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right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance; for I was ashamed to require 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 for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is upon all them that forsake him. So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he was entreated of
Immediately upon his arrival at Jerusalem, when he delivered his commission to the king's lieutenants, he was astonished and confounded at the information that some of the captives, who had returned with Zerubbabel, began to deviate from the purity of their principles, by intermarrying with the idolatrous inhabitants of the land. Nor was the trespass confined to the lower ranks, for the princes and rulers had set the example. The experience of ages had manifested the fatal effects of such a conduct. Ezra pathetically describes the distress and anguish of his mind, on account of this flagrant and dangerous impropriety. His lamentations, fastings, and prayers, made such an impression upon the offenders themselves, that one of them, Shecaniah, the son of Jehiel, acknowledged the trespass, and convinced of its extreme danger, as well as
impiety, proposed, "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." The proposition was universally accepted, and the result was a complete reformation.
They proceeded in the next place to rebuild the ruined walls of Jerusalem. This was resisted by their enemies to the utmost of their power. Nehemiah, who was at the court of Artaxerxes, being informed by Hanam of the vexatious opposition, was exceedingly dejected. The king, who saw the sadness of his countenance, and being informed of the cause, permitted the prophet to visit the ancient city, for a limited time. He was deeply affected at the inspection he made of the ruined state of its walls, and he animated the Israelites to rebuild them, regardless of all opposition. The attempt was strongly resisted by Sanballat and others, who for some time concealed their fears, by the ridicule and contempt with which they affected to treat it. But when they were witnesses to the quick advances made, they became virulent, and con
spired together to frustrate the design by treachery. The pious zeal of the Israelites was manifested, by the persevering ardour with which they exposed themselves to danger. The builders, to prevent their being surprised by their adversaries, worked with their swords by their sides; and the other labourers bore their burdens with one hand, and the weapons of defence with the other. Sanballat attempted also to terrify Nehemiah, by making him acquainted with a report which prevailed, but which he himself had invented, that Nehemiah had seditious views, and was making himself popular that he might assume the reins of government. Shemaiah also, a false prophet, was hired to discourage Nehemiah, by insinuating that the design was so opposite to the will of God, that he would certainly be destroyed, if he did not take refuge in the temple. "He was hired," says the prophet," that I should be afraid, and do so and sin, that they might have matter for an evil report and reproach me."
The walls of the city being finally built, and the community enjoying some degree of security, "all the people gathered themselves together as one man," and proceeded to the solemn act, by which they acquired a more accurate knowledge of the divine law, and their dispositions to
observe it were confirmed. At their request, Ezra, with his several coadjutors, "read in the book of the law of God distinctly, from the morning until mid-day, before the men and the women, and those that could understand, and gave the sense, and caused to understand the reading; and the ears of the people were attentive unto the book of the law. When Ezra opened the book all the people stood up; and Ezra blessed the Lord the great God; and all the people answered Amen and Amen, with lifting up of their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground." The people were deeply affected with the scene, and they wept when they heard the words of the law. Assured of the sincerity of their repentance, and firmness of their resolu tions, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites who taught the people, intimated to them their conviction that the days of lamentation were now passed; for they were re-admitted into the divine favour, and therefore it was a day for exultation and joy. "This day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
To confirm these favourable impressions, and
to render them indelible, a general fast was afterwards appointed and religiously observed. "The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquity of their fathers." The Levites enumerated, in a devout address to their God, the extraordinary blessings and deliverances by which the nation had been distinguished, from the call of Abraham to their return from captivity; acknowledged the numerous transgressions of their ancestors, and their own; extolled the patience and long-suffering of the God of mercy, and earnestly prayed that the various dispensations of Providence towards them might not be in vain. "Now therefore our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all the people, since the times of the kings of Assyria unto this day." This devout act was succeeded by their public assent to a written covenant to which Princes, Levites, and Priests, had set their seal, they would walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and that they would observe and do all the command