Ezra 10: Lessons from Ezra on Leading a Nation in Spiritual Renewal

Introduction: Ezra chapter 10 concludes the book on a somber note with Ezra calling upon the Jews to divorce their pagan wives. Marriage was God’s first and most sacred institution. Thus, God declared that He “hates” divorce (Mal. 2:16). How then could Ezra call upon the people to end these marriages? Because the people had left their Jewish wives for pagan ones (Mal. 2:11-16). Ezra showed himself to be a man of God by taking unpopular but necessary steps to lead the Jewish nation in spiritual renewal. From his example, God reveals that leading a nation in spiritual renewal requires several things. These include: (1) faithful leaders, (2) holiness, (3) courage, (4) repentance, (5) a commitment to obey, (6) Spirit-led unity, and (7) stigmatizing sin.

First, Ezra’s example of grief and repentance inspired other Jews to grieve over their sins before God. From Ezra’s example, God reveals that a nation’s spiritual renewal begins with faithful leaders. Second, Ezra inspired a leader named Shecaniah to call for a renewal of God’s covenant by only allowing marriages that God permitted in His law. From Shecaniah’s example, God reveals that a nation’s spiritual renewal requires a desire to follow God’s standards of holiness. Third, Ezra responded with a courageous call to make the politically unpopular demand for Jewish believers to divorce their pagan-worshiping, foreign spouses. From Ezra’s example, God reveals that spiritual renewal requires the courage to confront sin, even when it is unpopular to do so. Fourth, after the people assembled together, Ezra called for them to both repent of their sinful practices and to return to God by abandoning their sinful ways. From Ezra’s example, God reveals that spiritual renewal requires both repentance and a desire to turn away from sin. Fifth, the people responded to Ezra’s example with a public vow to obey God’s Word. From their example, God reveals that spiritual renewal requires a commitment to obedience. Sixth, the elders and the people then worked together as one to identify the unholy marriages and either give the pagan wives a chance to convert or receive an equitable certificate of divorce. From their example, God reveals that spiritual renewal requires unity directed by the Spirit. Finally, for those with pagan wives who would not convert, the Jews created a list to publicly shame and excommunicate the pagan spouses. From the Jews’ example, God reveals that spiritual renewal requires the Church to stigmatize sin. Yet, God requires that the Church confront sin with love. The absence of love in the Jews’ hearts later led to legalism and a return of the Jews’ sins.

1. Faithful Leaders: A Nation’s Spiritual Renewal Requires Faithful Leaders. Ezra 10:1.

  • Ezra’s confession inspired other Jews to repent. By his own sincere weeping and prayer on his knees at the Temple (Ezra 9:6-15), Ezra’s confession inspired a large assembly of men, woman, and children to feel convicted and repent: “1 Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly.” (Ezra 10:1). Ezra’s declaration of God’s Word caused the people to “tremble” in fear because of their judgment under God’s law: “Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering.” (Ezra 9:4).

  • Spirit-led leaders should lead by example to root out sin. Ezra had just arrived in Jerusalem. He could have easily judged the Jews for “their” sins. Instead, he saw himself as part of the body and felt responsibility for confessing the Jews’ sins. As another great leader, Nehemiah also wept, prayed, and fasted about everyone else’s sins: “When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Neh. 1:4). Daniel also led by example through confession and prayer for all the Jews: “Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God,” (Dan. 9:20). If you want to have God use you to lead others to Him, you must also be faithful like Ezra.

  • God’s Word is able to convict sinners. Ezra convicted the people with God’s holy Word: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). The people responded with grief in front of the Temple. At a time when he was walking with God, Jehoshaphat proclaimed that the people would stand before God’s Temple and cry out in distress in the face of God’s judgment: “Should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house) and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us.” (2 Chr. 20:9). Jehoshaphat may have spoken prophetically of this moment in Jewish history.

2. Holy Purity: Spiritual Renewal Requires A Desire For Holiness. Ezra 10:2-3.

  • Shecaniah’s call to end the Jews’ unholy marriages. A leader named Shecaniah felt moved by Ezra’s example and also confessed the nation’s sins. But he advised that there was hope for the people if the Jews made a covenant to divorce their pagan wives: “Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, ‘We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.”’ (Ezra 10:2-3). The extent of the intermarriages was so severe that the Jews risked losing their spiritual identity as God’s holy nation. Thus, serious action was required. Through Shecaniah, God revealed that there was hope for the restoration of the Jewish nation. That hope existed because the people felt convicted and had repentant hearts. But it would require the people to make difficult choices about obedience and purity.

  • God hates divorce. At first blush, it might look like Shecaniah was urging the Jews to commit a sin that God hates. A marriage between one man and one woman was the first institution that God created in the book of Genesis. A Bible-based marriage is His means for raising up children in His Word (Dt. 4:9-10; 6:7; 11:19; Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6). It is also His means for procreation and the provision for family members. It is also His means for protecting an injured spouse or child. It is also His means of protecting people in their old age. Thus, divorce is one of the few things God hates: ‘“For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Mal. 2:16). Jesus later explained that Moses permitted divorces only out of the “hardness” of people’s hearts: ‘“Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.’” (Matt. 19:8; Mk. 10:5). If a hardened heart caused a divorce, God mandated that the divorced wife be protected from allegations of adultery or other evil acts of the ex-husband through a legal document called a “certificate of divorce” (Dt. 24:1-4; Matt. 5:31; Mk. 10:4). Why then didn’t Ezra rebuke Shecaniah? Because the Jewish men had gotten tired of their Jewish wives and had already divorced them for pagan wives: “11  . . . Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god. . . the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15  . . . let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 16 For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, . . ..” (Mal. 2:11-16). There are many kinds of unholy marriages that are deemed “void” and unrecognized under both God’s law and civil law. Examples include marriages between parents and children, marriages between children, or a marriage between a child and an aunt or uncle (Lev. 18:1-30). Thus, Shecaniah merely sought to end the adulterous marriages to restore the covenant marriages between believing spouses. There were children who were hurt by this. But their numbers were thankfully small (Ezra 10:44).

  • Spirit-led leaders must encourage God’s people to be holy before Him. Like Shecaniah, many God-fearing leaders encouraged the people to break from their sins to be holy. For example, King Josiah led the people in making a covenant to break from their idolatry and other sins to follow God: “Then the king [Josiah] stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant written in this book.” (2 Chr. 34:31). The High Priest Jehoiada also led faithful Levites in a covenant to reject Baal worship and to restore the line of David to the throne: “Then Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king, that they would be the LORD's people.” (2 Chr. 23:16). God is looking for people to help encourage people to be holy. Will you accept His calling to help others?

3. Courage to Change: Spiritual Renewal Requires Courage to Confront Sin. Ezra 10:4-8.

  • Ezra’s courageous proclamation. Prompted by Shecaniah’s call, Ezra immediately acted. He led the Levites and the elders to take an oath to assemble the nation and then fasted: ‘“Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.’ Then Ezra rose and made the leading priests, the Levites and all Israel, take oath that they would do according to this proposal; so they took the oath. Then Ezra rose from before the house of God and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib. Although he went there, he did not eat bread nor drink water, for he was mourning over the unfaithfulness of the exiles. They made a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the exiles, that they should assemble at Jerusalem, and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the leaders and the elders, all his possessions should be forfeited and he himself excluded from the assembly of the exiles.” (Ezra 10:4-8). Ezra showed several signs of being a great leader. First, he promptly responded to God by acting on Shecaniah’s Spirit-led advice. Second, he was wise to obtain buy-in from the Levites and the elders. Third, he was shrewd to call for an assembly in only three days. This limited the opportunity for opposition to arise. Fourth, he was not afraid to make unpopular decisions. He created penalties for those who did not comply. Although this would have been unpopular, it was necessary. Finally, he acted with faith. Instead of making the assembly about him, he gave it over to God by entering into a complete three-day fast and praying before the people arrived.

Be a doer of God’s Word1

  • Making the right choice sometimes requires difficult courage. Shecaniah urged Ezra to make a decision that most would have hated. Shecaniah might further have appeared to be cowardly by passing this difficult instruction off to Ezra: “Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.” (Ezra 10:4). But only Ezra had the power to make this difficult ruling. King Artaxerxes I’s edict gave Ezra exclusive authority over the Jewish people for their local civil and religious matters (Ezra 7:14; 8:36). Ezra had also already warned that the people were under God’s judgment for their actions. Shecaniah further had a father and uncles who had engaged in these acts (Ezra 10:21-26). Thus, even within his own extended family, he lacked authority on this issue. Sometimes, the buck does stop with the leader, and the leader must make difficult choices. Joshua encouraged the people to take the Promised Land, even though their leader Moses had just died: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:9). David also urged Solomon to be courageous in building God’s Temple when the Jews lacked the resources and special skills on their own to do so: “Consider now, for the LORD has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be courageous and act.” (1 Chr. 28:10). Just as some allege today, the Jews at that time might have responded to Ezra that God doesn’t care who you love. Others would have called Ezra a homewrecker. Are you willing to make difficult decisions for God?

  • Prayer and fasting empties your strength to let God fill you with His. An advisor would have told Ezra to eat, rest, and prepare speeches. Making himself weak by fasting without food or water would have seemed foolish to many. Yet, fasting was a sign of his total repentance (1 Sam. 7:6; Dan. 9:3; 2 Chr. 20:3; Neh. 9:1). Many of the great leaders in the Bible also fasted and prayed before big events to remove their pride and fleshly desires. For example, Moses went 40 days and nights without food or water because the Jews’ sins: “I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger.” (Dt. 9:18; Ex.43:28). The people of Nineveh also went without food or water to repent of their sins (Jonah 3:7). If you are facing a battle that is beyond your power, fast and pray for God’s deliverance.

4. Repentance: Renewal Requires Repentance and Change. Ezra 10:9-11.

  • Ezra’s call to the nation to repent and to be holy. With the power of the Holy Spirit, the people trembled as Ezra pronounced their guilt and ordered them to divorce their pagan wives: “So all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month on the twentieth of the month, and all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and the heavy rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel. 11 Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”’ (Ezra 10:9-11). The signs of the Holy Spirit were evident during this assembly during the 12th day of the ninth month (December). First, God stirred “all” people’s hearts to come to the assembly (Ezra 10:9). Second, God stirred the priest's hearts to stand unified with Ezra (Ezra 10:10). Third, God made His presence felt through the “heavy rain” on the exposed people (Ezra 10:9). God also made His presence known in a similar way when Samuel once addressed the people: “So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.” (1 Sam. 12:18). God also made his presence known through signs and wonders during Moses’ time (Ex. 14:31).

  • God’s purity laws for marriage were meant to protect His people. God wanted His people to remain holy and separate from the nations around them (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7). To keep His people holy and from turning their hearts away from Him, God prohibited the Jews from marrying any pagan person (Dt. 7:3-4). God also prohibited the Jews from forming covenants with the pagan nations (Ex. 34:12, 16; Dt. 23:6). God was also clear that the Jews were not to adopt the sexual practices of the pagan nations (Lev. 18:1-3). When the Jews did these things, they “defiled” themselves (Lev. 18:24). If you reject God’s standards of holiness, you also risk defiling yourself before Him.

  • Repent by confessing your sins. With his God-given authority, Ezra pronounced the people’s guilt to convict them: ‘“You have been unfaithful’” (Ezra 10:10). He therefore urged the Jews to ‘“make confession to the Lord God of your fathers”’. (Ezra 10:10). Jesus also began His public ministry with a call to repentance. “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ (Matt. 4:17). Jesus came “saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”’ (Mk. 1:15). His disciples also began their ministry with a call to repentance: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”’ (Acts 2:38). If you say that you are without sin, the Bible says that the truth is not in you (1 Jo. 1:8). Yet, if you confess your sins, Jesus promises to forgive your sins: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). Charles Spurgeon famously remarked: “Perhaps you have the notion that repentance is a thing that happens at the commencement of the spiritual life, and has to be got through as one undergoes a certain operation, and there is an end of it. If so, you are greatly mistaken; repentance lives as long as faith. Towards faith I might almost call it a Siamese twin. We shall need to believe and to repent as long as ever we live.” What sins will you repent of?

  • Great revivals begin with the confession of sin. Confessing sin is a condition precedent to restoring a broken fellowship with God and for the spiritual revival of God’s people. Commentator David Guzik observes: “The Bible has much to say about the confession of sin, and we can surmise some general guidelines about the confession of sin: - Confession should be made to the one sinned against. - Confession publicly of specific sins should be made as far as the circle of those sins. - Confession of general spiritual need, while being discrete about the specific sin, is appropriate when the circle of the sin is either personal or very small. - Confession should be appropriately specific. - Confession should be thorough.” (David Guzik on Ezra 10).2

  • Failing to repent can bring judgment upon the nation. Ezra also revealed that the Jews’ individual sins were “adding to the guilt of Israel.”’ (Ezra 10:10). Even one person’s sins can affect others: ‘“Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.” (Josh. 22:20). When an entire nation is unfaithful, God is forced to discipline the entire nation: “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:” (Dt. 28:15). Some might imagine that a wall exists between matters of church and state. Yet, God does not recognize such a line. The Bible is filled with examples where unchecked evil brought devastation to an entire nation. When the Church ignores sin, the nations suffer. Are you praying for your leaders? Are you also voting for God-fearing leaders?

  • Repentance also requires a change to holy behavior. In addition to repenting, Ezra revealed that the people needed “[1] do His will; and [2] separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”’ (Ezra 10:11). A believer may proclaim Jesus as Lord. Yet, Jesus is not your Lord if you disobey Him: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21). “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46). “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Jam. 1:22). “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24). “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matt. 7:26). If Jesus is your Lord, is there any area where you are refusing to obey Him?

5. Commitment: Spiritual Renewal Requires Obedience. Ezra 10:12-15.

  • The assembly makes a public vow of obedience. Convicted of their guilt, most of the people made a public vow to comply with God’s law and divorce their pagan wives: “12 Then all the assembly replied with a loud voice, ‘That’s right! As you have said, so it is our duty to do. 13 But there are many people; it is the rainy season and we are not able to stand in the open. Nor can the task be done in one or two days, for we have transgressed greatly in this matter. 14 Let our leaders represent the whole assembly and let all those in our cities who have married foreign wives come at appointed times, together with the elders and judges of each city, until the fierce anger of our God on account of this matter is turned away from us.’ 15 Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, with Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supporting them.” (Ezra 10:12-15). The public vows ensured accountability. Each divorce also required a “certificate of divorce” to ensure the financial protection of the divorced pagan spouse (Dt. 24:1-4). To ensure both the just and fair dissolutions of these unions, leaders would carefully draft each certificate. Because of the vast number of pagan unions, this would take time to complete. Also, some pagan spouses could remain if they renounced idolatry and accepted Yahweh. Only four members tried to stop this. God’s work will never happen without opposition from the enemy. Thus, Spirit-led leadership by unanimous consent is neither required nor realistic in most circumstances.

Ezra led the Jews to made a public vow to obey God’s law3

  • God desires a public confession of faith to follow Him. After receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses had the 70 elders and the people make a public vow to accept it: “Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Ex. 24:3). When the people spoke “we do,” they were agreeing to enter into a wedding contract (consisting of the Ten Commandments) with God. In Jewish culture, a couple enters into the wedding contract before they dwell together. God tells us that He was betrothed to Israel (Jer. 2:2). He was faithful to His bride (Ps. 18:25). Yet, a wedding contract must be signed by a friend of the bride and a friend of the groom. Moses was a friend of the bride, Israel. But God did not allow him to sign the contract. Instead, Moses later broke the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19). The sin that caused the people to break the wedding contract was spiritual adultery and idolatry. Rather than accepting their bridegroom and waiting on Him, they made for themselves a new bridegroom out of a golden calf (Ex. 32:24). King Jeroboam later sadly recreated two golden calves. Adultery is a sin that justifies divorce (Matt. 5:32). But God still implored the unfaithful Jews to return to their husband: ‘“Return faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband.’” (Jer. 3:14). Jesus will one day complete His marriage with His Church (Rev. 19:7-14). The bridegroom and the bride will then be able to dwell together (Rev. 20:4). Here, the Jews had again broken their wedding contracts with their God-given wives. Thus, Ezra had them make new vows to return to their original Jewish wives and leave their lives of sinful unions behind.

  • God also wants you to publicly confess your faith in His New Covenant. King Josiah followed Moses’ example in having the people affirm their agreement to be bound by the Ten Commandments (2 Chr. 34:29-33; 2 Kgs. 23:1-3). Like the Jews, God also wants you to publicly confess your faith and agreement to the New Covenant as your wedding contract with Him: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ -- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” (Ro. 10:8-9). If you confess Jesus to be Lord and Savior before others, He in turn will confess you in heaven (Lk. 12:8; Matt. 10:32). Are you sharing the good news of the Gospel with others? (Matt. 28:16-20).

  • If you remain unequally yoked, Satan may also turn your heart against God. In the New Testament, God again required believers to stay separate and pure from non-believers in both marriage and business: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnerships have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:15-18). “and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.” (Ex. 34:16). If you marry a non-believer, that person will likely pull you off your walk with God. Are you guarding your heart? Are you teaching your children to only marry other believers?

  • Make no provision for the flesh. Paul also warns believers not to engage in licentiousness as the Jews did: “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Eph. 2:3). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16). “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Ro. 13:14). “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Pet. 2:11; Ro. 12:1). Will you abstain from licentiousness and any other evil desires?

6. Unity: Spiritual Renewal Requires Spirit-Led Unity. Ezra 10:16-17.

  • The elders and people acted with one accord to root out sin. Over a period of three months, the elders carefully interviewed each union to ensure that God’s law was fairly applied: “16 But the exiles did so. And Ezra the priest selected men who were heads of fathers’ households for each of their father’s households, all of them by name. So they convened on the first day of the tenth month to investigate the matter. 17 They finished investigating all the men who had married foreign wives by the first day of the first month.” (Ezra 10:16-17). During these three months, from January until April, pagan spouses would have had an opportunity to renounce their pagan gods and accept Yahweh as their only God. For those who refused to do so, the elders would ensure a fair and equitable divorce certificate. Thankfully, the small list at the end suggests that less than one percent of the pagan spouses declined the chance to renounce their pagan idolatry.

  • Spirit-led leadership should inspire the Body of Christ to act together to serve God’s will. Today, believers are called upon to act with one accord as the Spirit leads the body to help build the Church. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Ro. 12:5). “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12; 12:20-21; Eph. 4:4). One commentator observes: “[T]his episode shows the wisdom of Ezra’s leadership. As vital as his leadership was, he did not force his decision on the people. Rather, he influenced the leaders and people, relying on the power of God’s Word and Spirit; and the decision was made by the community of believers. We can learn from his teaching, his patience, and his example. This shows how strong convictions, held deeply by one leader or a minority, can influence the future of the whole community’s life and thought. Just as in Ezra’s time, the believing community today often faces crises that demand strong leadership and decisive, united action.” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 165). Are you leading others to serve Jesus with a united purpose to do His will?

  • Spirit-led unity must be motivated by love to succeed over time. The book of Nehemiah reveals that Ezra’s revival did not last long. What failed? The Jews did not act with God’s love: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:14). Without God’s love, the Jews became legalistic and returned to their sins.

7. Sin: Spiritual Renewal Requires Stigmatizing Sin. Ezra 10:18-44.

  • The accounting of the offenders. After being given three months to renounce their pagan gods, 111 pagan wives refused to do so. This small group was given certificates of divorce: “18 Among the sons of the priests who had married foreign wives were found of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib and Gedaliah. 19 They pledged to put away their wives, and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their offense. 20 Of the sons of Immer there were Hanani and Zebadiah; 21 and of the sons of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel and Uzziah; 22 and of the sons of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad and Elasah. 23 Of Levites there were Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (that is, Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah and Eliezer. 24 Of the singers there was Eliashib; and of the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem and Uri. 25 Of Israel, of the sons of Parosh there were Ramiah, Izziah, Malchijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malchijah and Benaiah; 26 and of the sons of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth and Elijah; 27 and of the sons of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad and Aziza; 28 and of the sons of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai and Athlai; 29 and of the sons of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch and Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal and Jeremoth; 30 and of the sons of Pahath-moab: Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui and Manasseh; 31 and of the sons of Harim: Eliezer, Isshijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, 32 Benjamin, Malluch and Shemariah; 33 of the sons of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh and Shimei; 34 of the sons of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, 35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, 36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 37 Mattaniah, Mattenai, Jaasu, 38 Bani, Binnui, Shimei, 39 Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, 40 Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 41 Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, 42 Shallum, Amariah and Joseph. 43 Of the sons of Nebo there were Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel and Benaiah. 44 All these had married foreign wives, and some of them had wives by whom they had children.” (Ezra 10:18-44). Corrective action began with 17 listed priests. They carried the greatest sin as leaders. For the priests who married pagan wives: “19 They pledged to put away their wives, and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their offense.” (Ezra 10:19). The ram was a trespass offering for sins against God (Lev. 19:22). Sadly, the ten non-priest Levities and 84 lay persons failed to follow their example in atoning for their sins.

  • Be God’s salt and light to convict sinners. It is for God alone to judge others (Ro. 12:19). Yet, Jesus called upon the Church to hold both leaders and society accountable by being God’s salt and light in the face of sin (Matt. 5:14). Salt is an irritant in the wound of sin. God wants you to love the sinner but hate the sin. When you hate sin, your salt and your light can convict a sinner (Matt. 5:13). When the Church stays silent in the face of a leader’s sins or society’s sins, the Church loses its saltiness. Thus, the Church should never avoid holding leaders or society accountable out of fear that it might offend.

  • Restore a fellow sinner in a spirit of gentleness. To avoid becoming legalistic as the Jews did, you are called upon to reprove other believers with kindness and love. “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness . . .” (Gal. 6:1; 1 Thess. 4:18; Heb. 3:13; Prov. 15:1; Ro. 12:20; Prov. 25:21). Do you convict sinners to repent through your love and kindness?