Monday, December 2, 2019

Ezra Bible Study - Appalled: God's People Fail to Separate Themselves

What can make a man so burdened for others that he pours out his heart to God on their behalf? Like a loving parent, when Ezra prayed (Ezra 9), he was appalled by the blatant ignorance of God's laws by the people of Israel. The Jews weren't always this way. In previous chapters, they stood firm. Ezra's love for God and his people, combined with his knowledge of God, brought him to his knees.

Ezra's prayer has a posture of reverential fear and priestly intercession. Ezra 9:1-2 seems to recall passages from the Law of Moses against intermarriage with the surrounding Canaanite tribes, in particular, Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4. The failure to separate was more
egregious because the leaders were most guilty; their actions influenced the others. Ezra is so appalled by their actions that before he prays, he tore his garments, and plucked hair from his head and beard. He sat in this state of horror and disappointment for a significant length of time before he starts to pray in the evening. It's like they didn't understand the extent of their disobedience, while Ezra felt it viscerally and personally. Their actions were a personal affront to him and to God. There are others in agreement with Ezra because Ezra is joined by others who were also grieved at Israel's sin (Ezra 9:4). Ezra was not a lone wolf in spotting Israel's disobedience, but he was vocal in expressing remorse for the people's transgression.

As Ezra prayed, he alone prayed yet because he stood before an assembly of the people of God, there was a sense in which he led them in prayer. This was a public prayer.

Ezra prayed on his knees, joining a long list of many in scripture who are noted as praying on their knees - Solomon, Daniel, Hezekiah, Stephen, Peter, Paul, and Jesus. However, it's not about the position; it's about the heart since the Bible has enough prayer not on the knees to show us that it isn't required, but it also has enough prayer on the knees to show us that it is good (blueletterbible.org).

When Ezra prays, he
  • Confesses his shame on behalf of his people; "our iniquities have risen higher than our heads (v6)." Isn't this true for many of us?
  • Highlights the grace they received; "But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God (v8-9)." We were able to be protected; to follow your laws; to rebuild the temple and now this.
  • Calls out the sin; "we have forsaken your commandments (v10-11)."
  • Acknowledges God's sovereignty;"...seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved (v13,14)."   As severe as the exile was - 70 years, Ezra recognized that it was less than what the people of God deserved. God did not have to bring them back from exile into the Promised Land once again. This was an example of God's mercy amid judgment.
  • Implores God's mercy; "We cannot stand before thee like this (v15)."  We must change, and we will. No one can stand before You because of their sin, echoing the sentiment of Paul in Romans 3: There is none righteous, no not one, for all have sinned.

Reflections - We can see ourselves in Ezra or the disobedient Israelites. Sometimes we are called to intercede on others' behalf - we pour out our hearts because we feel the hurt of their pain more than they seem to. We intercede so that they can see and change.
Then sometimes we're like the Israelites; we're so intermingled with the world we don't realize that our values have changed; that we've become a part of something that we should be separate from. We forget our calling of walking worthy. As someone or Someone intercedes on our behalf, we are forced to acknowledge, confess, and repent. We are compelled to change for His glory. In all of this, there's a space for God's grace, and we are better because we benefit from it.

Prayer - Dear Lord, you are often appalled by our actions, yet there is a space of grace. May we not abuse this grace, but instead may it humble us, changing our hearts so that we know you have the best in store for us. Amen.


Resources:
Gotquestions.org
Logos Bible Software
Scofield Reference Bible
Bible Gateway
Bible Study Tools
Bible.org
Bluebetterbible.org


--Nylse

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11 comments:

  1. My bible study group have just completed a study on prayers in the Bible, and this is another great example. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Very powerful reminder for us to stay strong in our faith before we become to intertwined with the world and fall away. So grateful for Ezra's humble example for us to repent and pray for others. God hears!

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  3. Ezra was a deeply feeling person. How many people these days care enough to pray that fervently on the behalf of others?

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  4. I love this prayer: "There is a space of grace. May we not abuse this grace, but instead may it humble us." May I allow grace to humble me, not fill me with a sense of entitlement.

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  5. Such grace and mercy shown to the people--such grace and mercy shown to me. Oh, may I stay humbled in His hand, and heed His voice when He speaks. I love the heart of Ezra interceding for his people.

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  6. This is so timely for me! My class has recently studied both Daniel and Nehemiah where they both prayed for their people identifying in sin they themselves had not participated in. Now you've shown me another example in Ezra. Can we not pray for our nation repenting as they did even if we have not personally done what some of our country has done?

    I also like out that you pointed out, "the leaders were most guilty; their actions influenced the others." Something so sobering to consider - each of us lead in some small way. It might be in the home or the workplace or in a broader circle, but we all have influence.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Whenever I read Ezra, my mind goes to Nehemiah, and this time the similarity is that both were aghast at how quick the inhabitants of God's holy city were to revert to their old and sinful ways. Their response is convicting to me, and lets me know that my initial response to the sins that grieve me should be to fall on my face.

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  8. I have a few friends who slowly got more and more caught up in the patterns of the world. They live a seemingly blissful life of sin, having no idea what their life looks like to an outsider. I can't tell you how much it grieves my heart or how often I lay awake at night praying for them. It's like a semi-truck on me, how heavy it makes my heart. They are missing out on everything and yet have no idea. I loved reading your post...you have such insight and wisdom.

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  9. I have been reading the Old Testament, every page, and been so blessed! I love the way you digest and serve the word. Nice job!!

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