Having shown the resolve to keep going with the task at hand in chapter 8, today we see the resolve of Ezra to do things right.
News is brought to him of the poor spiritual condition of the people and how they are intermarrying with the pagan nations around them (vv.1-2). Careful reading shows this is not race based, rather, Ezra’s indignation is on the abominations of these people, not the races at hand (v.1). The problem seems to be that when intermarrying, all areas of society would then be influenced by the pagan practices and peculiarities of these people, and that God’s holy race has mixed itself with others (v.2, cf. Exodus 34, Deuteronomy 7).
Ezra hears this and sits, basically, all day in fasting and mourning having torn his clothes and his hair (vv.4-5). He takes up a traditional posture of prayer and laments this sin before the Lord in vv.6-10. Rather than point the finger in blame, Ezra identifies with the people by saying our iniquities…our heads…we have been…and, generally, fears that they are pushing and testing the grace and mercy of God.
The resolve to do things right is seen in the words of vv.10-14, and Ezra finishes by praying this,
O Lord God of Israel, you are righteous, for we are left as a remnant this day.
Indeed, we stand before you in our guilt.
However, because of this guilt no one can really stand before you.”
Ezra 9.15 (NET)
There is no minimising of sin (we stand before you in our guilt), no justifying of sin (no one can really stand before you), and no blaming the difficult circumstances for the sin of the people. Ezra’s resolve to do things according to the Word is seen when he calls sin as sin, when he knows that because of this the people stand guilty, and when he knows that no one can really stand before God in this condition.
This brings up a question that most of us will have wrestled with at some point – can I be right before God?
Paul writes to the Romans and says that all have sinned and fallen short of the holy and righteous standards that God has set for us (Romans 3.23). So, given this is true, can we be right before God? There is a simple answer to this with profoundly deep and complex workings – yes you can by faith in Jesus.
We have the opportunity to be right before God, we have the chance to be pure before our maker if we put hope, and trust, and faith in Jesus alone to accomplish this (Romans 3.28, 5.1, Habakkuk 2.4, Genesis 15.6, Galatians 2.16, 3.24).
As Ezra writes, we are before [God] in our guilt, for none can stand (v.15). Alone we will never be good enough to change this. That’s the bad news. Accept this. But, don’t dwell on this, because there is Good News, there is the Gospel. Jesus, who is eternally good enough, gives you the opportunity to be right before God.
When looking at you who have faith in Jesus, God sees you through this lens, from this perspective. He sees the righteousness and the purity and the perfection of Jesus and treats you the same. Amazing.
Can I be right before God? Yes, you can. As the end of Paul’s thought in Romans 3 says,
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.