We are now into the second half of the 52 Days of Prayers Challenge. How are you getting on so far?
There are just 26 days to go, so please, don’t give up now, keep going. I know you can do it!
Today we are considering a prayer that Ezra prayed in Ezra 9 verses 1-15. The Jewish people have got it wrong yet again and Ezra prays for forgiveness.
Many years before this prayer is prayed the King of Babylon had attacked Jerusalem and captured the people, taking most of them back as captives to somewhere just south of modern day Baghdad, in Iraq. Somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 miles away.
God seems to have allowed this to happen as punishment for the people who had turned from God and were worshipping the pagan gods of the nations that surrounded them.
Ezra was a Jew living in Babylon. He was a man who was committed to studying God’s word, learning about and keeping the commands that he found there and also about teaching and helping others to do the same. He led a contingent of people on the dangerous journey from Babylon or Baghdad back to Jerusalem. A Journey that took several months.
When he arrived back he found that among that the few remaining people in Jerusalem, instead of learning from their mistakes and following God’s commands, many had married into the families in neighbouring countries. In doing so, they had compromised their identity and begun to take on some of the customs and beliefs of these neighbouring countries including worshipping pagan gods which is what had caused them to be taken captivity in the first place.
But this compromise probably went wider and included compromised business and government arrangements.
Let me be clear, this is not about being hateful or prejudice against other nations. The people thought that inter-marrying and forming alliances with the countries around them would make them stronger but it actually weakened them because it diluted their faith in God. And that was the problem! We only need one God and the Living God is enough!
The worst thing was that it was the leaders that had led the way and set the example for this compromise.
Ezra’s response was to mourn and then to pray. Ezra is embarrassed that his people have got it so wrong, yet again. It is shameful to come back to God in this manner. He would have been scared that God would be angry with his people again, perhaps, so angry that he will wipe them out completely this time.
As Ezra prays, he prays personally but also in a way that he can lead those around him in prayer.
Ezra prays in a posture of humility and openness, on his knees and with his hands open.
He prays about ‘our sins’ not ‘their sins.” He has just arrived in Jerusalem but they are people together and their sins have become his sins too.
In prayer, Ezra recognises the kindness that God has shown them already. That he has brought them to Jerusalem for the rebuilding of the city and the Temple and that His protection is like a defensive wall that surrounds them.
Ezra does not offer any excuses for sin and ends his prayer by appealing to God for forgiveness.
I think that this whole situation is another example of God’s kindness, mercy and endless patience with his people.
And I have to ask myself: Am I like the people of Israel, sinning and making the same mistakes over and over again? Worst of all, am I like the leader’s and setting an example of compromise for others to follow.
I need to come back to God in humility, openness and honesty, not making any excuses, recognising that God is enough!
Perhaps I can use Ezra’s prayer as a model for praying for my own forgiveness.
Tonight I’m going to think about how I can become more like Ezra, committed to studying God’s word, keeping the commands that I find there and helping other’s to do the same.
Next time, we read about Nehemiah, it is the longest prayer in the Bible and continues this theme of repentance.