THE PURSUIT OF SPIRITUAL RESTORATION
Shame Before God Ezra 9
We live in a world today that prides itself on inclusiveness. In society this means that no group of people are left out of lawful consideration. That we should not discriminate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, sex, religion. This may be commendable for society but in at least one area, Christians who take the Bible’s exclusive view of the nature of God, inclusiveness will be a problem. And this is precisely the issue God Ezra raises with the exiles a few months after he has returned to the land (10:9). That they need to maintain the exclusive nature of their God and not include Him in the pantheon of the surrounding peoples. Any alliance that endangers or compromises their wholehearted devotion to God is forbidden. God is to be worshipped and served exclusively.
OUR WHOLEHEARTED DEVOTION TO GOD IS CONSTANTLY IN JEOPARDY 1-4
While chapter eight ended on a very good note (8:36), the princes inform Ezra that they have discovered their fellow leaders are not living separated lives but have been unfaithful to God and mingled ‘the holy seed with the peoples of the lands’ (9:2). This includes the priests and the Levites. Once again, the narrative directs our attention to the issue of holiness. Their report introduces a key word for the Returnees sin—‘unfaithfulness’. The Israelites have intermarried with people who are practitioners of the same abominations that characterized the Canaanites etc., in v1. They had married idolatrous non-Jewish women.
It seems that after 80 years of long and tireless opposition some of the leader decided that pursuing a course of political separation because of spiritual concerns was ineffective. To realize the political independence they longed for meant forging political alliances with the current players and powers and tolerate their ways of life whose religious views were not as narrow as theirs (Neh 13:28; 6:17). This was the same compromise that Solomon made in order to keep the nation secure and it was the seeds planted through these political alliances with foreign women that introduced inclusiveness to Jerusalem. The seeds of idolatry were always present in Israel but after Solomon idolatry became epidemic and precipitated the judgment of Israel and the exile of the people.
This news brought Ezra’s dramatic response in vss 3-4. The ripping and tearing and sitting in stunned silence all contributes to the horror of the moment for Ezra. It portrays the appalling nature of their sin. Others gathered who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of this unfaithfulness. Indeed, the returnees are guilty of the same sin as their forefathers for which they were exiled. They face the horrible reality of impending judgment themselves in such a short time. From Ezra’s point of view, schooled in the Law as he is, the problem is entirely spiritual in nature. Intermarriage with idolatrous foreign women constitutes an abandonment of God’s commandments and unfaithfulness to Him.
First, an exclusive commitment to Jesus Christ is going to constantly be challenged in this world. Obligations, responsibilities, opportunities, situations, experiences, circumstances, ambitions, will milk our exclusive devotion to Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself even said that if we do not hate our father or mother husband or wife even our own lives we are not worthy to be called his disciples. The stuff of life will keep calling you away from devotion to Christ to a more carefree, less costly, more inclusive, self-indulging, way and a more sinful one.
Second, it is our duty as believers to pursue an exclusive devotion to Jesus Christ. No matter the deterrents, we must persevere and not compromise that devotion for anything! Not for more safety and less danger. Not for more wealth and less poverty. Not for more recognition and less obscurity. Not for more relief and less pain. Not for more security and less vulnerability. Not for more sight and less faith. No. Just like these exiles, after awhile we synchronize our devotion to Christ with the ways of the world. This should be appalling to you.
GUILTY OF UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD WE CAN ONLY EXPECT JUDGMENT 5-15
There is no other way out as Ezra understands. If the people are left in this condition—sin as the root of the problem evidence by abandonment of their exclusive devotion to God—that impending annihilation of this remnant can be expected (vs 14-15). Ezra falls to his knees stretches out his hands and cries out to the Lord God of Israel in prayer. His prayer deserves careful attention as it gives us direction about the nature of the unfaithfulness and the guilt associated with it.
1. The returnee’s guilt links them to the guilt of their father’s vs 6-7. By participating in the very iniquity that precipitated the exile of their fathers with swords, captivity, spoil, and shame, they have become inheritors of their father’s guilt. His shame in vs 6 is linked to the shame of the nation for generations in vs 7. Notice the shame, embarrassment, iniquity, great guilt, and iniquities. There is a spiritual problem and it is sin, guilt and shame. The same kind of thing Adam and Eve experienced in the garden. The same thing you and I experience when sin is exposed. Ezra acknowledges that the exile was a manifestation of God’s sovereign power to punish vs 7. So unfaithfulness, spiritual adultery, is costly form God’s point of view.
2. Abandoning God to be inclusive is abandoning a god who has been gracious and faithful and shown his favor to us vs 8-9. He had grated them favor once again. He had given them back a small place in the land encouraging and reviving them. He had not abandoned them but extended his loyal love enabling them to rebuild the temple. Against this backdrop is contrasted in vs 10 their forsaking God’s commandments. Vs 11-12 extrapolate those commandments to include not intermarrying for peace or prosperity! This is the only way they could guarantee living in the land and enjoying its fruit. Even in God’s prohibitions his aim is the good of his people.
3. Ezra acknowledges the undeserved mercy God had granted to them once again. God has opened every door for them to find their way back into the land. God has orchestrated it all. This makes their unfaithfulness even more pronounced as not just deeds but ‘evil deeds’ and not just guilt but ‘great guilt’ vs 13. A friend of mine in college began his prayers, ‘Dear Father thank you for your grace and mercy. Continue to be merciful and gracious to me.’ We should want this above no other! Ezra did. Ezra fears that their present guilt might rouse God’s anger to annihilate them. This is a very real fear that motivated the humility and shame and embarrassment in the first place. He ends his anguished confession acknowledging God’s righteousness and their shameful guilt.
God does not take our unfaithfulness lightly. We have a number of warnings in the New Testament to believers about forsaking and abandoning devotion to Jesus Christ. Paul says in 1Corinthians 3that he laid the foundation of the gospel and we must build upon that but to be careful how we build for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire and the fire itself will test the quality of each persons work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up he shall suffer loss (3:13-15). Hebrews warns that believers will be judged by God adding that fear should motivate us in our devotion to God because it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31). James says that if a believer among us strays form the truth and one turns him back let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (5: 19-20).
We are guilty before God when we do not have exclusive devotion to Christ seen in the outcome of our decisions, our direction, our perspective, our priorities, our ambition, and our actions. God wants your heart, your soul, your mind, and your life!