Sunday School Lessons

When It’s Not Tattling

This next mini-series of lessons backs up a bit in the book of Ezra, and overlaps with the previous mini-series.  However, there are good things to learn from different perspectives on the same passages of Scripture.

So, to re-set the context here: In chapters 7 and 8 of the book of Ezra, the man Ezra himself (a priest, scribe, and teacher) gets support from King Artaxerxes and travels (along with a number of others – maybe several thousand) from Babylon to Jerusalem.  Thanks to God’s protection, they arrive in Jerusalem, where they transfer some valuables to the temple and offer sacrifices, then deliver the king’s message to local government officials.

So, Ezra has made it to Jerusalem, visited the temple, and handled some business.  Comparing Ezra 7:8 (Ezra arriving at Jerusalem in the fifth month) with Ezra 10:9 (where events that start here seem to lead to activities in the ninth month), it appears that about three to four months transpire until the start of chapter 9, when he is met with some news.

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”
Ezra 9:1‭-‬2 NIV

Unlike the representatives of the Persian government described in Ezra 8:36, the leaders (or officials, per NASB) who come to Ezra here seem to be those of the Israelites.  There’s a problem with certain behavior that was clearly forbidden by God for the Israelite people, and this goes all the way up to the top, in terms of those in leadership roles within the community.

Note the emphasis on the “practices” of the past residents of Canaan.  To me, this doesn’t seem to have as much to do with the ethnicity of the wives that are being taken, as it does the idol worship and heathen behavior of these other peoples in the region.  A commentator [Schoville, p.119] suggested that most of the nations listed here – from when the Israelites first came to the Promised Land – had been wiped out already, but the kinds of sins and corruption that they practiced were still present in the other nations around Jerusalem, at the time of Ezra.

Now, we might be inclined to think of these messengers as tattle-tales, telling on those who aren’t keeping the rules.  However, given Ezra’s reaction in the next several verses, it sounds like the concern here was genuine.

This can be a tough call for us, when we know that someone’s behavior is destructive: whether to themselves, to those close to them, or to the church at large.  Yes, there are times when announcing someone else’s sin is just being hurtful to them, but if we really love our fellow Christians, how can we not speak up if raising the issue will prevent harm to the family of God?

Sometimes, like the little boy in Aesop’s fable, someone needs to just state that “the emperor has no clothes”.

The good news for us is that Jesus gave His disciples clear instructions on how to handle situations where another Christian sins (see Matthew 18:15-17).  Whether we consider this a prescriptive instruction, or an illustrative example of loving correction, the focus is quite different from someone who spreads stories about their opponent to try and win an argument or an election.

Jesus instructs us to work directly with the person who sins first.  Even the business world knows that you don’t call out a friend in public (blindsiding them), if you could have settled things privately.  Then, if that doesn’t work (and remember, this is not about you being right or getting revenge, but maintaining holiness), you bring a few others – sort of like an intervention.  Only if that doesn’t get through does Jesus suggest bringing something before the church.

Now, I don’t know if the people coming to Ezra here went through those steps exactly the same way (although it would not surprise me if they had followed a similar “escalation” process), but the attitude of preserving holiness for God’s people seems to be similar to Jesus’ instructions.

This doesn’t make us police, badgering our Christian brothers and sisters about every mistake, but it may mean that we share responsibility for sins that we allow to continue in the lives of others around us within God’s family.

  • If we know that we are sinning, and don’t work to stop it (maybe even asking for help as we confess those sins to others), we are guilty of not just hurting ourselves, but also others around us.
  • If we have the opportunity to lovingly try and help others who are stuck in their sins (whether or not they realize it), and we don’t use that opportunity, we share in their guilt – and perhaps also in their suffering.
  • If we don’t work diligently to keep the church pure and holy, we might think that we are OK because we’re not sinning “like that”, but our responsibilities don’t stop at ourselves.

So, let us not be tattle-tales today, but may we not become those who ignore sin around us in the family of God, either, especially when we have the ability to help others out of it.

From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 29, 2023


  • The Lookout, January 29, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
  • The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville.  © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.

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