Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ezra's prayer of 'Here is how it is...'

Ezra in Prayer by Gustave Dore
Ezra in Prayer - Gustave Dore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezra 9:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"And I said, 'O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown to the heavens.'" Ezra 9:6

Ezra was terribly distressed. His body language—torn clothes, pulled out hair, abject posture—tells us that, even before we read the first words that come out of his mouth.

The reason? It's because the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem, indeed even their leaders, had intermarried with the idol-worshiping women of the surrounding nations. And in general the people were arranging marriages for their sons and daughters with pagan neighbours.

There was a strong tradition of marital exclusivity among the Jews:
  • Abraham insisted Isaac not marry a Canaanite women (Genesis 24:3,37).
  • Rebekah insisted Jacob not take a wife from the Canaanites (Genesis 28:1) though Esau did, much to his parents' chagrin (Genesis 27:46).
  • When the Israelites were about to enter Canaan, Moses spoke the ban clearly:
"When the Lord your God brings you into the land...you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them (the "many nations" that inhabit it) ....Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from Me to serve other gods so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly" (Deuteronomy 7:1-4).

But intermarrying with Gentiles had happened over and over already in Israel's history with predictable results. A notable example was Solomon (1 Kings 3:1; 11:1-11).

Now Ezra was witnessing the old compromise, and he was clearly terrified that God would make good on His threat to destroy them. His prayer isn't  a direct request at all, but an implied call for mercy. We could paraphrase the end of his prayer: 'Here we are God; this is how it is.'

I wonder what Ezra would think about the marriages of our time. I know it isn't our custom to arrange marriages for our kids and when they fall in love with non-believers we look on helplessly. Well, not exactly helplessly, because we pray that they won't make unwise choices and give them as much guidance as they'll take.

Oh, I know stories abound of how the Christian partner leads the non-Christian to God. But I have also heard too many stories of heartbreak when spouses don't have the same beliefs and values. There is disagreement about how to raise the kids, how to spend money, and on and on. Way too often the unbelieving spouse leads the believing one off the "straight and narrow." There is a reason for Paul's words to the Corinthians to "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers..." - 2 Corinthians 6:14.

PRAYER:
Dear God, Ezra's shock and grief at Israel's mixed marriages makes me look at our customs through a different lens. Please help us to raise our kids and grandkids by Your wise principles. Amen.

MORE: Ezra's prayer


Ezra's prayer here (Ezra 9:6-15) is another one of the Great Prayers of the Old Testament. Walter Brueggemann says of this prayer:

"... the prayer is not really a petition for it does not ask anything of God. The prayer functions to evoke a resolved response for determined obedience..."
He goes on to end the chapter with several question which we do well to ask ourselves:

"1 What sins do we need to confess in our prayers?
2. How can we pray for a new start and a second chance?"
 
- Walter Brueggemann, Great Prayers of the Old Testament, pp. 97-98, Kindle edition.
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