Book of Ezra Chapter Nine Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Pray With Passion
People need guidance and we are to see that God presents differing gifts of service to various people which are needed by all, as seen in the model of the nation Israel. Some were farmers, others priests, still more were ranchers, some temple workers, others were gifted with leadership skills and there were prophets, which should reveal to us that we need each other, since none of us know or can do it all. In Verses 1-2, some of the leaders of Israel came to Ezra the teacher with these words: "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." Many years had passed since the time of Governor Zerubbabel in the first return from Persia, and there may well have been a shortage of women among the returnees from the land formerly a part of the now defunct Babylonian Empire. For that and no doubt additional reasons, the former exiles began to intermarry with women of the tribes and nations surrounding Jerusalem. The "princes" of this verse were local Jewish leaders who probably didn't know the Law like Ezra did, but were afraid of God and wanted to return to the system of the past that worked well for their ancestors.
Ezra the priest did know God's Law, and he continued in Verses 3-4: "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." You may not think so, but God has a definite and clear plan for each of our lives. It only seems obscure to most because our plans tend to run counter to His, causing confusion. Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law, was not confused for the words of Deuteronomy 7:3 were clear about the people they were to dispossess in Canaan—"Nor shall you make marriages with them..." and God's Word continued in Verse 4 of that chapter—"For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly." After all the miraculous edicts of pagan kings for their return to the land and the rebuilding of the temple, they might be destroyed or scattered—again! Ezra was stunned. He grieved at the thought of a renewed destruction of his people and did what many grieving men of his generation did, he tore at his garments, at his beard and hair, flinging himself down before the Lord.
And note in the remaining verses of this chapter, the WAY he asked God for his nation and people. Verses 5-6: "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." Scriptures like 1 Timothy 2:1-3 teach us to pray for our earthly leaders, for our people, and we can look here at the prayers of Ezra, finding the PASSION that is to accompany such prayers. This is not a casual request, but an impassioned confession, an admission of weakness and guilt, an expression of deep need, by a man who IDENTIFIED utterly with those for whom he sought God's help. And notice that when you feel too "ashamed and embarrassed" to pray, it's precisely the time to tell God—everything!
When you pray for your leaders, tell God what He already knows—that their errors and omissions are yours also. God not only sees us as individuals, but corporately as well. When the leader makes a mistake, the people are mistaken too, which includes the intercessor for them. Ezra saw that fact clearly, and so we have Verse 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." His prayer of confession was not "they" did it...it was WE did it! It wasn't just our ancestors' errors or what our current leaders did, it is the people right now. In Ezra's situation—it was him—it was Ezra. And when WE pray, it's you and me.
In times of trouble, it's easy to forget the many times God has delivered us, and see only the wall of difficulties before us. Ezra didn't make that mistake. He sincerely acknowledged God's deliverance in the past, while at the same time presenting the current need in prayer. Verses 8-9: "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." Have you placed your trust in the Lord? Have you given your heart to Him? If so, you were formerly a slave to the sins of this world, then set free by God Himself! Your greatest need in life has already been met, and when God did this great work for you, He proved that He can and will handle any other problem you will ever encounter. He is God and you are His beloved child, with a possession far geater than just a "peg in His holy place," the place we call "heaven."
In the face of our personal and national sins against God, there is only one reality—we did it! That's what Ezra is acknowledging in Verses 10-11: "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." God longs to give us everything, and yet, what we need sometimes must come out of the loss of what we have. That's what happened to Israel. They were given life, identity, purpose, the love of God, and they became proud, thinking they did it themselves, the lie that leads to national and personal ruin. They adopted the idolatry of the tribal groups they were supposed to displace, and so God finally removed them from the land. And here they were, a remnant back in the land, but repeating the disasters that destroyed their ancestors.
God, through His prophets had said to this Hebrew nation He had created, as reflected in Verse 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." How about you personally? Do you want peace, prosperity, strength and other good things in life, for yourself and as an inheritance? Of course you do! Even those who deny themselves, somewhere inside want more of what we call the "good life." God has a good intention for your life, just as He did and does for Israel, and He expects you to look to Him for its fulfillment.
Notice how Ezra clearly REASONS out this prayer, his request to the Lord, in Verses 13-14: "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?" When you pray, try writing what are called "bullets" on a notepad, listing what you want and need. Present your requests to Him simply, clearly, completely, with passion and with love for the One who can grant your petition. Remember in prayer that the Messiah, the Christ is your King, God, Savior, Lord, and astonishingly, in Romans 8:34, we find that you are not the only one praying—He is praying for you as well. Seek His will in prayer, for His prayers are ALWAYS answered. And note that when we're tempted to feel resentment for our troubles in life—they are "less than our iniquities deserve."
We are not righteous in and of ourselves. You know that. You want to be, but your thoughts betray you. Those wisps of resentment still emerge. You don't want to, but find yourself coveting something or someone you do not have. God is holy, righteous and pure, and we should address Him as Ezra did in Verse 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." He has given us everything. I have fingers that type these words. He gave them to me. I just took another breath—it was from Him. You and I may be half a world apart, but God has given us this moment together. He is righteous. We don't deserve Him, we are guilty and cannot stand before Him, but like Ezra, let us acknowledge that our God is not only holy, but also full of grace, unmerited favor for those who look to Him in simple trust.
Look at what He has done: "You He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). Your faith makes you His child, His new creation—and just as surely as He loved (and loves) the remnant who returned with Ezra, He loves you and me.
Father, I am Yours. You have given Your Son that I might be free from sin and death. I trust in You, Lord. I deserve nothing but You have given me everything. I confess my sins and ask for what is needed. Hallelujah. I am Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.