in the United States of America, there are laws and rights in place to help ensure that the innocent are not punished for something that they didn’t do. Regrettably, this process isn’t perfect, but it often takes significant evidence to prove that someone was truly guilty of a crime.
On the other hand, there are defendants who face such an overwhelming mountain of proof that they cannot reasonably deny their crimes. With enough evidence to the contrary, an actual criminal runs out of excuses or plausible explanations.
Let’s continue reading more from the prayer of Ezra in chapter 9 of the book that bears his name in the Bible.
“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’
Ezra 9:10-12 NIV
Ezra recounts God’s commands. God’s instructions to His people were clear about not entering into marriages or treaties with pagan nations (nations having “detestable practices”, or – in the NASB translation – “abominations”). As a result, the people’s current sin (intermarrying with heathen nations) is not merely a misunderstanding.
Ezra also reiterates God’s promises, but connects these to the people’s behavior. For the people to enjoy God’s blessings, they were expected to follow His commands.
As Ezra continues in verses 13-15, he points out that the people’s ancestors (as I read it) had failed to follow God’s commands, and once they were taken off to exile, they were no longer able to have their children dwell in the promised land and enjoy its benefits. However, with the current generation having received a second chance to do so, it was even more embarrassing that they were still disobeying God this flagrantly.
At this point, Ezra and the people really have no legal recourse. They have no merit to expect anything but the punishment that God specified for their ongoing sin.
Now, I don’t know if there was more to Ezra’s prayer that isn’t recorded here, but the written prayer seems to stop here. Ezra doesn’t even seem to ask for any favors from God, nor pivot to a suggestion that God should forgive them. He doesn’t even seem to ask for God’s mercy. The content of Ezra’s recorded here is reiteration of what God has done, and confession for what the people have done.
He continues to acknowledge that – as a people – they had received what they deserved, and that God was right in delivering them the promised consequences. In fact, Ezra suggests that God could (or should?) be punishing the people even more.
In the first 9 verses of chapter 10, people gather around Ezra. They are also weeping. A guy named Shekaniah suggests that the people should send away their foreign wives (with their children), but he gives Ezra the chance to react to that. (As was mentioned in an earlier article, the culture of that day didn’t necessarily mean that these women and children would be thrown out on the street. The marriages may have been arranged, after all, with money and/or good exchanging hands. And, the women would probably have been able to return to their parents. [ref. Schoville])
Ezra binds the people with an oath to follow Shekaniah’s suggestion, and Ezra goes into a room and fasts (continuing to mourn). A proclamation is sent out, and the men come to Jerusalem. They are sitting in the rain by God’s temple – both wet and frightened, it seems – when we get to verse 10.
In verses 10-12, Ezra summarizes the problem, and tells the people what to do. Now, it is no longer just enough for Ezra to confess the sins of the people. The men gathered here who have sinned in this way against God must address their sins, and to change what they have been doing. They agree to take action to remove these idolatrous influences from their people. The rest of the chapter describes how this was done, and lists men who had taken women from the nations around Jerusalem into their families.
It is good news, though, that even when we are out of excuses, God is merciful and gracious, even if we have let sin take a foothold in our lives. Don’t think that you’ve sinned too much or too long for God to take you back. The One who gave His son to pay for all of our sins with His life is keeping the door open for those who will repent, no matter how far away we’ve gotten. Just don’t remain in your sins: get them out through confession (to God, or to another follower of Jesus), and take steps to not continue in doing the wrong thing.
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.