Last week, we saw that God blesses those who seek Him and obey Him. Things have been pretty great. The Temple is rebuilt, God’s promises are secure, and Ezra has arrived with abundance! Today, in our final study in Ezra, things take a turn for the worse.
Read Ezra 9:1-2
The final section of Ezra opens on a bad note. God has been nothing but faithful to His people. Now, the people have in large part been unfaithful to God. A great many of them, even some of the leaders and Levites, have married non-Israelites. The Law of God in the Old Testament commanded the Israelites not to marry the pagans in the land. This is not a matter of race. Deuteronomy 7:4 shows us why God did not allow this. The other peoples worshipped other gods. Intermarriage would cause the Israelites to grow tolerant of and eventually begin worshipping those other gods as well. Intermarriage was an attack on the holiness, purity, and obedience of God’s people.
Ezra’s Heartfelt Prayer
Read Ezra 9:3-15
Ezra is so troubled by this that he rips his clothing and pulls chunks of hair out of his head and beard! He then fasts and prays. His prayer is filled with grief. He recounts how God’s people were unfaithful to God in the past. He recalls how God sent the people into exile because of their sin. He praises God for His faithfulness in returning His people back to the land as they are now. And then Ezra confesses the sin of the people and trembles at the thought of what God might do to them in His anger.
Think about it. If you were God, what would you do? You have freed, protected, and provided for the people time and time again. And after all of that, the people still disobey you! God has every right to send His people into exile again and see if they learn their lesson this time! Will God withdraw His hand of blessing? Is there any hope for God’s people?
Holiness, Holiness, Holiness
Remember all of those times we saw the importance of holiness throughout Ezra? We’re going to cash in on all of them right now. Over and over, Ezra has been showing us that God desires His people to be holy and pure through obedience. In chapter 2, we saw it in the men who were kicked out of the priesthood because they could not prove they came from priestly families. In chapter 3, we saw the care taken to make offerings and build the temple according to the Law of God. In chapter 4, we saw it in the exclusion of polytheists in the rebuilding of the Temple. In chapter 6, we saw it in the separation of the priests and Levites according to the Law and the observing of the feast of Passover. In chapter 7, we saw it in the way Ezra seeks to obey God’s Law. In chapter 8, we saw it in Ezra’s desire to bring Levites and the extra care he takes with the offering of God. All of the details in the book of Ezra have been reminding us subtly of the importance of holiness through obedience to God’s Word.
And now we face a nearly tragic ending as God’s people fail to be holy by disobeying God’s Word.
The Grand Finale
Read Ezra 10
Usually, the ending of a story is vital to its point. This is no different. The fact that this portion of the story is chosen to be the way the book of Ezra ends tells us to pay extra attention. Not only that, but Ezra 1-8 takes place over a timeframe of decades. Yet Ezra chapters 9:1-10:15 takes place over the course of about four days. The whole book slows down and zooms in because this is where the question we’ve been asking finds its real response. This is where we see the incredible themes of God’s sovereignty and the people’s holiness meet. Is there hope for God’s people?
The People’s Response
During our third week, we saw a chiastic structure in Ezra 3-6. We find another one here in 9-10. The following is based off of The Literary Structure of the Old Testament by David A. Dorsey.
a. Ezra 9:1-2 The sin of Intermarriage Exposed
b. Ezra 9:3-4 The people gather around Ezra
c. Ezra 9:5-15 Ezra kneels in prayer
d. Ezra 10:1-4 People confess their sin and commit to fix it and obey God
c’. Ezra 10:5-6 Ezra rises from prayer
b’. Ezra 10:7-15 Ezra gathers the people
a’. Ezra 10:16-44 The sin of Intermarriage Resolved
Again, chiastic structures show us symmetry in the story that reveals the central piece. The center is often the point of focus. What is at the center of the finale of Ezra? It’s the importance of God’s people confessing their sin and committing to obey God.
Is there hope for God’s people? No king, ruler or leader can stop God’s people, because God is sovereign over every man’s heart! Is there hope for God’s people? No obstacle of any kind can stop God’s people, because the sovereign God can overcome all obstacles. Is there hope for God’s people? Not even the bleakest of circumstances should bring doubt to God’s people, because the sovereign God always keeps His promises. Is there hope for God’s people? Poverty, lack, and want cannot stop God’s people because the sovereign God abundantly blesses those who seek Him.
The greatest danger to God’s people is not a foreign power, an obstacle, a circumstance, or a need. The greatest danger to God’s people comes from within. Faithlessness and disobedience can cause God to remove His hand of blessing.
What We Learn About God
The sovereign God desires holiness. He chooses whom He blesses and works through. He chooses whether to be near or far from His people. He chooses whether to have His good hand upon or His wrath against His people. How does He choose? Those who are holy through seeking obedience are blessed and those who are unholy through disobedience put themselves at risk. And God can remove His hand of blessing at any time if His people disobey Him in unholiness.
This is our final lesson. The entire book of Ezra has shown us that there is always hope for God’s people because nothing can stop the sovereign God. But Ezra gives us this final warning loud and clear. God desires holiness. Sin and disobedience can cause His sovereign hand of blessing to pull away from His people.
You and I need to take obedience and holiness seriously. Because God is sovereign, He can work in our lives despite any and all situations. He can bless us in the midst of tragedy and He can give us victory when we are almost defeated. No outside factor can interfere with our close walk with our great and sovereign God. The only thing that can is our own unfaithfulness and disobedience to Him.
How are you ignoring God’s Word? In what ways are you disobeying God’s Word and doing what you want to do? Confess your sins, repent, and fix the problem. God takes holiness seriously and so should you. Disobedience can cause God to remove His hand of blessing from your life.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the good news. The truth is that we have all failed in one way or another to be holy. God’s wrath rests on us all. But Jesus Christ took God’s wrath in our place by dying on the cross. Three days later He rose from the dead proving that He had conquered Satan, sin, and death. Just as He took our sin upon Himself, He offers us His own holiness and righteousness. If you put your faith in Jesus, God forgives you of your sin and promises you eternal life with Him based on Jesus’ good works and holiness.
- Identify at least one area of disobedience in your life. Confess it to a close Christian friend and brainstorm with them what you need to do to repent and how you can fix this area of sin. Ask them to check in with you regularly about this issue to help you take holiness seriously.
- If you have never put your faith in Jesus and would like to do so, please contact a Christian friend, pastor, or myself. We’d love to help you in your first steps of faith.
- Drop a line in the comments to discuss what you’ve learned in Ezra this week.