We often reflect back on our life story and see the hand of God. We worship and celebrate all that He has done for us. Ezra chapter 9 and 10 come as a great shock after you read about the awesome power of God, the generosity of the king, and the faith of the people. There is a cycle that is repeated with God’s people since the beginning of humanity: Idolatry, bondage, repentance, deliverance, and rest and then the cycle repeats itself.
It did not take long for the people of God to fall into idol worship. When Ezra heard this he “tore his clothing, pulled his hair and beard, and sat down utterly baffled” (verse 3). They were defiled by “horrible practices”.
It’s difficult to read these chapters because you may focus on the marriages. You have to consider the historical background of the text, and the behaviors (Idolatry) of God’s people. Ezra begins to take into account all the wonderful things that God had done for them and admits his embarrassment:
O my God, I am ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you, for our sins are piled higher than our heads and our guilt is as boundless as the heavens. (verse 6)
The intimacy Ezra had with God was powerful. Ezra reflected on the cycle of sin:
Our whole history has been one of sin; that is why we and our kings and our priests were slain by the heathen kings-we were captured, robbed, and disgraced, just as we are today. But now we have been given a moment of peace for you have permitted a few of us to return to Jerusalem from our exile. You have given us a moment of joy and new life in our slavery. For we were slaves, but in your love and mercy you did not abandon us to slavery. (verses 7-9)
What is it about rest, or a time of joy and blessings that have a tendency to create a period of turning away from God? Over and over again, mercy upon mercy, God is faithful and never abandons us. We may drift from Him in the good times, but He never leaves. I think reflecting on this pattern we can do some things to prevent a drifting from God’s Word.
Ezra Chapter 10 gives insight on how we can stay focused on God’s love for us:
Remain faithful to a body of believers. Although the church was in an uproar, the people showed up to confess, cry with Ezra, and receive direction. (verse 1)
Acknowledge your sin. I’ve lived long enough to experience different generations. I’m fascinated at the emphasis on individualism and a sense of defensiveness when corrected. When you feel a drifting away, ask yourself, “Why?” Call it what it is–pride, bitterness, anger, or unforgiveness. Yes, we are individuals but we live in a world, a community, and a family. Our sin impacts others. It’s okay to weep as Ezra wept. I find his weeping refreshing and convicting in a world that often celebrates and giggles at sin. What if we cared enough to remove pride and complacency and acknowledged? Take notice, and instead of being defensive, rejoice in the knowledge. Good things are about to happen!
Cooperate with God’s leading and Christian counsel. After acknowledging their drifting away from God, they asked Ezra to “take courage and tell us how to proceed in setting things straight, and we will fully cooperate.” (verse 4) We often know what to do, but don’t do it. Paul in the new testament confessed this problem. You take small steps to small victories over time. I struggle deeply with perfectionism and have high expectations for myself and others. It’s an inward struggle. I can get into a battlefield of the mind of “not good enough” or “you’ll never conquer this” or “what’s wrong with me”. The enemy wants you to feel wrong. Jesus wants you to know His righteousness and begin your path of healing! Joyce Meyer has an excellent sermon to cheer you on in the journey: (click on link highlighted)
Psalm 23 – Part 5 – Weekly Broadcast (January 18, 2015)
Even if you’re on the right path, you’ll discover it winds through some valleys. Discover how to stick with God during those hard times.
Separate yourself from the sin (verse 11). God wants you to experience an intimacy with Him-to know Him and His Word. We do not need religion and rules; we need the love of Jesus. Once you know the love of Jesus the checklist goes away. You desire to please Him because of His love for you. As parents we know the difference when our children obey out of duty verses out of love for us as their parents, and respect for our home. Serving Jesus is filled with love, blessings, and joy, not condemnation. In order to begin to know this love we must challenge ourselves to move toward Jesus and away from the sin that is drawing us away from Him. This can be a tangible thing like a relationship, an addiction, or place. It also can be a mind pattern or thought process like jealousy and bitterness, or self-loathing. God’s Word is your protection and guide-book. His love will cover you. Choose to walk away or shift your thinking. Physically act on it. Take action knowing your feelings will catch up later. If we waited until the feeling was right, we would be waiting for a very long time.
Accountability. The people requested to arrange trials with the leaders. Each case was heard, counseled, and cleared up. (verse 14) We can daily be in counsel with those we trust through Bible study, a phone call, prayer, and reaching out to support each other. Isolation breeds a battlefield and a pulling away from God. The more isolated we become, we are at great risk. We begin to rationalize behaviors and our mind becomes open to negativity and depression.
The next book of God’s Holy Word is Nehemiah. As Ezra’s story abruptly ends for us, Nehemiah begins another adventure in courageously living for God! Both books tell the story of Israel returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile. Ezra’s story was rebuilding the Temple, while Nehemiah’s story was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. After this praise and worship song, Amazing Grace by Chris Tomlin, recommendations for further study in Nehemiah are listed.
A few years ago my husband facilitated a Bible study for young men based on Nehemiah. If you would like to continue this adventure and learn more, I highly recommend this study for men:
- Hope Under Construction: Nehemiah, by Dr. Gene Getz, introduces men to one of the greatest leaders of all time! Nehemiah had every reason on earth to lose hope and give up, yet he had access to every resource in heaven to combat his earthly crises. Whether you want to be a stronger and more effective leader in your home, business, church, or community, Nehemiah can teach you the leadership principles in this 12-session study that work in every situation. His balance between wholeheartedly trusting God and fiercely exerting his own initiative provides us all a model of how to demolish discouragement and emerge victorious no matter what we face!
- Also Kelly Minter has a Nehemiah video and Bible Study series on Nehemiah:
Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break – Member Book by Kelly Minter is a 7-session Bible study for women. Nehemiah’s heart was so broken for those in need that he left the comfort of his Persian palace to help them. Like Kelly’s other studies in the Living Room Series, you’ll find authentic Bible teaching, recipes, and a relational approach. Nehemiah also includes 7 video sessions and real-life ways to put feet to your faith. Are you ready to let God break your heart for a hurting, lost world and move you in compassion to be the hands and feet of Jesus?
- Another great study that combines Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther:
Overcoming Fear and Discouragement: Ezra/Nehemiah/Esther http://www.lifeway.com/Product/overcoming-fear-and-discouragement-ezra-nehemiah-esther-P001122364Arthur, Kay (Author) , Lawson, David (Joint Author) , Vereen, Bob (Joint Author)Description
This exciting study explores the lives of ordinary men and women who faced overwhelming situations and won. Readers go directly to God’s Word to learn the precepts that will help them conquer fear and discouragement.