Scripture reading – Ezra 8; Ezra 9
Ezra received king Artaxerxes’ approval to lead a second delegation of Jews home to Jerusalem and Judah (Ezra 7:1-10). Incredibly, the king not only committed gold and silver vessels to be dedicated for the Temple, he also gave gold and silver from the royal treasury as compensation for sacrifices to be offered in Jerusalem (7:11-24). Ezra was also empowered to teach the people the law and commandments, and execute judgment (7:25-26).
Ezra 8 – The Journey Begins
With the king’s blessing, and letters affording him authority, Ezra “gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with [him]” to Jerusalem (7:28). Ezra appealed to 18 heads of Jewish households (8:1-14), and encouraged them and their families to voluntarily leave behind the comforts of Babylon and return to their ancestral lands.
Soon after beginning the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem (some 900 miles which took four months), Ezra halted and took an assessment of those with him (8:15). Sadly, he realized “none of the sons of Levi” were among the people (8:15b). Ezra then chose eleven men of the leaders, and sent them to seek Levites who would be willing to leave Babylon and go to Jerusalem as “ministers for the house of our God” (8:17). Eighteen Levites were recruited (8:18), and 220 Nethinims (servants who assisted the Levites with sacrifices at the Temple (8:20).
Before continuing his journey, Ezra called for a time of fasting and prayer, that the people might prepare and dedicate themselves to seek the LORD and his protection (8:21). Knowing the terror of enemies along the way, Ezra confessed he would be “ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help [them]against the enemy in the way” (8:22). While it was reasonable to request an armed escort for his delegation, Ezra remembered he had boasted the LORD’s blessing, and protection was upon His people (8:22b). So, the people prayed, and sought the LORD, and He heard the prayers of His people (8:23).
With a vast sum of gold and silver in their possession, Ezra chose “twelve of the chief of the priests” and entrusted them with the care and protection of all they had in their possession (8:24-30).
The LORD answered Ezra’s prayer, and his delegation arrived in Jerusalem (8:31-33). They rested three days, and on the fourth day gave a full account and inventory of “the silver and the gold, and the vessels…34By number and by weight of every one: and all the weight was written at that time” (8:33-34). As a great sign of unity, all the people gathered to offer “burnt offerings unto the God of Israel” (8:35). Ezra then took his commissions from the king to Persian government officials (“lieutenants, and to the governors”), giving him authority with the people and over “the house of God” (8:36).
A Spiritual Crisis (9:1-5)
When it comes to family, parents are the gatekeepers of their home and children’s hearts. Sadly, Ezra 9 records a tragic failure of spiritual leaders and parents who failed to guard their homes from the influences of the heathen nations that had settled in Israel. Ezra writes, “the princes [leaders of the people] came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands…2For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed [the Jews] have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass” (9:1-2).
Ezra’s response to the tragic compromise of God’s people was notable. He was overcome with grief and sorrow (9:3). In a public display of heartbrokenness, he tore away his robe and outer garment, plucked out his hair and beard, and sat down stunned by the sins of the people, especially knowing the leaders of the people were “chief” in the trespass (9:3).
One by one, “those who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (9:4) assembled before Ezra, who continued to sit “astonied until the evening sacrifice” (9:4b). Having said nothing to this point, it was at the evening sacrifice (3:00 pm) that Ezra rose from where he had sat, and fell upon his knees before the congregation. There he “spread out [his] hands unto the Lord” (9:5), and prayed (9:6-15).
Ezra’s Prayer and Reflection on God’s Grace (9:6-11)
Identifying with the sins of the people, Ezra confessed, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens” (9:6). He rehearsed the past sins of the nation, and acknowledged God’s grace (9:7-8). Though the people had forsaken the LORD, He remembered, “our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage” (9:9).
In spite of God’s grace and mercy, he confessed, “O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments” (9:10).
A Call for Radical Separation (9:12-15)
Having identified the sin and wickedness of the people, Ezra proposed a purging of sin that was nothing short of radical amputation of the offense. Ezra commanded the people, “Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever” (9:12).
Ezra rehearsed the sins and judgments Israel and Judah had suffered in the past, and conceded only God’s grace and mercy would spare the people from complete annihilation (9:13-14). He acknowledged, God would be right and just if He destroyed Israel, for the people were guilty and had no standing before the LORD (9:15).
Closing thoughts – The spiritual leaders, and fathers had failed to be gatekeepers of their homes, and their children’s hearts. They had failed to insulate their families from the heathen and their ways (9:2). Tragically, their failure led not only to a familiarity with the sins of the heathen, but eventually a bond of friendship and marriage. Ezra’s response was a graphic display of sorrow, and fear of God’s judgment (9:3-6, 10, 14-15). The people had disobeyed God’s law, and invited His judgment.
Mom and dad, are you guarding the hearts of your children, and insulating them from the sins and wickedness of the world?
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