Some people seem to be offended by anything and everything, but even for those who take a more balanced approach, there are certain events and behaviors in our world that are truly offensive. In fact, just when it seems that things can’t get any worse, we may encounter see a headline that someone has done something so abhorrent that we’re still shocked. Is it OK to get worked up about evil things that we see around us? Let’s take a look at what Ezra did in the Bible.
Upon receiving the news from Ezra 9:1-2, Ezra is clearly in distress.
When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
Ezra 9:3-4 NIV
The NASB has a footnote on the word “appalled” (in 2 places), suggesting that this might also be translated “shattered”. It sounds like Ezra is broken at this news, and he will explain why over the next several verses.
He shows this by tearing his clothes (not just one layer, but two), and his hair. His distress is greater than both the monetary cost of his clothing (which wasn’t something you could just run down to the store and replace easily in that day), and the physical pain of pulling out his hair.
While Ezra sits in this pain, people gather around. Notice how these people are described: They aren’t sticking around to watch a spectacle, nor are they making fun of Ezra. Instead, they are described as “everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel”. These people understood that God had clearly told His people to not be doing certain things (even though they were), and that there were consequences for sins like this.
In fact, some of the people here may have recently arrived with Ezra to Jerusalem, with fresh memories of being in exile in Babylon, as a result of punishment for their people’s previous sins. Even for those gathered around who were born in Jerusalem or nearby, as descendants of exiles who had returned previously, Jerusalem no longer had the status that it did under the days of David and Solomon. It should be clear to all of them that disobeying God’s clear instructions deserved punishment. And, this disobedience of some people affected the overall nation, not just the individuals who were violating God’s commands.
So, it’s OK to be appalled or broken at the level of sin around us. In a fallen world, sin shouldn’t come as a surprise, but when the people of God also fall into sin, or even start to embrace it as acceptable, it is incumbent upon those who seek God’s righteous will to call sin what it is (as was mentioned in the previous article), and – as we find in the remainder of the book of Ezra – do to something about it.
I learned last year about the importance of “lament”: experiencing sorrow over something bad. If you aren’t sure what righteous lament looks like, the book of Psalms has some examples of this, but it’s not the only place in the Bible where God’s people dwell in lament for a while.
Only after fully appreciating the awfulness of sin can we fully appreciate God’s resolutions, whether His grace and mercy extended to us through Jesus Christ, or His guidance to us so that we take action to make things better.
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.