If I were the senior pastor and my pastoral team all got themselves wives who were unbelievers, going against God’s wishes, would I rend my clothes, pull out my hair in frustration, sit in utter humiliation on the ground? That’s exactly what Ezra did! He was devastated.
His prayer of confession is one good example – how to go to God in humble contrition, sincere and open confession of their sins. Ezra 9:3-15
3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
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[a] 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.”
1) His humiliation before the people: Ezra’s appearance and response drew people with the same sentiments to gather around him in mourning. His outward appearance portrayed what he felt inside – disappointment and frustration.. v.4-5
2) His shame and embarrassment before his God: More than being humiliated outside towards all the people, Ezra told God: “I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to You.” V.6a
3) Confession: He confessed the extent of their iniquities – how serious they offended God. V.6b
4) Consequences of their sins: He knew that their sins led to their rightful consequences of being in captivity, killed, in shame and brought into slavery, subjects of their enemies. V.7
5) God’s grace: Ezra acknowledged that even in their captivity, God extended His grace – leaving them a remnant of people – (did not wipe them out of the map!); giving them favor with their foreign rulers that they were even given permission to go repair God’s temple! V. 8-9
6) Their sinful response: Ezra described in full details how they repaid God’s goodness – with disobedience by intermarrying with foreign people – practicing idolatry – being unfaithful to God who’s been so faithful to them! V.10-12
7) God’s righteousness: Ezra said ‘We deserve this punishment. You are merciful – because you’ve ‘punished us less than our sins deserve’. You are right to be angry with us. We are guilty yet you spare us – letting us survive and stand in your presence. V.13-15
Application: How often do I disobey God – going against His wishes in willful rebellion? And when the consequences of my wrongs come, how do I respond? Do I wonder – how can this happen to me if God loves me? Let me evaluate myself and realize that God is still gracious and merciful – he punishes less than what I deserve. In grace, God has given me a new life and light. V.8 He has not abandoned me. V. 9. There is hope in His righteous anger, because I can approach His throne of grace to confess my sins and He always forgives.
God’s forgiveness does not spare us from the consequences of our sins. The people sinned by marrying foreign women who do not know God. They went against God’s commandments to worship idols of their foreign wives who did not know God. They were called to turn from their sins by leaving their wives and their children. How sad but necessary. God forgives when we return to him to true repentance. We need to leave our sins and stop sinning. Bad and sad consequences of sin cannot be reversed. We need to learn from these mistakes. Get up and sin no more.
This is the way of true prayer of confession and contrition. Turn from sin and sin no more.