“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this.” Ezra 9:13
When is the last time you confessed someone else’s sin as if they were your own, as if the consequences of that sin would fall on you? The closest I have come to that is confessing (I mean, gossiping) the sin of a friend who had wronged me so that I am vindicated.
The book of Ezra records how God is at work in the hearts of foreign kings to do his bidding and honor the covenant promises made to Abraham and David—to establish a people in the land of Israel. Read quickly, it is a book of triumph in the face of adversity and enemies. But leaving it there would miss Ezra’s response to the sin of his people. He hears that 111 Jewish men who remained in Israel during the exile had married foreign women. These men were found from every tribe, including the consecrated priests and Levites. Lest you think it might only be fringe individuals who intermarried, the text makes it clear that “leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” Ezra responds by mourning and confessing his brother’s sins before the Lord. This confession and mourning lasts some time and is certainly something that Ezra believes may be their downfall.
In this individualistic age, we do not think to care about the sins of our brothers. We make look askance, we may pass judgment, but would our hearts break and our grief be great? How would our lives me different if we did have this level of concern for our friends and family?
(what about the 111 families that were ripped apart? Does it offend our sensibilities that God might not care for foreign women (and their bastard children)? There is no commentary here whether they acted in accord with God’s plan or made up one on their own. In any event, these families existed not because these women chose them, but that men acquired them. Yet, they bore the deep scars of ripping the families apart. Who helped them? Could they, like the Egyptian woman named Hagar, say, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen. 16:13)