Pleading for a second chance- Wednesday, 25th week in ordinary time – Ezra 9:5-9

The prophet Ezra praying, engraving by Gustave Doré. 1832 

Pleading for a second chance- Wednesday, 25th week in ordinary time – Ezra 9:5-9

Ezra accompanies the second batch of exiles from Babylon in the year 458 BC to Jerusalem. His priestly background gave him clarity of vision for he knew the importance of having the people back where the sacrificial system was being practiced. That story is told in chapters seven and eight which sets the scene for chapter nine, where sin is uncovered in the post-exilic community.

The first days after Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem were occupied in executing the different trusts committed to him but a further acquaintance discovered the existence of great corruptions, which demanded immediate correction.

Some leaders, perhaps men who had previously returned to the land under Zerubbabel, soon realized that Ezra was a man who was devoted to the accurate teaching of the Law. They felt compelled to disclose to Ezra that a number of the people who had returned in the first group under Zerubbabel, were in violation of divine law.

What was this law that the people had broken? One of God’s major prohibitions was that His people were not to marry outside the community of believers and now it is disclosed that many have contracted marriages with Gentile women. These men included several of the priests and Levites, as well as of the leading men in the country.

Who were these Gentiles? There were a small number of Jews who were not taken to Assyria or Babylon and had intermarried with gentiles forming the nucleus of the later race of Samaritans. Over a period of time there was great hostility between the Jews who returned from exile and those who had stayed back and intermarried with the people of nations such as Ammon, Moab, and Egypt

 Even though they were both of the same Semitic races, their reasons for not associating with each other were religious. The fear was that If God’s people married outside Israel then they would inevitably be encouraged towards idolatry. Foreign marriages contaminated Israel, fostered the foreigners’ prosperity, weakened Israel spiritually, and decreased her opportunity to enjoy the land’s crops.

Ezra foresaw these dangerous consequences, but was overwhelmed with a sense of the difficulty of correcting the evil.  The task was not as easy as it involved human relationships; matrimonial alliances had been formed, families had been reared, affections engaged, and important interests established.

But Ezra had to respond and his response was typical of the response of godly people in the Old Testament when they found out about sin. The tearing his tunic and cloak was not only a sign of mourning but also a sign of dread at the thought of divine wrath that would befall them.  We are also told that Ezra pulls his hair and beard as a sign of unusual grief or of intense anger. He was appalled because the people’s sin had deadly consequence and their foolishness would bring destruction upon the nation.

Ezra throws himself on the mercy of God knowing fully well that the nation was guilty. He is embarrassed because it was for guilt like this that the nation had gone into captivity under Sargon II and Nebuchadnezzar, in the first place. The Captivity was to be a method of purifying the people and re-establishing a close relationship between them and God. Apparently the Exile had not accomplished its purpose because of the people’s tendency to stray from their covenantal obligations. He is afraid they would go into captivity again (cf. v. 8).

This brings us to the text of our reading; Ezra’s prayer. Ezra’s prayer reveals much about him. He identified with the nation in their sin even though he himself was innocent of the offense.   Using terms such as ashamed and disgraced, Ezra confessed the continuing problem of sin among the people of the nation.  

God would be totally justified should he choose to destroy these people and hence Ezra’s prayer included no specific request; he simply threw himself on God’s mercy.  This was mankind pleading for a second chance before God when in reality they had already received several; and then the story repeats itself groaning for the Saviour.

Fr Warner D’Souza

Compiled from several sources

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