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Ezra 9

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Intermarriage with Pagans The Problem of Mixed Marriages Ezra Learns of Intermarriage with Non-Jews The Marriages with Foreigners Dissolved
9:1-4 9:1-4 9:1-6a 9:1-6a
  Ezra's Confession    
9:5-15 9:1-5    
  9:6-9    
    9:6b-9 9:6b-12
  9:10-15 9:10-15  
      9:13-15

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 9:1-4
 1Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. 2For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness." 3When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled. 4Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering.

9:1 "Now when these things had been completed" This could refer to 8:36, which would explain the four and one-half month period between Ezra's arrival and these charges. Many scholars have assumed that Neh. 7:73 - 9:37 fits historically between Ezra 8 and 9. However, they seem to be separated in time. Ezra 9:1-15 is also recorded in I Esdras 8:68-90.

NASB"princes"
NKJV, TEV"leaders"
NRSV, NJB"officials"

The Hebrew term (BDB 987) has a wide range of meaning—"chieftain," "chief," "ruler," "official," "captain," "priest." Here it refers to religious leadership (cf. Ezra 8:24,29; 10:5; II Chr. 36:14) or leaders of Jerusalem (cf. Ezra 8:10,14; Neh. 4:10; 10:1; 11:1). Apparently Ezra's teaching of the Torah had an affect. This is a recurrent theme in both Ezra and Nehemiah.

"the people of Israel and the priests and the Levites" This three-fold division of the Jewish returnees is consistent throughout Ezra and Nehemiah.

▣ "had not separated themselves" This VERB (BDB 95, KB 110) is a Niphal PERFECT (cf. 6:21). Some of the returning Jews married the indigenous population. This was especially problematic because this was the very issue which the Jewish leadership used to reject the help of the surrounding nations in Zerubbabel's day (cf. 4:1-5). This issue is also dealt with by Nehemiah (cf. Neh. 13:23-29, also note Mal. 2:10-16).

▣ "the peoples of the land" The list is Mosaic (cf. Exod. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-4). These nationalities no longer had their identity (except Egypt, Ammon, Moab) in the post-exilic Persian period. However, it shows that Ezra was trying to relate to the Mosaic covenant. This chapter has nothing to do with the issue of interracial marriage, but of religious corruption.

"abominations" This term (BDB 1072) denotes a violation of YHWH's covenant requirements, especially as it related to the fertility practices of the tribes of Canaan (cf. Deut. 18:9; I Kgs. 14:24; II Kgs. 16:3; 21:2; II Chr. 28:3; 33:2; 36:14; Ezra 9:1,11,14 and it is implied in Lev. 18:26,27,29,30; Deut. 18:12; 20:18).

"Canaanites" This word (BDB 488) literally meant "to bundle" and came to refer to all the tribes of Palestine (Canaan). Some assert that the term meant "land of purple" (as does Phoenicia) and refers to the making of purple dye from sea shells. Even before this time period one of Ham's sons was named Canaan. He was cursed by Noah because of his father's sin (cf. Gen. 9) and became an ancestor of the Canaanites and Phoenicians (this is why this term often means "trader" or "merchant"). This cursing and later, Moses' warnings to kill all of the Canaanites (e.g., Deut. 7:1-5; 20:17; Ps. 106:34-39), caused this word to become a metaphor of evil, corruption, and abhorrence. These native tribes of Canaan were fertility worshipers (i.e., "their abominations," cf. v. 1; Gen. 15:16). God knew they would compromise His people, therefore, many of the laws of Leviticus deal with separation from these groups. Now again, God's people had disobeyed and compromised their faith by marrying pagan women.

"Hittites" These were Kanesian-speaking descendants of a people who dominated central Turkey. Their kingdom was centered at Hattusas in Anatolia and was very involved in Mesopotamia and Palestine from 1800-1200 b.c.

"Jebusites" These were the inhabitants of Jerusalem until the conquest of David (cf. II Sam. 5:6-10). Remember, Jerusalem was originally called Salem (cf. Gen. 14:18) and later Jebus (e.g., Josh. 18:16,28; Jdgs. 19:10,11). David made it his capital because of the proximity to Mt. Moriah, the place where YHWH caused His name to dwell (i.e., the temple mount).

"the Ammonites and Moabites" These were relatives of the Jews, the descendants of Lot, and his own daughters (cf. Gen. 19).

"Egyptians" This racial group did not live in Palestine, but in northeast Africa. It must be remembered that Solomon, I Kgs. 3:1, and Joseph, Gen. 41:45, married Egyptians with no hint of condemnation involved. We must balance this chapter with Deut. 21:10-14, which seems to allow foreign marriages. The problem was not foreign marriages, but religious amalgamation or eclecticism.

"Amorites" I Esdras 8:69 has "Edomites" (but not Ammonites or Amorites) instead of "Amorites." In Gen. 15:16, it is a collective term for all of the peoples of Palestine (cf. Gen. 15:16). Sometimes they are referred to collectively as Canaanites or Amorites, but often they are divided into ten groups (Gen. 15:19), seven groups (Deut. 7:1; Josh 3:10; 24:11), six groups (Exod. 3:8), five groups (Exod. 3:17; Num. 13:29), or three groups (Exod. 23:28).

9:2 "for they had taken some of their daughters" It must be remembered that Moses (Exod. 2:21; Num. 12:1, and David, II Sam. 3:3) had foreign wives, as well as Joseph (Gen. 41:50) and Solomon (I Kgs. 7:8). The holy race is not primarily racial, but religious (cf. Jdgs. 3:4-7). The problem was not blood, but faith in YHWH (monotheism).

"and for their sons" Arranged marriages were the only cultural option. These returning Jews were putting their male children in danger by divorcing their wives in order to marry Canaanite women within established families.

"the holy race" This is an idiom (i.e., "The seed of holiness") for a people who were meant to reflect God's character (e.g., Exod. 19:6; Isa. 6:13). There is no special race because all humans are made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). However, in this context it refers to the people group out of which will come the Messiah (i.e., Jews, e.g., Gen. 12:3; 28:14).

NASB, NKJV"intermingled"
NRSV"mixed"
TEV"become contaminated"
NJB"has been contaminated"

The Hebrew VERB (BDB 786 II, KB 876, Hithpael PERFECT) meant to take or give a pledge, which was an idiom of identifying with someone (cf. Ps. 106:35; Prov. 20:19; 24:21).

"the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness" The leaders of the returning Jews were the very ones who were acting in such disobedient ways!

The term "unfaithfulness" (BDB 591) means "a treacherous act" or "a breach of interpersonal trust," usually with God (e.g., Ezra 9:2,4; 10:6; Lev. 5:15; Num. 5:12; Josh. 22:22; I Chr. 9:1; II Chr. 29:19; 33:19). Biblical faith involves (1) personal commitment, (2) covenantal commitment, and (3) faithfulness.

9:3 "I tore my garment" This verse describes a series of Jewish acts of mourning (e.g., v. 5; 10:1,6; Josh. 7:6; II Sam. 1:11-12; II Chr. 34:27; Esth. 4:1; Isa. 36:22; Jer. 41:5). Apparently, Ezra did not know about these foreign marriages and was greatly appalled when he heard about it. His shock and sincerity also moved the exiles to reform their practices.

"my garment and my robe" The first term (BDB 93 II, the last entry) simply means the outer piece of clothing. It can refer to common clothing or special clothing.

The second term (BDB 591) denotes a special robe worn by the leading people of society or religion (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 1018). There is a possible word play between these terms and "unfaithfulness" (BDB 591) of v. 2.

"and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard" One sign of mourning was the shaving of the head (cf. Job 1:20; Isa. 22:12; Jer. 7:29; 16:6; 41:5; 48:37; Micah 1:16), but Ezra's grief was so intense he pulled out hair from his head and face. This is the only occurrence of this act in the OT.

"sat down" Sitting on the floor was also a sign of mourning (e.g., II Sam. 12:16; 13:31; Neh. 1:4; Isa. 47:1; Ezek. 26:16).

NASB, NRSV"appalled"
NKJV"astonished"
TEV"crushed with grief"
NJB"in honor"

This VERB (BDB 1030, KB 1563, Poel PARTICIPLE) means "to be appalled," "awestruck," "horrified." It is used in v. 3 and v. 4. Its use is common in the seventh-century prophets and Daniel. Sin horrifies God and should horrify His people. It brings death and destruction. The Jews should have known this from their recent experience of the exile.

9:4 "everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel" This is a powerful metaphor for God's faithful people (cf. 10:3; Isa. 66:2,5)!

The term (BDB 353) is used of people being afraid (cf. Jdgs. 7:3), but also of God and those things connected to Him (e.g., Exod. 19:16,18; Deut. 5:23-27).

1. the ark (I Sam. 4:13)

2. His word (Isa. 66:2,5; Ezra 9:4)

3. His commandments (Ezra 10:3)

4. His judgment (Isa. 41:5; Ezek. 26:16,18; 32:10)

 

"until the evening offering" The morning offering was at 9 a.m., the evening offering was 3 p.m. (cf. Exod. 12:6; Dan. 9:21; Acts 3:1). Ezra sat appalled in the company of others sensitive to God and His word all day long. In a sense this is a confession of corporate sin (cf. vv. 5-9), like that of Moses and Daniel.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 9:5-9
 5But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; 6and I said, "O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. 7Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day. 8But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. 9For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem."

9:5

NASB"humiliation"
NKJV, NRSV"my fasting"
TEV"grieving"
NJB"out of my stupor"

This is the Hebrew term (BDB 777) for humiliation by fasting (cf. 8:21). Ezra had grieved all day with his spiritual companions. This represents sorrow and grief brought on by the knowledge of human sin and rebellion and its possible consequences for the whole group of restored Jews in Judah.

▣ "I fell on my knees" The normal stance for Jewish prayer was standing with hands and eyes uplifted. Whenever kneeling or prostration is mentioned in the Bible it signifies intensity (cf. I Kgs. 8:54; II Chr. 6:13; Ps. 95:6; Isa. 45:23; Dan. 6:10).

▣ "stretched out my hands" This is literally "with palms up," which was the normal position for Jewish prayer (cf. Exod. 9:29,33; I Kings 8:22; II Chr. 6:12; Job 11:13; Ps. 28:2; 44:20; 68:31; 88:9; 134:2; 141:2; 143:6; Isa. 1:15).

"the Lord my God" This is the covenant title for the deity of Israel (e.g., Gen. 2:4; Deut. 6:4-5). YHWH refers to deity as the covenant-making Savior, while Elohim refers to deity as the creator, provider, and sustainer of all life. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at Neh. 1:4.

9:6 "I am ashamed. . .for our iniquities" Here is a unique combination between individual and corporate responsibility. Ezra, as all great OT leaders, identifies himself with a sinning, covenant community (e.g., Dan. 9:4-19; Neh. 9:5-38).

"ashamed and embarrassed" The two VERBS (BDB 101, KB 116, Qal PERFECT) are often found together in the prophets.

1. Isa. 30:3-5; 41:11; 45:16,17; 50:7; 54:4

2. Jer. 20:11; 22:22; 31:19

3. Ezek. 16:52,54; 36:22

 

"our iniquities. . .our guilt" This is prose, but structured in parallel thought. The sin of these leaders is so big that it reaches heaven (i.e., God takes notice, e.g., Jer. 51:9; Rev. 18:5).

"Risen above our heads" may be an idiom for an overwhelming flood (cf. Ps. 38:4) or a great wall between us and God (cf. Ps. 40:12).

9:7 Ezra recognizes that the very rebellion which had caused the military defeat of the Israelites throughout the years, has returned (cf. Neh. 9). These leaders had not "trembled at the words of God" (cf. v. 4)! They had flaunted their positions and power. The curses (cf. Deut. 27-29) of mixing with Canaan had manifested again!

Nehemiah gives an historical account of Israel's history in 9:6-35. It was a history of their unfaithfulness, but YHWH's mercy and faithfulness.

▣ "have been given into the hand of the kings of the land" Menaham and Pekah (kings of Israel) were given into the hand of Tiglath-Pileser (Assyria); Hoshea was given into the hand of Shalmaneser or Sargon II (Assyria); Manasseh (king of Judah) was given into the hand of Esarhaddon (Assyria); Josiah was given into the hand of Pharaoh Necho II (Egypt); Jehoachin, Jehoakim, Jehoachin, and Zedekiah were given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar II (Babylon).

Again Ezra's prose is poetic and patterned. It is represented in English as a series of INFINITIVES.

1. to the sword

2. to captivity

3. to plunder

4. to open shame

 

9:8 Notice that the unchanging character of the God of covenant mercy, and not the people's performance, is the key to His people's hope (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38). Yet, obedience is a covenant requirement. In the OT, it was the condition of blessing that fallen mankind could not achieve; in the NT it is a gift of YHWH to which fallen mankind must respond in faithfulness. Obedience is not the basis of covenant hope, but the result of God's merciful character (cf. Jer. 31:31-34, the new covenant). The goal of both the OT and NT is a people who reflect God's character. Obedience is still crucial (cf. Luke 6:46; John 15).

▣ "to leave us an escaped remnant" These people were the beginning of God's new covenant people (cf. vv. 13-15). If they wilfully sinned, what would become of the promises of God to the world (cf. v. 9, "in the sight of the kings of Persia"). Remnant terminology and theology is most common in Isaiah (cf. 1:9; 4:3; 10:20-22; 11:11-16; 46:3) and in Amos (1:8; 5:3,15; 9:12). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE REMNANT, THREE SENSES at 1:4.

▣ "a peg in His holy place" This is a metaphor from Israel's nomadic period which describes their new foothold in the Promised Land. It was drawn from putting up secure tents (cf. Isa. 22:23; 33:20; Zech. 10:4). It was also used as an idiom for blessing (cf. Isa. 54:2-3).

"that our God may" Ezra prays for two merciful acts of God (these may be parallel, the first is an idiom for the second):

1. enlighten our eyes

2. revive amidst our bondage

This is not what they deserved. They deserved judgment, but because God wants to use them to bless a world (cf. v. 9; Gen. 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6) Ezra prays to His compassion and larger redemptive purpose (cf. Isa. 60:1-3,19-20).

9:9 Here Ezra uses contrasting statements to make his theological point.

1. YHWH has not forsaken us (BDB 736, KB 806, Qal PERFECT, cf. Gen. 24:27; Isa. 49:14; 55:7).

2. YHWH has extended lovingkindness to us (BDB 639, KB 692, Hiphil IMPERFECT, cf 7:28).

There are several places in the OT where this word, forsaken (BDB 736), is used in contrasting senses. YHWH has not forsaken or abandoned, but His people have forsaken and abandoned Him (cf. Deut. 31:16-17; II Chr. 12:5; 13:10-11; 15:2; 24:20; and Ezra 9:9-10, taken from NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 365).

▣ "lovingkindness" This is the Hebrew NOUN hesed (BDB 338). It developed a special connotation as the covenant word which describes God's loyalty and love to His covenant people. See Special Topic: Hesed at Neh. 13:14.

"to restore its ruins" This may be an allusion to the restoration prophecy of Isa. 44:24-28 (esp. v. 26).

"a wall in Judah and Jerusalem" This is another metaphor and it does not relate directly to the walls of Jerusalem (cf. Zech. 2:4-5). The Hebrew term (BDB 154) means "an enclosing wall" or "a rock wall showing ownership"; so this refers to the covenant people being restored to the land of promise, in order that all the world can see the mercy and power of God in fulfilling His covenant promises (e.g., Gen. 15:12-21)!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 9:10-15
 10"Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, 11which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end and with their impurity. 12So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons, and never seek their peace or their prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever.' 13After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this, 14shall we again break Your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations? Would You not be angry with us to the point of destruction, until there is no remnant nor any who escape? 15O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this."

9:11 "unclean. . .uncleanness" The term (BDB 622) originally referred to the ceremonial impurity caused by a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. It came to be a metaphor for "uncleanness" (cf. II Chr. 29:5; Ezek. 7:19-20; Zech. 13:1).

In the Mosaic legislation any fluids which come out of the human body makes one ceremonially unclean, unable to participate in religious and social activities.

▣ "their abominations" This usually involves the sin of idolatry (e.g., Lev. 18:3,24-30) and disobedience (e.g., Jer. 7:25-26), which caused the exile in the first place. Now it was starting over again in the same way.

▣ "from end to end" This is literally "from mouth unto mouth" (Young's Literal Translation of the Bible, p. 320). The term (BDB 804) is often used in idiomatic phrases:

1. "ask his mouth" (ask personally), Gen. 24:57

2. "mouth of the sword," Gen. 34:26

3. "mouth to mouth" (face to face), Num. 12:8; II Kgs. 10:21; 21:16; Jer. 32:4; 34:3

4. "with one mouth" (unanimous), Josh. 9:2

5. "mouth to mouth" (devour), Isa. 9:12

6. "mouth to mouth" (resuscitation), II Kgs. 4:34

7. "hand over mouth" (respect), Job 29:9

8. "mouth to mouth" (fill completely), II Kgs. 21:16; Ezra 9:11

(Examples taken from NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 583).

 

9:11-12 This seems to be a summary statement encompassing insights from Moses (cf. Exod. 23:32-35; 34:10-17; Deut. 7:2-3; 20:10-18) and the Prophets. In Jewish theology only prophets wrote Scripture, so Moses was considered a prophet (cf. Deut. 18:15-22) and more (cf. Num. 12:6-8).

9:12 "never seek their peace or their prosperity" This may be an allusion to Deut. 23:6. The VERB "seek" (BDB 205, KB 233, Qal IMPERFECT) may refer to treaties (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 994). Israel's Mosaic prohibition of any social or religious contact with idolatry (the first two VERBS are Qal IMPERFECTS used in a JUSSIVE sense - "do not give your daughters," "do not take their daughters," cf. Exod. 23:32; 34:12) continues!

"forever" See Special Topic: 'Olam (Forever) at 3:11.

9:13 You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve" This is an idiomatic way of asserting God's great love and mercy towards the Jews, but they took advantage of it! They are back in the promised land by God's forgiveness and restitution, but now they are violating His word again!

The literal idiom is "held back downward" (BDB 362, KB 359 and BDB 641).

9:14 YHWH expresses anger towards an Israel to whom He chose to reveal Himself, so as to reveal Himself to the entire world. Their special knowledge brought great responsibility (cf. Deut. 7:11; 11:16-17; 29:25-29).

9:15 "Thou art righteous" YHWH's character is exactly opposite of His people's! He is faithful (cf. v. 9) and righteous, but they are unfaithful (cf. v. 2, even their political and religious leaders) and sinful (cf. vv. 6-7,10,13). See note at v. 9.

▣ "no one can stand before Thee" This is the theological summary of the results of human rebellion, both individually and corporately (e.g., Gen. 6:5,11-12,13; Job 4:17; 9:2; 25:4; Jer. 17:9).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the meaning of the phrase "separate themselves from the peoples of the lands"?

2. Why are the tribes of Canaan listed in so many different ways?

3. Were all the tribes of Canaan which are mentioned in v. 1 still in existence in Ezra's day?

4. How did Ezra's grief effect his fellow Jews?

5. Explain the relationship between personal confession and corporate confession.