After [the re-dedication of the restored temple] had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled.
~ Ezra 9:1-3
Can you say that you have the same fear of God that Ezra displays here? The Jews, God’s ‘chosen people’, were a people group “set apart”. they were to be holy to the Lord and that included a list of 603 civil and ceremonial laws that separated them from all the people around them. At the heart of many of these laws was the provision that they were not to mix with other people groups – not out of some sort of supremacy, where they thought that they were pure and the rest of the world was impure (though that did happen), but because mixing with other people meant a combining of families, traditions, and – eventually – religions. It would water down their faith and reduce their “different-ness” in the sight of those who were not part of this chosen people group. In light of this revelation that the people of Israel, now in captivity or dispersed when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had captured the land promised to them by God, had opted to forsake their heritage and inter-marry with the people in the lands that they were now inhabiting, Ezra reacts with furious repentance.
Was he angry at the people? No, he was reacting in fear of God. Tearing your clothes and pulling your hair is a sign of anguish and humility – he is, on behalf of the people of God, humbling himself before the Lord. He didn’t sit and ponder its implications for a while, or discuss it over dinner, he immediately recognized what this news meant to the people of God and he reacted as he would if his children had been murdered before him. This is the dedication that he has toward God – that he knows God, the heart of God toward His people and what God required of them, and in that knowledge, he has also grown to love and respect God and the power that God has over all of His creation. This is the same God who spoke and the universe leapt into existence, who created the earth to be inhabited, then created its inhabitants and placed man on the earth, created in His image, to rule over this world and everything on it. This same God then selected a certain people group, promised them land, fulfilled this promise under the pretense that they would serve Him according to His laws – and when they had separated themselves from this promise, He did as he said He would do and allowed in other rulers to oppress them and eventually remove them all from the land. And here they stand, on the precipice of finally coming back into the land – the temple that they had built to this God who is finally delivering them from the captivity and oppression that they’ve experienced for the last 70 years was coming to an end, and he finds that the ‘People of God’, had been sinning against God even more while they were being punished for their sins against Him. This is the God that Ezra is reacting to – this is the God that Ezra is in fear of.
In the rest of this chapter we learn that because of his public call for repentance and humility, most of the people followed in repentance and, when God’s answer to them came that they should separate themselves from the wives they’ve taken, symbolizing their repentance of their allegience to foreign gods, they follow through, despite the pain that will cause them.
Dear Christian, are you in tune with God to the point where you know what He despises in your life? Do you know the God who, through the death of His Son on the cross on your behalf, has purchased you? Do you react in the same manner as Ezra when you see people outside of the church sinning against Him? Is your heart broken when you see people in the Church living in sin? Do you collapse in repentance when you see sin in your own home or in your own life? Our nation, our churches, our homes, and our lives need a good solid injection of the fear of God. To understand not only His loving-kindness and long-suffering, His love and mercy, but also His power and glory, His justice and severity. With a proper understanding of these things, no one will want to sin and our hearts will be broken for those who we see who live in open rebellion against God. Resolve today to ask God to fill you with fear and respect for Him and to prompt you on to transform your own life, your own home, your own church, and, as a result, your own nation to honor the God who has redeemed us all. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Will you do the same?