We have here an account of the proceedings upon the resolutions lately taken up concerning the strange wives; no time was lost; they struck when the iron was hot, and soon set the wheels of reformation a-going. 1. Ezra went to the council-chamber where, it is probable, the priests used to meet upon public business; and till he came thither (so bishop Patrick thinks it should be read), till he saw something done, and more likely to be done, for the redress of this grievance, he did neither eat nor drink, but continued mourning. Sorrow for sin should be abiding sorrow; be sure to let it continue till the sin be put away. 2. He sent orders to all the children of the captivity to attend him at Jerusalem within three days (Ezra 10:7, 8); and, being authorized by the king to enforce his orders with penalties annexed (Ezra 7:26), he threatened that whosoever refused to obey the summons should forfeit his estate and be outlawed. The doom of him that would not attend on this religious occasion should be that his substance should, in his stead, be for ever after appropriated to the service of their religion, and he himself, for his contempt, should for ever after be excluded from the honours and privileges of their religion; he should be excommunicated. 3. Within the time limited the generality of the people met at Jerusalem and made their appearance in the street of the house of God, Ezra 10:9. Those that had no zeal for the work they were called to, nay, perhaps had a dislike to it, being themselves delinquents, yet paid such a deference to Ezra’s authority, and were so awed by the penalty, that they durst not stay away. 4. God gave them a token of his displeasure in the great rain that happened at that time (Ezra 10:9, 13), which perhaps kept some away, and was very grievous to those that met in the open street. When they wept the heavens wept too, signifying that, though God was angry with them for their sin, yet he was well pleased with their repentance, and (as it is said, Jdg. 10:16) his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel; it was also an indication of the good fruits of their repentance, for the rain makes the earth fruitful. 5. Ezra gave the charge at this great assize. He told them upon what account he called them together now, that it was because he found that since their return out of captivity they had increased the trespass of Israel by marrying strange wives, had added to their former sins this new transgression, which would certainly be a means of again introducing idolatry, the very sin they had smarted for and which he hoped they had been cured of in their captivity; and he called them together that they might confess their sin to God, and, having done that, might declare themselves ready and willing to do his pleasure, as it should be made known to them (which all those will do that truly repent of what they have done to incur his displeasure), and particularly that they might separate themselves from all idolaters, especially idolatrous wives, Ezra 10:10, 11. On these heads, we may suppose, he enlarged, and probably made such another confession of the sin now as he made Ezra 9:5-15, to which he required them to say Amen. 6. The people submitted not only to Ezra’s jurisdiction in general, but to his inquisition and determination in this matter: “As thou hast said, so must we do, Ezra 10:12. We have sinned in mingling with the heathen, and have thereby been in danger, not only of being corrupted by them, for we are frail, but of being lost among them, for we are few; we are therefore convinced that there is an absolute necessity of our separating from them again.” There is hope concerning people when they are convinced, not only that it is good to part with their sins, but that it is indispensably necessary: we must do it, or we are undone. 7. It was agreed that this affair should be carried on, not in a popular assembly, nor that they should think to go through with it all on a sudden, but that a court of delegates should be appointed to receive complaints and to hear and determine upon them. It could not be done at this time, for it was not put into a method, nor could the people stand out because of the rain. The delinquents were many, and it would require time to discover and examine them. Nice cases would arise, which could not be adjudged without debate and deliberation, Ezra 10:13. “And therefore let the crowd be dismissed, and the rulers stand to receive informations; let them proceed city by city, and let the offenders be convicted before them in the presence of the judges and elders of their own city; and let them be entrusted to see the orders executed. Thus take time and we shall have done the sooner; whereas, if we do it in a hurry, we shall do it by halves, Ezra 10:14. If, in this method, a thorough reformation be made, the fierce wrath of God will be turned from us, which, we are sensible, is ready to break forth against us for this transgression.” Ezra was willing that his zeal should be guided by the people’s prudence, and put the matter into this method; he was not ashamed to own that the advice came from them, any more than he was to comply with it.
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