“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.
“But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.
“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’
“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”
- Ezra 9:6-15
“While working on the Student Bible my colleague and I made a selection of great prayers of the Bible, which can be read in a two-week period, one prayer per day. Some are intimate and private while others were delivered in a very public setting. Each gives an actual example of a person talking to God about an important matter and teaches something unique about prayer:”
- Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?
I will be intermittently away from the keyboard for much of many of the days for about two weeks. I had been praying about what I could write during this period, or for this period. I try to stay a few days ahead in my writing, but with my cataract surgeries, and – confession time a little laziness – along with the heavy doctor visit schedule, I was writing my posts just in time. (Pardon the typos, if there were any. Really my biggest problem is changing verb tense, at will, throughout paragraphs, and within a sentence as Yancey does in the quote, but homonyms and blatant typos do exist after several reviews.) I had just read Yancey’s book, and I thought of his list of prayers. The chapter on Prayers in the Bible had started with the Lord’s prayer, gone to the Psalms as a whole, and included a general discussion on the prayers of Paul in his various letters. Then Yancey lists fourteen prayers after the paragraph above. The thought of this list struck me. Then when I re-read the page in the book, the words ‘two-week period’ struck me. Rather than the Holy Spirit striking me out with a third strike, I decided to write a few ideas – maybe some really short posts – for each prayer. I will copy the Yancey quote and this paragraph for each of the fourteen, so if you read every day, you can skip this with the remaining parts.
Let’s get a picture of the landscape. Nehemiah returned to build the wall. In the prayer, Ezra, who returned to rebuild the temple, acknowledges the wall. There are many enemies around Jerusalem. Their protective documents will do them little good since the Persians are far away. And now Ezra discovers that the people have intermarried with the locals, the one sin that carries with it a punishment of the chosen people being banished. Ezra fears that their efforts will be all for naught. His efforts to rebuild the temple and have that location for the people to come and pray will be lost to yet another banishment.
For good or bad, does this not illustrate how the Pharisees and Sadducees came into existence. We did wrong. We were banished. Let’s follow the rules at all costs. Then those rules were ‘explained’ and quantified, thus the limited number of steps taken on a sabbath, for example. Then you get a picture of how legalism began to reign, with no connection to God at all, if anything, an adversarial relationship – they just did not see it that way.
The prayer itself is a model of a prayer of confession. While Solomon expounded upon the fact that people will sin, and Jehoshaphat prayed part of Solomon’s prayer regarding punishment from sin, Ezra prays for forgiveness of the sin of the people. He gets specific, and he humbles himself as much as Jehoshaphat had done.
We need to confess our sins. Praying during the blessing of food for God to forgive ‘sins’ is just a start. We need to get specific. We need to know that we specifically have sinned, not that we are sinners in general.
But once we have confessed, God is faithful to forgive. If we hang on to the guilt, we are placing ourselves above God. God has forgiven and forgotten the sins of His elect, so who are we to bring it up again and again. We are human; we may never forget our sin, but we must forgive ourselves as God has already forgiven us. Otherwise, we go through life defeated by sin that God has forgotten. That just doesn’t make sense, but each of us, if we are honest have been there.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.