Ezra 9:5-9 (NRSV)
At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,
“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.”
By Chuck Griffin
Ezra dropped to his knees to do what must be done from time to time, to do what the people as a whole had failed to do. He repented and sought forgiveness.
Because of their sins, God’s chosen people found themselves enslaved, their way of life decimated. But a glimmer of hope had appeared, the potential to rebuild what had been a glorious temple. And yet, Ezra observed, the people of Israel continued to defy God.
The specific sin causing Ezra grief sounds strange to us today. The Israelites were to be a people set apart, a lesson in holiness to all the world. But instead they had begun to intermarry with the people around them, in the process adopting other gods and unholy practices. The real problem was that they had moved away from God and toward idolatry.
The principle remains the same for us. We are to search for what pleases God and what displeases God, practicing the former and avoiding the latter. Our Holy Bible gives us our baseline for understanding sin, something our broken minds cannot sort out on their own. In our New Testament, we receive refined guidance about sin from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working within the early Christian church.
Ignoring this guidance brings grave danger. Our best response is to search our actions and even our thoughts to see where we may deviate from what God desires. We truly practice a religion of the heart.
Such an examination of ourselves should lead us where Ezra went—on our knees, in a state of repentance. Living much later than Ezra in God’s grand story of redemption, we know that because of the work of Jesus Christ, forgiveness, change and hope lie ahead.
A call to such piety is not popular, I know. Sadly, there are people among us who have established themselves as preachers while preaching the opposite.
Their opinions do not change the word of God, however, and they do not remove the need for thoughtful searching of our souls and serious repentance.
Lord, reveal to us through your holy word and directly in prayer where we displease you, and then show us a better way. Amen.