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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–5
Verses 1–5

We are here told,

I. What good impressions were made upon the people by Ezra’s humiliation and confession of sin. No sooner was it noised in the city that their new governor, in whom they rejoiced, was himself in grief, and to so great a degree, for them and their sin, than presently there assembled to him a very great congregation, to see what the matter was and to mingle their tears with his, Ezra 10:1. Our weeping for other people’s sins may perhaps set those a weeping for them themselves who otherwise would continue senseless and remorseless. See what a happy influence the good examples of great ones may have upon their inferiors. When Ezra, a scribe, a scholar, a man in authority under the king, so deeply lamented the public corruptions, they concluded that they were indeed very grievous, else he would not thus have grieved for them; and this drew tears from every eye: men, women, and children, wept very sore, when he wept thus.

II. What a good motion Shechaniah made upon this occasion. The place was Bochim—a place of weepers; but, for aught that appears, there was a profound silence among them, as among Job’s friends, who spoke not a word to him, because they saw that his grief was very great, till Shechaniah (one of Ezra’s companions from Babylon, Ezra 8:3, 5) stood up, and made a speech addressed to Ezra, in which,

1. He owns the national guilt, sums up all Ezra’s confession in one word, and sets to his seal that it is true: “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives, Ezra 10:2. The matter is too plain to be denied and too bad to be excused.” It does not appear that Shechaniah was himself culpable in this matter (if he had had the beam in his own eye, he could not have seen so clearly to pluck it out of his brother’s eye), but his father was guilty, and several of his father’s house (as appears Ezra 10:26), and therefore he reckons himself among the trespassers; nor does he seek to excuse or palliate the sin, though some of his own relations were guilty of it, but, in the cause of God, says to his father, I have not known him, as Levi, Deut. 33:9. Perhaps the strange wife that his father had married had been an unjust unkind step-mother to him, and had made mischief in the family, and he supposed that others had done the like, which made him the more forward to appear against this corruption; if so, this was not the only time that private resentments have been over ruled by the providence of God to serve the public good.

2. He encourages himself and others to hope that though the matter was bad it might be amended: Yet now there is hope in Israel (where else should there be hope but in Israel? those that are strangers to that commonwealth are said to have no hope, Eph. 2:12) even concerning this thing. The case is sad, but it is not desperate; the disease is threatening, but not incurable. There is hope that the people may be reformed, the guilty reclaimed, a stop put to the spreading of the contagion; and so the judgments which the sin deserves may be prevented and all will be well. Now there is hope; now that the disease is discovered it is half-cured. Now that the alarm is taken the people begin to be sensible of the mischief, and to lament it, a spirit of repentance seems to be poured out upon them, and they are all thus humbling themselves before God for it, now there is hope that God will forgive, and have mercy. The valley of Achor (that is, of trouble) is the door of hope (Hos. 2:15); for the sin that truly troubles us shall not ruin us. There is hope now that Israel has such a prudent, pious, zealous governor as Ezra to manage this affair. Note, (1.) In melancholy times we must see and observe what makes for us, as well as what makes against us. (2.) There may be good hopes through grace, even when there is the sense of great guilt before God. (3.) Where sin is seen and lamented, and good steps are taken towards a reformation, even sinners ought to be encouraged. (4.) Even great saints must thankfully receive seasonable counsel and comfort from those that are much their inferiors, as Ezra from Shechaniah.

3. He advises that a speedy and effectual course should be taken for the divorcing of the strange wives. The case is plain; what has been done amiss must be undone again as far as possible; nothing less than this is true repentance. Let us put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, Ezra 10:3. Ezra, though he knew this was the only way of redressing the grievance, yet perhaps did not think it feasible, and despaired of ever bringing the people to it, which put him into that confusion in which we left him in the foregoing chapter; but Shechaniah, who conversed more with the people than he did, assured him the thing was practicable if they went wisely to work. As to us now, it is certain that sin must be put away, a bill of divorce must be given it, with a resolution never to have any thing more to do with it, though it be dear as the wife of thy bosom, nay, as a right eye or a right hand, otherwise there is no pardon, no peace. What has been unjustly got cannot be justly kept, but must be restored; but, as to the case of being unequally yoked with unbelievers, Shechaniah’s counsel, which he was then so clear in, will not hold now; such marriages, it is certain, are sinful, and ought not to be made, but they are not null. Quod fierinon debuit, factum valet—That which ought not to have been done must, when done, abide. Our rule, under the gospel, is, If a brother has a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away, 1 Cor. 7:12, 13.

4. He puts them in a good method for the effecting of this reformation, and shows them not only that it must be done, but how. (1.) “Let Ezra, and all those that are present in this assembly, agree in a resolution that this must be done (pass a vote immediately to this effect: it will now pass nemine contradicente—unanimously), that it may be said to be done according to the counsel of my lord, the president of the assembly, with the unanimous concurrence of those that tremble at the commandment of our God, which is the description of those that were gathered to him, Ezra 9:4. Declare it to be the sense of all the sober serious people among us, which cannot but have a great sway among Israelites.” (2.) “Let the command of God in this matter, which Ezra recited in his prayer, be laid before the people, and let them see that it is done according to the law; we have that to warrant us, nay, that binds us to what we do; it is not an addition of our own to the divine law, but the necessary execution of it.” (3.) “While we are in a good mind, let us bind ourselves by a solemn vow and covenant that we will do it, lest, when the present impressions are worn off, the thing be left undone. Let us covenant, not only that, if we have strange wives ourselves, we will put them away, but that, if we have not, we will do what we can in our places to oblige others to put away theirs.” (4.) “Let Ezra himself preside in this matter, who is authorized by the king’s commission to enquire whether the law of God be duly observed in Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 7:14), and let us all resolve to stand by him in it (Ezra 10:4): Arise, be of good courage. Weeping, in this case, is good, but reforming is better.” See what God said to Joshua in a like case, Josh. 7:10, 11.

III. What a good resolution they came to upon this good motion, Ezra 10:5. They not only agreed that it should be done, but bound themselves with an oath that they would do according to this word. Fast bind, fast find.