Today: [Ezra Chapter Nine] How to Face Scandal and Disappointment. Ezra arrives in Jerusalem with a second group of returnees only to find the city in disarray. The temple is neglected, the city is in disorder and the people have returned to the idolatries that resulted in the captivity they have just been delivered from. Ezra is at a loss at what to do or to think but he cries out to God in repentance. In our day we tend to surround issues of sin and disobedience with an emphasis on grace and forgiveness. What does God expect from us? Under the new covenant of grace are we held to any standard at all concerning piety and a godly lifestyle? Does anything go and just “put it under the blood”? In studying this chapter and how Ezra grappled with similar problems we will gain inside ourselves into our own lives and situations.
[Ezr 9:1-15 KJV] 1 Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, [doing] according to their abominations, [even] of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of [those] lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. 3 And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied. 4 Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice. 5 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,
Ezra arrives in Jerusalem and delivers the vessels of gold and silver up to the Levites and makes an census of his second group of returnees available to the leadership of the city. He is approached by the princes of the city and informed of the grievous state of affairs among the Levites, the people of Jerusalem and the province of Judea. These princes would likely be the descendants of Zerubabbel and the administration of the governors who sat in the seat of authority appointed originally by Cyrus.
Ezra having gathered a second generation of returnees and making the arduous journey to Jerusalem has walked into a major problem. The people of the city and the Levites themselves have intermarried with the people from the surrounding tribes and nations. The princes complain to Ezra that the “holy seed” has been corrupted. We can see from this that the view of the faithful Israelites during this time was that their bloodlines handed down to them from Abraham were sacred. To intermarry outside of Hebrew bloodlines was considered sacrilegious. In fact to intermarry outside of one’s particular tribe was heavily frowned upon as well and could result particularly for the Levites in being excluded from temple service.
Ezra’s frustration and grief is beyond words upon hearing this report. He rends his garment. He plucks out his beard and drops to the ground in astonishment. Think of the sacrifice and risk he has endured to leave hearth and home and lead 1000’s of people out of Babylon thinking they were coming to the very heart of an outpouring of God’s purposes in the earth – only to find the nation in a backslidden state, the city of Jerusalem in spiritual disarray and the temple neglected. How does this relate to you and I? Over the years I’ve heard many reports of people who have traveled and made great sacrifices to go to revival hotspots such as Pensacola, Florida and Redding California and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, or to the headquarters of some great ministry only to be deeply scandalized and disappointed – sometimes because of their own misconceptions – sometimes because of the actual state of affairs upon their arrival. I’ve seen lives of powerful and anointed men and women of God made shipwreck because they flocked to Redding or to some other location only to meet with disappointment and regret because they had assumptions and expectations that were bitterly disappointed.
Jesus taught on this very subject. In Luke 17:21 He warned that the kingdom of God and the things of God are found WITHIN YOU not in a movement or in a man or a ministry. For ourselves we have had those that have made sacrifices to come to Branson, Missouri to be close to and a part of what God is doing in and around Father’s Heart Ministry. We have always warned – “you better get it from the Holy Ghost if you come here and make sure that is God’s will or you might be disappointed…” Many who have come have integrated into the work of God and the mission has been brought forward and increased. Others have come here demanding to be made full time staff or demanding that we allow them to use our ministry as a platform for what they thought God called them to do and have been bitterly disappointed because their motives were not pure. In Ezra’s case no doubt he was deeply conflicted and questioning the very mission that he had felt God set him aside to pursue. He arrives in the city hoping to find towering spiritual giants awaiting to bring him into the work of God only to find complaining leaders who pour out their troubles to him and look to him for answers themselves!
6 And said, 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. 7 Since the days of our fathers [have] we [been] in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, [and] our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as [it is] this day. 8 And now for a little space grace hath been [shewed] from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. 9 For we [were] bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.
Ezra sees the decadence and spiritual declination of the city and is ashamed to even pray to God about it. He realizes that the condition of the people and the choices they have made are the same reasons why they were taken into captivity in the first place. He bitterly recognizes that after decades in captivity and after an exodus of 50,000 by miraculous provision that the people have learned nothing and have lapsed back into the idolatry and sin that resulted in the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. If you have any love for God at all you can’t help but make the comparison to much of what Christian culture looks like today compared to what Jesus must have hoped for as He hung upon the cross. This is the heart of intercession. To see with God’s eyes and be more moved by the heart of God than our own personal wants or desires. It is a sobering moment that we should pause and consider ourselves lest we face the same contradictions Ezra faced and go on without noticing or registering the grief in the heart of God for His people.
10 And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments, 11 Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness. 12 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. 13 And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities [deserve], and hast given us [such] deliverance as this; 14 Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed [us], so that [there should be] no remnant nor escaping? 15 O LORD God of Israel, thou [art] righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as [it is] this day: behold, we [are] before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this.
It is one thing not to be able to stand before your enemies but another thing not to be able to stand before our God. In modern Christian culture we surround our disobedience and lax lifestyles with mountains of copious doctrine about the forgiveness of God and the grace of God – and yes there is forgiveness and God’s patience arises from bounds that we cannot measure. Is it not true that these Old Testament people were judged by a different standard than we are? Does the grace of God overshadow us and his forgiveness extend over us to the point that we can sin to an equal degree and not face the consequences that these people faced? Since God extends forgiveness through the shed blood of Christ for our sins past, present and future is there any place for shamefacedness before Him or do we simply say “it’s under the blood”?
In making the comparison between living under the Old or New Covenant let’s read a few verses:
[Mat 5:20 KJV] 20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
[Act 17:30 KJV] 30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
These two verses suggests that the heart of God is that we live by a standard higher than that which the Old Testament saints were incapable of achieving. Their only resort was to the blood of bulls and goats. We have the enabling grace of the shed blood of the son of God Himself. We must remember that the blood of Jesus not only covers sin by us but produces obedience in us. When Paul preached the message of grace he always gave the following caveat:
[Rom 6:1-2 KJV] 1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
This was the dilemma that Ezra was facing after his arrival in Jerusalem. He is mortified and scandalized. He could have chosen to become bitter and angry. He could have given up and returned to Babylon in disgrace. Instead the spirit of intercession came on him and he cries out to God for answers and for direction. You may see these things in your church or your family or marriage. You may be struggling with sin and habits of life that you would be deeply ashamed for others to know about. All is not lost. You can cry out to God like Ezra did. God is a God who listens. Isaiah says that He inhabits the high and holy place with those of a contrite and humble spirit. You may not have answers or solutions for the difficult situations or people you are dealing with – but God’s ear is bent low to hear and respond to your cry.
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