Today’s reading of Scripture concludes the book of Ezra, giving a very brief look into Ezra’s actual work among the returned exiles, the Remnant. Ezra takes on the task of rooting out the practice of intermarriage with pagans. It was hard work and heart-breaking work!
A few notes might help understanding a few things in the reading today. 1) 8:15 mentions a river that led to Ahava, from which Ezra left. That river is most likely the famous Tigris River. 2) 8:21 mentions that they opted to take along no protection with them on their return back to Jerusalem, and v. 31 mentions that they were indeed attacked. The reason, they had a very rich cargo of silver and gold in their caravan. 3) Ezra declared in 8:28 that both the treasure and men who carried it were “holy” or under the ban. This was to enlist the help of God Himself against robbers. 4) Intermarriage with Canaanite women was specifically forbidden by God in the law Exodus 34:14 and Deuteronomy 7:3. One of the main reasons for Israel’s defection from following the Lord was these intermarriages with Canaanite women.
A real prayer of faith — The idea of praying in faith is often misunderstood. We sometimes mistake “faith” for “intensity”. Jesus helps us define a prayer of faith a little better in Mark 11:24, “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” Please note carefully, “believe that you have received them”. What do you do, when you believe that they have been given something? You act on it! It’s a pattern in Scripture that God expects us to act as if the request were already ours — priests, walk into the flooding Jordan as if it were already dry land; Peter, step out on the water as if it were frozen solid. Here Ezra knows that if he is to pray for protection — and tell the king that his God would protect them — they needed to act as if they were indeed protected by God (as opposed to an army).
Do you pray in faith? Do you pray according to the will of God with good motives (James 4) and then act as if the request had already been granted? Or do you pray and wait to see if God will do His part first?
What would you be praying? — Ezra’s prayer is a most contrite confession and plea for mercy. He is fearful, because one of the very things that led Israel away from God the first time was happening again. The good news is that God did forgive, because they did repent. What sort of prayer do we pray sometimes? “Lord, you know I have difficulty with this sin, and I’ve messed up again. Thank you for your grace so rich and free!” Now there’s a lot right with this prayer, but there’s also something missing, repentance. And sometimes it the very thing that keeps us from overcoming those sins — and receiving forgiveness.
The hard, heart-breaking work — Please never imagine that Ezra had no heart in calling for Jewish men to put away their Canaanite wives. He knew how hard it would be for these men to do this; notice how he mentions in 10:44 not only the wives but the children. Ouch. But the culprit was not Ezra, it was these Jewish men, who had made the terribly tragic choice of intermarrying with women that they knew they should not marry. Sometimes repentance demands some very hard and heart-breaking corrective action. But let it never escape our lips that “That’s just too hard.” Jesus died on the cross to fix our sin mess — talk about hard!
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.