Why did Ezra confess guilt as though he himself had sinned? (Ezra 9:6) 9 After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” 3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice. 5 Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God 6 and prayed: “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. 7 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.
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I would say that, despite the fact that Ezra himself may not have personally participated in the sins of the people, he spoke as if he had because the sins were so widespread and flagrant (including the leaders and officials of the people, as well as the priests and the Levites) that God would judge the whole nation with no distinction (just as there had been no distinction made prior to the people's original captivity). Under those circumstances, Ezra did not want to exempt himself, which might even be interpreted as a mark of pride that could further invite God's judgment. (Despite Ezra's relative purity in the context of the situation, he was still himself a sinner (as all humans are), and he would have been aware of that fact.)
In this passage we see a beautiful example of a godly leader “interceding” on behalf of his people – the nation of Israel. Ezra was commissioned by the king of Persia – Artaxerxes – to take the gifts and offerings from the king and his nobles to make sacrifices to the “God in Heaven” at the new temple in Jerusalem. Let’s look at what we know about Ezra. In the book of Ezra we don’t meet the man until chapter 7. Ezra 7:1-6 He was a teacher well versed in the law of Moses…. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of God was on him. Ezra 7:9-10 for the gracious hand of his God was on him… Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. Ezra 7: 11-26 From: Artaxerxes, king of kings, To: Ezra, the priest, teacher of the Law of the God of Heaven…. You are sent by the king and his seven advisors to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem… take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisors have freely given to the God of Israel… buy bulls, rams and male lambs …. sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem….Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God… Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done….. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and his sons?... And you Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates – all who know the laws of your God and teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment. Ezra 7:27-28 [Ezra said] Praise be to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way…. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me. Ezra 8:21-23,31 I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer…..The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. Ezra 9 & 10 • When Ezra arrives in Jerusalem he is advised of the peoples’ sin • They had intermarried and mingled the holy race with the neighbouring peoples and their detestable practices • Their leaders and officials had led the way in this unfaithfulness • Ezra tore his tunic, pulled hair from his head and beard and sat down appalled • Everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel [the faithful] gathered around him • Ezra fell on his knees, spread out his hands to the Lord his God, and prayed • Ezra prayed a corporate prayer of confession (Ezra 9:5-15) • While Ezra was praying, confessing, weeping and throwing himself down, a large crowd of Israelites gathered around, and they too wept bitterly • The Israelites confessed their sin and repented by pledging to turn away from their sin by sending away these foreign women and their children • The whole nation assembled and pledged on oath to complete their repentance • All the people who were guilty of intermarriage are “named” in the book of Ezra Had Ezra not “interceded” for his nation of Israel, all the people who had intermarried would have been guilty of breaking the king’s law, because they had already broken the law of the God of Heaven. As a result, they would all have been killed. Ezra interceded and saved many people, foreshadowing Jesus’s great intercession for us.
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