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Review OF THE EVENTS NARRATED BY EZRA AND
BEFORE we conclude this Fifth Period of our subject, we must take a brief review of the condition of our ancestors contemporary with the captives of Babylon ; but who, under Ezra and Nehemiah, had returned to Jerusalem. The first captivity caused a complete revolution in the history of the Jews. Their very characteristics as a people, and as individuals, appeared to have undergone a change.
Adversity and captivity retained the Hebrews in that faith, and those forms, which, in their prosperity, they had neglected and despised. Men arose from their ranks, gifted with such power as to lead the multitude as with a silken thread-to sever even the strongest and most endearing ties, because such was the word of the Lord, such the law He had ordained. Marriages with the heathen were not alone again forbidden, but actually dissolved. The Sabbath-day, cleansed from the profane employments of buying and selling which had before desecrated it, commanded to be kept holy; an ordinance established amongst the priests, “ to charge themselves yearly with a half shekel for the service of the house of God, for the shew-bread, and the continual meat-offering, and the burnt-offering of the sabbaths and the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin-offerings, to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God;" a covenant, entered into under “a curse and an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses, the servant of God; and to observe and to do all the commandments of the Lord our God, and His judgments and His statutes.”
Nor was this solemn covenant entered into by the males of Israel alone. Their wives and their daughters are distinctly and emphatically named (see Nehemiah X. 28), as amongst those who had voluntarily separated themselves from the people of the land unto the law of their God, “every one having knowledge and understanding." And in chap. viii., which so impressively and affectingly describes the reading of the law by Ezra, in the presence of the whole congregation of Israel, the women are also expressly mentioned. 66 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding,” etc. 66 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the words of the law."
The scene must indeed have been of mournful interest. The temple was still unbuilt; the city, by far the greater part, in ruins. On a pulpit of wood, with the sad memorials of Judah's departed glory all around him, stood Ezra, probably now an aged man; for it was some years since he had left Babylon. On his right and left hand were thronged his brother Levites, who, voluntarily consecrated to the service of their God, lent a dignity
and solemnity to the proceedings, reminding the populace of those days when they officiated in the Temple, and the glory of the Lord was visibly revealed. Below them, far as the eye could reach, the people had gathered themselves as one man, ardent and earnest to hear once more the words of the Most High God. Men and women indiscriminately blended, for the law appealed to both, and not then had the blighting words been whispered, that woman has no power to seek and know the Lord—that the study and comprehension of the law are for man, not her. We see her hastening, even as man, to listen to the words of her God—to accept, with the whole fervour of her ardent heart, His covenant; and she is welcomed, not rebuked.
“ And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above them); and when he opened it, all the people stood up: and Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.
God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands : and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” And then “the Levites caused the people to understand the law: and they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused the people to understand the reading." And when the people would have wept-for their own and their ancestors' sinful departure from the commands of the Lord stood before them more vividly, more appalling, as they thus listened to the law-Nehemiah and Ezra forbade it, for they said “ The day was holy unto the Lord their God; mourn not, nor weep; but go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared : for this day is holy
unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Solemn rejoicing in consequence followed this public reading of the law. The Feast of Tabernacles was proclaimed throughout all the cities of Judea, and observed with such solemnity and gladness as had not been since the days of Joshua the son of Nun, and in exact accordance with the written law of Moses, keeping the feast seven days, and on the eighth day a solemn assembly. A general fast, confession of sins, repentance and prayer, with reading the law, and worshipping the Lord their God, soon after followed, the Levites rehearsing the many tokens of the Eternal's goodness, from the selection of Abraham unto the present time, and the awful wickedness of the people. Then followed the acceptance and sealing of the covenant by the men of Israel, their wives, sons, and daughters—the selection of the people—the rulers to dwell in Jerusalem
and of the rest of the people, one in ten to be chosen by lot to dwell in Jerusalem, and the other nine to dwell in other cities, and thus re-people the still beautiful, but mournfully desolate land. In the twelfth chapter, we find the selection of priests and officers for the service of the Temple, and the solemn dedication of the wall, “ with gladness, and with thanksgiving, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps. Also on that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced : for God had made them rejoice with great joy : the wives and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.” Officers for the treasuries, offerings, firstfruits, tithes, singers, and porters, all were appointed, exactly in accordance with the law of Moses,
and the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.”
The mixed multitude was also separated from the children of Israel. Even Tobiah, the Ammonite, closely allied to Eliashib the priest, who had weakly allowed him, although an Ammonite, a chamber in the Temple, was cast forth with all his household stuff. No distinction of persons was made. All who had married strange wives, were they united even to the priest and highest officers, were, if they refused to separate from their unlawful connections, scouted from the congregation of the Lord. And thus, after a weary interval, faithfulness to the religion of Moses, and, in consequence, external and internal peace, seemed once more about to be the portion of Judea.
But let it not be imagined that this was either easily or satisfactorily accomplished; or that the noble exertions of Ezra and Nehemiah were productive of enjoyment, and, consequently, of earthly reward. So far from it, that if we read over the books of Ezra and Nehemiah attentively, we must be struck by the repeated mention of humiliation, fast, and prayer, with which their efforts were attended—the constant struggle, constant disappointment—the hope roused by a seeming response to their own ardent aspirations, and crushed again by revolt and disobedience. We find both Ezra and Nehemiah repeatedly taking on themselves the burden of their brethren's guilt, and beseeching pardon, as if themselves were the offenders. The prayer of Ezra, in the ninth chapter of the book bearing his name, and that of Nehemiah in his first chapter, are the most exquisite illustrations of pure patriotism that can be