Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 14 2019 - Ezra 9 – Ezra's prayer

As we read this chapter, we need to remember why the people of Judah had been sent off into exile in Babylon. The people had adopted many of the practices of their non-Jewish neighbours and had been enticed away from devotion to the Lord into idolatry of various sorts. After years of sending warnings through the prophets, the Lord permitted Babylon to defeat and destroy Jerusalem. The leaders and key people from the Jews were then taken off into exile and people from other nations had been settled alongside the Jews who remained in the land. Only with Babylon's defeat by the Persians were the exiled Jews allowed to return. Ezra, the Bible scholar, was well aware of this history and, at his return, is intent on ensuring that the people of God are not again enticed away into idolatry.

So it comes as a great shock and source of distress to him when he learns that the Jewish people who had not been taken off into exile, and perhaps also some of those who had returned earlier, have intermarried with people from many other nations. Even the leaders of the people have "led the way in this unfaithfulness" (v. 2).

It's easy for us to misread Ezra's concern, especially when we read the accusation that these people "have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them" (v. 2). But Ezra's concern is not for racial purity. Remember how we read in chapter 6 that at the Passover celebrations with the dedication of the temple, those who had turned away from the idolatrous practices of their neighbours were welcomed at the Passover along with the Jewish people who had rebuilt the temple. The concern was not for racial purity but for spiritual purity. Ezra's concern was not to guard against racially mixed marriages but to guard against mixing the worship of the Lord God of Israel with devotion to foreign gods.

Ezra tore his clothes and pulled hair from his head and beard as a sign of his deep distress and poured out his heart to God in prayer. Note how he rehearses Israel's history, confessing the sin that had led to their exile. He gives thanks to God for his mercy in preserving his people even through the time of exile and bringing them back to this land and enabling them to rebuild the temple. He confesses that God has punished them less than their sins deserve but asks, "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?" (v. 14). How are they to stand before their God in worship and prayer when their lives are compromised in this way?

Do we show the same passion and concern we see in Ezra for spiritual purity both for ourselves and for the fellowship of God's people to which we belong? I must admit that I have never gone so far as to tear my clothes or to pluck out hair or my beard through deep distress for the state of the people of God. Are we conscious of the contemporary issues and trends which threaten to entice us and our fellow believers away from wholehearted devotion to the Lord? What are we going to do to keep ourselves and them faithful? How might a review of our own history and that of our church help us to be more aware of, and prayerful concerning, the dangers the contemporary church faces?

Father God, you did not spare your own Son but gave him up to the cross to be our Saviour. Lord Jesus, you have shown us the depth and extent of God's love for us. Holy Spirit, shed that love abroad in our hearts and give us a burning and single-hearted devotion to the one who has given himself for us. Help us to keep ourselves from idols and to encourage one another to turn away from anything that would lead us away from you. We pray that rather than being enticed away by the world around us we might attract others to leave their idols and to worship the living and true God.

Peter Misselbrook