Ezra 9-10, Hebrews 5
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. – Ezra 9:6 NLT
We live in the age of the individual. Even as believers, we tend to view our lives independently from those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We focus on our own personal walk with Christ. We worry about our relationship with God and how well we are living the Christian life as individuals. But throughout the Scriptures, the emphasis is always on the corporate body of believers. God sees us as His people and views us collectively. God does care for each of us as individuals and loves us for who we are, but He also sees us as part of His family, as members of the body of Christ. We must always understand that our sin, while committed as individuals, always impacts the entire body. Individual sin has corporate consequences. Like a cancer, it can spread throughout the body, infecting and influencing others, and causing a sense of corporate culpability. Ezra understand this truth. When it came to his attention that there were many living in the land of Judah who had violated God's commands and had intermarried with the various people groups surrounding them, he realized that God viewed their guilt from a corporate perspective. Ezra had not sinned, but he immediately went into mourning. He fell upon his knees and spread out his hands to God. While innocent of any wrong-doing, he included himself in the sins of the people. “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” (Ezra 9:6 ESV). He refers to “our iniquities” and “our guilt.” Ezra alone goes before God and confesses the corporate sin and guilt of the people of God. “Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:15 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
Ezra makes it clear that God is totally just in all His actions toward the people of Judah. If God chooses to punish them for their sin, He will be justified and right. He is holy, just, and righteous. They are guilty as charged and deserving of any punishment He should choose to mete out. But Ezra also knows that God is merciful, gracious and a God who shows favor when none is deserved. The very fact that they were back in the land at all was the result of God's mercy and grace. “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery” (Ezra 9:8 ESV). God had returned them to the land, not because they deserved it, but because He chose to shower them with His undeserved favor. And yet, they had responded with continued disobedience to His revealed will. Ezra knows what they deserve. But he appeals to God's love and mercy. He asks God to forgive them yet again.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The truly amazing thing about this passage is the impact that one man could have on the entire nation of Judah. Just as the sin of one infects the whole, the prayers of one can have a cleansing influence over the entire group. Rather than sit back and smugly gloat over his own sinlessness, Ezra chose to include himself in the sins of the people. He knew that God viewed them as a whole. Their corporate sinfulness would bring corporate punishment. They were to have remained pure as a nation. They were His people collectively, not just individually. Ezra knew this well, and so he did what no one else seemed willing to do – he went to the Lord in prayer and interceded on behalf of the nation. He mourned, fasted, confessed and called out to God. And his actions not only got God's attention, but that of the people as well. “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1 ESV). One man had a powerful influence over the nation. His willingness to intercede on their behalf led to corporate confession. Ezra’s actions led others to step up and speak out. Shecaniah, convicted by Ezra's prayers, came up with the plan to put away all the foreign wives they had married. In other words, he knew that confession was going to have to be accompanied by a course correction in terms of their behavior. They were going to have to do something about their sin and repent of it. And that change was going to come at a high cost. They were going to have to remove the negative influence from their lives, even thought it was going to hurt. Confession must always be accompanied by concrete steps of action. “Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” (Ezra 10:11 ESV). Sin always has consequences. And true confession always has next steps.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
None of this would have taken place had not Ezra been willing to intercede on behalf of the people. He alone was struck by the severe nature of their predicament. He recognized the danger they were in and knew that God would be completely justified in punishing them for their sins. So he stepped in and called out to God on behalf of the entire nation. We need more men and women with the spirit of Ezra today. The church of Jesus Christ is wracked by sin. We have “intermarried” with this world. We have compromised our convictions and cozied up with the world, allowing it to diminish our influence and dim our light. The church has become complacent and allowed the love of the world to infect itself. We are weak and ineffective. We have lost our influence. But just as in the days of Ezra, all it takes is one man or woman to step in, stand up, and speak out. We must be willing to come before the Lord and intercede on behalf of the body of Christ. We must be willing to say what no one else is willing to say. We must recognize that our sense of corporate culpability. I am reminded of the words of the Lord found in the book of Revelation. To the church in Ephesus, He said, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4 ESV). To the church in Laodidea, he said, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15 ESV). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have a High Priest in Jesus, who is interceding on our behalf. He knows our weaknesses. He understands our struggle with sin. Which is why He left us His Spirit to assist us as we live in this world. But we must also intercede for one another, confessing our sins, admitting our guilt, and calling on God to extend mercy and grace in our time of need. James would remind us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV).
Father, Your Church is in need of healing. We are weakened by compromise and complacency. We have fallen in love with the world and allowed it to distract us from our true calling as Your children. Lord, give me a sense of corporate responsibility. The sins of the one affect the many. But the prayers of the one can go a long way in bringing about corporate confession and healing. May I be an intercessor in this day. Amen