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Ezra the son of Seraiah.
Ezra the distinguished
Consider Ezra, as--
I. A man of distinguished ancestry.
II. A man of distinguished attainments.
III. A man in the enjoyment of distinguished favours.
IV. A man of distinguished influence.
V. A man of distinguished success.
VI. A man of distinguished aim. He aimed at--
1. The acquisition of the highest knowledge.
2. The practice of the highest knowledge.
3. The impartation of the highest knowledge.
VII. man of distinguished blessing. (William Jones.)
And he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses.
Scribism was one of the remarkable features of the later days of Israel. Its existence in so much prominence showed that religion had passed into a new phase, that it had assumed a literary aspect. At first in their religious life the Jews did not give much heed to literary documents. Priestism was regulated by traditional usages rather than by written directions, and justice was administered under the kings according to custom, precedent, and equity. Quite apart from the discussion concerning the antiquity of the Pentateuch, it is certain that its precepts were neither used nor known in the time of Josiah, when the reading of the roll discovered in the temple was listened to with amazement. Still less did prophetism rely on literary resources. What need was there of a book when the Spirit of God was speaking through the audible voice of a living man? The function of the scribes was to collect the sayings and traditions of earlier ages, to arrange and edit the literary fragments of more original minds. Scribism rose when prophecy declined. It was a melancholy confession that the fountains of living water were drying up. It was like an aqueduct laboriously constructed in order to convey stored water to a thirsty people from distant reservoirs. Moreover, scribism degenerated into rabbinism, the scholasticism of the Jews. We may see its counterpart in the Catholic scholasticism which drew supplies from patristic tradition, and again in Protestant scholasticism--which comes nearer to the source of inspiration in the Bible, and yet which stiffened into a traditional interpretation of Scripture, confining its waters to iron pipes of orthodoxy. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
According to the hand of the Lord his God upon him.--
God’s helping hand
Ezra was wonderfully blessed in his desire and effort to restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Seemingly, the power and the blessing which served Ezra so signally was all from “the king,” but really it was all from Ezra’s “God,” whose will disposed the king’s heart, whose providence guided every step, and whose power and Spirit gave efficiency and success to every plan and effort. And so it is in all human planning and effort. The success is just in the measure of “God’s hand upon us.” If we rise up to build, and do not first enlist His gracious approval, providential interposition, and Spirit’s agency, our best efforts will miscarry or prove disastrous. If we plan a revival, and put in requisition the agencies, and will the conversion of sinners, we shall be sadly disappointed, if we do not first, by prayer and preparation, array God the Lord on our side, and get hold of His “outstretched arm of salvation.” It is easy to work, and glorious are the results--all human agencies so readily fall into line and aid us--when the hand of the Lord our God is upon us. The application, the lesson, is therefore obvious--
1. Prayer lies at the foundation of all wise planning and all successful effort to advance Christ’s kingdom in the world.
2. God’s hand must be upon us--His providence must be enlisted in our behalf--there must be co-operation between the Divine and the human.
3. The secret of declension, of abounding evil, of the lack of converting power in the Church, of the dearth of revivals, is to be found in the fact that God’s hand is not upon us, because of the lack of faith and prayer. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
For upon the first day of the first month.--
New Year’s Day
(a talk with children):--The Bible attaches a great deal of importance to first things; the first-fruits of the earth were sacred, the first batch of bread was a consecrated batch, the first hour of the day, the first day of the week, the first week of the month, the first month of the year, the first year in seven years, and above all the first day of the first month, or in other words “New Year’s Day,” were considered specially important. It was on New Year’s Day that the waters of the deluge finally dried up; it was on New Year’s Day that the tabernacle was set up for the first time, that the temple was completely consecrated in the days of Hezekiah; and it was on New Year’s Day that the captives in Babylon began their march out of captivity on their return to Canaan under Ezra. Now if you will just remember these four striking instances you will say that New Year’s Day has a very important history. How monotonous life would be if there were not something new every day! Why you know that little baby boy at home wants a fresh toy every day. The old toys soon become uninteresting and he wants a new one constantly. Now you used to be the same when you were a very little boy, and you are not very different from that now. All through your little life you have been glad of any little change that gives a novelty and freshness to it. God thinks of all that, and therefore He gives you one thing at a time that will be likely to interest you; and when you have made use of that He gives you another and still another. He gives you life moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. One day is in one sense very much like the other; and yet not two days are alike, especially when you think of the experiences of each day. Every day has something fresh in it; and God ordains all that in order to make you happy and to enable you to learn constantly, from some experience which each day teaches you, something you have not learnt before. This is specially true with regard to the first day of the New Year. You remember when at school you had a copy book given you. When you had it first of all it was a clean and charming copy book. When you began to write you took a great deal of trouble, especially with the first page. There was not a mistake or blot, or careless line on the whole page. The second page had just one little mistake. Then the third, perhaps, had a blot, and then you got rather careless, and hurried over some of the pages as you drew near the end of your copy book. Your teacher was probably vexed with you because you had not improved as you proceeded with it; then you felt ashamed of yourself, and said, “I wish I could begin again.” The day at length came when you got a new copy book, and you were permitted to begin again. Now that is just as God deals with you. He gave you a fine copy book last year--it had 365 pages, and clean throughout; and you were expected to write your very best on those pages. I know some of you tried the first day or two, and now and then you tried again; but some of you got rather careless and restless as you advanced. Here and there you did that which was wrong, and that in each case left a blot behind. The Master took note of it, and there it is now in His presence. You cannot be very proud of your last year’s history. Yet to-day the Lord says, “I know all about it; but I will give you a new copy book; and will put that old one aside and forget all about it. I will forgive you; but you must try to do better with this new copy book. Do your very best. If you cannot write as you would, ask Me to help you, and I will take your hand and guide it, and will help you to do what is right and well-pleasing in My sight.” When I was a boy at school we used to have in our copy books what we called a script line on the top of the page. We used to copy that. Now the Saviour has put the script line over every day for us. It is His own writing, and we have to copy it. (D. Davies.)
New Year’s Day
The name of Fernando de Magellan is not so well known as it should be. ‘Tis over 350 years ago since he first discovered for us the Pacific Ocean, and to reach it he had to go through the Straits which have ever since borne his name--straits extending hundreds of miles, sometimes narrowing to the breadth of a broad river, and again expanding to the breadth of seas. What a day that was when, after long windings to and fro, his ships entered the waters of the Pacific! These were the first keels which ploughed it. His ships came back, but their brave commander never did; the silent sea which had beckoned him on lured him to his death. Is it much different with the boom of the clock which tells us we have entered on the unknown stretch of a New Year? I think not; we are all voyaging, and no ship has gone in advance into the New Year. What lies ahead of us? No one knows, and no one needs to know. The important thing is, that with all our tacking to and fro we are seeking to drop our anchor at last in the good haven. If that is our aim, and we are prayerful and earnest about it, it matters little what the year has in store for us: all will prove well and rightly done in the end. Bend heart and head to this, and leave all else with God. (J. Reid Howatt.)
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.--
Man’s duty in relation to God’s redemptive truth
The text indicates man’s duty in relation to God’s redemptive truth. The “law” here refers undoubtedly not to God’s truth in general, but to that truth which He has condescended to reveal to man as a fallen being. In relation to this he has to do three things--
I. He has to learn it. “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord.” Two things are to be attended to in our endeavours to attain a knowledge of the truth which God has revealed to fallen man.
1. It must be sought for where it is to be found. Truth from God may be found written in the volume of nature, in the facts of human history, in the constitution of the human soul: but the truth from God which man wants as a sinner is to be found in the Bible. It must be sought for here; it is here under the cover of facts and histories, metaphors and poetries.
2. It must be sought for in the manner in which it is to be found. There is a right way of seeking as well as a wrong way. “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek” it. It must be sought--
(1) With devout earnestness. It must be regarded as the supreme good.
(2) With persevering diligence. It must be searched for as hidden treasures.
II. He has to practise it. Ezra had not only “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord,” but “to do it.” The truth that God has revealed to sinners is not a subject for mere speculative thought or logical debate, it is a practical system.
1. The doing of it is essential to a thorough understanding of it. “He that doeth the will of God shall know of the doctrine.” There are some things that a man may understand without practising. A man may understand architecture who has never built a house, agriculture who has never cultivated a farm, but no one can understand theology unless he has practised it.
2. The doing of it is necessary in order to be really benefited by it. Truth as ideas in the mind is only like floating clouds, rolling undischarged over the barren soil; but truth as deeds is like living streams so intersecting each other, and winding in every direction, as to touch the whole region into life, verdure, and beauty.
III. He has to preach it. “And to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” God’s truth to sinners is to be taught by men. But none can teach it but those who have learnt it and practised: the right kind of preaching is life preaching. This life preaching is--
1. The most intelligible.
2. The most incontrovertible.
3. The most constant.
4. The most Christlike.
Conclusion: We must learn, practise, and preach the Bible. The last can only be done by those who have accomplished the first and second. (Homilist.)
Ezra the scribe
I. His private character.
1. I would call him a manly man. The most uncouth, ignorant country clodhopper may be drilled into being a common soldier, who may pass muster with his fellows in a review. But there are few men who can become great generals. Many are able and willing to follow a leader, but there are only too few who have the power to lead others. In the Church as well as in the State our great want is men, manly men.
2. He was a godly man. It is not always the case that great men are godly men also. Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord his God, and to do it; and that added to his greatness.
3. He was a man of discernment. For himself he found it was wisest and best to seek the law of the Lord and to do it. He saw also that it was righteousness for the nation as well as the individual.
II. Ezra in the discharge of his public duties.
1. As the leader of the returning exiles he was scrupulously honest.
2. He showed boundless trust in the protection of God.
3. As the ruler of the people in Jerusalem he identified himself with the people under him. (James Menzies.)
Ezra’s exemplary conduct
Contemplate its chief features.
I. The acquisition of divine truth for himself. In aiming at this attainment he adopted--
1. The right method. He sought for it.
2. The right manner. “He had prepared”--i.e., fixed or set--“his heart to seek the law of the Lord.”
3. The right place.
II. The embodiment of divine truth in his life. Knowledge misapplied is--
1. Useless (Matthew 7:21-27; James 1:25).
2. An occasion of condemnation (Luke 12:47-48).
III. The communication of divine truth to others. He taught others both by his speech and by his action. Merely verbal teaching will not bear comparison with that which is also of the character and conduct. The latter is--
1. More intelligible.
2. More continuous.
3. More influential. (William Jones.)
The Christian ministry
We have here pointed out some indispensable qualifications for an able minister of the New Testament.
I. Devotedness to God’s word.
II. Public instruction. (The Preacher’s Portfolio.)
Divine sequence in service
Everything in its due order is a universal law. This applies to Sabbath-school teaching.
I. There must be diligent searching for the law of Genesis
II. There must be a hearty doing of the discovered will. Alas 1 for him who seeks to teach others laws which he himself does not obey, and to enforce commands which he himself defies.
III. Then may we teach the law of the Lord. Let us give heed to this sequence. It is taught in many parts of Scripture; but let Ezra’s embodiment of it make it plain. (Sunday School Teacher.)
A mind saturated with Scripture
The late Sydney Dobell, poet and philosopher, and devout Christian, has this remark: “The more exquisite your sense of beauty becomes, the dearer will the Holy Scripture become to you, the more natural and indispensable will the wisest and grandest of its sayings become to your heart and mind--as wings to the air, as feet to the ground, as light to the eyes; you will feel certain that the mind was created for the saying, and the saying for the mind. I learned at one period of my life the whole New Testament by rote, and I cannot unlearn the beauty of those sweet old Saxon phrases in which I thought so long. Full of ‘the light that never was on sea or shore,’ I feel, in using them, to mingle a new element with earthly speech and to relieve, in some sort, with their glory, the dreary lifelessness of words.”
Testimonies to the Bible
“In this book,” said Ewald to Dean Stanley, “is all the wisdom of the world.” “That book,” said Andrew Jackson, as he lay on his death-bed, “is the rock on which our republic rests.” Said the great chemist Faraday, “Why will people go astray when they have this blessed book to guide them?” “If we be ignorant,” say the translators of 1611, “the Scriptures will instruct us; if out of the way, they will bring us home; if out of order, they will reform us; if in heaviness, they will comfort us; if dull, quicken us; if cold, inflame us.” Hooker said, “There is scarcely any part of knowledge worthy of the mind of man but from Scripture it may have some direction and light.” Theodore Parker said, “The literature of Greece, which goes up like incense from that land of temples, has not half the influence of this book of a despised nation. The sun never sets upon its gleaming pages.” Heine, the infidel, said, “What a book! Vast and wide as the world, rooted in the abysses of creation, and towering up behind the blue secrets of heaven. Sunrise and sunset, promise and fulfilment, birth and death, the whole drama of humanity, all in this book.” (Sunday School Times.)
Study of the Scriptures
The Abbe Wincklemann, a classical writer on the fine arts, after descanting with great zeal on the perfection of sculpture, as exhibited in the Apollo Belvedere, said to the students, “Now go and study it, and if you see no beauty in it, go again and again, go until you feel it, for be assured it is there.” So we say to the Bible student, “Go and study the Scripture, and if at first you discover no beauty, go until you feel the power of its glorious truths, for be assured it is there.” (J. Bawden Allen.)
The Scriptures a safeguard of a nation
If we wish to know what the Christian tradition has done for us, we must examine the moral standards of nations who have differed from us in not having it. For example, we must look at the Greeks of the fifth century before Christ, or the Romans at or after the period of the Advent. The Christian faith and the Holy Scriptures arm us with the means of neutralising and repelling the assaults of evil in and from ourselves. Mist may rest upon the surrounding landscape, but our own path is always visible. (W. E. Gladstone.)
The inestimable value of the Scriptures
Dr. Smith, of Edinburgh, preaching recently, said the Scriptures were an unalienable treasure of the Church, and urged his hearers to make a more diligent use of them. He told of an Australian farmer, who for years tried vainly to make a competence out of his soil. He transferred it at a low price to a neighbour, who shortly discovered a priceless mine upon the property. “So,” the preacher said, “we are apt to forget that underneath the newspapers and novels which cumber our tables, lies a small volume which is worth inestimably more than all of them.”
The Scriptures a winding splendour
Passing from Bonn to Coblentz, on the Rhine, the scenery is comparatively tame. But from Coblentz to Mayence it is enchanting. You sit on deck, and feel as if this last flash of beauty must exhaust the scene; but in a moment there is a turn of the river, which covers up the former view with more luxuriant vineyards, and more defiant castles, and bolder bluffs, vine-wreathed, and grapes so ripe that if the hills be touched they would bleed their rich life away into the bowels of Bingen and Hockheimer. Here and there there are streams of water melting into the river, like smaller joys swallowed in the bosom of a great gladness. And when night begins to throw its black mantle over the shoulder of the hills, and you are approaching disembarkation at Mayence, the lights along the shore fairly bewitch the scene with their beauty, giving one a thrill that he feels but once, yet that lasts him for ever. So this river of God’s Word is not a straight stream, but a winding splendour--at every turn new wonders to attract, still riper vintage pressing to the brink, and crowded castles of strength--Stolzenfels and Johannisberger as nothing compared with the strong tower into which the righteous run and are saved--and our disembarkation at last, in the evening, amid the lights that gleam from the shore of heaven. The trouble is, that the vast majority of Bible voyagers stop at Coblentz, where the chief glories begin. (Christian Age.)
Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes.
The office and duty of the civil magistrate
It is the office of a Christian magistrate to encourage and protect good men in the exercise of religion, Dora by his own example and wholesome laws, and to promote true religion in his dominions. Thus far the good magistrates among Jews, heathens, and Christians have proceeded to their lasting honour and commendation; but those who acted on the contrary have been branded with infamy and contempt. Joshua, the Judges, David, Solomon and Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Hezekiah and others, destroyed idolatry, erected altars, ordered the courses of the priests, built and repaired the temple, collected and disposed of money for those charges, caused the Passover and other religious duties to be celebrated, and wrought a glorious reformation in true religion, when the priests and Levites were negligent in their office. Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes, the King of Nineveh, Alexander the Great, and Seleucus, etc., made decrees through all their dominions to worship the true God; they set His people at liberty, ordered them to rebuild the temple to the Lord God of heaven, allowed timber, salt, and similar charges for the sacrifices out of their own treasury; they required the prayers of God’s people for themselves, their families and dominions, they protected them from their adversaries and appointed solemn fasts, etc. Lycurgus, Numa, and Solon made laws concerning religion in Athens, Rome, and Sparta; Timoleon, Augustus, and others rebuilt and endowed all the temples that had fallen into decay in Crete and about Rome. Judas Maccabeus repaired the breaches, purchased holy vessels and instruments for the service of the temple, pulled down the idols, and cleansed the sanctuary from the profanation of Antiochus Epiphanes, chose priests of a blameless conversation, and appointed an anniversary festival in commemoration of the reparation of the temple which our Saviour honoured with His own presence (John 10:22). Constantine published several edicts in favour of Christian religion, granting to all professors the free exercise of it; he destroyed the idol temples, restored the former places of worship to them, and built several magnificent churches and gave great gifts to them; he also commanded fine copies of the Bible to be made. When the heresy of Arius infected the Church, he assembled the first General Council at Nice, consisting of 318 bishops from all quarters of the empire. He banished Arius and burnt his books, he settled the time for the keeping of Easter, and made many good laws for the discipline and government of the Church. Theodosius, Justinian, and others of his successors thought it their duty to enact good laws for the establishment of the true religion. The British, Saxon, and English princes have been as active therein as other Christian monarchs, for King Lucius sent a letter to Eleutherins, Bishop of Rome, desiring his directions to make him a Christian; he also turned some heathen temples into Christian churches and built and endowed others at his own charges. Ethelbert kindly received and main tained Augustine and his companions, Edward the Confessor built and granted great privileges to the Abbey of Westminster, and made many excellent laws for the benefit and protection of the Church, which were rather the laws of his predecessors than those of his own making. William the Conqueror at his coronation took an oath that he should defend the Church of Christ, and all our monarchs have done the like. By Act of Parliament the sovereign is declared to be supreme Head of the Church, and has the glory of being described as Defender of the Faith. (Philoclesius.)
The commission of Artaxerxes
It indicated a spirit of--
I. Great reverence for God.
II. Profound respect for the law of God.
III. Sincere regard the worship of God.
IV. Hearty appreciation of the character of a good man. His liberal gifts may be exhibited as--
1. A rebuke to the parsimony of many Christians.
2. An example to all Christians. (William Jones.)
Verses 15. The Lord God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem.
I. This holy alliance: “The God of Israel.” We have here--
1. A description of God and His Church. The “God of Israel” includes both. Israel His Church; and the God that claims it; a living God amidst a living people.
2. Infinitude associated with a royal seed. Israel signifies a prevailing prince before God.
3. A veritable portion on both sides. “The Lord’s portion is His people’; “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul.
4. The living connection between God and His people constitutes the stronghold of faith.
II. His habitation. He dwells--
1. In “the Jerusalem which is above.”
2. In the living Church of God which was typified by Jerusalem.
3. In the Jerusalem of every regenerated soul. (J. Irons.)
Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done.
The decree of Artaxerzes
It is remarkable that some of the richest effusions of poetry in the whole Scriptures proceeded from heathen monarchs, e.g., Darius and Nebuchadnezzar. Consider these words--
I. In reference to the Jewish church.
1. The state of the Jewish Church at this time is not unlike to that in which it was in the days of Ezra. It is impossible to behold them in their religious services, and not to see how thick s veil is yet upon their hearts. Nor do they manifest any respect for their own law in its sublimer precepts. Of real holiness of heart and life they are ignorant in the extreme.
2. But to us is given, no less than to Ezra, a command to advance their welfare.
3. In this work we should engage with all diligence (Romans 11:30-31).
II. In reference to the church which is amongst us.
1. We need to have God’s work advanced in our midst.
2. We ought to engage in this work with our whole hearts. Conclusion:
We ought to obey this imperial mandate--
1. In a way of personal reformation.
2. In a way of ministerial exertion. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
We may well sit at the feet of Artaxerxes and learn from heathen lips the extent of our duty and the nature of our obligations. We plead for missions.
I. To assign some reasons for active devotedness to the cause of God in the world.
1. From the Divine authority by which it is enjoined. It “is commanded by the God of heaven.” We love to see the estimate of Christian duties from the men of the world. They often take a just measure of our obligations. The law of love to the perishing heathen is clearly laid down. God makes man the medium of His blessings to man. The same God who bids us “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” that we may be saved bids us “go into all the world,” etc. We should like to see inscribed over all our missionary institutions the law, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”
2. From the urgent necessity which exists for your exertions.
3. From the fearful consequences of the neglect of this duty. “For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?”
4. From the success which has attended the fulfilment of this duty.
II. To offer some suggestions as to the spirit and mode in which this work should be carried on.
1. Earnestly, without remissness. “Let it be diligently done.”
3. Speedily. (Samuel Thodey.)
Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart.
Kings of Persia--nursing fathers of the Church
The book of Ezra contains an interesting record of the dealings of God in His providence towards His visible Church under the Persian Empire. That empire performed important services for the Church--a brief consideration of which as they are recorded in the first seven chapters of Ezra will exhibit wonderful instances of the watchful care of Providence for the Church, and open up the way for the following inferences:
I. The decree of artaxerxes was right in the judgment of God as well as in the judgment of the church. Ezra gives thanks to God for this decree and ascribes the procuring of it to the immediate hand of God.
II. That it is of great importance to obtain the countenance and aid of the civil power in favour of the visible church in all ages. It is true God can preserve and increase His Church without the aid and in spite of the opposition of kings and rulers. It multiplied amidst the exterminating persecution in Egypt; and it was not lost during the seventy years’ captivity in Babylon; and for three hundred years after Christ the Church was generally persecuted by the civil powers, and yet multiplied exceedingly. But still opposition by the civil powers, and much more persecution, is in itself an evil; and the nursing care of the kings of the earth is s great blessing to the Church.
III. If civil aid and countenance be so important to the church, it is the duty of all who love the prosperity of jerusalem to endeavour to obtain it. Ezra did so (verse 6), “And the king granted him all his request according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him.”
IV. We ought not to be discouraged from seeking the adequate support of the state by the apparent improbability of obtaining it. “Who art thou, O great mountain?” said the prophet Zechariah, in reference to the usurping Persian king, stirred up by the enemies of the Church, “before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain” (Zechariah 4:6-7).
V. The friends of religion and the church ought not to be unduly concerned which party is up or which is down. When the friends of the Church are uppermost, give thanks, like Ezra, to God, who putteth it into the heart of the king to beautify His house. When the enemies are uppermost, do as David did, when he encouraged himself in the Lord his God.
VI. The friends of the church ought not to be much moved either by the flatteries or the threats of the enemies.
VII. The church needs, and is entitled to, the private liberality of individuals as well as the public support of the nation. Large and liberal as were the government grants by Darius, Cyrus, and Artaxerxes, yet the voluntary liberality of the private Jews was called into exercise. So it was in the time of Moses and the kings, and so it must be as it has been in the times of the gospel.
VIII. The church of god ought not to be treated either by individuals or nations in a mean and niggardly manner. Artaxerxes had not to build the temple--that was done already--but he beautified it; he laid out money on it, as some would say unnecessarily and extravagantly. But Ezra thanks God for putting such a thing as this into the king’s heart, to beautify the house of God.
IX. As it is the duty of all to serve and glorify God, so no one is exempted from the duty of supporting His true church.
X. We ought not to refuse to add to the number of ministers and buildings in the church until the church is perfectly reformed.
XI. The aid of government to the extension of the church is the rich giving to the poor.
XII. Let us not think that we shall grow poor if we give much to God. (W. Mackenzie.)
I. The true offerers of praise. Ezra exhibits in these verses--
1. Unaffected humility.
2. Sincere piety.
3. Practical religiousness.
II. The grand object of praise.
1. The Supreme Being.
2. The Supreme Being in covenant relation with His worshippers.
3. The Supreme Being whom our fathers worshipped.
III. Good reasons for praise.
1. God inspires the worthy purposes of men.
2. He beneficently influences the moral judgments of men.
3. He invigorates the heart and life of His servants. (William Jones.)
To beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.
God’s love of the beautiful
One of the desires common to humanity is the desire for what is beautiful. We need not go far for evidence of this universal feeling. It is seen declaring itself in the little flower that lends a nameless grace to the cottage window, in many a simple ornament and picture to be found in the homes of labour and in the preference given to some spot favoured with more than usual sweetness and charm. The desire for beauty and the expressions of it are the creation of the Divine inbreathing. To limit human conduct to what is strictly useful would impoverish existence and rob it of half its interest and grace. If utility were to be the sole standard of human action, the mother would be forbidden to kiss her child and the mourner to shed a tear at the graveside of a friend. According to this, to admire the glowing sunset or to lift our eyes in wonder to the star-spangled sky would be foolishness. The spires and monuments of our cities, the ornamental facings of our buildings, the taste and skill displayed in the laying out of our public parks and gardens, according to this system of appraisement, would be wasteful and worthless. Man desires beauty in the house of God because of its fittingness; we feel it to be in harmony with God’s works above and around us to introduce something of the beautiful into the house of prayer and praise. The feeling of hostility in the presence of flagrant abuses of art is now passing away. There is no inevitable alliance between artistic arrangement and idolatrous practices-superstition need never be the offspring of the beautiful; and if good taste is desirable in the home, there is even stronger reason to give it fitting expression in the house of God. We are learners in the school of One who was greater than the temple, One who was altogether lovely, whose loveliness was the loveliness of perfect deeds, and whose beauty was the beauty of holiness. With this beauty we must adorn life’s daily temple, taking care that no image of falsehood, uncleanness, or dishonour mars its fairness and grieves the Holy Spirit that would dwell within. (W. Proudfoot, M. A.)
Beauty in God’s house
So long as our streets are walled with barren brick, and our eyes rest continually, in our daily life, on objects utterly ugly, or of inconsistent and meaningless design, it may be a doubtful question whether the faculties of eye and mind which are capable of perceiving beauty, having been left without food during the whole of our active life, should suddenly be feasted upon entering a place of worship, and colour and music and sculpture should delight the senses and stir the curiosity of men unaccustomed to such appeal, at the moment when they are required to compose themselves for acts of devotion; but it cannot be a question at all, that if once familiarised with beautiful form and colour, we shall desire to see this also in the house of prayer; its absence will disturb instead of assisting devotion; and we shall feel it as vain to ask whether, with our own house full of goodly craftsmanship, we should worship God in a house destitute of it as to ask whether a pilgrim, whose day’s journey has led him through fair woods and by sweet waters, must at evening turn aside into some barren place to pray. (J. Ruskin.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezra 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany