The Returned Remnant.

Ezra 1.

1894 9 The return of the captives from Babylon, important as it was in itself and in its consequences, was no more than a partial accomplishment of prophecy. Jeremiah's seventy years (Jer. 25:11, Jer. 29:10) were fulfilled, and Daniel's seventy weeks (Dan. 9) thereon had their occasion. Even worse ruin impended, which the latter was given to know and reveal, following the cutting off of Messiah; as indeed the most fruitful and comprehensive of the prophets had already intimated long before (Isa. 49 – 57). The incredulity that left Jehovah, their own living God, for idols rose up against their own Messiah. Man, the Jew, must show himself as evil and rebellious in every way, before he finds mercy triumphing to God's glory in his salvation and blessing, when the promises to Abraham will have their long expected fulfilment on earth, and the secret of the divine purpose, hid in God from ages and generations, and before time began, will be displayed in the glory of Christ head over all things to the church, His body. The partial return was a pledge of that complete mercy in the future which is inseparable from Christ returning in power and glory, when the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Anointed shall come (Rev. 11:15). He will then take His great power and reign. For behold He cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they which pierced Him; and all tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. Yea, Amen (Rev. 1:7).

But that little return of which Ezra gives the inspired account is itself the best refutation of the ignorant dream that Ezekiel's prediction of the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37) then came to pass. For these bones are expressly "the whole house of Israel," whom Jehovah will bring into the land of Israel (Ezek. 37:11-12). Further, to mark the difference more sharply, the prophet was bidden, as the same chapter tells us, to take two sticks, one for Judah and the sons of Israel his companions, the other for Joseph or Ephraim and all the house of his companions. Both of these were to be joined into one stick and become one in Ezekiel's hand: the symbol, as is explained authoritatively of Jehovah making the sons of Israel one nation in their land, and one king king to them all, never more to be two nations or to be divided into two kingdoms, never more to defile themselves with their idols or their detestable things or with any of their transgressions, but to be saved and purified, and to be His people, and He their God, and His servant the Beloved King over them, all having one shepherd, their prince for ever: such the everlasting covenant of Jehovah with them when He sets His sanctuary in their midst for evermore, and the nations know that He, Jehovah, thus hallows Israel for ever.

It was an evil fruit of Gentile conceit (Rom. 11) to deny that these glorious visions pertain exclusively to Israel in a coming day. It was suicidal folly for the church to arrogate what, glorious as it will be for the earthly people, is wholly beneath the portion which sovereign grace gives us with Christ on high, in the day when all things shall be under His headship (and we one with Him), whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens. As far as I am aware, not a single one among the Fathers, Greek, Latin, Syrian, etc., escaped this high-minded unintelligence, some earlier interpreting the O.T. of the glorified saints in the millennium, others later taking it allegorically even now or by-and-by, but none confessing the hopes proper to Israel, none believing that all Israel shall be saved after the fulness of the Gentiles; now being gathered, is come in. No wonder that their error, wise in their own conceits, has sown the wind for the rationalistic whirlwind that blusters so loudly in our day, the root of which is unbelief in God, and faith in man, which sees in the ruin and decadence of Christendom the signs of progress and triumph for fallen man, ignorant of divine judgment till the Lord is revealed from heaven to execute it.

The truth is that one of the most solemn events in O.T. history accompanied the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24), the period of the four Gentile world-powers, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Macedonia, and the Roman empire. Jehovah no longer reigned in Jerusalem, but marked the change by giving over the last king of David's house to Babylon, the head of the image which set out the succession of imperial power, till His kingdom come judicially in the Stone cut without hands, break in pieces all these kingdom, itself never to be destroyed but to stand for ever. The return from Babylon was no return of the Shekinah. Jerusalem was no longer the throne of Jehovah, as it had been; still less as it is to be (Jer. 3:17), when all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem; when t h house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come out of the land of the north to the land He gave for an inheritance to their fathers. Meanwhile since Nebuchadnezzar the government of the world is in the hands of the Gentiles as in Dan. 2, Dan. 8, Zechariah, and the Revelation; and Israel is Lo‑Ammi, Not-My-People. When the Son of man comes in His kingdom, the Gentiles shall be punished for their abuse of the trust committed to them, culminating in their rising up against Him in glory as before in humiliation; and the first or former dominion shall come to the daughter of Zion, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem (Micah 4:8), when she shall arise and thresh, and the once despised Jesus shall be great to the ends of the earth.

Yet the return of the remnant was of deep interest and moment during the power of "the beasts" till under the last Messiah came and put them to this new test, more serious even than the old question of cleaving to Jehovah and refusing all other gods. For indeed He was, and was amply proved to be, Jehovah-Messiah; and their apostacy was yet more guiltily to be shown in despising and crucifying Him. Therefore God in due time gave them up to he shaken and scattered to the winds of heaven by the fourth empire for eighteen long centuries, as for their idolatry they were for seventy years swept away by the first.

The narrative repeats the last two verses of 2 Chron., "And in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Jehovah, the God of Israel (he is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever is left in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the free-will offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem. And the chief fathers of Judah and Benjamin rose up, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up to build the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem. And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, besides all that was offered. And king Cyrus brought forth the vessels of the house of Jehovah, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods; even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine-and-twenty knives, thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second [sort] four hundred and ten, other vessels a thousand. All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. The whole did Sheshbazzar bring up when they of the captivity were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem" (vers. 1-11).

It was the first year of the reign of Cyrus after his overthrow of Babylon. This it was of moment to note, not his previous circumstances. How powerfully Isaiah's prophecy must have struck a mind so thoughtful! Rationalists were not there to insinuate their scepticism. Daniel was there to point out Jeremiah also. It was not policy but Jehovah that stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, as He did that of the chief fathers of the Jews. The conqueror of Babylon proclaimed a jubilee as it were to the captives, but expressly to build Jehovah's house in Jerusalem. Who but an enemy of God's word can doubt that Isa. 44:28, was his "charge" from Jehovah? And his works were according to his words, without attributing more than the action of conscience in presence of facts so stupendous and above human ken. The holy vessels were counted and restored, as far as was fitting, for Jehovah's house in Jerusalem. The ark, the centre, the highest in value, the nearest to the glory, was not there. Alas! the glory itself had withdrawn. But in the day that the salvation of Israel comes out of Zion, the glory will return, no more to leave. When Jehovah turns again the captivity of His people, it will be no feeble remnant: Jacob shall be glad, Israel shall rejoice.

Ezra 2.

1894 18 God numbered His people as His host early in the second year of their leaving Egypt for the wilderness (Num. 1); He numbered them again after the plague in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho: the same tribes, but, not a man the same save Caleb and Joshua.

David numbered the people in the pride of his heart as if they were his, not Jehovah's; and he paid dearly for the wrong in the loss of many thousands of his warriors.

Nevertheless is it not a precious truth that God takes pleasure in letting His people know that they are everyone prized of Him? A sad change had come through Israel's and through Judah's sin, and not least through the sin of David's house; and sin, though it give occasion to His grace, cannot be without man's humiliation; while faith takes account of both. But God waits ever to bless and give the proof and sense of His blessing to His own; as we see even in the numbering of the returned from Babylon.

"And these [are] the sons of the province, that went up out of the captivity of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and that returned unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city; who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah" (vers. 1, 2).

Ah! the humbling fact: "the sons of the province, that went up out of the captivity!" Pride easily forgets and conceals; faith, cleared and cheered by grace, can afford in the darkest day to own the truth that, however Israel may change, Jehovah changes not: therefore are the sons of Jacob not consumed. Well may His own be ashamed of themselves: in Him alone do they glory and of His grace toward them. Yet were they subjected to the Gentile powers as Christ Himself urged on their unruly spirits. His first advent did not alter that; for they were sinful and unbelieving; and deeper purposes were to be accomplished by Messiah's rejection in which Jew and Gentile played their guilty parts. So the first named is not the high priest, but the heir without the throne of David.

After the chiefs come the rest. "The number of the men of the people of Israel: the children of Parosh, two thousand a hundred and seventy and two. The children of Shephatiah, three hundred seventy and two. The children of Arah, seven hundred seventy and five. The children of Pahath-moab, of the children of Jeshua [and] Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve. The children of Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four. The children of Zattu, nine hundred forty and five. The children of Zaccai, seven hundred and threescore. The children of Bani, six hundred forty and five. The children of Bebai, six hundred twenty and three. The children of Azgad, a thousand two hundred twenty and two. The children of Adonikam, six hundred sixty and six. The children of Bigvai, two thousand fifty and six. The children of Adin, four hundred fifty and four. The children of Ater, of Hezekiah, ninety and eight. The children of Bezai, three hundred twenty and three. The children of Jorah, a hundred and twelve. The children of Hashum, two hundred twenty and three. The children of Gibbar, ninety and five. The children of Bethlehem, a hundred twenty and three. The men of Netophah, fifty and six. The men of Anathoth, a hundred twenty and eight. The children of Azmaveth, forty and two. The children of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty and three. The children of Ramah and Geba, six hundred twenty and one. The men of Michmas, a hundred twenty and two. The men of Bethel and Ai, two hundred twenty and three. The children of Nebo, fifty and two. The children of Magbish, a hundred fifty and six. The children of the other Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four. The children of Harim, three hundred and twenty. The children of Lod, Hadid, and One, seven hundred twenty and five. The children of Jericho, three hundred forty and five. The children of Senaah, three thousand and six hundred and thirty" (vers. 3-35).

Thus we see that the remnant are vigilant to stand simple and clear as sons of the covenant. Genealogy according to the flesh in the line of promise was as momentous to them, as to be born of God to the Christian. Never had there been such jealous care necessary; and this where it was most requisite — in the priests, as we shall see. But it was true of the people: none but Israelites can be allowed to build a temple to the God of Israel.

The ruin of the church in no way destroys its divine principles. On the contrary, scripture in view of it insists on greater care in cleaving to the word. Not only must the wicked person be put out, but we must purge ourselves from vessels to dishonour, in order to be meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work. In earlier days when reproach and suffering kept out false professors in general, such decision was not called for; but the apostle enjoined, before he departed, a duty still more clearly and commonly imperative afterwards. For we are bound truly and at all cost to do the will of the Lord, as we are left above all to seek His glory in obedience to His word.

So with the remnant. The Babylonish captivity had completed the confusion which sin had caused long before. But those who feared the Lord were the more careful in a way which was not needed in the days when all had been known and regular. Restoration is habitually difficult; but true grace is subject to scripture, as flesh ever craves what we have not got, despising what we have, and essaying imitations, substitutes, and inventions of its own. These faith utterly refuses, but has to bear the charge of disorder from the very people who are guilty of it.

Next, we have the numbers of the priests, Levites, singers, door-keepers, with the summed up Nethinim and sons of Solomon's servants. "The priests: the children of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred seventy and three. The children of Immer, a thousand fifty and two. The children of Pashhur, a thousand two hundred forty and seven. The children of Harim, a thousand and seventeen. The Levites: the children of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the children of Hodaviah, seventy and four. The singers: the children of Asaph, a hundred twenty and eight. The children of the porters: the children of Shallum, the children of Ater, the children of Talmon, the children of Akkub, the children of Hatita, children of Shobai, in all a hundred thirty and nine. The Nethinim: the children of Ziba, the children of Hasupha, the children of Tabboath; the children of Keros, the children of Siaha, the children of Padon; the children of Lebanah, the children of Hagabah, the children of Akkub; the children of Hagab, the children of Shamlai, the children of Hanan; the children of Giddel, the children of Gahar, the children of Reaiah; the children of Rezin, the children of Nekoda, the children of Gazzam; the children of Uzza, the children of Paseah, the children of Besai; the children of Asnah, the children of Meunim, the children of Nephisim; the children of Bakbuk, the children of Hakupha, the children of Harhur; the children of Bazluth, the children of Mehida, the children of Harsha; the children of Barkos, the children of Sisera, the children of Teznah; the children of Neziah, the children of Hatipha. The children of Solomon's servants: the children of Sotai, the children of Hassophereth, the children of Peruda; the children of Jaalah, the children of Darkon, the children of Giddel; the children of Shephatiah, the children of Hattil, the children of Pochereth-hazzebaim, the children of Ami. All the Nethinim, and the children of Solomon's servants, were three hundred ninety and two" (vers. 36-58).

Observe by the way how many were the priests, and how few the Levites, comparatively. Before the captivity the Levites had shone in comparison. The priests had profited by the late trial and God's intervention. But there is a weighty supplement. "And these were they which went up from Telmelah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer: but they could not show their fathers' houses, and their seed, whether they were of Israel: the children of Delaiah, the children of Tobiah, the children of Nekoda, six hundred fifty and two. And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Hakkoz, the children of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name. These sought their register (among] those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they deemed polluted and put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim" (vers. 59-63).

How striking and instructive! A day of weakness demands care not to exceed our measure. Power only can clear up dead-locks. Some failed to prove their title, and were discredited. One notable case was through alliance with worldly greatness outside. But, whatever the cause, not to show the father's house was fatal! They might really be priests; but if their title could not be found, they were, as polluted, put from the priesthood. So the governor ruled, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim. This, Israel after the flesh has never had since, and least of all when they refused the Lord Jesus. It will not be so always. They shall look unto Him Whom they pierced; and then shall there be pardon and peace, power and blessing.

Next follows a summary, including many counted (64-67). "The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and three-score, besides their menservants and their maid-servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and they had two hundred singing men and singing women. Their horses were seven hundred thirty and six; their mules, two hundred forty and five." For even their beasts are enumerated. How ignorant man is of God! How good for His people who may learn from His word, His interest both in themselves and in all that belongs to them! Be it that their estate is low, His notice is all the more impressive. Is this the manner of man, Lord Jehovah?

The chapter closes, it will be seen, with a record of generous dealing out of humble means, and their general position in the land. "And some of the heads of fathers' [houses] when they came to the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to set it up in its place; they gave after their ability into the treasury of the work threescore and one thousand darics of gold, and five thousand pounds of silver, and one hundred priests' garments. So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinim, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities" (vers. 68-70).

Ezra 3.

1894 34 Our chapter sets before us briefly and in the unmistakable power of the Spirit two pictures of the remnant alike instructive and affecting. They are also characteristic of this book.

"And when the seventh month was come, and the sons of Israel were in their cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar on its base; for fear was upon them because of the people of the countries; and they offered burnt offerings on it unto Jehovah, the morning and evening burnt offerings. And they held the feast of tabernacles as it is written, and [offered] daily burnt offerings by number, according to the ordinance, as the duty of every day required; and afterward the continual burnt offering, and those of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of Jehovah that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a voluntary offering unto Jehovah. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings unto Jehovah. But the foundation of the temple was not [yet] laid. And they gave money to the masons and to the carpenters; and meat and drink and oil to those of Zidon and to those of Tyre, to bring cedar-trees from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia" (vers. 1-7).

The season was singularly appropriate. It was not the first month of the sacred year, in its paschal lamb and feast of unleavened bread the foundation of holy security in presence of judgment and of communion with Christ perfect and exclusive of all corruption. Still less was it the time of the feast of weeks, when the two wave-loaves baken with leaven were brought out fifty days after the wave-sheaf was waved before Jehovah on the morrow after the sabbath, the first day of the Lord's resurrection, the gathering not of Israel but of the church during Israel's rejection, as we know, a kind of first-fruits as He was. Here it was the harvest month, the final one of Jehovah's feasts, but it was only a little witness. The set time was not yet come, whatever the pity upon Zion meanwhile to encourage the waiting remnant. It was the seventh month, and the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Had the God of Israel not been before their eyes, they would not have so gathered. Still less when gathered, would the heads of the priesthood and of the people with their brethren, as their first joint public act, have builded the altar of their God to offer burnt offerings, "as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God." Human prudence would have made haste to erect a wall against their enemies. Faith and reverence led them to build the God of Israel's altar. They could not do all that Moses and Aaron did, or David and Solomon; nor would Jehovah deign under the then circumstances to give the Shechinah, or Urim and Thummim. The full restoration of Israel is still future. But they were free, yea they were bound, to acknowledge Him and His goodness to them after the due manner; and the burnt offering was the constant expression of approach to Him by virtue of an unblemished sacrifice, when all tried by fire rose up acceptably before Him.

They in their utter weakness, "though fear was upon them because of the people of the countries," justly felt that their God had the first claim. They had seen what forgetfulness of Him had brought upon them, what unsparing chastisement of their idolatrous sins and all others, not because they were not but because they were His people. They had experienced His compassion on their low estate when captives, and His fidelity to the prophetic word in bringing back a remnant to the land; and as one purpose of heart gathered them, so their prime object was to worship Him "as it is written in the law of Moses." It was not a new device to meet their anomalous circumstances. They had a vast deal urgent to do in a land of ruin and neglect; and in no place more than Jerusalem. They had individually cleared themselves as Israelites and priests in chap. 2. They rightly judged that their first act in unity was due in adoring sacrificial recognition of Him. O if all had been in accord with this good beginning! His altar was their best stronghold. It was their spontaneous resource by grace; and what a testimony to all the earth! Certainly it was precious to the God of heaven.

Along with this rest for their timid hearts in the God they thus honoured, their jealous submission to His word is as plain in this chapter as in the foregoing, and we may add His own care for it in chap. 1. They had little strength, but they kept His word and did not deny His name. It was the more striking, because the mass of Israel abode far away, scattered among the Gentiles of the east. Godly ones had prayed in their captivity, with windows open toward Jerusalem. But there only did they build an altar, there only offer burnt offerings. Never do we hear of such worship in Babylon, never in Assyria. To us, Christians, the name of Jesus is the centre, the sole worthy centre for the gathered saints; even as the altar here was for the faithful Jew. It was no question what others did or did not: these recovered from captivity, when gathered, owned thus the God of Israel without pretending to do more than they could. It was godly order, and simple obedience, because it was living faith, and not mere sentiment. Does not this become any faithful now?

But blessed as this was, they did not rest there as if it were all. "They held the feast of tabernacles as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the ordinances, as the duty of every day required; and afterward the continual burnt offering, and those of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of Jehovah that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a voluntary offering unto Jehovah. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer offerings unto Jehovah. But the foundation of the temple of Jehovah was not [yet] laid. And they gave money to the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, to those of Zidon, and to those of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia." Thus ceasing to do evil, they learned to do well, and prepared to follow the Lord fully.

"And in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem; and they appointed the Levites from twenty years old and upward, to oversee the work of the house of Jehovah. And Jeshua stood up, his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah [Hodaviah] as one, to oversee the workmen in the house of God; [also] the sons of Henadad, their sons and their brethren, the Levites. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Jehovah, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Jehovah according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively in praise and thanksgiving unto Jehovah: For he is good, for his mercy [is] for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout in praising Jehovah, because the foundation of the house of Jehovah was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief fathers, the aged who had seen the first house, [when] the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy. And the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off" (vers. 8-13).

This laying the foundation of the temple was a decided step in advance. It was good to build and use the altar without delay in faith; it was better to lay the foundation than to content themselves with that informal but acceptable and right beginning. No doubt circumstances were anomalous. The Persian had civil authority over them; and the people were for the most part among the Gentiles; and a new difficulty arose from imported Gentiles who imitated Jewish forms in the land. Yet faith is not to be turned aside from carrying out the truth, but humbly, not pretentiously, and never forgetting that the anomaly was due solely to Israel's sin and God's dealing with it. Hence, even in that hour of loudly expressed joy over the foundation laid, the old men wept; they felt more the ruin and its moral causes. God saw and cherished the tears. Men were more alive to the joy which greeted the auspicious act of that day. Both bore witness that Jehovah is good, and His mercy is for ever, whatever be the failure of His people and His righteous notice of it. As it has been truly said, the Lord slighted neither; and each, according to their measure, did what they did to Him. Compare Rom. 14. But in truth zeal in going forward energetically, however right, lacks the due spiritual sense which estimates His glory and the state of His people, if there be not the constant and humiliating sense that He has been dishonoured notwithstanding loving-kindness without end, and that He has justly stripped us of our ornaments. Do we feel it now?

Ezra 4.

1894 50 When grace interposes to bless God's people in any real way, after just chastisement of sin and even universal departure, faith surely appreciates His mercy but ought not to forget the wrong done His name and the ruin of His people as a whole. True and holy intelligence, as it ever looks on Christ and the glory of God in His own, cannot rest in partial blessing, and feels just humiliation, while the mass of His people are scattered and the gathered are short of what His majesty justly calls for. Self-satisfaction, even where most is enjoyed; is unworthy of Him. How deeply the Lord felt this! "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you"? This lack of sense of ruin, and feebleness in applying the light of glory to judge self and the present even at its best, we have to feel, and to seek the moral mind of the Lord; and this was the great want of old. Nor did the fruit fail to appear.

But there were difficulties from without also in those that aped the ways of God's people, and claimed their relationship without reality.

"And the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the sons of the captivity were building a temple to Jehovah the God of Israel; and they came to Zerubbabel and to the chief fathers, and said to them, Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as ye; and we have sacrificed to him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assyria who brought us up hither. But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the chief fathers of Israel said to them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house to our God; but we alone will build to Jehovah the God of Israel, as king Cyrus, the king of Persia, hath commanded us. And the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius [Darjavesh] king of Persia.

"And in the reign of Ahasuerus [Ahashverosh] in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

"And in the reign of Artaxerxes [Artahshashta], wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his companions, to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in Aramaic and interpreted in Aramaic.

"Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort: Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions, the Dinaites, the Apharsachites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Shusanchites, the Dehaites, the Elamites, and the rest of the peoples whom the great and noble Osnappar brought over and set in the city of Samaria and the rest [of the land] beyond* the river, and so forth. This [is] the copy of the letter that they sent unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men beyond the river, and so forth. Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee are come to us unto Jerusalem; they are building the rebellious and the bad city, and have finished the walls, and repaired the foundations. Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and in the end will endamage the kings. Now because we eat the salt of the palace, and it is not meet for us to see the king's dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king; that search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city [is] a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city laid waste. We certify the king that, if this city be builded, and the walls finished, by this means thou shalt have no portion beyond the river. [Then] sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and [to] the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and in the rest of the country beyond the river, Peace, and so forth. The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me. And I decreed, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all [the country] beyond the river; and tribute, custom, and toll, was paid unto them. Make ye now a decree to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until a decree shall be made by me. And take heed that ye be not slack herein: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings? Then when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. Then ceased the work of the house of God which [is] at Jerusalem; and it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia" (vers. 1-24).

{* An Israelite would have said on this side.}

The opening words of the Holy Spirit reveal the snare. Whatever the specious advances of the people of the land, they were not God's people but adversaries of Judah and Benjamin. Their movement was of the enemy, and this Zerubbabel and the other chiefs at once perceived and refused. It was no question of friendly feeling, or of catholic sentiment, but of God and His will. It may have been politic to plead the command of Cyrus the Persian; but God's people are strongest when in their weakness they stand solely on the word of God, however glad to know that Cyrus knew and owned the charge of the God of heaven to build Him a house in Jerusalem. They drew their motive from Himself, Who has all hearts in His keeping, moving one to forward His will and letting others oppose it for the trial of faith in His people.

And the weakness of the leaders showed itself still more in the people, who were troubled, or terrified from building for many a day. Yet the enemy could only delay, not frustrate, their purpose, which was of God. But the effort went on from the days of Cyrus till Darius Hystaspis resigned. Verses 6, 7, speak accordingly but in brief of the accusation in the reign of Cyrus' son and successor Cambyses. Verses 7-23 detail the more successful device in the days of the Pseudo-Smerdis, the Magian usurper, who personated the true Smerdis, Cyrus' younger son whom Cambyses had got despatched. It was really an effort of the Medes to recover the ascendancy in the kingdom which the Persians had enjoyed since Cyrus. After little more than seven months the false Smerdis or Artaxerxes of our chapter was assassinated, the Magians in general were massacred, and Darius Hystaspis, one of the highest of the Persian nobles, obtained the kingdom. This may serve to explain why the impostor, ignorant of the policy of Cyrus, lent so ready an ear against it; and why under God he who was in accord with the great king enquired gravely into the truth and adhered to the measures which honoured the God and people of Israel.

In their prime duty of separateness to God as His people the chiefs were firm. It was in vain for these heathen to seek fellowship. "For they feared Jehovah, and served their own gods after the manner of the nations whence they had been carried away." With professed fear of Jehovah "they served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day" (2 Kings 17:33, 45). Impossible that the true God could consent to a partnership with false objects of worship, behind which were demons; and never would Judah and Benjamin, even though ever so feeble a remnant, abandon their special honour as His chosen, till His love and glory were nothing in their eyes. People ignorant or incredulous may brand faith in His word and the bond between Him and His own as narrow and presumptuous and uncharitable; but those that value the truth justly feel that relationship with Him is necessarily exclusive. It may be of fleshly descent, as of old; or of the Spirit in honour of Christ as now; but it must and ought to shut out all whom God does not own as His according to His goodness revealed then or now. Not that God did not of old show His mercy to strangers; and now more than ever in the gospel He sends His glad tidings to every creature under heaven. But He never did and never will consent to merge in one those who are His and those who are not; and of all strangers none so offensive in His eyes as those who professing that they know Rim serve the enemy. The great test now is to confess Jesus. This is to bring the doctrine of Christ come in flesh. Only such have truth, life, or holiness. To abide in the doctrine of Christ is to have both the Father and the Son: more or better none can have. Those who bring not that doctrine do not guard themselves from idols nor will such as know the truth accredit but avoid them. The principle is the same then and now: only the character differs, because the Son is come, and God has given us His Spirit as could not be before redemption.

Whether the world oppose, or the world sanction, this is a question of providential circumstances: the believer is bound to obey God; if the world interpose or persecute, he has to suffer. But he is on the earth to do God's will, and if hindered by force can await His time. God's word is the expression of His will; as the Holy Spirit is sent forth from heaven to give it effect in the hearts of His children. Nor are the gifts of the Lord (Eph. 4:1) withheld, save those which laid the foundation, but given in His faithful love, evangelists, pastors and teachers etc., for the perfecting of the saints, unto ministerial work, unto edifying or building up the body of Christ. There is gracious power assured, and no excuse for disobedience. For God is faithful, Who suffers not His children to be tempted above what they are able.

But there was timidity then through want of faith. The Jews were terrified, and flagged long before their adversaries succeeded in getting the usurper's prohibition. Compare Hag. 1:1-4. They had soon the sanction of the civil power revoked; and their adversaries had only ill-will till a king arose who knew not Isaiah's prophecy. Yet were they deterred from the work while they themselves forgot or slighted the word of Jehovah. Nor was it the world's smile or authority which renewed their courage and recalled them to His work. But for explaining this we await the chapter that follows.

Ezra 5.

1894 66 But God is faithful, if His people too often are not; and He works in His people to recover them by His word. Depressed by their circumstances and disheartened by their adversaries, they had relaxed the work before a decree was gained to stop them. But God in the resources of His grace raised up servants of His even at that time of weakness to recall them to His will. And hearts were not lacking among the chiefs to respond.

"Now the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews that [were] in Judah and Jerusalem — in the name of the God of Israel to them, Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which [is] at Jerusalem; and with them [were] the prophets of God, helping them. At the same time came to them Tattenai, the governor beyond the river, and Shethar-hozenai, and their companions; and said thus unto them, Who gave you a decree to build this house, and to finish this wall? Then spake we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building? But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, and they did not make them cease, till the matter should come to Darius, and then answer should he returned by letter concerning it.

"The copy of the letter that Tattenai, the governor beyond the river, and Shethar-bozenai, and his companions the Apharsachites, which [were] beyond the river, sent unto Darius the king: they sent a letter unto him, wherein was written thus; Unto Darius the king, all peace. Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judah, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth on with diligence and prospereth in their hands. Then asked we those elders, [and] said unto them thus, Who gave you a decree to build this house, and to finish this wall? We asked them their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that [were] at the head of them. And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and finished. But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon. But in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree to build this house of God. And the gold and silver vessels also of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that [was] in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one whose name [was] Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; and he said unto him, Take these vessels, go, put them in the temple that [is] in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in it, place. Then came the same Sheshbazzar, [and] laid the foundations of the house of God which [is] in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and it is not completed. Now therefore, if it [seem] good to the king, let then be search made in the king's treasure house, which [is] there at Babylon, whether it be, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter (vers. 1-17)."

Thus were God's people delivered from their fears through the intervention of grace working by the word. This was what recalled them to His work, and not the decree of the Persian power. It was not that they acted against authority; for they had this originally from Cyrus according to the prophecy before he was born or Judah carried to Babylon. But they were frightened by their enemies and turned to their own affairs, neglecting God's house; and this encouraged the effort to hinder them by the world's authority, which was put in action by an impostor or at least usurper, ignorant of or indifferent to the policy of him who founded the empire. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah roused them from their sloth and their fears, and the work was resumed in the face of opposition and threats. But all was in vain. "The eye of their God was upon the elders; and they did not make them cease." We shall see in the next chapter the issue of the appeal to Darius. The important thing here to note is that faith took away their anxiety, and the work went on. Thus God was honoured and His people blessed.

It was no longer Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe. Their companions had now for leaders Tattenai the governor locally, and Shethar-bozenai. Nor was their letter incorrect as to the diligence with which the Jews were now prosecuting the work of God's house; any more than their report of the answer from the Jews. And touching it is to hear, even from their adversaries, that the Jews very simply took their stand on the fact that they were servants of the God of heaven and earth, and building His house long ago built by a great king of Israel; that they owned the sins of their fathers which drew out from God its destruction and their captivity; and that the conqueror of Babylon, Cyrus the king, the loftiest figure for Persian eves. made a decree in the first year of his reign to build this house of God, and delivered the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar took away, to Sheshbazzar the governor of the Jews for replacing in the house to be rebuilt.

What is also striking to notice is that the new adversaries ask for a search in the archives, which resulted, as we shall see, in their refutation and the confirmation of God's people in that faith which was the fruit of the testimony of His servants. Why should His people be disquieted because of adversaries? It is for themselves they have most to fear, lest unbelief should open the door to the great foe, and unjudged sloth, self-seeking, pride, jealousy, dishonour Him Whose name they bear. "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the residue of wrath shalt Thou restrain."

Ezra 6.

1894 82 Faith thus won the blessing, as unbelief had encouraged the adversaries and stopped for a while the work for God. Time prophets were used to recall the people to God, His word, and His work, before the world-power interfered on their behalf.

"Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon. And there was found at Achmetha [Ecbatana] in the fortress that is in the province of Media, a roll, and therein was thus written for a record: In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king made a decree [concerning] the house of God at Jerusalem. Let the house be built for a place where they offer sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits; and the breadth thereof threescore cubits; with three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber. And let the expenses be given out of the king's house: and also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to its place: and thou shalt put them in the house of God. Now therefore, Tattenai, governor beyond the river, Shethar-bozenai and your companions of the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence; 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 its place. Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to these elders of the Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, expenses be given with all diligence unto these men, that they be not hindered. And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the word of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savour unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons. Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let a beam be pulled out from his house, and let him be lifted up and fastened thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this: and the God that hath caused his name to dwell there overthrow all kings and peoples, that shall put forth their hand to alter [the same], to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with all diligence.

"Then Tattenai, the governor beyond the river, Shethar-bozenai, and their companions, because that Darius the king had sent, did accordingly with all diligence. And the elders of the Jews builded and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. And the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy. And they offered at the dedication of this house of God a hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. And they set the priests in their courses, and the Levites in their divisions, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.

"And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth [day] of the first month. For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure: and they killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek Jehovah the God of Israel, did eat, and kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for Jehovah had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel" (vers. 1-22).

Thus the authority of the great king was brought on the scene only to confirm God's word and servants, and to compel the homage and help of those who had sought to hinder. What an encouragement to look above the hills to Him that sits in the heavens! And, as we read, the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah. The commandment of the God of Israel had its just and primary place; and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, came in subordinately. The people were spared further chastening. The work was finished in Darius' sixth year. The dedication was kept with joy, with due recognition not only of the captives returned but of "all Israel," "according to the number of the tribes of Israel." Care was taken of order also. For they set the priests in their courses, and the Levites in their classes for the service of God in Jerusalem, "as it is written in the book of Moses." A time of ruin in no way warrants relaxation as to scripture; it calls for special heed in those who care for God's house. Their resources were exceedingly diminished; but they were obedient to the word.

And the Holy Spirit draws attention to their celebration of the passover in its season (vers. 19-22). Here the zealous care of the priests and the Levites is remarkable: they had purified themselves as one man, and were all pure. This had not been the case even during Hezekiah's earnest reformation, when the provision of the second month for the wilderness was requisite for the land, and both priests and Levites hallowed themselves with many in the congregation, who could not keep it in the first month. Now the due order was observed. Nor was it only by the captives who came from Babylon. Grace welcomed all such as had separated themselves to them from the filthiness of the nations of the land to seek Jehovah the God of Israel. The strangers are no less welcome than the remnant; and they kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy. It is of all moment to stand on the ground of God's people; not pretending to be Israel, when in truth they were a feeble few; not in the pride that forgets sin and ruin, but in the faith that cleaves to that ground which grace gives and keeps, refusing every substitute for it. It was that part of God's people which was visible.

Neither the glory of Jehovah appeared now, nor fire from before Him consumed the offerings: both had been unsuited to a day of ruin and small things. Nor would true faith look for either. No greater privilege, no higher honour, as things are: the pretension to more is only flesh, which opens the door to Satan. But faith is entitled to gladness of heart, whatever the sorrow over God's broken and scattered people. So Jehovah made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. Let the path be narrow, and the heart large. The broad way is fatal, not only to souls, but to God's glory.

Ezra 7.

1894 99 More than sixty years elapsed: a space more than adequate for the decline from the powerful impulse given to faith by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, when God, Who cannot fail, sent suited help through a pious priest till then residing in Babylon, whose very name is hence derived — Ezra. Indeed it would seem that his commission was no more permanent than Nehemiah's, who was his contemporary and appeared a few years later for awhile in Jerusalem, even then but "the place of my father's sepulchres," as he pathetically described it to the great king. How little Josephus can be relied on appears from his statement that Ezra died old and was buried magnificently in Jerusalem (Ant. xi. v. §. 65), and before Nehemiah governed, in the face of the Tirshatha's express words.

"Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest: this Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which Jehovah, the God of Israel, had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of Jehovah his God upon him. And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinim, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king. And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For upon the first of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. For Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of Jehovah, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statute and judgment.

"Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even the scribe of the words of the commandments of Jehovah, and of his statutes to Israel. Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heavens, perfect and so forth. I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and their priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own free will to go to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king and his seven counsellors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thy hand; and to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, and all the silver and gold that thou shalt find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem; therefore thou shalt with all diligence buy with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meal offerings and their drink offerings, and shalt offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. And whatsoever shall seem good to thee and thy brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do ye after the will of your God. And the vessels that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure house. And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heavens, shall require of you, it be done with all diligence, 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]. Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heavens, let it be done exactly for the house of the God of heaven; for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, the singers, porters, Nethinim, or servants of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll, upon them. And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God that is in thy hand, appoint magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye him that knoweth [them] not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed upon him with all diligence, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.

"Blessed [be] Jehovah, the God of our fathers, who hath put [such a thing] as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem; and hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was strengthened according to the hand of Jehovah my God upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me" (vers. 1-28).

The people were careless, forgetful, and disobedient. They felt neither for God's glory nor for their relationship to Him. But God never ceases to be God, if His people were Lo-ammi; and faith alone reaps the blessing of His grace and issues in fidelity. They were not only few and feeble, but unfaithful; and Ezra had directed his heart to seek Jehovah's law, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statute and ordinance. But this he undertakes under the authority of the Persian power that had succeeded Babylon, set supreme by the God of the heavens: a strange fact for Israel, whose apostasy from Jehovah had brought it about. In such circumstances the evil heart of unbelief, which wrought the ruin, is apt to become hard, indifferent, or despairing. Faith cleaves the more to the living God, feeling and owning the iniquity of His people, the real source of the mischief. But now that their apostasy had laid them at the feet of the Gentile world-power, God wrought in His compassion, first by prophets and His own word, now by succour according to the king's word from Babylon. And the faithful priest who enjoyed the king's confidence comes up to Jerusalem to recall the remnant to the neglected and violated law of Jehovah.

Liberty is given to all of Israel, and of their priests and the Levites, in the Persian realm, who were disposed, to go with Ezra to Jerusalem (ver. 13). Nor was he sent empty-handed to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem: the king and his seven counsellors freely offered to the God of Israel, as he was to inquire "according to the law of his God which was in his hand": a remarkable testimony from such a source (vers. 14, 15). His sacrifices and offerings were represented where He set His name, but a free discretionary power for what seemed good to Ezra and his brethren to do "according to the will of their God" (vers. 16-18). Royal liberality, not without a certain fear of God, is owned with exemption in such things from tribute in vers. 19-24: as Ezra is empowered, "after the wisdom of thy God that is in thy hand," to appoint magistrates and judges who might judge all the people, "all such as know the laws of thy God," and to teach him that knew them not; and this under grave sanctions of death, banishment, confiscation, or imprisonment (vers. 25, 26). All this drew forth Ezra's thanksgiving to Jehovah, the God of his fathers, as he expresses in vers. 27, 28. A soul less pious and submissive to God's will in the humiliation of Israel would have chafed. We, Christians, are not an earthly people like Israel and have no such wants as they, though needing to humble ourselves under God's mighty hand for a departure from His will yet more serious.

Ezra 8.

1894 114 As it was the day of the people's humiliation, not power but pity and devotedness in obedience characterised Ezra. God will have reality in those He honours; false pretensions He hates. Communion with His mind, suitable to His people's state, is what we see here; and this blessed to not a few from a small and unpretentious beginning. Ezra in Babylon had not the living prophets which had cheered the early workers in Jerusalem; but his heart was set on the written word, and the hand of Jehovah did not fail in gracious providence, either for God and His worship, or on his journey to Jerusalem. Details now follow.

"Now these are the heads of their father's houses, and this is the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king. Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershon: of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel: of the sons of David, Hattush. Of the sons of Shecaniah; of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah: and with him were reckoned by genealogy of the males a hundred and fifty. Of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah; and with him two hundred males. Of the sons of Shecaniah, the son of Jahaziel; and with him three hundred males. And of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan; and with him fifty males. And of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah; and with him seventy males. And of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael; and with him fourscore males. Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel; and with him two hundred and eighteen males. And of the sons of Shelomith, the son of Josiphiah; and with him a hundred and threescore males. And of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai; and with him twenty and eight males. And of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan; and with him a hundred and ten males. And of the sons of Adonikam, that were the last; and these are their names, Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them threescore males. And of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud; and with them seventy males" (vers. 1-14).

The earlier return included several priests with their numerous houses (Ezra 2:36-39); now but two volunteered without mention of their houses. At first no Levites offered themselves to Ezra; but this drew out his zeal, and not without fruit. Of the people some fresh families now returned; of other families a fresh part. Of one family, the sons of Adonikam or Adonijah, "the last sons" appear to have gone up; of whom the ominous number, 666, had returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:13). Compare Neh. 7:18. Neh. 10:16.

"And I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava; and there we encamped three days: and I viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi. Then sent I for Eliezer, for Ariel, for Shemaiah, and for Elnathan, and for Jarib, and for Elnathan, and for Nathan, and for Zechariah, and for Meshullam, chief men; also for Joiarib, and for Elnathan, which were teachers. And I sent them forth unto Iddo the chief at the place Casiphia; and I told them what they should say unto Iddo, and his brethren the Nethinim, at the place Casiphia, that they should bring unto us ministers for the house of our God. And according to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of discretion, of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel; and Sherebiah, with his sons and his brethren, eighteen; and Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brethren and their sons, twenty; and of the Nethinim, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim: all of them were expressed by name" (vers. 15-20).

The lack of Levites grieved Ezra, as he deliberately reviewed the company that gathered to the river that runs to Ahava. He had means for the due service of God's house, but where were the ministers? He found none of the sons of Levi; and he will be no party to disorder in divine things. So in the strait he sent for chiefs and men of understanding and gave them a charge to a quarter where were Levites. God gave effect to his desire, and near forty Levites responded to the call, with more than two hundred Nethinim, who, if they had a lowly service, were all to their honour expressed by name.

"Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek of him a straight way, for us and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to ask of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God [is] upon all them that seek him, for good; but his power and wrath [is] against all them that forsake him. So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us" (vers. 21-23).

Nor was the work begun or carried on in self-confidence. Ezra proclaimed a fast on the banks of the Ahava (the Hit, probably). He had boasted a little to the king of God's hand upon them all for good, notwithstanding their low estate because of their national sins; and he was rightly ashamed to ask of him a military guard against their enemies in the way. To God with fasting then he would have them to turn, assured that he was seeking His glory and doing His will. And God, as he says, "was entreated of us."

"Then I separated twelve of the chiefs of the priests, even Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them, and weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering for the house of our God, which the king and his counsellors, and his princes, and all Israel there present, had offered: I even weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels an hundred talents; of gold an hundred talents: and twenty bowls of gold, of a thousand darics; and two vessels of fine bright brass, precious as gold. And I said unto them, Ye [are] holy unto Jehovah, and the vessels [are] holy; and the silver and the gold [are] a freewill offering unto Jehovah, the God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep [them], until ye weigh [them] before the chiefs of the priests and the Levites, and the princes of the fathers' [houses] of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of Jehovah. So the priests and the Levites received the weight of the silver and the gold, and the vessels, to bring [them] to Jerusalem unto the house of our God" (vers. 24-30).

Here we see righteous care and choice of faithful men, and this in no narrow spirit, but of fellowship. He separated twelve of the chiefs of the priests, or Levites, and weighed to them the offering for God's house, with a solemn appeal. So the N. T. still more impressively shows us Timothy and others charged in view of the Lord's appearing (1 Tim. 6:13-14; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Titus 2:13-14). For responsibility is in view, not exactly of His presence, but of His appearing, when all will be out, and each will receive according to the things done with the body as their instrument, whether good or bad (2 Chron. 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:10).

"Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth [day] of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the her in wait by the way. And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days. And on the fourth day was the silver and the gold and the vessels weighed in the house of our God into the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest; and with him [was] Eleazer, the son of Phinehas; and with them [was] Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the son of Binnui, the Levites; the whole by number, by weight: and all the weight was written at that time. The children of the captivity, which were come out of exile, offered burnt offerings unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six rams, seventy and seven lambs, twelve he-goats [for] a sin offering: all a burnt offering unto the LORD. And they delivered the king's commissions unto the king's satraps, and to the governors beyond the river: and they furthered the people and the house of God" (vers. 31-36).

The journey was made prosperously; the offering after three days delivered by number and weight in God's house into the due hand, and as duly recorded at the time; and God was owned according to His word, as He could not be in Babylon. Burnt offerings were presented to the God of Israel, "twelve bullocks for all Israel." They rose in faith to God's mind, and they embraced in heart before Him all His people. But they were as far as possible from pretending to be more than they were, while they refused to be other than they were. Imitations or substitutes never satisfy a true heart. Besides the bullocks, they offered ninety-six rains, seventy-seven lambs, and twelve he-goats for a sin offering. This could not be forgotten. They thoroughly owned their original relationship to Jehovah, so dishonoured; they looked with confidence to their glorious restoration for His own name; and both contributed to their doing the right thing meanwhile, in obedience of faith and lowliness of mind. They acknowledged the present ruin of Israel, but clung unwaveringly to Israel's God.

Ezra 9.

1894 130 But a great sin was going on, and Ezra must take it up in sorrow and shame before God if haply repentance might work recovery.

"Now when these things were done, the princes drew near unto me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests and Levites, have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, 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 the 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 astonished. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the trespass of those of captivity; and I sat astonished until the evening oblation. And at the evening oblation I arose up from my humiliation, even with my garment and my mantle rent; and I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto Jehovah my God; and I said, 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 guiltiness is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers we [have been] exceeding guilty 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 spoiling, and to confusion of face, as [it is] this day. And now for a little moment grace hath been [shown] from Jehovah 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] 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 ruins thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For 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 through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness. Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their prosperity for ever: that ye may he strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave [it] for an inheritance to your children for ever. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great guilt, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities, and hast given us a remnant, shall we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the peoples that do these abominations? Wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed [us], so that [there should be] no remnant, nor escaping? O Jehovah, the God of Israel, thou [art] righteous; for we are left a remnant that is escaped, as [it is] this day: behold, we [are] before thee in our guiltiness; for none can stand before thee because of this" (vers. 1-15).

After all the mercy shown to the remnant returned from captivity, after long patience with shortcomings and protection from their adversaries, the princes announced to Ezra that the people of Israel and the priests and the Levites, far from keeping themselves separate from the heathen round about them, were living in open disobedience of God's word and rebellion against His authority. For they had taken of their daughters for themselves and their sons, and thus mingled the holy seed with the peoples of the lands, the princes and rulers being first or chief in this unfaithfulness. What evil more deadly for a Jew, unless it were worshipping other gods? And to this it habitually tended. It was in itself a fundamental violation of Jehovah's will, an abandonment of that separateness to Himself from the nations which was essential to their standing as His people. It was not only the surrender of their own privilege as the sole nation of His choice, but rebellion against His rights and glory Who had thus favoured them.

No doubt a most solemn and humiliating change had come through their idolatry. The government of God had no longer its centre in Israel, while recognising other nations around though ignorant of Him. When even Judah and the kings of David's house definitively gave Him up for other gods, like heathen nations though far more guiltily, the God of heaven brought in the world-power system, from Babylon down to the Roman beast in its last and still future phase, till the Lord judge its apostasy and antichristianism. For that system is but provisional, and will give place to His resumption of power in His displayed glory, when He shall reign, alike King over Israel and in Zion, and Son of man in universal and everlasting dominion, and all the peoples, nations, and languages shall serve Him in a kingdom which shall not be destroyed. Every believing Jew knew more or less clearly of that glorious consummation, as well as of their past departure from God which had brought in their present ruined estate. All was intended to bear on their souls and their ways before God in producing self-judgment but withal confidence in His mercy and submission to His will. To disown the Gentile power He had set up was false ground; to forget that they were but a remnant, restored to the land in His grace, was evil. What was it to set up, a handful (as were the returned Jews in such circumstances) to claim the place and authority of unbroken Israel with the throne of David, yea the throne of the kingdom of Jehovah over Israel? It would have been the vainest presumption without conscience and heart in opposition to God till Messiah come and change all things.

The spirit of this is one of the perils of Christendom. Those who see and hold aloof from antiquated claim and gross iniquity are exposed, when they learn ever so superficially what the church is, to imitate its forms and arrogate authority without power, trusting in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these. The pretension, avowed or implied, to set up the church again in its primitive order and the official authority which was of old, is at once a grievous affront against God and shameless insensibility to the low condition of His saints. Scripture nowhere warrants any such spirit, never sanctions such a course, in a day of ruin. It is at bottom the same self-confidence that led to the ruin which assumes to rectify it. If really humbled in heart because of the anomalous state of things, our place is in dependence on God to seek His will in view of the ruin, with grace to obey in the circumstances. He in His goodness has provided for our guidance now quite as clearly as for Ezra and his companions of old. To acquiesce in the evil we know — to compromise — is not and never was of God; neither is it of Him to claim authority beyond our power, but to obey His word humbly and to own the title of Christ's members, looking to Him to work in His grace and power. Wherever there is the assumption to restore the church, the first act, or one of the first always occurring, is to nominate elders, without apostolic authority direct or indirect. Thus men fall into open antagonism to the word of God, the one standard, and grand test for the grievous times of the last days. This is to eat leavened bread from the beginning; as the spirit, which led up to it, is fleshly pride which will soon become a prey of Satan in other error and evil.

Here we find lowly unpretentious fidelity in Ezra, and deep sense of the trespass among the returned from captivity. Overwhelmed he sat till the evening oblation. Then with clothes rent he spread out his hands to his God and owned the guilt, "our guiltiness," thoroughly. Not a moment's thought that the Jews then could do all that Moses or Joshua, that David or Solomon, did in their days, but seeking to do all that God's word authorised them to do in their actual circumstances. "For," said he, "we [are] bondmen" (ver. 9), as the context and even verse requires; instead of "were," as the A.V. has it and people are so apt to think in their forgetfulness of God's ways and His people's sin. But we shall have more to weigh when we read the practical issue that followed. The all-important condition is a just sense of where God's people are, and the heart humbly set on obedience, instead of our own thoughts and self-confidence to put all things right.

Ezra 10.

1894 147 We have seen holy Ezra humbling himself before God because of the unfaithfulness of the returned remnant, yea, of their princes and deputies chief in a matter that closely touched His honour and tested their devotedness. For what was a Jew that failed to be separate to Jehovah? He who united himself with a Gentile in the nearest relationship of the flesh despised and defied His law. He was profane like Esau and in the face of fuller light and more awful sanction. Such a breach in mingling the holy seed with the peoples of the lands, and this in too many cases, filled Ezra with affliction and shame, as his ways attested to all eyes. But there was no hasty utterance. Not till the evening oblation did he pour out the confession we have heard.

"And while Ezra prayed, and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there was gathered together unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore. And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have married strange women of the peoples of the land: yet now there is hope for Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise, for the matter belongeth unto thee, and we are with thee; be of good courage, and do it. Then arose Ezra, and made the chiefs of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they would do according to this word. So they sware. Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib; and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water; for he mourned because of the trespass of them of the captivity. And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; and that whosoever came not within three days according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of the captivity. Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month: and all the people sat in the broad place before the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain.

"And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have trespassed, and have married strange women, to increase the guilt of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto Jehovah, the God of your fathers, and do his pleasure; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the strange women. Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said concerning us, so must we do. 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 have greatly transgressed in this matter. Let now our princes be appointed for all the congregation, and let them that are in our cities which have married strange women come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God be turned from us, until this matter be despatched. Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah stood up against this matter: and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them. And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, with certain heads of fathers' houses, and all of them by their names, were separated; and they sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. And they made an end with all the men that had married strange women by the first day of the first month.

"And among the sons of the priests there were found that had married strange women: namely, of the sons of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and his brethren, Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and Gedaliah. And they gave their hand that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their guilt. And of the sons of Immer; Hanani and Zebadiah. And of the sons of Harim; Maaseiah, and Elijah, and Shemaiah, and Jehiel, and Uzziah. And of the sons of Pashhur; Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah. And of the Levites; Jozabad, and Shimei, and Kelaiah (the same is Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer. And of the singers; Eliashib: and of the porters; Shallum, and Telem, and Uri. And of Israel: of the sons of Parosh; Ramiah, and Izziah, and Malchijah, and Mijamin, and Eleazar, and Malchijah, and Benaiah. And of the sons of Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Elijah. And of the sons of Zattu; Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, and Jeremoth, and Zabad, and Aziza. And of the sons of Bebai; Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, Athlai. And of the sons of Bani; Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah, Jashub, and Sheal, Jeremoth. And of the sons of Pahath-moab; Adna, and Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, and Binnui, and Manasseh. And of the sons of Harim; Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, Benjamin, Malluch, Shemariah. Of the sons of Hashum; Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, Shimei. Of the sons of Bani; Maadai, Amram, and Uel; Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib; Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu; and Bani, and Binnui, Shimei; and Shelemiah, and Nathan, and Adaiah; Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai; Azarel, and Shelemiah, Shemariah; Shallum, Amariah, Joseph. Of the sons of Nebo; Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Iddo, and Joel, Benaiah. All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children" (vers. 1-44).

The apostasy of Israel and then of Judah, which led to the world-power of the Gentiles did not annul God's will for faithful men; still less does the ruin of Christendom for the Christian now. Assuredly there is much for us to learn, not only in the principle itself, but from the danger owing to our circumstances. Once Jews were imperilled from theirs; especially as to us the separation to God now is of no merely outward and fleshly sort, but in the Spirit's power as taught in the word. It is from the world and in the judgment of flesh, being wholly evil as the cross has proved. For neither the Jew nor the Christian evidently is it a simple question of moral pravity, but of consistency with the relationship, which grace has conferred on the one or the other. We are called to do His will in obedience to His word; and this imperatively, whatever the cost. The danger is from claiming laxity because of a state of ruin. A true heart would feel it a louder call to watch and pray.

Shecaniah first responded to the appeal (vers. 2-4). We do not hear that he was personally unfaithful but, it would seem, his own father (compare ver. 26). Yet he confesses, We have trespassed, etc., and proposes repentance shown in putting away the evil and its fruit, charging the administration of the judgment on Ezra. On this Ezra acts, swearing all to it from the highest downward, still fasting himself with mourning (vers. 5, 6); and proclamation is made to gather to Jerusalem within three days on pain of forfeiture of goods and cutting off from the congregation. And they did come together (vers. 7-9). Ezra calls on the unfaithful to confess and separate from the peoples as well as the strange wives; and all the congregation answer loudly, but plead the long work in the then untoward circumstances, and propose that it be dispatched in detail by responsible men throughout their cities (vers. 10-14).

A singular difficulty appears in ver. 15. The words might mean appointment over this, or opposition to it: the A. V. favouring the former; the R.V. the latter. But the context appears to decide for opposition. For ver. 16 is clear that not only Ezra but certain chief fathers, and all by name, were separated, and sat down to examine the matter. These carried out the task in order; whereas only four had stood up against this proposal. And more than a hundred were found, four of priestly rank, who gave pledge to send away their wives and offer the trespass-offering required. Their names follow without respect of persons (vers. 18-44). The authority of God's word abides inalienably to faith; but a time of ruin, while giving occasion to God's fidelity, is the last to allow of pretensions which ignore that ruin or the lowly walk which becomes faithful men, any more than the sanction of unfaithfulness. And the hope of Him Who is coming not only cheers and brightens the present, but acts on the conscience, as we may see in the later prophets who testified for God and to the remnant during those days.