Handling Community Sin
Day: 9 | Plan: Ezra and Nehemiah
Today's Reading: Ezra 9
Ezra 9:15 (ESV) "O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this."
There's an old African proverb that says, "It takes a village to raise a child." This idea suggests a collective group taking responsibility for others as well as ourselves.
The Church is a village, and each person, leader or layperson has an obligation to the whole — whether it's speaking the truth in love, helping rear children or acknowledging and addressing sin. Today's text gives a great example of how a covenant community handles group sin.
God intervened on behalf of the exiles, allowing the temple to be rebuilt, but after some time, a group of laypeople told Ezra about blatant, rampant sin: The people, including Levites and priests, married foreign women. (Ezra 9:1-2) Some even divorced their wives to marry these women. (Malachi 2:10-16) The laypeople knew God's command about intermarriage, (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3) and they didn't allow their leaders' positions to stop them from speaking truth. The same applies to us today. We have God's Word and must speak truth with humility and love, regardless of the position of the person.
Ezra could have justified the leaders by pointing out their positive qualities or downplaying the seriousness of the marriages. (Be sure to read the More Moments section below where we unpack the idea of intermarriage further.) On the other hand, he could have used his special privilege given by the king (Ezra 7:25-26) and judged them by banishing or confiscating their wealth. Ezra did neither. Instead, he took time to lament and fast for the peoples' sin; " all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel," (Ezra 9:4) the faithful remnant, shared in his grief. How different would our faith communities be if we worked to restore those caught in sin with gentleness (Galatians 6:1-2) rather than justifying or judging?
The love Ezra had for God and others was clearly on display. As he pleaded with the Lord, he identified rather than distanced himself from the people. "… for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens" (Ezra 9:6, emphasis added). After acknowledging their sin, he also realized their unworthiness of their current blessings: Even after being exiled because of community sin, God preserved a remnant, didn't abandon them while enslaved, caused the kings of Persia to treat them favorably, and gave them protection in Jerusalem. (Ezra 9:8-9)
What a good practice this is to remember God's past faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness. These recantations also showed why Ezra was appalled that they should "break [His] commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations" (Ezra 9:14a). How could they ignore God's commands after receiving so much of His great mercy? The same question could be asked of us today.
God's mercy was evident as Ezra acknowledged their punishment was less than they deserved. (Ezra 9:13) We too are recipients of this same mercy as those who have been forgiven of our sins through Jesus' crucifixion. (Luke 23:34) In gratitude to Him, let's live our lives as a covenant community — loving Him by loving others enough to speak truth and intercede on behalf of the whole.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are full of grace and mercy, and we are eternally grateful You want to be in relationship with us. Despite our many sins, You have promised if we confess our sins, You will forgive us for all our unrighteousness. Help us understand this promise individually and collectively. Grant us Your wisdom as we live out our lives in community with one another. Give us the courage to speak truth in love and the humility to pray for and in all things. In Jesus' name, amen.
The term 'holy race' (Ezra 9:2) was not a reference to a specific ethnic group, as the Jews and... Read More
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