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One could scarcely have expected, that a heathen prince would have made such provision for the Temple service, or expressed himself in terms of reverence and respect to God: but this circumstance is an additional . confirmation of what has been before observed, that those idolaters, at least, who presided over great kingdoms, were by some providential mean or other, made acquainted with the sovereignty of the Lord Jehovah, and so far acknowledged his power, that they were willing to be at any expence to purchase his favour.
In the following chapters we read, that as soon as Ezra had received the king's letter he made known its contents; and in a short time assembled together one thousand four hundred and ninety-six men, beside women and children, amongst whom were two priests, and about forty Levites. They were very likely to be attacked by enemies in the way, especially as they carried treasures with them, yet Ezra would not ask for guards ; instead of that, he and the people had recourse to prayer and fasting, in order to engage the protection of God; for Ezra had declared to the king, that the hand of the Lord was upon all those for good that sought Him; but His power and His wrath against them that forsook Him. And therefore he was, as he said, ashamed to require a band of soldiers, to protect them from their enemies in the way. The measure Ezra pursued was certainly much the best. And it pleased God to reward the faith of him and his companions by the comforts of the Holy Spirit, so that they arrived in safety . at Jerusalem. The whole company which consisted of a mixture of the ten tribes, offered sacrifices; and when they had shewed their commissions, gave assistance to the work.
In'thei second year of Ezra's government, complaint was' made that many of the people, and even some of
the priests, had married heathen wives, contrary to the law: this filled him with grief and consternation, for he was apprehensive that they would again return to idolatry. As soon as it was reported that Ezra was in such affliction, there assembled unto him a great congregation, who mixed their tears with his, and it was immediately determined that they should enter into a CoveNant with God, to put away these wives, which was accordingly done; but without doubt the women were properly provided for. About one hundred and thirty persons only had transgressed in this particular; but had not the affair been attended to in time, it would in all probability have proved the destruction of the nation; and it was better that a small number should suffer at first, than that they should have their religion corrupted.
about the twelfth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, Joachim, the high priest of the Jews, died; he was succeeded in his office by Eliashab his son.
Before Ezra came to Jerusalem, the Scriptures were in a manner lost, the people were ignorant of the law, the worship of God was neglected, and, every thing, both in church and state, in great disorder. He continued in his government some years, and wrought great > reformation; and made it his particular endeavour to produce a correct copy of the Holy Scriptures ; that is to say, of all the books of which they then consisted, which he divided into three parts, the Law, the ProPhets, and the Holy Whitings, viz. the Psalms, &c.; for that purpose he collected together all the copies of the sacred books he could meet with, that by comparing them he might discover the mistakes of different transcribers. Originally every book of the Hebrew Bible was written without any division into chapters and verses; but it is supposed that Ezra divided the law
into fifty-four sections, and that he added the last chapter of Deuteronomy, and other parts which appeared necessary for connection and illustration.
In the twenty-ninth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, Ezra resigned the government of Judea to Nehemiah; but still continued to instruct the people as an expounder of the law, and a preacher of righteousness.
SECTION LXXXI. Nehemiah's Affliction, And Intercession For
From Nehemiah, Chap. i, ii.
It came to pass that as Nehemiah, the king's cup. bearer, was in Shushan the palace, that Hanani one of his brethren, and others, came unto him, and he asked them concerning the Jews, that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
And they said unto him, the remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in a great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. >
And it came to pass when Nehemiah heard these words, that he sat down, and wept and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, and said, I beseech thee, O Lokd God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and, mercy for them that love him and observe thy commandments:
Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open,.
that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which
I pray before thee now day and night for the children of
Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against-thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them, though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
O Lord, I beseech thee, let'now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name : and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.
And it came to pass that shortly after wine was before the king: and Nehemiah took up the wine, and' gave it to the king. Now he had not before-time been sad in his presence. Wherefore the king said unto him, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then was' Nehemiah sore afraid,- ... i .
And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste/and the gates thereof consumed with fire?
Then said the king unto him, For what dost thou
make request? So Nehemiah prayed in his heart to the God of heaven to direct him.
And said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it.
And the king said unto him, the queen also sitting by him, For hovv long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send him; and Nehemiah fixed a time.
Moreover he said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah;
And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king'sforest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I' shall enter into. And the king granted him, according to the good hand of his God upon him.
ANNOTATIONS And REFLECTIONS.
Nehemiah was a Jew, whose ancestors had formerly been citizens of Jerusalem; but who having obtained a good settlement in the land of their captivity, staid there in preference to returning with their brethren. His office as cup-bearer to king Artaxerxes was both an honourable and profitable place, and Nehemiah had accumulated a very great fortune; yet he was so far from being insensible to the distresses of his countrymen, that when he was told that they were continually exposed to danger, derision, and contempt, on account of their city being defenceless, he felt their sorrows with the tenderest sympathy, and the Lord lent a gracious ear to his humble request.