Overwhelmed By God’s Holiness

Ezra 9:1-15

Ezra not a kid; considered mature and seasoned enough to be trusted by Artaxerxes as caravan leader and official representative of the king. Had studied the Bible long and thoroughly enough to be described as one “skilled in the law of Moses”. Study of history, biblically-based knowledge of human nature, life experience not sufficient to prepare Ezra for what he found when he arrived in Jerusalem. Had heard enough to know there was a problem – hence his reason for wanting to go there and teach the law. But not prepared for magnitude of sin he was confronted with.

Yet Ezra did know what to do in face of such sinful behavior, by inspiration of God’s Spirit recorded what would be most helpful for following generations. In present chapter he describes Israel’s condition, his response to it by way of confession, and relevant aspects of God’s character.

A. Israel’s condition

I. unconcerned with God’s command v.2, 10-12

worst offenders – religious leaders: priests, Levites

charged with teaching/modeling responsibility

had the Word of God in their possession (see v.4a) so without excuse

II. unmoved by God’s punishment v.7

was not secret why Israel sent into exile

both before and during

warning of prophets before exile; teaching of faithful remnant during exile

exile/captivity/slavery intended to result in change of behavior persistent since time of judges

this generation guilty of same sins

III. ungrateful for God’s deliverance v.8-9

exiles in Babylon knew prophecies – see Dan. 9:2 ff

knew God could have destroyed their “empire” as he did Assyrian and Babylonian empires

proper response to deliverance from exile AND restoration to land AND rebuilding temple AND reinstitution of worship – thankful obedience

B. Ezra’s confession

I. demonstrated distress v.3-4

when Ezra contrasted God’s holiness, gracious faithfulness with behavior of God’s people:

stunned, appalled, devastated, horrified, struck dumb with amazement

accompanied by a “remnant within the remnant” who “held the words of the God of Israel in awe”(NET)

WSC Q 4. What is God?

A: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

The infinite holiness of God. Sometimes this term is applied to God to express his perfect purity: …it is an element of his perfect righteousness. Sometimes it expresses his transcendently august and venerable majesty, which is the result of all his harmonious and blended perfections in one perfection of absolute and infinite excellence.Hodge, WCF

While the fundamental idea in this holiness is that of separation, it also denotes something positive, namely, the moral excellence or ethical perfection of God. In its presence man feels himself burdened with a consciousness of sin. Berkhof, Manual

Ezra – greater focus on God’s holiness than man’s sinfulness, perhaps the root of his amazement.

when man is the standard, it’s always: “we’re not as bad as they are”

when God is the standard, it is: “we’re not even close to as good as he is”

showed deep distress by action

hard to be ignored

tore outer and inner garments, pulled out hair

indicates great sorrow, deep grief, moral indignation

in this case NOT because he had been offended, because God had been insulted

II. expressed shame and humiliation v.6a

by strong words

too ashamed to look up

overcome with embarrassment – “blush to lift my face to you, my God” ESV

2x God charged his people before exile with lack of shame: Jer. 6:15; 8:12

“They should be ashamed of their disgusting sins, but they don’t even blush.” CEV

III. acknowledged sin and guilt v.6b-7

didn’t try to minimize greatness of guilt

especially its aggravated nature – repeated pattern of sin, judgment, same sin, more judgment, etc.

had continued for generations

the cause of their harsh treatment at the hands of surrounding nations – loss of life, freedom, possessions and position/prestige

IV. named sin specifically v.14a

intermarriage with Canaanite people, pagan idol worshipers contrary to God’s explicit commands: see verses 1, 11 & 12; Deut. 7:1-6; Ex. 20:1-5

sinful behavior on 2 counts: God said don’t do it AND God said don’t do what it leads to because “things lead to things”

V. understood need for mercy v.14b

repeated “in your face” rebellious disobedience deserves consequences

what was just for the Canaanites would also be just for the Jewish people – complete destruction, no mercy for them and their idols

C. God’s character

I. His holiness sets the standard v.1

perfect purity = separation from sin – God said “you be holy because I am holy” Lev. 19:2

“but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,” 1 Pet. 1:15-16

II. His power inspires reverence and awe v.4

trembled at the words of God because – knew God of the Word had the power to carry out his every purpose. Understood judgment for sin was to be feared – awfulness of judgment corresponds exactly to awfulness of sin

III. His goodness delivers from bondage v.9

God showed his goodness to his people by remembering his covenant relationship with them, not leaving them in slavery but restoring them to place of honor and fellowship

IV. His justice requires punishment v.13

Even God’s goodness cannot overlook sin: real guilt requires real consequences – “the day you eat you will die” Gen. 2:17 “the wages of sin is death” Rom. 6:23

V. His mercy gives us less than we deserve v.13

when would God run out of patience? repeated disobedience, ungrateful hearts, willful disregard for his commands, his character. Yet God still showed mercy, granting deliverance from slavery

VI. His righteousness emphasizes our unworthiness v.15

overwhelmed by God’s holiness, righteousness – we are in your presence but we cannot stand. Our only hope is in God’s character – Ex. 34:6 that he is “a God merciful and gracious, patient, abounding in goodness and truth”

Because of God’s amazing grace we can receive forgiveness: God’s Son took the full brunt of God’s righteous anger and justice against sin so God’s people might live. See 1 John 1:9

We also have assurance that God’s Holy Spirit will work to make us holy as he is: cleansing from sin, giving evidence of his work and presence by “the fruit[s] of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), changing us so we resemble the Lord Jesus.

Thank God for his grace that has relieved our fears, has brought us through danger to life and soul, and will bring us safely home.


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