Sunday, 15 June 2014

(167) June 16: Ezra 9-10 & Acts 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider why the people’s sin is so serious

To ponder:
The leaders may have come to Ezra because they had learnt what God required from his teaching. They reported that the people and even priests and Levites had intermarried with the Canaanite nations, which God had always forbidden (Deut 7v1-4). Indeed, the leaders had led the way. This was serious as God’s promises and blessing depended on the people remaining faithful, whereas intermarriage with those who followed false gods and their practices could so easily lead them astray (Deut 7v4). In short, the act of intermarriage implied a profound lack of concern for the LORD and for the spiritual wellbeing of the next generation. This is why Ezra displayed such violent grief (9v3-4).
            The faithful, defined as those who trembled at God’s word (Is 66v2), gathered around him. His prayer did not request forgiveness, but simply confessed the people’s sin and expressed grief. Ezra identified with the people, being ashamed and disgraced because of the height of their sin and guilt. He acknowledged that after the exile, the LORD had graciously left a “remnant” and given the nation a “firm place in his sanctuary” – perhaps a reference to the land as the place of his presence. This was a “new life” to rebuild the temple and enjoy security for Judah and Jerusalem. These words are deeply significant as they imply God had re-established his kingdom, whilst acknowledging that this was only for “a brief moment,” which means that the everlasting kingdom promised to David was yet to come (1 Chr 17v11-12).
            Ezra sees that the people had disregarded God’s word. It was actually Moses that gave the instructions he ascribes to the prophets (9v10-12, see Deut 7v1-4). However Moses was a prophet, and the later prophets called people back to his instructions. Ezra is astonished that the people have sinned again after the punishment of the exile and the keeping of a remnant, and acknowledges that God should be angry enough to totally destroy them. Their survival is therefore testimony that in his grace, God had more for his people. So the Old Testament ends with their need to look not only to the day when he would send his Christ, but circumcise their hearts (Deut 30v6-10).
            Ezra’s prayer and tears moved a crowd to gather and mourn with him, with one encouraging him that there is hope if the people covenant to send away their non-Israelite wives and children. This was to act according to the law in the sense that the law forbid the marriages. We must be very clear that it was an extreme measure, warranted by the context in which the purity of the relatively small remnant’s religion had to be maintained. Although Christians are called only to marry “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7v39) for the same reasons the Israelites were to marry only Israelites, the New Testament is clear that if a Christian does marry an unbeliever, they are not to divorce them (1 Cor 7v12-14).
            With the threat of losing their property the exiles were called to assemble in Jerusalem. They met in front of the temple “greatly distressed” by their situation but also the “heavy rain” which provided a sort of ominous air. Ezra charged them with their sin, urging them to confession and separation from the foreign people and wives. They agreed this was “right,” and due to logistics, it was arranged that this would be overseen by the elders and judges in each town until “the fierce anger of our God” was “turned away.” It is a slight on the church today that such seriousness with corporate sin is so lacking. God’s people still need to be charged with their unfaithfulness and called to separate from the practices of unbelievers (2 Cor 6v14). And church elders may need to ensure this is done.
The seriousness of disobeying God is seen in the fact that the book ends with the names of those proved unfaithful. The people had returned as the prophets predicted, but they were not yet renewed as was also promised. But the fulfilment of the former should have encouraged the faithful to wait on the LORD for the latter.
Praying it home:
Praise God that no matter how unfaithful his people, he graciously keeps building his church. Pray that corporately and individually ministers would face Christians up to their sin and be diligent and organised in leading them towards greater purity.

Thinking further:
None today.
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