Ezra Prepared. Prepare Yourself.
A story is told of a couple who sent their only son away to college. Their expectations were high, but his grades were low. After a few months the collegian was kicked out of school. Knowing the disappointment that his parents would feel, he sent his mother a telegram that read, “Flunked all my courses-kicked out of school-coming home-prepare Pop.” The next day the young man received a telegram that read: “Pop prepared-prepare yourself!”
So it was with the people of Jerusalem and Judah when Ezra was made aware of their failure and the fact that they had embraced a perilous sin. The message to the people was, “Ezra prepared-prepare yourself!” Ezra 9 and 10 record how Ezra dealt with the sin of the people that threatened the security and well being of the nation.
A Perilous Problem
Ezra 9:1-4 introduces the account of a problem that Ezra encountered in Jerusalem and Judah. Ezra was approached by a group of community leaders who informed him about a perilous problem: the intermarriage of the Jews with the idolatrous pagan peoples of the land.
According to Ezra 9:1-2, the problem was prevalent throughout the Jewish community. Sadly, the very people charged with the responsibility of modeling obedience to God’s Word (the priests, Levites, princes, and rulers) set the worst example in the matter.
This problem was especially perilous because it threatened the distinctiveness of the Jewish faith and threatened to reintroduce idolatry to the land. Deuteronomy 7:4 tells us why this sin was so dangerous: “For they [pagan wives] will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you.”
Ezra responded to the problem by tearing his garment and robe and pulling the hair from his head and beard. This was a convicting display of Ezra’s intense distress over the news. Ezra did not speak or preach but merely sat down appalled [dumbfounded] for several hours. As he sat speechless, “everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles” gathered around him. Ezra’s actions caused many people to reflect on the gravity of the matter and convicted many others of the need to repent of the sin in question.
A Public Prayer
Ezra did not rise until the time of the evening offering, at which time he fell on his knees and began to pray. His prayer was something of a prayer-sermon. Although Ezra was not guilty of the sin in question, he nevertheless identified himself with the people.
In his prayer, Ezra recounted the painful past of the Jews and how they had experienced the wrath and judgment of God because of their refusal to forsake idolatrous relationships and practices. Most recently they had been in exile when God, in His mercy, ordered events to permit their return to their homeland. God had given them an opportunity to begin anew but they had once again violated His command to remain separate from pagan peoples.
Ezra ended his prayer with the warning that if they repeated the sins of the earlier generations, they would experience even greater judgment.
Leaders must set the proper example.
When Ezra was informed that the people had sinned against God by marrying their heathen neighbors, he learned that the leaders (priests, Levites, princes, and rulers) had “been foremost in this unfaithfulness.” The very people charged with the responsibility of modeling obedience to the law violated that trust by transgressing the law. Their disobedience no doubt emboldened others to do the same. We must keep in mind that God will hold leaders accountable for the example they set.
We must be aware of the danger of bad habits.
Someone has said that bad habits are hard to break. That was certainly the case with the repatriates. Their sin was the same sin that, generations earlier, had opened the door to idolatry. We must be on guard lest we allow ourselves to be enslaved by practices that will cool our love for God, stifle our longing to know God, and hinder our service for God. If we don’t break bad habits then bad habits will break us.
Parents should teach their children the importance of seeking a Christian marriage partner.
The problem with Jewish/pagan marriages was explained by God in Deuteronomy 7:4, “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods.” That is exactly what happened in Judah. Their own history illustrated how Solomon’s foreign wives had turned his heart away from the Lord. The same problem will plague Christian/non-Christian marriages. In such cases compromise precedes compatibility. Unfortunately, it is often the Christian partner in such a relationship who compromises for the sake of compatibility and peace in the relationship.