(Originally posted 4-19-05)
Ezra lived in the Israelite “post-apocalyptic” period. The glorious kingdom was gone, the city of Jerusalem and its Temple destroyed, the Davidic line lost, God’s chosen people had been hauled to Babylon, and only a small remnant returned to try to rebuild the Temple. Ezra believed that these events were to due Israelite infidelity to the covenants they had made. Setting aside what those commandments were, Ezra’s prayer in chapter 9 strikes me as a model of how we should come before the Lord “with fear and trembling.”
When the time for the evening offering came, I arose from my sorrowful state. After I tore my shirt and cloak, I fell to my knees, and spread out my hands to Jehovah, my God, and said, “O God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to even pray to You, because our transgressions have risen above our heads, and our guilt reaches unto the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until today, we ourselves have been very guilty. On account of our iniquity, we ourselves, our kings, and our priests have been subjected to foreign kings for war, for captivity, spoil and shame , as it is today. But now, in this short period, Jehovah, our God, has shown us mercy by leaving some survivors and giving us a nail in his holy place, that He may brighten our eyes and give us some relief in our servitude- for we are slaves! Yet in our servitude, our God has not abandoned us, but has extended loving mercy to us before the kings of Persia, to give us support in building up the temple of our God, in raising up its ruins and to give us a city wall in Judah and Jerusalem. But now, O God, what can we say after this, since we abandoned Your commandments… Everything that has happened to us is on account of our evil doings and our great shame, even though You, O God, have been restrained in punishing our iniquities, and have given us such deliverance as this! Should we then return to breaking your commandments…? Would You not be angry with us to the point of our destruction, without survivor or deliverance? O Jehovah, God of Israel! You are righteous, though we are left this day as survivors. Here we are before You in our shame, and no one can face You because of it.”
Ezra freely admits in his prayer that they (he?) are not doing so well, that they have committed some real doozies (cf. Luke 18:13) and that what happened was preventable, at least from one perspective.
(Brief excursis: There is a strong theme in the OT that when evil happens to you, it’s because you did something wrong, ie. Deuteronomy. There is a counter-theme that evil may happen to good people, and we don’t know why, ie. Job. In this case, I lean towards the first, primarily because the events affected a community, not a person. Deuteronomy 27-28 clearly spells out the negative consequences of forsaking the covenant- foreigners would be brought against them, their lands and cities would be destroyed, they would be hauled off, etc. This is similar to how God apparently uses the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon, both to bring the covenantal curses upon the Nephites and stir them up to repentance.)
Ezra also acknowledges God’s mercy and God’s willingness to allow them a time to change.
What I like so much about this is the depth I can hear in Ezra’s voice, the sorrow and the humility. Though I wouldn’t expect to hear prayers like this in public today, I would hope that our private prayers have this kind of personal honesty before God.
Edit:I really need to run the spell-checker before I post things…