“Now, O our God, what can we say after all of this? For once again we have abandoned your commands! Your servants the prophets warned us when they said . . . ‘The land you are entering to possess is totally defiled by the detestable practices of the people living there. From one end to the other, the land is filled with corruption. Don’t let your daughters marry their sons! Don’t take their daughters as wives for your sons. Don’t ever promote the peace and prosperity of those nations. If you follow these instructions, you will be strong and will enjoy the good things the land produces, and you will leave this prosperity to your children forever.’
“Now we are being punished because of our wickedness and our great guilt. But we have actually been punished far less than we deserve, for you, our God, have allowed some of us to survive as a remnant. But even so, we are again breaking your commands and intermarrying with people who do these detestable things. Won’t your anger be enough to destroy us, so that even this little remnant no longer survives? O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence.”
Since the time of the judges, Israelite men had married women from other nations and then adopted their religious practices (Judges 3:5-7). Even Israel’s great King Solomon was guilty of this sin (1 Kings 11:1-8). Although this practice was forbidden in God’s law (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4), it happened in Ezra’s day, and again only a generation after him (Nehemiah 13:23-27). Opposition to mixed marriage was not racial prejudice, because Jews and non-Jews of this area were of the same Semitic background. The reasons were strictly spiritual.
After learning about the sins of the people, Ezra fell to his knees in prayer. His heartfelt prayer provides a good perspective on sin. He recognized: (1) that sin is serious (9:6); (2) that no one sins without affecting others (9:7); (3) that he was not sinless (9:10-15); (4) that God’s love and mercy had spared the nation when they did nothing to deserve it (9:8-9, 15). With weeping, he expressed shame for sin, fear of the consequences, and desire that the people would come to their senses and repent. His prayer moved the people to tears (10:1). Ezra demonstrated the need for a holy community around the rebuilt Temple.
When was the last time someone’s wrongdoing moved you to tears? Intercession is heartfelt prayer—prayer directed by the Spirit of God on behalf of someone else. Intercede for someone today. It might change your perspective.