By Joseph Ametepe
One of the marks of the believers God used greatly to advance His purpose in their generations is that they were men of effective and effectual prayer. In other words, they had power with God through prevailing and persevering prayer. When trials and troubles came their way, they quickly turned their attention to God. Then, they poured out their hearts to Him in prayer in all honestly and humility. By turning to God and pouring their hearts to Him, they demonstrated their total dependence on Him to deal with their difficult and desperate circumstances.
In fact, these believers would not give God rest. And they would not give themselves rest either until God’s intervention was revealed in their desperate and difficult circumstances. They drew near to God with confident assurance that He would indeed respond to their prayers in order to honor His name. They took God at His word. Their personal relationship with God was intimate and inspiring.
One of these believers is Ezra, the priest and scribe. When Cyrus the Great toppled Babylon and consolidated his great Persian Empire in 539 B.C., he made a proclamation permitting captive Jews to return to their homeland (see 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-5). The first group of Jews returned in 538 B.C. under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Ezra led a second group of returning Jews in 457 B.C., 80 years after the first group returned. Ezra is described as a scribe who “had devoted himself to the study and practice of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). As such, he was commissioned by King Artaxerxes to enforce God’s Law as the official law of the land (Ezra 7:25-26)!
Ezra, whose name means “Yahweh helps,” found that the Jews who had returned from captivity broke the very law he was commissioned to teach. The princes, the priests, and the people married women from the pagan nations surrounding them. Indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness. When Ezra, the priest and scribe, the law enforcer heard this, he was heartbroken, grief-stricken and sat appalled until the evening offering (see Ezra 9:1-4).
You see, God had just recently extended His lovingkindness to His people in the sight of the kings of Persia to permit them to return to their homeland and serve Him. However, God’s people gave no return for the benefit they received from Him. They flippantly broke His clear commandments regarding not intermarrying with the pagan nations they were to dispossess (see Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 7:3-4; Joshua 23:12).
Appalled and in great anguish of soul, Ezra turned to the Lord his God to intercede on behalf of God’s people. He would identify with them in confessing their sins and their great guilt. Ezra was a true patriot. He loved the Lord his God. But he also loved his people to the point of identifying himself with them and deeply grieving over and confessing their sins. He did not play the “holier-than-thou” card. Rather, he humbled himself to stand in the gap for his people.
We will now turn our attention to the “Prayer of Ezra!” This is recorded in Ezra 9:5-15. It’s not recorded anywhere else. By way of an overview, first of all, we will examine what the Bible reveals about the humiliation of Ezra in Ezra 9:5. Second, we will expand on the honest confession of Ezra in Ezra 9:6-7. Third, we will elaborate on the hope of Ezra in Ezra 9:8-9. Fourth, we will expound on the heartfelt questions of Ezra 9:10-14. Fifth and finally, we will emphasize the honor of Yahweh in Ezra 9:15.
Let’s now dig deeper into the “Prayer of Ezra” by examining what the Bible reveals about the:
I. HUMILIATION OF EZRA (v. 5).
“But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and robe torn, and fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God” (Ezra 9:5; NASB).
From early morning, Ezra, whose name means “Yahweh helps,” sat silent and sullen, grieving and groaning in the presence of the people. The Hebrew word translated “humiliation” is also rendered by other translators as “heaviness.” It comes from the Hebrew word “Taanith.” It occurs only here in the Old Testament. Here, it applies to humiliation rather than abstinence from food. In this context, it refers to sitting motionless in deep affliction of soul. It was indeed a solemn and somber moment in Ezra’s life. Never had he willingly chosen to subject himself to such humiliation before God and before men. Ezra’s humiliation before God and before men was further expressed in tearing his garment and robe. This was done to demonstrate his deep sorrow. Furthermore, Ezra knelt and stretched out his hands to Yahweh his God as he prepared himself to make a confession of the heavy guilt of the sons of Israel. In other words, the humiliation of Ezra was done in a spirit of humility. That is to say that his posture in his state of deep affliction of soul and sorrow was one of surrender to God.
Notice the Bible makes it clear that Ezra arose from his humiliation or abasement at the time of the evening sacrifice. Now, the question is: why did he arise from his humiliation at the time of the evening offering or sacrifice? Ezra arose from his humiliation at the time of the evening offering because at that time devout Jews used to come to the temple to witness the last sacrifice of the day. In other words, during this time, many Jews gathered at the temple court. These devout Jews would probably be made aware of the sins of the people of Israel, soon to be confessed by Ezra the priest and scribe.
But more importantly, Ezra arose from his state of deep affliction of soul and sorrow at this time, because he trusted in the efficacy of the evening sacrifice as the ground on which he could approach the throne of God and appeal to Him. He knew that by the sacrifice that was being offered, he could come near to God and receive favor and forgiveness of their sins. Indeed, all this blessedly foreshadows the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and our approach to our Heavenly and Holy God, through His finished work on the cross. At the time of the evening sacrifice, our Lord poured out His life even unto death – sacrificing Himself once for all times for our sins. He, the Lamb of God, willingly and wholeheartedly died in our place and took away the sin of the world (see John 1:29).
Not only that, Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself for our sins, gives believers today access to the throne of God. In his letter to the First Century Church in Ephesus - made of up of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, Paul affirmed this. He writes: “For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). Also, the writer of Hebrews asserted this truth. Believers, he declared: “have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20). So, we do not have to wait for the time of the evening sacrifice before approaching God’s throne and appealing to Him. At any point in the day, believers have access to approach the throne of God and appeal to Him in prayer on behalf of our people. With deep affliction of soul and sorrow, we too can prepare ourselves as Ezra did, to make confession of the heavy guilt of our people.
Having examined what the Bible reveals about the humiliation of Ezra, let’s now expand on the:
II. HONEST CONFESSION OF EZRA (vv. 6-7).
“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. 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 hands of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, to this day”” (Ezra 9:6-7; NASB).
Ezra’s honest confession begins with “O my God,” and then proceeds to “O our God” (Ezra 9:10), without ever returning to the first person. You see, Ezra’s honest confession and intercession is like Daniel’s (Daniel 9:1-20) and Nehemiah’s (Nehemiah 1:4-11), in that he used plural pronouns that humbly identifies himself with the people’s sins, even though he did not participate in them. Ezra’s use of “we,” “our” and “us” clearly demonstrates his keen understanding that the sins of the few are sufficient to defile the many. As such, Ezra was earnest in his confession.
Ezra felt so ashamed and embarrassed to lift up his face to the Lord his God. The Hebrew word translated “ashamed” comes from the Hebrew verb “buvah.” It also means “to feel ashamed,” “to be confounded,” “to be disappointed.” The root meaning is “to become pale” or “to blush.” You see, when failure of sin occurs, there is a disconcerting feeling, a flushing of the face. The word often occurs in contexts of humiliation and shattered human emotions. It is the feeling of public disgrace. “Buvah” is the confusion, embarrassment, or dismay when things do not turn out as expected. The idea of shame at the hands of an utter defeat pervades the mood. ~ Adapted from The Hebrew-Greek Study Bible, p. 1714.
Ezra honestly acknowledged his disconcerting feeling over the sins of God’s people with whom he identified himself. He shared in their shame and failure. You see, Ezra is such a true patriot that he completely identifies himself with his people. He did not play “the holier-than-thou” card. He was innocent of the sin of marrying foreign women, but he humbly and honestly identified himself with wayward Israel in acknowledging this sin and other sins.
Ezra’s prayer, as in the prayers of Daniel (Daniel 9:1-20) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4-11), the nation of Israel is regarded as one, and national sins as a “great guilt or trespass.” Ezra shows us what true prayer is all about. It’s laying bare one’s heart and soul before God. He confessed the sins of his nation and owned it all in the presence of the Lord his God. Such humiliation and confession is always pleasing to the Lord, for “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6b).
Now, please notice very carefully that in his honest confession, Ezra also heartily justified God in His righteous judgment upon them. He admitted that it was on “on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hands of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, to this day” (Ezra 9:7b). As a result of Israel’s iniquities, they were given into the hands of the kings of Assyria. The sword of the kings of Assyria devoured many of them. Moreover, they were taken into captivity and settled in cities under Assyrian control. As well, the kings of Assyria plundered them – leaving them to open shame. Later, Judah, representing the southern kingdom, was also given into the hands of the kings of Babylon. The sword of King Nebuchadnezzar took many lives. Furthermore, he carried many into Babylonian captivity. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed and burned with fire. The vessels of the temple and the treasures of the kings of Judah were taken to Babylon. Judah and Jerusalem became a proverb and ridicule. This was God’s righteous judgment on His people for their sins against Him.
It is therefore important that in our honest confession of the sins of our people, we must endeavor to justify God in His righteous judgment upon us, and not question His judgment of us.
Having expanded on the honest confession of Ezra, we now come to the point of elaborating on the:
III. HOPE OF EZRA (vv. 8-9).
In the midst of a hard and hopeless situation, Ezra expressed hope in the grace and goodness of Yahweh. Yahweh has been gracious to them. Yahweh has granted them a little reviving in their bondage. This made Ezra so hopeful. You see, after confessing and owning the sins of his fellow-country men and justifying God in His judgment upon them, Ezra mentions the grace which had been manifested toward them in bringing back the remnant from captivity.
“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. 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 9:8-9; NASB).
Ezra’s honest confession in his prayer to the Lord led to expressing his hope in the Lord’s dealings with Israel as a nation. He begins expressing his hope in the Lord’s gracious dealings with them by acknowledging that “for a brief moment grace has been shown them from the LORD our God.” Even though Ezra had justified God for His judgment upon the nation for their sins, he knew God to be the God of grace - who shows grace to His remnant. The Hebrew word for “grace” is “techinnah.” It also means “graciousness,” “mercy,” “favor,” or “compassion.”
God’s favor was shown to His people for a brief moment. This refers to the period they returned from their captivity to their own land. You see, it has not been long since God delivered them with a great deliverance and brought them from captivity in Babylon to the Promised Land. Recalling this gracious act of God, made Ezra hopeful. This teaches us an important spiritual lesson. Recalling to mind God’s gracious dealings with His people enables the believer to express hope in the Lord.
In expressing hope in the Lord, Ezra also acknowledged that the Lord left them “an escaped remnant.” What is this referring to? The Hebrew word translated “escaped,” is “peletah.” It is used twenty eight times in the Hebrew O.T. to refer to the remnant of God's people (2 Kings 19:30, 31). It was especially used for those who had survived a terrible ordeal (Gen. 45:7; 2 Samuel 15:14; Ezra 9:8). The providence of God watched over Israel to preserve her for His purpose. ~Adapted from the Hebrew-Greek Study Bible, p.1765.
Many Jews were still in captivity beyond the Euphrates River. In fact, only a fraction of the Jews had returned from captivity to the Promised Land. Of the estimated two million Hebrews who had found homes in the cities of the pagan Assyrian and Babylonian empires, only 50,000 chose to return to the Promised Land. If God Himself had not moved the hearts of these (see Ezra 1:5), they would have also chosen to stay in the land of captivity. That’s why Ezra declared to the Lord that there was but a remnant who had escaped. But through this escaped remnant, God gave a peg in His holy place. It is a metaphor from tents, which are fastened by cords and nails, or pegs. What this means is simply some kind of settlement or stability in their lives. Whereas before they were tossed and removed from place to place as their captors pleased, now God had securely planted them in their own land. No longer would they be uprooted and removed from their own land - “His holy place.” This refers to Jerusalem, also called the “holy city” in Nehemiah 11:1, 18 and Daniel 9:24. “His holy place” is particularly mentioned here because of the temple, which was the peg that securely fastened their tents and gave them some hopes of continuing in their land.
Also, Ezra made God’s goal clear in his prayer for leaving an escaped remnant and fastening them securely in “His holy place.” The divine goal is stated in these words: “that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage.” You see, the period of captivity had been one of night and gloom. It was a dark and depressing time in the life of God’s people. However, the new gracious period of respite had brought daylight and brightness to God’s people.
Not only that, the divine goal in leaving an escaped remnant brought about a little reviving in their bondage. The restoration of the Jews had been a renewal of life out of death. Please notice Ezra says “a little.” There are two significant reasons why Ezra says, “a little.” First, it’s because the period had been short. Ezra was sent to Judah in 458 B.C., 80 years after the first group, led by Zerubbabel (538 B.C.) returned. This period of renewal of life and liberty in their own land had been but brief. It was but just a little while since the Lord first began to shower His favor upon them. But soon after that, they began to rebel against Him. In other words, they had not experienced the renewal for long before their unfaithfulness of marrying foreign women. It’s as if Ezra is saying: “We’ve just begun enjoying this favor but a little while, and now we are sinning it away, thus shortening its enjoyment. Lord, it’s been just a little while since You graciously delivered and restored us, and yet we have already returned to our former sins and folly.”
The second reason Ezra says “a little” is that the returnees were still subject to foreign domination. In other words, they were still in some degree of bondage, being in subjection to the kings of Persia. But it was a rekindling of a vital spark – a reviving. The Hebrew word translated “reviving,” is “michyah.” It’s not very common in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is used in Genesis 45:5, where Joseph announced to his shocked and stunned brothers that God had sent him before them to preserve life. So the “reviving” Ezra is speaking of is the preservation of life or the maintenance of life. God had preserved the lives of all who returned from the Babylonian captivity in order to accomplish His divine purpose through them. You see, Israel was perishing in captivity. Their hopes were almost dead and dashed. Because of their sins, they were sentenced to death. But God in His great mercy has given them a new opportunity. He begins with a little to see if His people will make a wise and faithful use of it.
Furthermore, Ezra expressed hope in the Lord his God. He admitted that they were slaves. They were in bondage. Yet, he hopefully acknowledged that God has not forsaken them, but has extended lovingkindness to them in the sight of the kings of Persia. The Hebrew word translated “forsaken” is “azab.” It also means “to loosen,” “to relinquish,” “to leave,” “to abandon,” “to leave behind,” “to be abandoned,” “to put aside,” “to neglect.” You see, God had not abandoned them in their captivity. Rather, He advanced their cause by extending His lovingkindness to them in the sight of the kings of Persia. He did not put them aside in their bondage. Rather, He provided them with relief in the Promised Land. God did not leave them behind in their bondage. Rather, He lavished His love upon them by bringing them to their homeland.
Moreover, Ezra affirmed that God did not abandon His people in their bondage in order give them reviving. You see, while they were in captivity, they were as if in their graves. They were like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision (see Ezekiel 37:1-3). But now, they have been revived by the proclamation of King Cyrus (see Ezra 1), and the encouragement he personally gave them to return to their homeland.
Not only that, God will also raise up or set up His house, to restore its ruins, and to give His people a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. You see, our God is a God of restoration. He specializes in restoring broken people and broken things. He’s committed to raising up His house and restoring its ruins to continue to serve His purpose. It doesn’t matter how broken your life is, God is able to raise it up and restore it to something special for the glory and praise of His name.
Ezra’s expression of hope in the Lord his God, concludes with the words: “to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” Now the question is: what does this mean? Ezra arrived in Jerusalem with the second group of returnees in 457 B.C. It would be over a decade before Nehemiah would lead the third group of returnees and complete the building of the wall of Jerusalem in 445 B.C. So, it’s likely that is not what Ezra was speaking of. Besides, this wall is identified to be a wall to the rest of Judah as well as to Jerusalem. Probably what this means is that the wall is a figurative expression for security. It probably refers to the favor and protection of the kings of Persia, whose edicts on their behalf were under God their security against all their enemies who surrounded them. Or, it may denote the powerful and gracious providence of God, which had brought them from their captivity, and restored them to their own land, and watched over them from time to time. In other words, it’s the hedge of divine providence about them, which guarded and defended them (see Job 1:10).
Ezra expressed hope in the Lord his God as he recounted God’s gracious dealings with the returnees. Remember, Ezra and the returnees found themselves in a hard and hopeless circumstance. Their outlook was bleak. It would be easy to fall into hopelessness. But Ezra gained hope and expressed confident hope in the Lord his God as he recounted the gracious dealings of God with His chosen people. Similarly, no matter how bleak your situation is, you can also gain hope and express confident hope in the Lord your God by recounting His gracious dealings with you. Recall, that God has not forsaken you in your situation to rot. Remember also that He has been preserving your life even in the midst of your circumstances. Rest assured that God is extending His lovingkindness to you even as He extended it to the Jews in Ezra’s days.
Jeremiah the prophet earlier practiced the recalling of God's gracious dealings with His people after Jerusalem was destroyed and Jews taken captive to Babylon. As he recounted God's gracious dealings with His people, he too gained hope in the Lord in a time when all hope seemed to have been lost. "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD's lovingkindness indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:21-13; NASB).
Having elaborated on the hope of Ezra in the Lord his God even when God’s people’s outlook was bleak, let’s now expound on the:
IV. HEARTFELT QUESTIONS OF EZRA (vv. 10-14).
Ezra 9:10-14, begins with a question an ends with a question. In total, this passage contains three questions. These questions are hard and heartfelt. They are intended to search the soul in the presence of God in prayer. Ezra directs each of these questions to the Person of God. You see, Ezra believes that God permits His believing children to bring heartfelt questions to Him, yes even those which are hard to ask Him.
“Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, 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. 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.” 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, 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 9:10-14; NASB).
As a representative of those who had returned to Judea, Ezra’s first heartfelt question was deeply soul searching. He asks: “Now, our God, what shall we say after this?” What is Ezra really saying by this question which he is solemnly and specifically asking Elohim, the plural majesty? Ezra is simply bearing his soul before God. He is deeply pondering in the presence of Elohim: What apology or excuse can be made for such ingratitude? He asks: “God, what can be said in favor of such a people? What can be expected to be shown to a people who had behaved in so shameful and scandalous manner?” You see, God had just begun His gracious work of renewal and restoration among them. But in the midst of the beginning of renewal and restoration, God’s people have begun to provoke Him anew. And so Ezra asks: “Now, our God, what shall we say after this?” God’s mercy has been great; but now, in spite of all, Israel has broken God’s commandments. What does she deserve? The thought of God’s favor in the past leads Ezra to compare it with their present position of violating God’s commandments. Ezra, therefore asks: “After this further proof of our guiltiness, what can we say?”
After asking his first heartfelt question, which was so sobering, Ezra could not help but make another confession. Remember, earlier, Ezra identified himself with the people and made an honest confession of their iniquities and great guilt. But now he makes confession of the principal sin of breaking God’s commandments and intermarrying with pagan nations. Ezra made it clear that the divine commands which Israel had forsaken were conveyed to them expressly by the true prophets of God. Therefore, the people were without excuse. The commandments were not man’s commandments. Rather, they are God’s own commandments which they transgressed. So the point here is that, after reciting the mercies of God, Ezra brings into the light of God’s presence their sin of intermingling the holy race with the peoples of the land (see Ezra 9:2), their disobedience and ingratitude once more.
Actually, there is no passage in the prophets resembling the words recorded in Ezra 9:11-12. So, was Ezra mistaken? Well, let’s not be quick to attribute a mistake to Ezra. What we have here is that Ezra is making a general statement of the prophets’ teaching on the subject of intermarriage with foreign nations, a teaching which began with Moses, the prophet of God (cf. Exodus 34:14-15; Deuteronomy 7:1-3). In other words, Ezra’s statement in Ezra 9:11b-12 is not a quotation of any single text of Scripture, but rather a summation of God’s commands on the subject.
Moreover, Ezra affirms in the presence of God, that for all their evil deeds and their great guilt, God has punished them less than their iniquities. Ezra seems to acknowledge before God that His mercy has been out of all proportion greater than their sins. In other words, God’s mercy has been deeper than their iniquities. Great as has been their punishment in the past, Ezra affirms, they have been less than they have deserved. If God were to deal with wayward Judah and Benjamin according to their sins, He would have obliterated them from the face of the earth. But He didn’t. This is because, He gave them an escaped remnant. He preserved a remnant through whom He would accomplish His divine purpose of sending a Savior to the world, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh the mercies of God, truly, they never cease! Ezra’s affirmation that God has punished His wayward people less than their sins deserve, reminds me of the words of the psalmists. “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 104:10). “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). Truly, our God is merciful, because He chooses not to deal with us according to our sins!
Ezra asks two more heartfelt questions in verse 14. Just like his first heartfelt question, the last two, are also directed to God. “Shall we again break Your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations?” Ezra is asking this question in great grief and dismay. He seems to ask: “After all that’s past, shall we take advantage of God’s mercy to sin yet once more and offend His Majesty on high? God has done so much to spare us. Shall we then provoke Him by our disobedience?”
Actually, Ezra’s second heartfelt question would later lead confession and repentance among the large assembly who had gathered to him. Their confession and repentance are recorded in these words. “And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and 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” (Ezra 10:2). After this statement, Ezra the priest and the scribe, exhorted the exiles to make confession to the LORD God of their fathers and do His will in the matter (see Ezra 10:10-12). Furthermore, the extent of the sin of intermarriage with the peoples of the lands is so vast that it took three months to investigate the matter (see Ezra 10:16-17). It took three months to rectify the situation in all cases. It was only then the repentant exiles were prepare to celebrate Passover with a clear conscience.
Deeply agonizing that the brief sunshine they were enjoying would probably disappear in God’s rekindled wrath against them, Ezra asks his third and final heartfelt question. “Would You not be angry with us to the point of destruction, until there is no remnant, nor any who escape?” (Ezra 10:14b). The expected answer to Ezra’s heartfelt question is ‘Yes’. You see, Ezra is here recalling the declarations of God’s displeasure in such passages as Deuteronomy 7:3-4; 11:17. “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He would destroy you quickly” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4; cf. Deuteronomy 11:17).
Clearly, Ezra had a balanced view of who God is. He spoke of God’s gracious character. He acknowledged that God had shown them grace for a brief moment. He also spoke of how merciful God is. For He did not forsake them in their bondage. Rather, He extended His lovingkindness to them. Moreover, He did not punish the exiles according to their sins. But now, Ezra speaks of the anger of Yahweh. He is a God of anger who demonstrates righteous anger against the sins of His disobedient people. To pray and stand in the gap effectively for God’s people, demands that we do so with a balanced view of who God is. This is what Ezra’s prayer life is teaching us.
You see, God’s lovingkindness was for a time encompassing the exiles. And now they were going to throw it away, carelessly and crazily. In other words, no sooner were they out of their captivity than they were inviting the Great Judge, in His righteous anger against their sins, to send them back into captivity. Sin had bankrupt their lives before, and would surely bankrupt them again, and this time totally and thoroughly. Ezra’s third and final heartfelt question can be summed up in these words: “Now that we have sinned yet again, what do we deserve but extermination?” Ezra feared that this sin would provoke the ultimate judgment of Yahweh.
Ezra had an intimate relationship with the Lord his God, such that he brought hard and heartfelt questions before God in prayer. He wanted to ask God Himself these questions because He alone could answer truthfully and thoughtfully. And so, with holy reverence and humility of heart, Ezra asked the Lord his God three specific questions in Ezra 9:10-14. In asking these questions, Ezra acknowledged that they were guilty because they had forsaken God’s commandments given to them through His prophets. Also, Ezra affirmed that great had been their punishment at the hand of God, but it had been less than they really deserved. As we bring our heartfelt questions to God in prayer, let’s do so as an expression of our intimate relationship with Him, in an attitude of holy reverence and humility of heart. Furthermore, where necessary, let’s acknowledge our guilt to Him and affirm that whatever punishment we have experienced at His hand, is actually less than what we really deserve.
Having expounded on the heartfelt questions of Ezra, we now emphasize the:
V. HONOR OF YAHWEH (v.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; NASB).
The honor of Yahweh was the driving motivation of Ezra’s prayer. Yahweh’s honor, and His alone was his passionate concern all throughout his life. As such, as Ezra brings his prayer to an end, he emphasizes the honor of Yahweh.
Would you please notice how Ezra emphasizes the honor of Yahweh! The first way Ezra accentuates the honor of Yahweh is addressing Him solemnly as “O LORD God of Israel.” This reads in the Hebrew “Yahweh Elohim-Yisra’el.” Earlier, Ezra had addressed God as “the LORD my God” (9:5); “O my God,” (9:6); “my God” (9:6); “the LORD our God” (9:8); and “our God” (9:9-10, 13). But now he solemnly addresses Him with a title that describes Him as the self-existing, the self-sufficient and the self-sustaining sovereign and supreme Lord who has brought Israel into a covenant relationship with Him. What a way to magnify the God of Israel!
Furthermore, Ezra stresses the honor of Yahweh by affirming His righteousness. “You are righteous.” Ezra is here magnifying the righteousness of God. In concluding his prayer, Ezra appeals to the righteousness of Yahweh, who had graciously permitted a remnant to escape at the time of the Babylonian captivity. The righteousness of Yahweh is seen in the fact that only a remnant was spared. God did what was right for His nation that had turned their backs to Him by preserving only a remnant through whom He would accomplish and advance His kingdom purposes.
Finally, Ezra emphasizes the honor of Yahweh by acknowledging the blamelessness of God. “Behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.” The Lord was not guilty. Far be it that the Righteous Lord should be found guilty! Israel was guilty. They had missed the mark. They had failed God and themselves. As such, the more blameless God is the more deserving of punishment Israel’s guilt. All were reckoned guilty and had no right to stand in God’s presence, yet they came penitently seeking the grace of forgiveness.
"Ezra does not plead for the pardon of the guilty people, as Moses did in his famous prayer of intercession (see Exodus 32:31-32). This is because, as at yet the people are not conscious of their sin. To forgive them before they have owned their guilt would be immoral. The first condition of pardon is confession. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Then, indeed, the very righteousness of God favors the pardon of the stoner. But till this state of condition is reached, not only can there be no thought of forgiveness, but sternest, darkest thoughts of sin are most right and fitting." ~Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Biblehub.com
Ezra, the priest and scribe found himself in situation where God’s people were breaking God’s commandments without any thought of making confession or repenting of their unfaithfulness. The priests, the princes, and the people married women from the pagan nations surrounding them – totally disregarding the clear commands of God. Just as they took no thought of making confession and repenting of their lawlessness, so also they did not think of the dreaded consequences of their lawlessness. It would take Ezra, the man of the hour, to turn to God and identify himself with them in confessing the sins of God’s people.
Ezra showed us that godly people do not laugh at the sins of others, but are sad and sorrowful at heart on their account. Ezra’s humiliation upon hearing of the unfaithfulness of the exiles whom God had graciously brought back to their homeland is a powerful lesson for us. Today, God’s people are in the same situation Ezra found himself then. Rulers and leaders of our countries and even churches are disregarding God’s Word, even casting it behind their backs. But like Ezra, we must express deep sorrow and sadness for them. We must, in all humility, mourn and grieve over their sins. And wait till the Holy Spirit move us to make confession for them and for us.
Ezra was honest in his confession before the Lord his God. He did not display a “holier-than-thou attitude.” Rather, he demonstrated his true patriotism by identifying himself with his people in making confession on their behalf. Similarly, we must display our true patriotism by identifying ourselves with our people in confessing our collective sins.
In the midst of a hard and hopeless situation, Ezra expressed hope in the grace and goodness of Yahweh. Yahweh has been gracious to them. Yahweh has granted them a little reviving in their bondage. This made Ezra so hopeful. In fact, Ezra spent good chunk of his time in the presence of Yahweh, recounting and recalling God’s gracious dealings with His people whom He had brought from captivity to the Promised Land. He had shown them grace. He preserved them, though only an escaped remnant. Whereas before they were in darkness, He enlightened them. He did not forsake them in their bondage. He graciously extended His lovingkindness to them in the sight of the kings of Persia. As Ezra recounted God’s gracious dealings with His people, he gained confident hope in the Lord his God. Similarly, no matter how bleak and hopeless our situations in life, we must in reliance upon the Spirit of God dwelling in us, recall all the gracious dealings of God in our lives. As we do so, we will also gain confident hope in the Lord our God.
Ezra had an intimate relationship with the Lord his God. It was so intimate that he reverently brought his heartfelt questions to Him. Ezra did not think it was disrespectful to ask God questions. As such, he asked the Lord his God, not one, but three heartfelt questions. Similarly, out of our intimate relationship with God, we can reverently bring our heartfelt questions to Him in prayer. He is the Best Person to answer them for us.
Finally, Ezra showed us that his great motivation in prayer is the honor of Yahweh, that is, the self-existing, the self-sufficient, the self-sustaining, the sovereign and supreme Deity of the universe. As such, he emphasized the honor of Yahweh by addressing Him as “Yahweh Elohim-Yisra’el.” He also affirmed the righteousness of God and acknowledged His blamelessness. Similarly, our motivation in prayer must be emphasizing the honor of Yahweh. He deserves to be magnified and exalted above all. He alone does all things well. Let’s set aside seeking honor for ourselves and set our hearts on seeking the honor of Yahweh in all things.
“Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all” (1 Chronicles 29:10b-11; NASB). Amen!