the light that is in thee become darkness how great is that darkness.” God must visit those in chastisement who trifle with His truth. The more truth, the greater the responsibility, and the more severe the displeasure of the Lord if it be set at naught or spurned.

Feeling all this deeply, Ezra can only conclude with a fuller expression of confession than ever, and a throwing himself and the people, in all their wretched condition, right into the arms of the God they have sinned against. “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” (ver. 15). And so he concludes his prayer and leaves the case in the hands of God, who, though Ezra knew it not, had even then begun to work, as the concluding chapter gives abundant witness.

How much greater might be the blessing in many a similar time of distress, were there more of such dealing with God and less of appeal to man; more humiliation and confession and less publishing the sorrows abroad; more spreading out the hands unto the Lord and less pamphleteering. Oh for grace to hearten unto the lesson here given for our learning!

Chapter 10
Humiliation and Lifting Up

Mightily wrought the Spirit of God in the hearts and consciences of the guilty people, while Ezra was praying and speaking of their fallen condition to the Lord. So much so, that the work of recovery was already well underway, for when he “had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore” (ver. 1). These were gracious tears indeed, and told of stirrings of soul that could only lead to blessing. How different might the after-history of these people have been had Ezra turned coldly away from them in disgust or despair, and left them to go on in their low estate. Such conduct could not have helped, and might only have provoked the flesh in them; but the sight of this newly-arrived man of God on his face in agony of spirit over their carelessness and unscriptural ways, brought them to their senses, giving them to realize, perhaps for the first time, something of the gravity of their sin.

Shechaniah, one of the sons of Elam, became the mouthpiece of the now repentant wrong- doers, confessing unreservedly the failure, and, in a manner beautiful in its season, seeking to comfort the heart of Ezra. “We have trespassed against our God,” is his frank acknowledgment, “and have taken strange wives of the people of the land.” This was in direct violation of the prohibition in the law of Moses. They had not consulted in this grave matter “that which was written;” hence a grievous error had been committed which now bore sorrowful fruit indeed; for there must be many a heartbreak ere matters were put right; and, in fact, against the poor ignorant heathen women, wrong had been done that could never be righted on earth. But Shechaniah dares to count on God’s mercy and adds: “Yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing” (ver. 2). But this hope of future blessing is based on one condition only, and that, complete judgment of the evil manifested in putting away all the strange wives. He calls on all who have sinned to enter into covenant with God to be obedient in this matter, and bids Ezra be of good courage and act as a judge in each case that shall arise (vers. 3, 4). The latter exacted an immediate pledge of the chief priests, the Levites and all Israel, that they would do as Shechaniah had said; and hard as it must have been for many of them, they sware to be obedient.

Refusing all physical refreshment because of the travail of his soul, “Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib,” there to mourn in secret over the sin that now made such drastic and heart-rending action necessary if the people would be right with God (ver. 6).

Word was immediately sent to all the children of the captivity that they should gather together at Jerusalem within three days; otherwise, any refusing so to do would be cut off, or “separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away,” and all his substance forfeited (ver. 8). To refuse now to obey the Word would show a hardness of conscience that could not be tolerated and a wilfulness of spirit that proved the culprit altogether unfit to go on with his brethren.

At the appointed time all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together to Jerusalem. It was the twentieth day of the ninth month, in the rainy season, and “all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter and for the great rain” (ver. 9). A dismal company surely, but a determined one, ready to carry out the word of the Lord at all costs.

Faithfully Ezra the priest placed their sin before them, abating nothing of their guilt, and commanding them how to act if truly repentant. They had transgressed. There had been a direct violation of God’s revealed will, in taking strange wives to add to the already heavy load of Israel’s trespass. He, therefore, called on them to “make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do His pleasure: and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the strange wives” (vers. 10, 11).

The wrenchings of heart this would occasion can be better imagined than described, but firmly the whole congregation answered, “As thou hast said, so must we do” (ver. 12). There was no caviling, no trying to avoid the result of their unequal yokes, but a whole-hearted determination to obey the word of God at all costs. Had conscience only been active a few years before, what pangs of anguish might now have been avoided! Thus it ever is, when men attempt to play fast and loose with the will of the Lord.

But all must be done in an orderly and lawful way, so they asked for time to arrange every thing as humanely as possible. “But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without, neither is this a work of one day, or two; for we are many that have transgressed in this thing. Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let all them that have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us” (vers. 13, 14). This was no mere carnal expedient to gain time, but expressed the earnest desire of the people that, in the sad puttings-away that must ensue, all things should be done decently and in order. Doubtless there also entered into it the wish to avoid any wrong being done to any lawful wife who was really of the seed of Israel.

Chief priests and Levites assisted Ezra in the matter, and in the space of three months the iniquity had been dealt with throughout the land, all the heathen women and their offspring being set aside (vers. 15-17). Heart-rending must some of the experiences have been; but all were the fruit of departure from God and acting in self-will.

The chapter closes with a third list of names—this time of most solemn import. It is the record of those who “had taken strange wives; and some of them had wives by whom they had children” (ver. 44). God, who before had noted the faithfulness of many of these very men in coming up from Babylon, now took cognizance of the failure of each one just as particularly. For this they must suffer loss at the day of Christ.

On the part of those so near to God as the priests, this sin was especially obnoxious, and we are therefore definitely informed that “they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass” (ver. 19). Thus the breach was made up, and they were restored to their forfeited privileges.

With this record the book of Ezra ends. He had been used of God to bring His separated people to a realization of the way they had failed in regard to maintaining the trust committed to them; self-judgment had resulted, and now the way was open for happy fellowship and helpful ministry. In using the word fellowship in this instance, I am not forgetful of the fact that it is a word that belongs entirely to the New Testament. I use it here rather as ideal and expressive of what was typified than that the thing itself was then truly known and enjoyed.

Fellowship is the result of the Holy Spirit’s descent to earth and His indwelling of all believers. He thus brings us into the fellowship of God’s Son. Where separation from evil is maintained and saints hold the Head, there is communion one with another in the Spirit’s power. This is characteristic of the present dispensation of the mystery, and is an advance on anything known in Old Testament times.

Where Christians do not thus go on with God, walking in the Spirit, there may be a certain kind of fairly agreeable, and even enjoyable companionship, but genuine fellowship will be unknown.

With this remark we close, for the present, the instructive and searching- book of Ezra. For further information of an equally important character as to the returned remnant and their priestly minister, we must turn to the following book in our Bibles, written by another equally devoted servant, though a man of more soldierlike character, Nehemiah; while in the book of Esther we find recorded God’s care over those who remained in Babylon when they might have gone to Jerusalem, and with whom He does not openly connect His name.

“Now unto Him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever, Amen!” (Jude 24, 25—1911 Version).

4 I quote by memory from J. N. D. [Failure in what is of God calls for suited ministry—for exhortation and correction unto righteousness. But false principles and false position leave no divine basis for recovery. The false principles or position of necessity must be abandoned.]—Ed.

5 Similar tests occur now-a-days. I know a clergyman who, years ago, was convinced of the unscripturalness of his position; but, opposed by his family when contemplating “going forth, for His name’s sake, outside the camp,”said: “For my children’s sake I will remain where I am, but will preach the truth as far as I can.’’ He lived to see his son a convicted felon outlawed by the State; his daughter, an actress on the world’s unholy stage; and he himself made practical shipwreck of the faith.

Not in vain has God said, “Them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed;”and again, “The Lord is with you while ye be with Him.”