Ezra, like Barnabas when he came to Jerusalem and saw the grace of God to his brethren there, no doubt was glad, and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord, Acts 11:23. He saw nothing amiss (many corruptions lurk out of the view of the most vigilant rulers); but here is a damp upon his joys: information is brought him that many of the people, yea, and some of the rulers, had married wives out of heathen families, and joined themselves in affinity with strangers. Observe,
I. What the sin was that they were guilty of: it was mingling with the people of those lands (Ezra 9:2), associating with them both in trade and in conversation, making themselves familiar with them, and, to complete the affinity, taking their daughters in marriages to their sons. We are willing to hope that they did not worship their gods, but that their captivity had cured them of their idolatry: it is said indeed that they did according to their abominations; but that (says bishop Patrick) signifies here only the imitation of the heathen in promiscuous marriages with any nation whatsoever, which by degrees would lead them to idolatry. Herein, 1. They disobeyed the express command of God, which forbade all intimacy with the heathen, and particularly in matrimonial contracts, Deut. 7:3. 2. They profaned the crown of their peculiarity, and set themselves upon a level with those above whom God had by singular marks of his favour, of late as well as formerly, dignified them. 3. They distrusted the power of God to protect and advance them, and were led by carnal policy, hoping to strengthen themselves and make an interest among their neighbours by these alliances. A practical disbelief of God’s all-sufficiency is at the bottom of all the sorry shifts we make to help ourselves. 4. They exposed themselves, and much more their children, to the peril of idolatry, the very sin, and introduced by this very way, that had cone been the ruin of their church and nation.
II. Who were the persons that were guilty of this sin, not only some of the unthinking people of Israel, that knew no better, but many of the priests and Levites, whose office it was to teach the law, and this law among the rest, and in whom, by reason of their elevation above common Israelites, it was a greater crime. It was a diminution to the sons of that tribe to match into any other tribe, and they seldom did except into the royal tribe; but for them to match with heathen, with Canaanites, and Hittites, and I know not whom, was such a disparagement as, if they had had any sense, though not of duty, yet of honour, one would think, they would never have been guilty of. Yet this was not the worst: The hand of the princes and rulers, who by their power should have prevented or reformed this high misdemeanour, was chief in this trespass. If princes be in a trespass, they will be charged as chief in it, because of the influence their examples will have upon others. Many will follow their pernicious ways. But miserable is the case of that people whose leaders debauch them and cause them to err.
III. The information that was given of this to Ezra. It was given by the persons that were most proper to complain, the princes, those of them that had kept their integrity and with it their dignity; they could not have accused others if they themselves had not been free from blame. It was given to the person who had power to mend the matter, who, as a ready scribe in the law of God, could argue with them, and, as king’s commissioner, could awe them. It is probable that these princes had often endeavoured to redress this grievance and could not; but now they applied to Ezra, hoping that his wisdom, authority, and interest, would prevail to do it. Those that cannot of themselves reform public abuses may yet do good service by giving information to those that can.
IV. The impression this made upon Ezra (Ezra 9:3): He rent his clothes, plucked off his hair, and sat down astonished. Thus he expressed the deep sense he had, 1. Of the dishonour hereby done to God. It grieved him to the heart to think that a people called by his name should so grossly violate his law, should be so little benefited by his correction, and make such bad returns for his favours. 2. Of the mischief the people had hereby done to themselves and the danger they were in of the wrath of God breaking out against them. Note, (1.) The sins of others should be our sorrow, and the injury done by them to God’s honour and the souls of men is what we should lay to heart. (2.) Sorrow for sin must be great sorrow; such Ezra’s was, as for an only son or a first-born. (3.) The scandalous sins of professors are what we have reason to be astonished at. We may stand amazed to see men contradict, disparage, prejudice, ruin, themselves. Strange that men should act so inconsiderately and so inconsistently with themselves! Upright men are astonished at it.
V. The influence which Ezra’s grief for this had upon others. We may suppose that he went up to the house of the Lord, there to humble himself, because he had an eye to God in his grief and that was the proper place for deprecating his displeasure. Public notice was soon taken of it, and all the devout serious people that were at hand assembled themselves to him, it should seem of their own accord, for nothing is said of their being sent, to, Ezra 9:4. Note, 1. It is the character of good people that they tremble at God’s word; they stand in awe of the authority of its precepts and the severity and justice of its threatenings, and to those that do so will God look, Isa. 66:2. 2. Those that tremble at the word of God cannot but tremble at the sins of men, by which the law of God is broken and his wrath and curse are incurred. 3. The pious zeal of one against sin may perhaps provoke very many to the like, as the apostle speaks in another case, 2 Cor. 9:2. Many will follow who have not consideration, talent, and courage, enough to lead in a good work. 4. All good people ought to own those that appear and act in the cause of God against vice and profaneness, to stand by them, and do what they can to strengthen their hands.