Lamentation Ignites Repentance

“While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God” (Ezra 10:1) many in Israel took notice. One man’s lamentation moves an entire nation to repentance. A few observations from Ezra’s prayer follows God’s inspired text:

6“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. 7From 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. 9Though 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 11you 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. 12Therefore, 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. 14Shall 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? 15LORD, 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 9:6–10:1, NIV 2011)

  1. (Verse 6) The effects of sin can be so overwhelming that even prayer seems impossible.
  2. (Verse 7) Sin impacts everyone, not just the offender. Why did Ezra include himself in the sins of others (see also Daniel 9:4-19)? Because Ezra understood there’s a kind of moral solidarity in God’s people such that when one member fails, all fail (see also Romans 5:12). Western Church (esp. America) needs a healthy dose of this collective accountability.
  3. (Verses 8-9) Though the effects of sin are great, the glass is not entirely empty; God’s goodness and his favor both in the past and the present must be acknowledged.
  4. (Verses 10-12) God’s commands matter and always involve separation from something(one) in this world and exclusive dedication to God.
  5. (Verse 13) The gravity of our sin is always greater than the punishment we receive because God is merciful to us and faithful to his covenant promises. Because our penalty is never as great as our sin, we can be hopeful that restitution and renewal are possible.
  6. (Verse 14-15) God is not obligated to forgive. Pardon for sin is never our due; it is granted by the sheer undeserved grace of God. Though God’s mercies are evident even in our punishment, they must never be taken for granted. If God were to treat us as our sins deserve, we would be extinguished. Thus, all we can do in our rebellion and disobedience is fall prostrate before him pleading our pitiful case.

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