5 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 6 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. 7 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.
8 “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.9 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.