Ezra 9 Devotional
by Pastor Mark Hudson
Ezra 9, while slightly disturbing, is a great example of a prayer of repentance. Granted the reason for the prayer is slightly alarming but the contrition, honesty, and God-centeredness is refreshing. In verses 1-4, Ezra receives an update on the spiritual condition of not just the people but also the priests. The report was not good. It is possible that Ezra had already been discussing this and other issues relating to obedience to God’s Word. Ezra has been there about 5 months (cr. 7:9 and 10:9) so we doubt this is the first time these marriages have come up. Marriage to foreigners itself was not forbidden in the Mosaic law. Some of the patriarchs married foreign women (Gen 16:3; 41:45; Ex 2:21; Num 12:1; 2 Sam 3:3, etc.). “However, there was recognized the particular danger that affinity by marriage with the indigenous population of Canaan would almost certainly lead to religious apostasy or syncretism.” (Word Commentary, Williamson. P. 130) See Ex 34:11-16; Dt 7:1-4; 20:10-18). The patriarchs knew this was a serious issue (Gen 24; 28:1-9).
It is the officials who bring the concern to Ezra. They tell Ezra that there are problems, big problems. Why it took so long we don’t know. Was Ezra travelling around Judah? Did Ezra want the leaders to see the problem for themselves and see how long before they wanted to make changes? Whatever the case, the officials approach Ezra after listening to his teaching
In verse 1, it seems like we are reading from the first five books of Moses. While there is no list exactly like this one, Dt 7:1 (7:3 is the command not to marry). As we have listed, there was intermarriage like Ruth and Boaz. Why was it okay for Boaz to marry Ruth a Moabites? Her mother-in-law told her to go back to her Moabites’ ways and her “old” gods, but she refused saying, “For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God, Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried” Ruth 1:16-17. She was still a Moabites, but she believed in true, sovereign, eternal God who makes covenant with anyone who believes. So, this prohibition was never about a certain race of people but a belief in the true God.
Believers are only to marry believers. This is serious guidance for all who are not married and sincerely believe in Christ. II Corinthians 6:14-18 makes this abundantly clear. We need to warn those who are moving in this direction, but we also need to be accepting and loving for those, for various reasons, find themselves in a marriage with an unbeliever. For Christians married to an unbeliever, we need to support them, pray for their spouse, and be sensitive to their needs. Notice also this is not a prohibition against an Indian marrying a Brit. Nor should we say it is wrong for a black to marry a white. This is strictly a spiritual, religious issue.
The outline of Ezra’s prayer is as follows:
6-7 general confession
8-9 reflections on God’s present mercies
10-12 specific confession
13-14 statement of future intent
15 general concluding confession ( Word Commentary, Williamson, p. 128.)
I love Ezra’s prayer for so many reasons. First, when you pray, be honest with God. Ezra does not sugar coat their situation. “For our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” in v. 6. Ezra does not say ‘their’ iniquities or ‘their’ guilt but ‘our’ iniquities and ‘our’ guilt. Ezra does not distance himself from the people. Ezra uses slave/slavery in verses 8-9 three times. And Ezra states, this has been going on a long time – “from the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. Then in verse 10, Ezra says that after being removed from the land for disobeying, we are rebelling again.
Second, he confesses the specific sin that they are committing. He quotes a few texts. He summarizes Deut 7:1-3, Lev. 18:25; Deut. 4:5; 18:9; 27:3; and 2 Kings 21:16. Ezra is not confessing in general but the specific sin that is tearing the community apart. In v. 14, “shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations?” We cannot get away from the obedience God expects of us. While we do not obey to get into heaven or gain God’s favor, we still are called to obey. This is stressed over and over in the Bible.
Third, there is not a hint that God is judging them too harshly or that He is unjust. In fact, Ezra prays just the opposite. He prays, in v. 8, that God has given them a bit of relief and in v. 13 God has “punished us less than our iniquities deserved and then in v. 15, “we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” Guilt is a healthy emotion when you should feel guilt. Feeling ashamed (v. 6) and appalled (vs. 3-4) with fasting (v. 5) and genuine sorrow (vs. 3, 5) is an appropriate response to the heinous nature of sin and the damage sin does. In fact, knowing God should result in a wide variety of emotions. We should experience the range of sorrow, grief, joy, happiness, sadness, uncertainty, etc.
Fourth, in v. 4, Ezra’s prayer is God-centered. He is only focused on God. God’s Word, again, is involved (v. 4) correcting and leading them to obedience. He is ashamed to life up his face to God (v. 6), yet God is gracious (vs. 8-9). The commandments they have forsaken are Gods (vs. 10, 14).
Our heavenly Father, we come to You in the name of our Lord Jesus by the power of Your Holy Spirit. May we always be repenting and confessing our sins. Would that our hearts were so broken over our sins against You. Renew us and revive us when we repent and turn away from our sins. Thank You that the work of Your Spirit is to point out our sins. But thank You even more that You have “not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us His steadfast love” (v. 9). O, Lord Jesus, You paid for those sins and offered us forgiveness by Your blood. In the name of Jesus. Amen.