Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ezra: A Priest for the People Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending Sept. 20, 2009

Purpose: To acknowledge that God may require us to make radical changes in our lives when we have strayed from God’s ways.

Scripture Text: Ezra 9:5-11, 15 (NRSV)

Ezra 9:5-11, 15
(5)At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, (6) and said, ‘O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. (7) From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. (8) But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. (9) For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.

(10) ‘And now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, (11) which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, “The land that you are entering to possess is a land unclean with the pollutions of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations. They have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. (15) O Lord, God of Israel, you are just, but we have escaped as a remnant, as is now the case. Here we are before you in our guilt, though no one can face you because of this.’

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

It is often hard for us to admit we might be both sinners and in need of God’s help; Ezra asked for personal forgiveness as well as forgiveness for the entire remnant of Jews that still existed in his world.

I think there is merit in talking about the circumstances that created this revelation for Ezra. He had been worshiping God, and also fasting, it should not surprise us when God speaks to us when we have prepared ourselves to have communion with Him. Ezra did it through the evening sacrifice and fasting. As many of us do it at a time of Holy Communion, we have prepared ourselves by confessing our sins, both individual and corporate, and if we add fasting to that experience we too can have that sweet communion with God that Ezra experienced.

Ezra went one step further, he tore his garments as well as his mantle, and fell on his knees, repentant and humbled, knowing he not deserve God’s grace or forgiveness. When was the last time you opened up to God and confessed you had not been an obedient servant, or corporately you had not been an obedient church? When was the last time you humbled yourself enough to apologize, or make amends for wrongs you may have committed? Remember in the story of Zaccheus after Christ forgave his sins he went about and made restitution (sometimes with a severe penalty as required by the law of Moses) for all of the shady deals he had done as a tax collector. And when Christ forgave the women for adultery, He said, “go and sin no more”.

I think one of the things that the purification of the “remnant” achieved is by the time of Christ almost all of the idol worship that had taken place earlier in Israel’s history, with the great kings of Israel up through the captivity, was finally going to be extinguished, and by the time of Christ it was not idol worship that was the problem. Rather it was the adultery of the law, and the corruption of the established leadership of the Jewish religion that Christ attacked. We do not have a lot of instances where idol worship was attacked by Christ, we do have several occasions where the Jewish hierarchy was criticized and condemned by Christ.

It would be hard for us today to condone what Ezra promoted in the three verses left out of our lesson. I would suggest you read verse 12, 13 and 14 and think about what Ezra was asking the remnant to do.

Many bible scholars and historians believe that those three verses are what caused the writing of The Book of Ruth to take place. Although by historical setting the Book of Ruth took place hundreds of years before the Book of Ezra, it is thought the story was added after the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And was to counteract what Ezra was teaching concerning the disposal and abandonment of those other than Jews, in a marriage or family relationship.

One reason they say that, is because it seems to try and explain the traditions of Ruth and Boaz’s time. (i.e. 4:6-9). The story of Ruth is all about a Moabite widow and a gracious Jew, Boaz, which took her in and produced the linage of not only King David but also of Christ. It presents for us the very essence of God’s grace and redemption.

How do you feel about Ezra’s suggested handling of mixed marriages? Are you more comfortable with the story of Ruth and a mixed marriage? Do you think communal sin needs to be confessed as well as individual sin?

1 comment:

Lee C said...

. . .interesting questions posed at end of study. . .How, in today's church and/or culture do we define "mixed marriage"? What would be a current-day example or two of "communal sin"?