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Ezra 9-10: Disobedience to the Word Print E-mail
Ezra
Sunday, 10 April 2016

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Much has been made of the Supreme Courtís decision to legalize same-sex marriage. For the record, I believe that such marriages are disobedient to what the Bible teaches about marriage. And I understand that such belief could be costly to Christians in the near future. Yet, that is not what bothers me most about the current climate. Truth is, I am not surprised by the legalization of same-sex unions. I oppose it morally, but many do not. I am surprised at how quickly things changed, but I am not surprised that it happened. The cultural shift was rapid, but not necessarily unexpected. After all, people without Christ will continue to behave like people without Christ. That should not surprise us or bother us all that much. Yet, what does bother me the most is the response by many in the Church. Many professing Christians have embraced what the culture is saying about marriage and have abandoned what the Bible says about it. Unfortunately, we have done the same thing with divorce over the last 50 years or so. So what do you do when the Church, seemingly Godís people, abandons the Bibleís teaching on marriage?

Ezra faced that exact challenge in Ezra 9-10. He had come back from Babylon to teach the people of Israel the Law of Moses and to encourage the people to obey it. Yet, the teaching of the Law begins to expose sin and disobedience, as it normally does. In particular, it reveals the problem of intermarriage with the surrounding nations. Look at 9:1-2. The people have broken Godís law concerning marrying foreigners. We might be wondering: ĎWhy is this such a big deal?í If you look at Godís teaching on this in passages like Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-10, you see that the issue is not about race. The issue is purity in worship. God knew that intermarriage would lead to syncretism, just as it did with the Samaritans. Thus, for their own good, to keep them from idolatry, God commanded them not to marry foreigners, those who were unwilling to abandon the worship of other gods. As Ezra taught these folks the Law, it became plain to the leaders that they had disobeyed these commands. And so they confess it. But how will Ezra respond to such biblical disobedience among Godís people? He takes four actions in these two chapters. Letís look at these this morning.

Ezra weeps for the sin (9:3-4, 10:1, 6)

The first action that we see from Ezra might surprise us. Look at 9:3-4. These are some strange actions: the tearing of clothes and the pulling out of hair. What is Ezra doing? He is mourning the sin of Israel. He is broken by it. He weeps. In 9:5-15 we have a prayer from Ezra that we will consider in a moment, but look at 10:1. Ezra is weeping at the temple. He is casting himself down before the Lord on behalf of the people. As we will see in his prayer, he even joins with them in their guilt. He is not screaming at all those Ďsinners out thereí, he is joining himself with the people of God who have sinned and he is weeping over their disobedience. And this is no instant, temporary reaction. Ezra is truly broken over this sin. Look at 10:6. He spends all night fasting and mourning. He hurts. He weeps. Sin among Godís people should always drive us to our knees. It should always leave us broken and desperate. It should cause us to weep.

Ezra prays for repentance (9:5-10:5)

Such brokenness, such desperation, such weeping should always lead us to prayer, which is what Ezra does next. Look at 9:5. Ezra knows that God is the only being who can deal with sin. Only He can grant repentance and mercy. So Ezra prays. What does he pray? Look at 9:6-7. Ezra confesses the guilt of the people. And notice that he is not excluded from that guilt. He speaks of our iniquities and our guilt. Had Ezra married a foreign woman? No, but he knows that he is not innocent. He knows that his sins are great and worthy of punishment. When considering the guilt of others, we should always be reminded of our own guilt. When dealing with the sins of Godís people, we should acknowledge our own sin and our own failures. This will protect us from pride and self-righteousness. It will keep our hearts humble as we cry out for mercy.

Ezra goes on and speaks of Godís mercy in bringing back the people from exile. Look at 9:8-9. God punished the people by sending them into exile, but now He has brought them back and shown them mercy and grace. Yes, they are still slaves to the kings of Persia, but those same kings have shown them favor in allowing them to return, rebuild, and worship at the temple. Ezra is thankful for Godís mercy in this. And yet, he trembles at their current disobedience. Look at 9:10-15. The reverence for God and the honesty about sin is overwhelming. Ezra knows that they are guilty and undeserving of Godís mercy. He knows that all he can do is come and be honest with God, hoping and pleading for grace. God does not owe them forgiveness. He does not owe that to anyone. But He gives it to those who confess and repent. So Ezra prays, crying out to God for mercy and grace.

And as he prays, the leaders are broken over their sin. Look at 10:1-5. Ezra casts himself before God and pleads for mercy for his sin and the sin of the people. And the leaders join with him in confessing their sin. They take hope in the fact that God shows mercy to those who repent. They donít minimize their sin. They donít act like it is no big deal. They own it. And they repent. They cry out to God for mercy and they commit themselves to calling for the people to do the same. Do you see the power of prayer at work in the life of Ezra? He weeps and prays and God grants repentance to the leaders. Do not underestimate the power of prayer.

Ezra confronts the sin (10:7-11)

Perhaps Ezra will just settle for the reform of the leaders. Maybe their repentance is enough. No, the people must be confronted as well, which is what we see happening next. Look at 10:7-8. They send out a notice for all the people to gather at Jerusalem. And they all come. Look at 10:9.  All the people have gathered. They are ready to hear what the priest has to say. And wouldnít you know, itís raining. They should probably just call this meeting off, right? I mean, itís raining and the people are cold and who wants to confront this issue anyway? But Ezra moves on. With the leaders behind him, he confronts the people. Look at 10:10-11. With the rain coming down, Ezra lifts his voice and delivers a hard word: repent of your sin and separate yourselves from the people of the land. Maybe this confrontation seems harsh and unnecessary to you. Maybe you would be tempted to call this too much. How could Ezra tell them to leave their foreign wives and children?

Dealing with sin is hard. I wish I could tell you that life is never messy, that you will never have to confront a brother or sister in sin. I wish I could tell you that hard steps will never have to be taken. But that is not true. Jesus tells us that if our brother will not repent then we have to treat them like a Gentile and a tax collector (Matthew 18:17). Paul tells the Corinthians to hand the man who is sleeping with his fatherís wife over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5) and to have nothing to do with one who is idle (2 Thessalonians 3:13). These are hard steps and we should never approach them lightly. But they make it plain that we cannot avoid the necessity of confronting sin in those who profess to know God. We must weep and we must pray. And in humility and brokenness, we must confront sin. No sinner will ever benefit from silence wrapped in the excuse of Ďloveí or Ďtolerance.í Such a path may be easy, but it will never be helpful. Sin must be confronted. We must call for repentance and hold out the hope of the gospel, which is forgiveness of sin through faith in Christís death and resurrection.

Ezra supports the repentance (10:12-44)

How do the people respond to Ezraís confrontation of their sin? Look at 10:12-15. They do not deny their guilt, but freely admit that what they have done is wrong. They do ask if they can take some time in working through this matter, but the author is quick to note that they do what Ezra tells them to do. Look at 10:16-17. It was no easy task and it took them three months to work through every situation. Perhaps there were practical matters to attend to. Perhaps some of the foreign wives were willing to abandon their other gods and worship Yahweh alone. We do not know those details, but Ezra was willing to work through the practical issues that came with such repentance. He supported them and guided them through the process.

And then the book ends with another list of names. Only this list is of those who married foreign wives. The priests go first (10:18-22), then come the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers (10:23-24), and finally they list the remaining families (10:25-44). Why would such a list be included? I think it represents the sincerity of their repentance. Again, these folks were willing to own their sin by having their names recorded as breaking the commandments of God. They accepted this as a consequence to their sin that could hopefully be used to warn future generations.

Conclusion
So Ezra responds to such biblical disobedience by weeping, praying, confronting, and supporting. He is broken over the sin, but he is prepared to do the hard work of fighting for repentance through prayer and confrontation. And the Lord in His mercy grants repentance and mercy to the people when they turn from their sin.

So what about us? How will we respond to biblical disobedience? It seems we have a tendency to emphasize certain truths at the expense of others. Some respond with too much Ďlove.í They pretend like sin is no big deal and God loves everyone and so we shouldnít even worry about sin all that much if at all. Some respond with too much anger. They yell and scream at all those liberal sinners in the church. It seems like they would never pray a prayer like Ezraís, joining themselves in admitting guilt. Some respond with too much self reliance. They want to fix the problem themselves and not waste anytime in petition and prayer. Others respond with too much self righteousness. They are unwilling to get dirty, unwilling to support people in their repentance. But this is not how Ezra responds. He is broken and sympathetic. He pours out his heart before God. He is willing to confront. He does not give up on the process when it grows long and messy. These are gospel responses to biblical disobedience.

As followers of Christ, we should never take sin lightly or pretend like we are innocent ourselves. We should be quick to admit our guilt and point people to what Jesus has done on the cross. We should never condone sin because it is why our Lord died, but we will avoid self righteousness because we know our only righteousness comes from our faith in Him. As we are faced with biblical disobedience from those who claim to know God in our day, may we respond with gospel truth. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 April 2016 )

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