Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Ezra is genuinely distraught. Some may feel that the tearing of his clothes is mere superficial drama, but in today’s passage, Ezra’s prayer of lament, uttered on his knees and hands, reveals his sincere and deep distress (Ezra 9:5). Several truths can be seen here.
First, Ezra acknowledges his people’s guilt. He confesses he is too ashamed to approach God as their sins are “higher than our heads” (v. 6); all of them are submerged in their sins.
Second, there is collective responsibility for the sins committed; note the use of the words “we” and “our” (v. 7).
Third, Israel suffers from chronic sinfulness, “From the days of our ancestors until now” (v. 7).
Fourth, it is because of this that Israel has suffered the tragic circumstances of national destruction and exile.
Fifth, God, however, in His mercy has given them a chance by bringing a “remnant” back to the land, moving the hearts of the Persian kings, and helping the people to build the new temple (vv. 8–9).
Sixth, yet the Jews seem to have blown this chance by repeating the sinful practice of intermarriage. God had forbidden this because of the danger of spiritual apostasy and idolatry (Exodus 34:15–16). The land that the Israelites possess is polluted by idolatry and “detestable practices”, which infect Israel through intermarriage (Ezra 9:11–12). Israel had already disregarded this divine commandment and paid the price for it in the past.
Seventh, the returning remnant is now facing the same danger, and there is no excuse whatsoever.
In the past, God had shown mercy by punishing the nation “less than our sins have deserved” (v. 13). If God had meted out appropriate punishment, the nation would have been wiped out. Instead, in His mercy, God preserved a remnant, a small portion of the original. The word “remnant” is mentioned three times in verses 13 to 15, emphasising how precarious the situation is. God has saved a remnant to give them a chance, but now the remnant shows signs of the same sinfulness that had earlier brought punishment to the nation. Will God punish again, and leave no remnant this time (v. 14)?
Admitting that no one can stand in the presence of God, Ezra indirectly cries out to God to be merciful even though His people have run out of excuses. Imagine a cancer eating away a vital organ of the body. After surgery, there is only enough of the organ left to survive. What if this remnant also shows signs of lingering cancer?
Read Isaiah 6:5. Why is the confession of sins both a personal and collective action? How can the sins of a few affect everyone?
Read Romans 7:21–25 and 1 John 3:6. What is the solution to chronic sinfulness? Why is it important for Christians not to keep on sinning? How can we avoid taking God’s grace and mercy for granted (Romans 6:1–2)?