Nehemiah 1:5-11

Then I said:

Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

I was cupbearer to the king.
(Nehemiah 1:5-11 NIV)

As we began the book of Nehemiah, we learned that Nehemiah, a Jewish exile, is a high-ranking government official in the Persian empire, in the king’s inner circle.

Nehemiah’s brother Hanani comes to visit Nehemiah; he gives him an update on the state of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.  It’s been 140 years since the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem; Nehemiah expected great news of progress, safety, and success.  Instead, the news is the exact opposite of Nehemiah’s expectations.  The city walls are still not rebuilt, and the people are in distress.  Worst of all, this news reflects badly on God – He is no longer seen as the great, mighty, and powerful God of the Hebrews.

These realizations cause great heartache for Nehemiah, expressed outwardly through weeping and mourning, and driving Nehemiah to go before the Lord in prayer and fasting.

Today’s passage is Nehemiah’s prayer before the Lord.  Nehemiah begins by thanking God for His covenant relationship with His people and His love toward them (v. 5).

Nehemiah wastes no time in confessing the corporate sins of the nation before the Lord, including himself and his family among the sinners.  Like Ezra, Nehemiah did not distance himself from the nation when he cried out to the Lord (v. 6).  Nehemiah calls out the wickedness of people’s hearts, and their disobedience to God’s Laws, again including himself and his family among the guilty (v. 7).

When we are confronted with and reminded of the holiness, greatness, and awesomeness of God, it reveals the sinfulness of our humanity, doesn’t it?

Nehemiah recalls God’s words concerning the consequences of not obeying God’s Laws, and also of the blessings of a restored relationship with Him (vv. 8-9).  Regardless of their sinfulness or obedience, Nehemiah rests in the fact that he and the rest of the Jews are still God’s people, God’s own possession (Exodus 19:5-6).  This gives Nehemiah both comfort and hope to continue on and not give up.

In closing his prayer, Nehemiah recognizes the sovereignty of God and the humanity of the king, and asks God’s favor as he approaches the king about the state of Jerusalem and its people.  Nehemiah is throwing himself on God’s mercy, not on his abilities, his relationship with the king, or even the king’s benevolence.  God’s mercy and sovereignty will be what changes the king’s mind.

Finally, Nehemiah reveals his position – that of cupbearer to the king.  This was a position of high authority and responsibility, requiring integrity.  This was often considered the number two position in the kingdom, demanding utmost loyalty to the king.

While we may not be in such a position of authority or responsibility like Nehemiah, we can still relate to Nehemiah and his prayer for the welfare of others.  Nehemiah lived unselfishly, and his concern for the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants was evident in his response to the bad news.

What grips our hearts and moves us to prayer and fasting?

What drives us to the throne of God, asking God to intervene on behalf of someone or something bigger than ourselves or our ability to take action?

What causes us to take the time to confess our sin before the Lord, both individually and corporately?

May our confidence be in the Lord and not in other people, in ourselves, in relationships, in government, or in anything or anyone else.  May our commitment and trust be in Him and to Him alone.

May we, like Nehemiah, come before the Lord with nothing to offer, seeking only His mercy and His love.


Nehemiah 1:1-4

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
(Nehemiah 1:1-4 NIV)

As we begin our journey through the book of Nehemiah, our book’s namesake introduces himself.  Nehemiah’s name means “the Lord comforts” – an interesting and relevant meaning that we will see expressed to Nehemiah as well as through Nehemiah to many others.

In verse 1, Nehemiah refers to the “twentieth year”, which also corresponds to Nehemiah 2:1 where Nehemiah identifies the 20th year of King Artaxerxes’ reign.

Nehemiah identifies his location as Susa, one of the king’s many palaces in the Persian kingdom.  This particular palace is located in southwest Iran; the month of Kislev equates to our November-December timeframe.  This location would be unbearably hot in the summer, but a nice warm retreat in the winter months.

Nehemiah greets some men who had come from Judah and Jerusalem, one of those men being his brother Hanani (his name means “God is gracious”).  Nehemiah inquires about the welfare of the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from exile, and about the condition of the city of Jerusalem.

Obviously, Nehemiah had not been to Jerusalem, so he was asking about life in the Promised Land.  It had been 140 years since the first exiles had returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel – surely things had progressed and the city was safe and its inhabitants were prospering?  That was Nehemiah’s assumption, based on his life experience.

When Nehemiah’s brother and the other men reported the Jewish people’s distress and the city’s vulnerability to attack, this must have come as quite a shock to Nehemiah.  What would prevent another group of people from coming in and wiping out the entire Jewish population?  And more importantly, how did this reflect on God’s character and nature among the heathen nations?  Was the Jewish God still almighty and powerful from the stories of old, or was He now incapable of defending His own people, no longer worthy of the glory that was formerly His?

All of these factors connected to make this news devastating in Nehemiah’s heart.  This was not just another status report from a far-flung part of the Persian empire – this was the reality of life for Nehemiah’s brother, the Jewish people, and God’s honor and glory.

So what was Nehemiah’s response?  He allowed the news to break his heart.  Nehemiah spent time weeping and mourning, fasting and praying, spending time with God.  The remainder of chapter 1 is Nehemiah’s prayer, which we will walk through in our next time together.

When we get unexpected sad or bad news, what is our most common response?

  • do we immediately have an emotional “pity party”?
  • do we jump in and instinctively try to “fix” the situation?
  • do we emotionally distance ourselves from the news?
  • do we give up and walk away?
  • do we turn to the Lord in prayer?

May we not let the broken events and things and people and circumstances of life overwhelm us, like flood waters overtaking a field.  May they not harden our hearts toward the Lord or the issues, like the rain bouncing off the roof and running down the side of a building.

Instead, may we let the issues in, then give them to the Lord and ask His help to process what’s going on deep inside us.   Take time to mourn and weep – the pain and loss are real, and they hurt, and it matters – both to us and to God.

Then accept the comfort that only the Lord can bring, comfort to the deep places in our hearts and souls that bring healing and restoration.

And that process begins with prayer – conversation with God.  He does not run away from these hard times – in fact, He welcomes you, even with all the brokenness and heartache and messiness of life.


Introduction to Nehemiah

As we begin our journey through the book of Nehemiah, let’s pause to take a bird’s eye view of who and what we’re about to study.

The book of Nehemiah was presumably written by its namesake, Nehemiah himself.  Nehemiah was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (Neh. 1:11).  Nehemiah was a government official, in a position of high integrity and trust, in the king’s inner circle.  Nehemiah was part of the security detail for the king, sampling every bit of food and every cup of drink before the king ate or drank it.   Since poisoning was a common method of trying to kill people, especially people in authority, Nehemiah risked his life every day for the king.

As we look at the historical timing of the book of Nehemiah, we see that it began in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign (1:1, 2:1).  Since Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes’ reign (Ezra 7:8), that means that thirteen years elapsed from the end of the book of Ezra to the beginning of the book of Nehemiah.  Ezra was still in Jerusalem when Nehemiah arrived and led a revival during Nehemiah’s administration.

The book of Nehemiah actually records two different administrations of Nehemiah in Jerusalem.  Chapters 1-12 document Nehemiah’s first time in office, and Chapter 13 records his second.

So what is the purpose of the book of Nehemiah?  Like the book of Ezra, Nehemiah documents the progress of reforms in Jerusalem and Judah.  This included the ongoing restoration of God’s people to God’s promised land.  Revival, reforms, and restoration worked together to change a culture and a people from rebellion and exile to righteousness before the Lord.

The major themes of the book of Nehemiah are as follows:

  • the welfare and protection of the people of Judah, particularly in Jerusalem (ch. 1)
  • the rebuilding of the city walls and gates (ch. 2 – 6)
  • spiritual revival and the dedication of the wall, the city, and the people (ch. 7 – 10)
  • Jerusalem repopulated and security measures established ( ch. 11 – 12)
  • Nehemiah’s second administration and further reforms enacted (ch. 13)

In summary, the book of Nehemiah reminds us that the Jewish people did not get into or out of rebellion overnight.  This book also reminds us that living according to God’s Word requires diligence on our part over a long period of time – years and decades, not just days or weeks.

This book also shows us God’s faithfulness, love, mercy, and patience with those who are seeking Him, even when they don’t do life perfectly.  Let’s face it – none of us can measure up to God’s standard, which is perfection in our outward acts and words as well as our inward thoughts, desire, and attitudes.  God loves us unconditionally and seeks a heart relationship with us as individuals as well as corporately as a group of followers.

As we look at these books of Ezra and Jeremiah, we see that righteous living requires not only personal accountability, but also living in a community of like-minded followers of Christ.  God never designed or intended us to live our lives as lonesome cowboys out on the trail of life alone.

As we seek to live our lives for Christ over whatever course of years the Lord gives us, may today be the next step forward on that journey of fellowship with Him and in community with others.



Ezra 10:18-44

18 Among the descendants of the priests, the following had married foreign women:

From the descendants of Joshua son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib and Gedaliah. 19 (They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering.)

20 From the descendants of Immer:

Hanani and Zebadiah.

21 From the descendants of Harim:

Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel and Uzziah.

22 From the descendants of Pashhur:

Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad and Elasah.

23 Among the Levites:

Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (that is, Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah and Eliezer.

24 From the musicians:


From the gatekeepers:

Shallum, Telem and Uri.

25 And among the other Israelites:

From the descendants of Parosh:

Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah and Benaiah.

26 From the descendants of Elam:

Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth and Elijah.

27 From the descendants of Zattu:

Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad and Aziza.

28 From the descendants of Bebai:

Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai and Athlai.

29 From the descendants of Bani:

Meshullam, Malluk, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal and Jeremoth.

30 From the descendants of Pahath-Moab:

Adna, Kelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui and Manasseh.

31 From the descendants of Harim:

Eliezer, Ishijah, Malkijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, 32 Benjamin, Malluk and Shemariah.

33 From the descendants of Hashum:

Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh and Shimei.

34 From the descendants of Bani:

Maadai, Amram, Uel, 35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Keluhi, 36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 37 Mattaniah, Mattenai and Jaasu.

38 From the descendants of Binnui:

Shimei, 39 Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, 40 Maknadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 41 Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, 42 Shallum, Amariah and Joseph.

43 From the descendants of Nebo:

Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel and Benaiah.

44 All these had married foreign women, and some of them had children by these wives.
(Ezra 10:18-44 NIV)

As you remember, Ezra led the nation in repentance after learning of Jewish men intermarrying with non-Jewish women.  This was not a race or genetic or even a national pride issue, but a spiritual issue.  The Jewish people, fresh from returning from Babylon, see the serious error of their ways and join Ezra in repentance.

Out of this repentance, revival breaks out:   confession of sin, the breaking of hearts over those sins, and a desire to honor God no matter what it takes.  The leaders call a national “town hall” meeting and decide to conduct an audit at the local community level to be sure this sin is dealt with in each and every affected family.  The entire process took about 3 months to complete.

In today’s text (the remainder of chapter 10), Ezra gives a list of those men who had married foreign (non-Jewish) wives – one hundred eleven (111) men in all.

Note the order in which the men came forward and dealt with their sins:

  • Joshua (the high priest)
  • the other priests
  • the Levites
  • the singers
  • the gatekeepers
  • other members of the Jewish community

Last but not least, Ezra notes that some of these marriages had produced children (v. 44).

As we look at this passage, we noted that 111 families were involved.  If we look back in the original list of exiles, we see nearly 29,000 men returned to Judah.

If we do the math, that 0.4% of the Jewish male population.

Four-tenths of one percent.


Sin is sin, y’all!

Was Ezra a religious fanatic? Or was he seeking to live a life that honored God, and to lead the Jewish people to do the same?

Before we write off Ezra as being too extreme and harsh, remember what slippery slope the former Jewish residents fell down because of their worship of foreign gods.  We studied that whole slow, painful demise when we walked through the book of Jeremiah – death, destruction, being overrun by armies, and exile from the land God had given them.

The apostle Paul also had to deal with sin in the Corinthian church.  Paul points out the sin of one man in the church and reminds us that sin must be dealt with (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).  Paul reminds us that sin is pervasive; it spreads throughout a person’s life and a church’s life just like yeast spreads throughout a loaf of bread, affecting all (v. 6).

As Paul concludes in that passage, may we live in sincerity and truth, not in pride and lies we tell ourselves (v. 8).


Ezra 10:5-17

So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath.Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.

A proclamation was then issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem. Anyone who failed to appear within three days would forfeit all his property, in accordance with the decision of the officials and elders, and would himself be expelled from the assembly of the exiles.

Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”

12 The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: “You are right! We must do as you say. 13 But there are many people here and it is the rainy season; so we cannot stand outside. Besides, this matter cannot be taken care of in a day or two, because we have sinned greatly in this thing. 14 Let our officials act for the whole assembly. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a foreign woman come at a set time, along with the elders and judges of each town, until the fierce anger of our God in this matter is turned away from us.” 15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite, opposed this.

16 So the exiles did as was proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family heads, one from each family division, and all of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to investigate the cases, 17 and by the first day of the first month they finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women.
(Ezra 10:5-17 NIV)

As we pick up from our last few times together, we see Ezra leading a national movement of repentance over the sin of intermarrying with non-Jewish women.  This repentance then led to revival across the land, not by force, but by Ezra’s example.

Shecaniah, one of the Jewish leaders, agrees with Ezra and wants to see the nation obey the Lord and enjoy peace and blessing restored.  Shecaniah makes a proposal to end the unlawful marriages and cut their ties with the ungodly people around them.  Sheacaniah also prompts Ezra to lead the people out of sin and back into right relationship with and obedience to the Lord.

In today’s passage, we see Ezra respond to Shecaniah’s request.  Ezra ends his emotional cry before God, gets up, and prepares to put the proposal into action (v. 5).  Verse 6 tells us that Ezra is still fasting as a sign of mourning over the nation’s sin.

The first thing Ezra requires is an oath (a promise) from all the people that they will obey the Lord and stick to the plan of separating themselves from their non-Jewish wives, children, and the non-Jewish neighbors around them.  The people agreed.

Ezra then retreated to one of the side rooms of the Temple.  The religious leaders then drafted and sent out a proclamation that a national “town hall” would be held in Jerusalem in three days.  Attendance was mandatory; the penalty for not showing up was forfeiture of all land, possessions, and banishment from Jewish culture (v. 6).

In verses 7-8, the proclamation went out, and in verse 9, the people gathered in Jerusalem.   Ezra records that the attendees gathered in the open area in front of the Temple, and were trembling because of the nature of the meeting as well as the rain.

Can you see this scene in your mind’s eye?  The leaders have called everyone together to address this terrible sin of the nation.  All the returned exiles are here, standing in the mud, shivering from the cold, and in the pouring rain, trembling on the inside, waiting to hear their fate.

In verses 10-12, Ezra addresses the crowd, admonishes them to obey the Lord, and separate themselves from their non-Jewish wives and their relationships with the non-Jewish community around them.  Remember, this was not an ethnic or racial separation – this was a spiritual separation.

The people reply in agreement (vv. 12-14); however, they ask to amend the process to be carried out at a community level.  They ask that a thorough investigation will be made to ensure compliance is one hundred percent to avert God’s hand of judgment.  Only four people objected; the proposal carried the day.

Ezra agrees to the people’s request; people return to their homes and Ezra names a responsible person from each of the family heads to carry out the investigations.  The detailed review began in each family group in their respective towns and villages across the land, with local officials overseeing the process.  The entire process took 3 months to complete.  Ezra records the dates according to the Jewish calendar; using our modern calendars, the process started in January and finished in March.

Today’s passage is a grim reminder that sin weighs us down and causes great heartache.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us to avoid the entanglements of sin that prevent us from running the race that God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Today’s passage is also an incredible example of the power of godly influence – not by force, but by example.  Ezra lived his life fully engaged –  “all in” – for the Lord.  When confronted with the sin of the nation, he wept openly and repented before Almighty God.  The people saw Ezra’s heart, turned to the Lord in repentance and prayer, and a revival was born.

May we live “all in” for the Lord as Ezra did.

Watch and see what God does around us when we give Him our all.


Ezra 10:1-4

10 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
(Ezra 10:1-4 NIV)

By way of review, Ezra has been in his position as a teacher and religious leader in Jerusalem for 4-1/2 months when some Jewish people bring a serious matter to his attention.  Some Jewish people were intermarrying with the local non-Jewish people, and the religious leaders (the priests and Levites) were among the worst offenders.

Ezra reacted strongly, weeping and repenting of the nation’s sins before a holy God.  As we concluded chapter 9, we listened to Ezra’s prayer to the Lord.

As we begin chapter 10 today, we see Ezra switch from first person voice to the third person voice, as if someone else were narrating the remainder of the chapter.  It will be important to watch the interaction between Ezra and the people.

In verse 1, notice how the repentance of one (Ezra) brings about the repentance of many (men, women, even children).  Notice what Ezra was doing:   praying, confessing, weeping, prostrating himself before God.  Also, notice what Ezra was not doing:  separating himself from the Jewish people, preaching hell fire and brimstone from a self-righteous perspective, or disregarding sin and God’s Law and saying it was OK.

Ezra’s repentant attitude initiated repentance in others, as we saw above.  And that repentance in others then initiated action on their part.  One man – Shecaniah – stepped forward to confess the corporate sins of the people before God and before Ezra.

Shecaniah sought forgiveness and reconciliation of the nation before God.  Shecaniah knew God’s heart, and knew that if they confessed their sin and repented that God would turn His anger and judgment away from His people.  Shecaniah saw hope for the nation, and that hope resided in God alone.

Notice that Shecaniah’s confession and desire for reconciliation with God was genuine and heartfelt.  Ezra did not coerce or in any way force the people to take action; this was the real deal and was divinely prompted.

In verse 3, we see Shecaniah’s proposal.  He recommended renewing the covenant with God in obedience to God’s Law, to send away (divorce) all the non-Jewish wives and any children from those unions.  Shecaniah did not recommend this action as a means of avoiding trouble, but as an act of obedience to God’s Law (Deuteronomy 7:2-4).  As we stated in previous sessions, this was not a matter of racial purity, but of spiritual obedience and worship of God alone.

Verse 4 is Shecaniah’s call to action with Ezra:

  • the realization that they needed to change, and to do so quickly
  • the request for Ezra to lead the Jewish people in this change
  • the reminder that Ezra had the responsibility to lead
  • the reassurance that the nation would follow Ezra’s lead and obey God

This is a difficult passage, to say the least.  The idea of mass divorce seems uncharacteristic to the heart of God (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:3-9, 1 Corinthians 7:10-16).  Yet, as we look at God’s commands, we see that these marriages were never sanctioned or even allowed by God in the first place.

As we try to understand the issues going on here, we must look back at the roll call of the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem.  They seemed to be mostly men, while women and children were mentioned on a passing note.  It appears as if the religious leaders tried to solve the problem of finding wives for their sons themselves, rather than seek God and depend on the Lord for the right thing to do.

So what would an alternative be?  In Genesis chapter 24, Abraham was faced with the same dilemma.  Abraham trusted God and sent his servant back to his homeland to find a godly woman for Isaac.  Abraham did not bow to peer pressure from the ungodly locals, nor did he use the marriage of his son to make a treaty with those living around him.  He chose to trust God with finding his son a godly wife.

So what do we need to send away from us that leads us away from following God?  What are we substituting for our dependence on and satisfaction with the Lord?  What are we putting ahead of God?

This is not a call to misery and self-deprivation, but to holiness and freedom and joy that is found in obedience to Christ alone.

May we walk with Him today, enjoying His company and the joy He offers despite our circumstances and hardships.


Ezra 9:5-15

Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed:

“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.

“But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage.Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.

10 “But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands 11 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. 12 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.’

13 “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. 14 Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? 15 Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”
(Ezra 9:5-15 NIV)

As we began chapter 9 last time, Ezra was 4-1/2 months into his new role of teaching God’s Law to God’s people in Jerusalem.  Some of the people came to Ezra and told him that God’s people were intermarrying with the local non-Jewish people.  If that was not enough bad news, the worst was that the ones who knew better – the priests and the Levites – were leading the way in their own families!

Ezra knows what God has said about this issue, and he reacts with deep grief.  The people join him in remorse, repentance, and mourning over the sin of the nation.

Today’s text – the remainder of chapter 9 – is Ezra’s prayer of confession and repentance over the sins of the nation.  This is not Ezra’s personal confession, but rather, a corporate confession on behalf of and as a member of the Jewish exiles living in Jerusalem, Judah, and Israel.

Ezra begins with expressing his guilt and shame over the sins committed (v. 6).  Ezra recalls that the generational sin that is happening is what exiled them in the first place (v. 7).  Ezra acknowledges that God’s discipline of His people was fully deserved.

Ezra also sees God’s hand of grace upon them – after 70 years, God has allowed them to return to His promised land (v. 8).  Even as captives living under the rule of a foreign king, God has granted His people favor and allowed them to rebuild the Temple (v. 9).

Ezra again confesses the guilt of the nation (v. 10), recalling God’s commands to rid the promised land of its spiritual impurity and to not further pollute it by intermarrying with people who worship other gods (vv. 11-12).

Ezra recognizes God’s grace and mercy (v. 13), and with a broken heart, asks God if they had worn Him out to the point that He would just wipe them off the face of the earth forever (v. 14).

In the final statement of his prayer, Ezra admits the sin of the nation before a holy and righteous God, and confesses that they bring nothing to Him other than their sin and repentance (v. 15).

When confronted with the sin of the nation, where does Ezra turn, and what does he do?

Ezra turns to God in prayer and repentance.

What would our response be if someone came to us with the same news?  Would we turn to God (repentance), would we give our agreement to the sin (assimilation), or would we show indignation and judgment (self-righteousness and separation)?

Notice that even though Ezra is not guilty of this sin, he identifies with the nation, using words like “we”, “our”, and “us”.  Yes, God holds individuals responsible for their sin, but he also holds nations accountable for their sins.

Ezra desires that the righteousness of the nation be restored, for the good of all, both current and future generations.  Ezra’s confession shows his heart before the Lord and his desire to see the nation repent and change.

Ezra has faith in the Lord’s ability to break the bondage of this generational sin.  Ezra does not take God’s mercy for granted.  He understands God’s desire to bless His people, to do good to them and for them when they choose to walk with Him and obey His commands.

May Ezra’s prayer be our prayer for our respective nations, wherever we might live around the world.