As I noted on my post this past Friday, I would be posting three prayers from the Old Testament. This is the second one and it is from The Message. Once again I ask those who read this, do you see the similarities in the way things are today?
This prayer is from Ezra 9:5-15
At the evening sacrifice I picked myself up from my utter devastation, and in my ripped clothes and cape fell to my knees and stretched out my hands to God, my God. And I prayed: “My dear God, I’m so totally ashamed, I can’t bear to face you. O my God — our iniquities are piled up so high that we can’t see out; our guilt touches the skies. We’ve been stuck in a muck of guilt since the time of our ancestors until right now; we and our kings and priests, because of our sins, have been turned over to foreign kings, to killing, to captivity, to looting, and to public shame — just as you see us now.
“Now for a brief time God, our God, has allowed us, this battered band, to get a firm foothold in his holy place so that our God may brighten our eyes and lighten our burdens as we serve out this hard sentence. We were slaves; yet even as slaves, our God didn’t abandon us. He has put us in the good graces of the kings of Persia and given us the heart to build The Temple of our God, restore its ruins, and construct a defensive wall in Judah and Jerusalem. “And now, our God, after all this what can we say for ourselves? For we have thrown your commands to the wind, the commands you gave us through your servants the prophets. They told us, ‘The land you’re taking over is a polluted land, polluted with the obscene vulgarities of the people who live there; they’ve filled it with their moral rot from one end to the other. Whatever you do, don’t give your daughters in marriage to their sons nor marry your sons to their daughters. Don’t cultivate their good opinion; don’t make over them and get them to like you so you can make a lot of money and build up a tidy estate to hand down to your children.’
“And now this, on top of all we’ve already suffered because of our evil ways and accumulated guilt, even though you, dear God, punished us far less than we deserved and even went ahead and gave us this present escape. Yet here we are, at it again, breaking your commandments by intermarrying with the people who practice all these obscenities! Are you angry to the point of wiping us out completely, without even a few stragglers, with no way out at all? You are the righteous God of Israel. We are, right now, a small band of escapees. Look at us, openly standing here, guilty before you. No one can last long like this.”
Some of the things that stand out to me is that our behavior as a “Christian” nation has been the same as the Israelites. When tragedy strikes we call out to God, asking him to save us. When things are going the way we want them to go, we forget about God. We become prideful, arrogant and ever so sinful.
The following is commentary on the above verses from The Bible Exposition Commentary. It is certainly worth our consideration today.
Like the publican in our Lord’s parable (Luke 18:9-14), Ezra was too ashamed to look up to heaven as he prayed. The inability to blush because of sin is a mark of hypocrisy and superficial spiritual experience (Jer 6:13-15). “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush” (Jer 8:12, NIV). Words and actions that would have made earlier generations blush in shame are today part of the normal “entertainment” diet of the average TV viewer. When a nation turns sin into entertainment and laughs at what ought to make us weep, we are in desperate need of revival.
Why was Ezra so ashamed? Because his people hadn’t learned their lesson from all the trials that the nation had experienced (Ezra 9:7). The new generation had grown up in Babylon and become so accustomed to the evil around them that they had no true fear of God. They should have been like Paul in Athens, who grieved over the wickedness that he saw (Acts 17:16), but instead, they first accepted Babylon’s sinful way of life, then approved of it, and then enjoyed it. This compromising attitude went with them to Jerusalem and eventually revealed itself in their disobedience.
When you read the messages of the Prophet Malachi, you see how backslid-den the priests were as they “served God” in the restored temple, and worldly spiritual leaders will produce worldly worshipers. While the older generation of Jews may have learned obedience through the chastening God sent them, the younger generation didn’t learn the lessons their elders tried to teach them. The spiritual history of Israel, summarized in Ezra 9:7, is living proof that privileges bring responsibilities, and that much is required from those to whom much is given (Luke 12:48).
“We are unworthy of Your blessings” (Ezra 9:8-9). Ezra used five different images to picture what God’s grace had done for the people who had returned to the land. In His grace, God had preserved a remnant, like a piece of cloth torn from a robe and kept safe (see 1 Kings 11:26-40). Throughout Jewish history, even when the nation turned from God, He always preserved a remnant that remained faithful to Him (1 Kings 19:18; Isa 1:9; Mal 3:16-17; Luke 2:38); and from that remnant, He made a new beginning.
Ezra then spoke about the “nail in his holy place.” The image here is that of a nail pounded into the sanctuary wall or a tent peg driven into the ground, and it depicts security and stability, the foothold the Jews now had in their land. God had brought the remnant back to their land and given them favor with the king and the local officials, and had they trusted Him and obeyed His Word, He would have blessed them abundantly. But they chose to go their own way; so He had to chasten them with poor crops, bad weather, and serious economic problems (Hag 1).
Third, God gave light to their eyes, by taking them out of Babylonian Captivity and returning them to their own land. To have your “eyes lightened” speaks of new life, new joy, and the dawning of a new day (Ps 13:3; 34:5). It’s similar to the next image, “to give us a little reviving in our bondage.” The presence of the remnant in the land was like a resurrection from the dead! Their departure from Babylon was like the resurrection of a corpse from the grave.
Ezra’s final image is that of “a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:10), and it speaks of the protection God had given His people. He had worked in the hearts of kings-Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes I-to gain them release from bondage and security in their own land. These were proud powerful rulers, but the Lord in His sovereignty used them to fulfill His purposes.
No wonder Ezra was ashamed. After all God had done for His people, they responded by disobeying His Word. “We are speechless” (Ezra 9:10-12). A knowledge of God’s Word is indispensable for effective praying (John 15:7), and Ezra knew the Old Testament Scriptures thoroughly In these verses, he refers to a number of passages from Moses and the prophets, including Lev 18:24-26; Deut 7:1-6 and 11:8-9; Isa 1:19; 2 Kings 23:8-16; Ezek 5:11 and 37:25. It’s obvious that these Jewish men were sinning against a flood of light.
The religious practices of the Canaanites were unspeakably vile and the stench reached to heaven. God had patiently held back His wrath, but the time of their judgment came when Israel invaded the land (Gen 15:16). Wiping out the Canaanite civilization was like a surgeon removing a cancerous tumor or an engineer stopping a flood of poisonous sewage. Note the words that Ezra used in his prayer: unclean, filthiness, uncleanness, abominations.
God’s law made it clear that Israel was to have no association with these nations, and now over 100 Jewish men had taken the first step by marrying into their families (Ezra 9:12). This could, of course, lead to peaceful relations and perhaps even wealth, but what about the future? What would happen to the children of these mixed marriages when it came time to obey God and become a part of the covenant? These men were sacrificing the future and paying a great price to do it. It wasn’t worth it. No wonder Ezra was speechless and asked, “What shall we say after this?”
“We are guilty” (vv. 13-15). Guilt always shuts a person’s mouth before God (Rom 3:19). Sinners can give Him no logical reason for their sins and no acceptable excuses. Ezra not only confessed their sins but admitted that God had treated them far better than they deserved. He knew that God could easily destroy the remnant and start again with another people (Ex 32:10; Num 14:11-12), but, like Moses, he asked God to be gracious and forgiving.
Nobody could stand in His presence; nobody could speak in His presence. They were a guilty people, some of them because they deliberately broke God’s law, and others because they allowed the offenders to get away with their sins. But God is righteous, and a righteous God must punish sin.
Before we try to untangle the problems of life, we must take time to seek God’s face in prayer. This is not a long prayer. It can be read aloud very deliberately in only a few minutes, but it has tremendous depth. Charles Spurgeon used to say that it was the strength of our prayers, not the length of our prayers, that was important; and he was right. When you pray from a burdened heart, with a mind that’s saturated with God’s Word, then God will hear and answer.