Introduction: After arriving in Jerusalem, Ezra discovered that the Jews were intermarrying with the local pagan peoples. Sadly, this was not a new problem. Immediately after invading the Promised Land, the Jews ignored God’s laws against being unequally yoked. After Solomon became king, the Jews again violated these rules. The Jews’ failure to follow God’s laws on these and other subjects ultimately led to their exile. Ezra responded by leading the Jews in expressions of sorrow and a prayer of repentance to God. From Ezra’s actions, God reveals seven lessons on true repentance. Your true repentance includes: (1) obedience, (2) conviction, (3) confession of sin, (4) God’s grace, (5) humility, (6) God’s mercy, and (7) your faithfulness.
First, although the Jews had repented of their sins in the past, they continued to disobey God’s Word. From the Jews’ mistakes, God reveals that your true repentance includes obeying His Word. Second, Ezra felt a profound and deep sorrow for the Jews’ sins. In contrast, many Jews no longer saw this as a sin. From Ezra’s actions, God reveals that your true repentance includes a conviction that your sins are wrong. Third, Ezra then led the Jews in a public confession of their sins. From Ezra’s actions, God reveals that your true repentance must also include a confession of your sins. Fourth, Ezra also thanked God for His grace by questioning why the Jews should continue to sin. From Ezra’s prayer, God reveals that your true repentance should also include gratitude for God’s grace by being holy. Fifth, Ezra humbly confessed that the Jews had no excuse for their sins. From Ezra’s confession, God reveals that your true repentance includes humility without excuses for your sins. Sixth, Ezra confessed that the Jews would have been wiped out if God had imposed the penalty that they deserved. From Ezra’s confession, God reveals that your true repentance confesses God’s mercy in withholding your penalties for sin. Finally, Ezra thanked God for his righteous faithfulness in keeping His Covenant with them. Your repentance should respond to God’s faithfulness with a commitment to be faithful to Him.
The Jews intermarried with the pagan peoples of the land. Not long after arriving in Jerusalem, elders informed Ezra that leaders, priests, and regular people had defiled themselves by intermarrying with the pagan peoples living in Israel: “Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, ‘The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.”’ (Ezra 9:1-2). Moses previously commanded the Jews to drive out the seven nations of Canaan, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, “seven nations greater and stronger than you,” (Dt. 7:1l Josh. 3:10; Act 13:19). The list that Ezra recited included three groups from the surrounding pagan nations, the Ammonites, the Moabites and the Egyptians. He deleted the Girgashites and the Amorites, possibly because they were longer had significant populations. Some Jews had even left their Jewish wives for pagan ones (Mal. 2:11-14). It appeared that Zerubbabel and the leaders who followed did not teach or enforce God’s law. The Jews had sadly begun to repeat some of the sins that had led to their expulsion from Judah and Israel.
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: “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” (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: “The Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. 3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices”’. (Lev. 18:1-3). When the Jews did these things, they “defiled” themselves (Lev. 18:24). God was not against interracial marriage. Moses had an interracial marriage with a black Ethiopian (Nu. 12:1). God was instead against marriages between non-believers and believers.
The Jews repeatedly violated these laws as far back as the time of the judges. Not long after God gave the Jews the Promised Land, the Jews ignored God’s laws and intermarried with the local pagans: “and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.” (Jdgs. 3:6; Ps. 106:35). After the Jews ignored His warning, God warned that He would lift His hand and they would become ensnared and ultimately perish from the land: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you.” (Josh. 23:12-13). Each time the Jews cried out for help, God freed the Jews from the consequences of their sins by sending them a judge or deliverer. But the Jews showed that their repentance was not sincere by returning to their sins. “19 But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways.” (Jdgs. 2:19). Thus, your repentance without your obedience is not sincere. Without obedience, your cycle of sin will not end.
Solomon also violated God’s law by marrying foreign wives. Not long after God gave the Jews an eternal kingship through David, King Solomon also disregarded his God-given wisdom by taking foreign wives: “1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the sons of Israel, ‘You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.’ Solomon held fast to these in love.” (1 Kgs. 11:1-2). In a misguided effort to protect Israel, Solomon used foreign wives to establish foreign treaties. For example, Solomon married a pagan princess from Egypt to prevent a war on his southern border (1 Kgs. 3:1). Even if Solomon felt wise to follow worldly ways by marrying foreign wives, his actions were foolish and deplorable in God’s eyes. Just as God warned in advance, these pagan wives turned his heart against God: “For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (1 Kgs. 11:4). “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12). Are you taking actions that might endanger your walk?
Solomon set a negative examples with his foreign wives1
Solomon’s bad example stumbled many others. The prophet Nehemiah also lamented that God’s people had followed after Solomon’s example by marrying foreign women: “25 So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. 27 Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?”’ (Neh. 13:25-27). Are you pulling others off their walk by your choices?
Obey God’s laws by being equally yoked, or Satan may also turn your heart against God. You must also obey God by keeping yourself 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?
You cannot have dual allegiances between God and other things. Many people serve God intensely. Yet, our service to God is frequently divided. Once we understand that God will not accept divided allegiances, we realize how frequently we fall short in complying with this commandment: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jam. 4:4). “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10). “And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is god, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word.” (1 Kgs. 18:21; Josh. 24:15). If you are following worldly ways, you are “double minded” in your faith and need to repent.
Ezra’s sincere sorrow over the Jews’ sins. Ezra expressed a deep anguish for the Jews’ sins. He then led the Jews in an act of public repentance: “3 When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled. 4 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 9:3-4). The tearing of a garment and the plucking of hair from the head or beard were signs of intense mourning and sorrow (Job 1:20; Lev. 19:27; 2 Sam. 1:11; Isa. 15:2). Ezra was appalled that the Jews would act so cavalierly after having just returned from exile. His acts of sorrow led many Jews to feel convicted.
Ezra ripped his clothes and pulled his hair over the Levites’ unrepentant sins
Many Jewish leaders no longer saw this as a sin. The people who took foreign wives included “the priests and the Levites” (Ezra 9:1). But these were the people tasked with teaching God’s law. These leaders saw God’s Word as irrelevant. They might have even justified their actions as acts of tolerance and diversity. Yet, dating back to Moses, God warned that open disobedience against His laws would bring His judgment (Dt. 28:15-68). God later repeated these warnings to Solomon (1 Kgs. 9:6-9). The prophets then repeated these warnings many more times. But the leaders and the people would not listen to God’s warnings. They became stiff-necked and numb to sin: “So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.’’ But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” (Jer. 18:11; Is. 66:4; Neh. 9:16, 29). But Ezra mourned because the sin was no longer seen by the Jews as a sin.
Turning from God can also harden your heart. Like the Jews, turning from God will cause you to darken your heart and make it harder for the Holy Spirit to guide you: “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;” (Eph. 4:18). “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Ro. 1:21). “They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend.” (Is. 44:18). “May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see, and make their loins shake continually.” (Ps. 69:23; Ro. 11:10). “For the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep, He has shut your eyes, the prophets; and He has covered your heads, the seers.” (Is. 29:10). If God has shown you sin in your life, confess it and change your behavior immediately.
Compromise with the world can lead to spiritual blindness. The Jews based their morality upon the world’s standards of morality. Yet, Paul warns “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:5). They are people “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” (Phil. 3:19). “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” (Rom. 16:18). They are spiritually blind to the path leading to salvation: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” (2 Thess. 1:9). The Levites' compromises also undermined their role as God’s standard bearer of morality. Without them fulfilling this role, many lived according to their own morality. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdgs. 21:25; 17:6). Many who make compromises with the world also become spiritually blind. Have you guarded your heart and prayed for the Spirit to keep you on the narrow path?
Ezra’s prayer of confession. Ezra then led the people in a humble prayer during which he repented for the Jews’ sins: “5 But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; 6 and I said, ‘O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.” (Ezra 9:5-6). Ezra’s acts of mourning lasted until evening, and they likely included fasting. At the time of the evening prayer, he arose in his still-torn garments and confessed the Jews’ sins before God in a corporate prayer.
Ezra was an intercessor for God’s people2
All have fallen short and are in need of salvation. Solomon misled many through his own marriages to non-believers. Through his mistake, Solomon learned that even the wisest man on Earth could not keep from sinning: “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20). “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?” (Prov. 20:9). God spared Solomon from eternal death only out of mercy and to stay faithful to His promise to David: “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.” (2 Sam. 7:14-15). Paul later quoted from Solomon’s end-of-life revelations to form two of the central tenants of universal sin and the need for salvation (Ro. 3:23).
Intense prayer should sometimes be on your knees. As an additional sign of Ezra’s humility, he prayed on his knees (Ezra 9:5). As one commentator notes, there are many examples of Spirit-led leaders who prayed on their knees: “Ezra was one of many in the Bible who prayed on his knees. Solomon prayed on his knees (1 Kings 8:54), the Psalmist called us to kneel (Psalm 95:6), Daniel prayed on his knees (Daniel 6:10), people came to Jesus kneeling (Matthew 17:14, Matthew 20:20, Mark 1:40), Stephen prayed on his knees (Acts 7:60), Peter prayed on his knees (Acts 9:40), Paul prayed on his knees (Acts 20:36, Ephesians 3:14), and other early Christians prayed on their knees (Acts 21:5). Most importantly, Jesus prayed on His knees (Luke 22:41). 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.” (David Guzik on Ezra 9).3
When God shows you your sins, repent of them. After Nehemiah’s journey to the Promised Land, he also led the Jews in a similar act of public repentance: “let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned.” (Neh. 1:6). Repentance did not end with the Old Testament. In preparation for Jesus, John the Baptist called all sinners to repent. ‘“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ (Matt. 3:2). Jesus also began His 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; Lk. 18:13.) If you say that you are without sin, the truth is not in you (1 Jo. 1:8). Yet, if you confess your sins, Jesus will forgive you: “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). Have you confessed your sins?
If a nation repents and turns back to God, He will deliver it. God promises to deliver any nation trapped in the idols of the flesh if it repents: “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chr. 7:14). It is the role of the Church to pray and be His salt and light in leading the nation to repent. Is your church fasting and praying for your nation to repent?
Ezra’s grateful appeal to God’s grace. After confessing the Jews’ sins, Ezra professed his gratitude because God’s grace exceeded the depth of the Jews’ sins: “7 Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day. 8 But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. 9 For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 9:7-9). Ezra confessed that the Jews’ disobedience towards God’s law had led to their exile. Out of mercy and grace, God spared a remnant to repopulate the Promised Land. But the remnant had again squandered God’s blessings. Ezra prayed in faith for God not to forsake them and to again cover the Jews in His lovingkindness as He had repeatedly done in the past. He questioned how the Jews could fail God again after His repeated faithfulness.
God’s blessings are based upon grace, not merit. Ezra conceded that God’s blessings were based entirely upon His grace, not the Jews’ merit: “8 But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, . . .” (Ezra 9:8). The Jews had done nothing to deserve God’s miraculous acts of turning the hearts of the Persian kings. The Jews, however, paid lip service to God’s actions. They slaughtered animals to celebrate God’s deliverance (Ezra 8:35). But they were unwilling to obey God. God’s continued willingness to forgive and bless the Jews was done out of underserved grace.
The Jews could find security in God’s grace. Ezra celebrated that God gave the Jews “a peg in His holy place,” (Ezra 9:8). This meant that they could trust in God. His faithfulness could give them hope, even when they did not deserve it.
Unless your repentance includes a change of behavior, you will remain a slave to sin. While praising God’s mercy and grace, Ezra lamented that the Jews remained in bondage to sin: “9 For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, . . .” (Ezra 9:9). Jesus warned that anyone who failed to respond to His truths with a change of behavior remains in bondage to sin: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.’” (Jo. 8:34). “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Ro. 6:16). “promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” (2 Pet. 2:19). Without a change in your behavior, you will return to your sins: “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” (Prov. 26:11; 2 Pet. 2:21). Thus, if you know the truth but continue to sin, you remain in spiritual bondage. Even worse, like the Jews did, you have taken God’s mercy and grace for granted.
God’s Word (including His law) will keep you from returning to the bondage of sin. Jesus came to free mankind from the bondage to sin and human oppression that humans have imposed upon themselves. On the first day of His public ministry, He entered the synagogue and read from Isaiah 61:1-2. After reading the passage, “He has come to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set free those who are oppressed,” Jesus proclaimed: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:14-21). “‘So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”’ (Jo. 8:36). “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 3:17). “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1). Jesus gave you His Word (which includes His law) to protect you from slavery to sin. When you ignore His Word, you also risk placing yourself into bondage, just as the Jews did.
God’s mercy and grace can revitalize you when you walk in obedience. Ezra praised God for “reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins” (Ezra 9:9). God had taken the dry, dead bones of the nation of Israel and revitalized it. This fulfilled Ezekiel’s vision of the bones of a dead body being brought back to life (Ezek. 37:1-14). Through faith in Jesus, you also become a “new creation”: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:16; Ro. 6:4). Are you living as a new creation? Or, are you returning to the sins of your past that Jesus died for?
Ezra’s humble confession of the Jews’ lack of an excuse. As part of his prayer of confession, Ezra confessed in humility the Jews’ lack of excuses for breaking God’s commandments: “10 Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, 11 which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end and with their impurity. 12 So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons, and never seek their peace or their prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever.’” (Ezra 9:10-12). God’s law was clear. The lessons of history were clear. The prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Micah had all preached warnings of God’s judgment and the need for the Jews to repent. But the Jews ignored these warnings. Thus, Ezra confessed in humility that the Jews had no excuse for their conduct. As a model for believers, your confession of sin should never come with excuses. It should also come with your commitment to end your sinful conduct.
God required that His people humbly repent and return to Him. God previously charged the Jews with being “unfaithful” (2 Chr. 30:7). He further urged them to “not stiffen your neck like your fathers,” (2 Chr. 30:8). God’s charge that the Jews were “stiff-necked” meant that they were too prideful in their ways to accept correction. This was a charge that God frequently made against them: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!”’ (Ex. 32:9; Dt. 9:13; Ps. 78:8; 2 Kgs. 17:14). God repeated this charge against the Jews after Jesus’ death: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” (Acts 7:51). God’s Holiness is a consuming fire (Ex. 24:17). Sin cannot be in His presence. This includes the prideful heart of someone who refuses to repent. Thus, you should have the humility to concede your sins.
God desires a contrite and repentant heart. God wanted the Jews to recognize and repent of their sins. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, o God, You will not despise.” (Ps. 51:17). When God exposes your sins, repent of them so that He can forgive you (1 Jo. 1:9). Do you have any unconfessed sins in your life?
Ezra’s grateful appeal to God’s mercy. Also as part of his prayer, Ezra confessed that God had withheld the punishments that the Jews’ deserved for their actions: “13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this, 14 shall we again break Your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations? Would You not be angry with us to the point of destruction, until there is no remnant nor any who escape?” (Ezra 9:13-14). If God had given the Jews the punishment that they deserved, He would have done more than simply send them into exile. He also would have wiped out the remnant that had returned. He could have then started over with a different group of Jews or a different nation. But God remained faithful and kept His promises, even if the Jews did not deserve them.
Ezra appealed to God’s mercy4
God promises His mercy and compassion when you return to Him. When you confess your sins and return to God, He promises to give you His mercy and forgiveness. “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love.” (Micah 7:18). “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Is. 43:25). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps. 103:12). “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.” (Dt. 4:31). Your prayer of confession should also praise God for His mercy. If you don’t acknowledge what you have been saved from, you may take God’s mercy for granted.
Ezra’s grateful appeal to God’s righteousness. Ezra concluded by confessing God’s righteousness and His faithfulness to keep His Covenant promises: “15 O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.” (Ezra 9:15). The Jews had no means to atone for their repeated and willful sins. If they received the righteous judgment they deserved, they would be wiped out. It was only because of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises that the Jews would survive.
God was faithful not to forsake the Jews. God was faithful to send a remnant back to the Promised Land (Ezra 9:9; Ps. 106:46). Through Moses, God promised that He will never forget His Covenant with His people: “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.” (Dt. 4:31). He also would not forsake the Jews when He disciplined them: “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the LORD.” (Lev. 26:44-45). “Be strong and courageous, . . . He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6). God will also never leave or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
Respond to God’s faithfulness by being faithful to Him. God was faithful to keep His promises to restore Israel and rebuild His people. Thus, He was “righteous” to the Jews (Ezra 9:15). Thankfully, God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon our faithfulness: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). You can respond to God’s faithfulness by being faithful to Him. This includes a commitment to obey God, change your behavior, and repent when God exposes your sins.
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