Broken Before God 2 – Committed To Repentance
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Chan Gin Kai
While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites – men, women and children – gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.” (Ezra 10:1-4)
We learned in the last chapter that some righteous leaders had approached Ezra to tell him about the people’s intermarriage with pagans, and that some religious and civil leaders were involved in the sin too (Ezra 9:1-2). It makes one wonder why nothing was done about it before Ezra arrived.
Following Ezra’s brokenness and very contrite prayer, “a large crowd of Israelites” who saw his reaction “wept bitterly” too. One of them, Shecaniah, then suggested that they should get the men who have sinned to send away their foreign women and children, even though his father and uncles were likely involved in the same sin too (Ezra 10:21). Shecaniah also encouraged Ezra and pledged his support for the very difficult task before Ezra.
The people already knew that the intermarriage was wrong. But Ezra’s reaction reinforced that knowledge into conviction. And it inspired Shecaniah to call for action.
All of us hold within us the innate ability to influence others. Sinfulness spurs sinfulness. Brokenness begets brokenness.
Do our daily actions call people to righteousness or lead people away from God? Do we incite a vicious cycle that brings people down a spiral of sin? Or do we inspire a virtuous cycle that brings people up the road to repentance?
What we say or do inevitably sets off a chain reaction. We need to encourage more than we gossip, pray more than we worry, and serve more than we grumble. When we confess our sins, we build an environment of openness and love for righteousness that edifies God’s people. And when we share God’s words, we advance His kingdom while Satan’s regime retreats.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24)
So the exiles did as was proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family heads, one from each family division, and all of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to investigate the cases, and by the first day of the first month they finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women. (Ezra 10:16-17)
As this was not a simple affair, it required time to deal with, and the cases had to be properly investigated. It was not only an emotionally charged situation, but it involved women and children, the very people that should be protected.
We may even wonder whether the actions called for – to put away the women and children – were too radical and even cruel. There are a couple of ways to look at it.
Firstly, we have to see that this is an irresolvable moral dilemma; there’s no easy solution. It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Ezra had to choose between two painful decisions, and he chose the one that would be less destructive to the individuals and the community. Throughout their history, the Israelites’ intermarriage with pagans always led to even more sins and brought lots of misery to the people. It would be better to take one painful action in repentance than suffer a series of more painful chain reactions that pull God’s people away from Him.
Secondly, the unbelieving women had the opportunity to find a relationship with God. The Old Testament laws did not prohibit the marrying of Gentiles as long as they converted to Judaism. A key example of this is the marriage of Ruth and Boaz. Some commentators believe that the 111 men who had to put away their pagan wives (Ezra 10:18-44), were the ones whose wives refused to convert to Judaism. There were many more women who converted to Judaism and were thus not required to be separated.
Righteousness is never easy. True repentance is always accompanied by actions, and they may sometimes be heart-rending.
We may be upset with the consequences of our sin or the things we need to do to repent. But really, whom can we blame? It’s our fault if we fall so deeply into sin in the first place. We will all succumb to temptations, but let’s decide to always snap out of it as soon as possible. The deeper we fall, the more painful the repentance.
God will forgive and refresh us when we repent.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19)
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Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. He serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry of the Central Christian Church. He describes himself as “just a sinner who wants to get right with God”.