PFOA : Ezra 9 & 10
Read Ezra 9, 10
The building programme is over. The Temple is completed. End of Story? Well, not for Ezra.
Together with another wave of Jewish returnees, Ezra recruited some families of Levites and their servants to go with him to Jerusalem. These were the ones who knew the Law of Moses and were able to serve in the Temple rituals and ministry. They also brought the precious vessels and utensils for temple worship that the king had returned to them. And so with prayer and fasting, they made the dangerous journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, not depending on the protection of the king but by trusting in God (Ezra 8:22,23).
Upon arrival, Ezra set about to read, explain and teach the laws of God (Ezra 7:25,26). The accurate and clear teaching of the whole law of God had its impact on the people. In Ezra 9 we see God’s Word convicting the people of their sin. The people had disobeyed God and married foreigners; adopting their “detestable practices” (Ezra 9:1). This sin was widespread and even priests, Levites and the leaders themselves were implicated.
Setting an example for us, Ezra identified himself with his people. In his prayer on their behalf, he confessed and repented of the sin. They have disobeyed again and again, and there is no excuse, but to ask for forgiveness from a merciful God. (Ezra 9:6-15). The people followed Ezra in repentance and confession and were committed to make things right (Ezra 10:1,5). Acknowledging that they have been unfaithful, they confessed their sin and separated themselves from the peoples of the land and from their foreign wives (Ezra 10:11).
Our modern sensitivities will have problem dealing with the “putting away” (Ezra 10:3) of the foreign spouses and children. This could mean divorcing them, but it could also mean physical separation. Certainly we can expect that the spouses and children would be dealt with mercifully, just as God was merciful to Hagar when Abraham sent her away (Gen. 21:17).
The issue here is not about intermarriage, but really about compromise at a very deep and intimate level. It is idolatry. It is allowing something or someone else to usurp the God’s place as first in our lives.
Sin is never private business. The sin of an individual had always impacted the whole community. Israel’s defeat at Ai was the result on one man, Achan’s disobedience. (Josh. 7). Where the individual is a leader, the impact is even greater. By taking Jezebel as his wife, King Ahaz led the whole nation into idolatry, and when God sent his prophet Elijah to deal with him, Jezebel sought to have him killed (1 Kings 19:2).
We may pray for revival, but it is not going to happen until there is repentance and sin is confessed. And we all have sinned. We may not have committed murder of stolen anything, but one of my favourite authors, Jerry Bridges in his book Respectable Sins, helpfully lists these for our self-examination: ungodliness, anxiety, frustration, discontentment, , unthankfulness, pride, selfishness, lack of self-control, impatience, irritability, anger, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue and worldliness. These are not temporary lapses or personality traits. These are sins. This is why Bridges, in another book said we must preach the gospel to ourselves daily, for we are sinners, and continue to sin (1 John 1:8-10).
Corporate confession of sin and seeking of forgiveness is sadly lacking in the worship services in many churches. It is seldom present in the worship songs we sing, in our corporate prayers, and in the sermons from the pulpit.
The book of Ezra ends with the people confessing their sin AND taking the tough and necessary action to set things right. As Jesus reminded us in the prayer he taught us, the church must do the same.