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My children and I are reading together Ezra after lunch and most of the times, with a bowl of ice cream out in our back yard.
Yesterday we came to Ezra 9, this is the passage in which Ezra gets the news that “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands.”
Ezra’s response to the sin of his people was like the one Jesus talked about on the Sermon of the Mountain, “Blessed are those who mourn…” Ezra tore his cloak and even pulled hair from his head and beard in great distress. Ezra fasted as he mourned, and when the evening came, he fell on his knees and prayed spreading out his hands to God.
The faithlessness of the people, their sin had been great, and Ezra knew it. He confessed their great sin before a Holy God. No excuses, nothing else to add, it was but the cry of a repentant heart. A mourner.
“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt.”
Ezra keeps crying on his knees to God, he knows that all the affliction that has come upon them has been a consequence of their great sin. And then these words come out of his mouth, and it was here where I found myself reading aloud with a lump on my throat:
“For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.”
Even in the midst of the terrible consequences of our sin, we can find hope. Even there we find His grace. His grace towards his people never ceases. His mercies are new every morning. His steadfast love reaches to His own even when we have sinned. He repairs what we have torn down. He revives our broken hearts. He frees us from the slavery. He protects us.
“And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.””
Ezra did not see the end of the story then. Jesus came and took our guilt, our punishment on his body on the cross. All the suffering that we deserved he bore in our place.
David knew this as well when he said,
“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Psalm 103:10
“Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” Certainly we cannot stand before a holy God if we have not seen our desperate need for Him and have not repented from our great sins. We do not have hope to stand before God and not be consumed, apart from Jesus who came and died and rose again, and is now sited at the right hand of God interceding for us. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life.
Because of His great love towards His people, we have eternal hope even in the midst of the consequences of our great sins: We will indeed be comforted. The night will be gone and the day will arise. Our tears will be dried out, the fighting will be over. He will give us “beauty instead of ashes, oil of gladness instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Is. 61)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Beautiful and encouraging reflections, my friend. It is hard to read these passages and keep a dry eye. God is so beyond good, and His Grace so much deeper and wider than we are capable of understanding it! Love you!