Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Psalm 9

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Psalm 9.

This devotional is about Ezra 9.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Sometimes you don’t get a choice; Ezra didn’t get one.

Things were going well in Jerusalem, finally. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, they were rebuilding God’s temple and had a new priest teaching the law and calling people to obedience. They had cash to pay for the work and had just received God’s protection as a large group of them returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in Ezra 8. That was the good news, after long last.

Now the family leaders of Israel came to Ezra with “the bad news.” And, it was terrible news–the people of Israel had disobeyed God’s commands and had married women from the unbelieving nations around them (v. 1-2). As if that kick to the gut wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a steel-toed boot carrying tetanus: “And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” The men who should have been teaching and warning and leading by example against this sin were instead the trendsetters in Israel.

I’ll be honest with you; had I been in Ezra’s situation, my instinct would be to distance myself from it. If we were there, you might have heard me say, “That’s on you. May God deal with you for it. It isn’t my fault you disobeyed.” Well…, I would have been speaking Hebrew, so it would have sounded much different than that to you. But, the point is, I would be inclined to move away from this issue.

Ezra was a much better spiritual leader than I am. [I can imagine your collective statements of, “Duh!”] He was offended on God’s behalf about this (vv. 3-4). But, instead of denouncing the people like a prophet would, he led them in national repentance owning their sins with his language:

  • “OUR sins are higher than our heads” (v. 6)
  • “OUR guilt has reached to the heavens” (v. 6)
  • “WE have forsaken the commands you gave (vv. 10b-11)
  • “Here WE are before you in OUR guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

Did Ezra really believe himself to be guilty of this? Did he really think–given that he knew about Noah and Lot–that God would include Ezra in his judgment if it came? Of course not. But, he was a priest not a prophet. It was his job to reconcile the people with God.

And, Ezra knew that God’s people were interconnected. In order for God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the whole nation to happen, the nation had to survive so that God would bless it. That’s a main reason why God gave the command not to intermarry–so that Israel would survive as an independent nation instead of being absorbed into other nations and cultures. Think about the other nations listed in verse1: “the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.” Only the Egyptians remain from that list. The rest were absorbed into other nations through intermarriage just like this. Israel remains to today, too, but this disobedience could easily have caused Israel’s extinction. Furthermore, intermarriage with other nations and cultures would have corrupted Israel’s worship just as Solomon worshipped other gods to please his foreign wives.

We’re not ethnically interconnected like Israel was but we are interconnected with one another spiritually. It goes against the culture of “rugged individualism” that we’ve inherited as Americans* but we are the body of Christ. The legs of a person’s body may be strong enough to run a marathon but if that person has a heart attack while running, the whole body dies. Even those strong, tan legs will fall.

So, sins that are widespread among our church body affect us all. We need each other and God has given us the ability through spiritual gifts to help one another. But we can also harm one another. One aspect of spiritual leadership, then, is to lead in what might be called “corporate repentance” for widespread disobedience in a church, a family, or any other group of professing believers.

*Apologies to those who read this in Kingston, Ontario and elsewhere in the world.

Your First Instinct

Reflex test
Neurologist using hammer to make a reflex test

What is your first instinct when you face a problem in your life? Do you:

  • Get really anxious?
  • Go into denial that the problem even exists?
  • Enter problem-solving mode and start to develop a plan?
  • Call your mother? Or father? Or someone else whose advice you trust?

As a Christian, your first instinct should be to pray:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

James 1:5

God has promised his presence with us and his help for us. But that help comes to us when we turn to him in prayer.

Everything else–anxiety, anger, denial, planning, complaining, etc.–we do when we have a problem, comes from a place of self-dependence. We feel those emotions and do those actions because we feel the responsibility to fix the problem. Our instinct is toward self-dependence but we know we might fail! It is hard to depend on yourself because you know your own weaknesses, limitations, and track-record of failure.

The Christian life is about God-dependence. You became a Christian when you stopped trying to do it yourself and turned in repentance to God in faith for forgiveness and salvation. That’s how your Christian life began.

But your Christian life proceeds in dependence on God, too. Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

Here’s a truth I read in a Bible commentary today:

“Most of us turn to God only when we have exhausted every other option.”


Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell, James, vol. 16, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 62–63.

It’s true, isn’t it?

One reason why God allows and even brings problems into our lives is to teach us to depend on him. He wants to retrain our instincts so that we turn to him FIRST instead of as a last resort.

What problems are you dealing with today? Why not take a moment and ask for God’s help in prayer?