Ezra 9:8, "And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place that our God may lighten our place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage."
This morning, much in this old world gets us down. Satan uses the same cards when playing his game against God's children, and those same cards yield effective results in his warfare against us on a daily basis. Even though our foe is a defeated enemy at the hands of our Captain Jesus Christ, he valiantly attempts daily campaigns against us,oftentimes with much success. Discouragement continues to be an effective card in the devil's hand that raises its ugly head on a daily and consistent basis. Bad things are going to happen in this world. With the presence of sin still very much manifested in the works of the flesh, corruption, misery, and associated sorrow from these things will remain until the Lord Jesus mercifully says that time shall be no more. Yet, while we do not "get happy" when unpleasantness transpires in our life, we should still not allow Satan to steal our rejoicing in the Lord by falling down when he plays the card of discouragement in our lives.
Our study verse above comes during an interesting time in Israel's history. Ezra, Nehemiah, and others were part of a small remnant of Israelite descendants that are going to emerge as the captivity of their nation comes to an end. By God's judgment, Judah (and even a trace of old Israel) were carried into Babylonian captivity for seventy years (see II Chronicles 36). When Babylon was eventually overrun by the Medes and Persians in the book of Daniel, the time of captivity was nearing its end. Finally, a king named Cyrus proclaims that these Jews could return to Canaan's Land, and the work to restore the wall of Jerusalem and their lost city began. Ezra and Nehemiah were two of the leaders during this campaign.
Yet, even though God had blessed these few to return again to their homeland, wickedness still reared its ugly head. God had forbade the children of Israel from marrying certain nations of people. The reason for this prohibition was that those idolatrous nations would turn the heart of Israel unto other gods. If anyone might doubt this inevitable result, just view the latter-end of Solomon's life to see how idolatrous women stole his heart from following after the Lord. Today, our hearts can equally be stolen away by people who follow after idols. They may not bow down to idols of gold and silver, but they worship in grand arenas with much entertainment. Their idol is whatever hinders their service to God, and should our path "run with theirs," our hearts will be stolen away to follow after their idols. As an aside, have you ever heard someone justify their associations by saying, "Well, I want to be a good influence on them?" If a good apple stays in a bad barrel long enough, I have never seen a good apple make other apples good, but I have repeatedly seen bad apples make good apples go bad.
Therefore, amid this great time of restoration and rebuilding, the people of God stumbled again into error. Even though God's merciful hand had blessed them in this effort – even in the face of many adversaries – they forgot the Lord and did what "they wanted to do." So, Ezra makes this statement in our verse above about their situation. His attitude shows a great lesson and good example for us today. Sure, Ezra could have gotten discouraged, laid down, or thrown up his hands, but he chose a different path.
Ezra acknowledges the fact that the reason a remnant is left is by the grace of Almighty God. When we continue to see a remnant today following after the Lord in spirit and in truth being given a nail in a sure place, we should acknowledge the wonderful grace of God to us. One of the most hitting statements to my soul during a worship service came at the tail-end of a glorious three day meeting. The final sermon was being delivered, and it was like the cherry atop a beautifully made and deliciously tasting sundae. The statement came, "We have had a wonderful meeting, but you don't deserve it and neither do I." Truly, the Lord was pleased with all of the efforts we made that weekend to worship Him, but when you count how good He is to us during times like that, there is no way to make an equal comparison or ratio. He puts in exceeding abundantly above any effort of ours.
Why are these people back in their home country? God mercifully granted them release from bondage and escape back home. Why does the church still continue in this old earth today? God mercifully and providentially keeps her (despite our failings) to bless a remnant with His most special of blessings. Yet, knowing all of those things, Ezra still understood something else that must constantly be sought after. His last clause is one that carries over into the next verse (Verse 9). He mentions reviving from the hand of our God.
People today like to talk about revivals. They are special times that people have for different reasons. Oftentimes, people think that revival means "giving of life." Certainly in some cases – even Biblical cases – that definition is valid. (I Kings 17:22) Yet, most of the time, the word does not mean to give life, but oftentimes – as in our verse above – it means the "preservation, sustenance, or the good part of life." One lexicon/study aid that I have (Gesenius) actually uses an interesting illustration to make the point. To illustrate the good part of life that "reviving" gives, it says, "the most fresh and raw place for a leprous spot or cancerous tumour." In other words, it is at the most prosperous place for that sickness. How does that transform into our verse? Ezra attributes God's continuing and abiding presence as the best part of their life and circumstance. Having that sense and feeling is the true and real spirit of reviving or revival.
The lesson for us today – as it was for Ezra then – is not to get cast down and discouraged when so many bad things happen. People today (myself included) lament the fact that scores of people seem disinterested in spiritual things. As congregation sizes dwindle, spirituality seems dried up in some, the first love is lost in others, and people only see the bad instead of the multiplied good in church settings, it is enough fodder to make us discouraged and want to lay down.
For those examples above and many others that we could list, we should pray that reviving be found in their hearts, but also for ours as well. May we continually see that God's presence with us – particularly in the setting that Ezra describes as the remnant that is standing in liberty and not bound in bondage – is the "sweet spot" in our lives. How do we feel about the church today? What sense do we get from going up to worship in the house of God? How do we approach those times of Bible reading and study or private prayer to God? These moments are our feast times with the Lord, and our hearts should look up and forward to these times like the standing corn perks up in reviving during rain. Ezra certainly bemoaned the state of these horrible and wicked marriages, particularly at such a time in the face of God's rich mercy. Yet, he still looked up to the hills from whence his help came. (Psalm 121:1)
Briefly noting the language of verse 9, Ezra attributes reviving most of all to having this homeland to go to (even though it was desolate at the time). We will never have to re-build the house of God or the wall of Jerusalem as they did then. (Isaiah 33:20) Yet, even though they were in a more difficult situation then than we have today in having to rebuild it, they still saw their circumstance as a reviiving from their previous condition. How do we view the church today? Do we remember what she looked like when we first came out of Babylon (the world)? Do we remember how she first felt to us? When we can recall to mind that "first love" or "earliest love" feeling, we experience the reviving (sweet spot) that our spiritual walk so desperately needs. In closing, I relate a phrase I learned as a boy that now often comes from my lips, for every day I feel the sense of it more and more. "I need the church way more than she needs me. I am but one man inside her walls, but she is the strong city and defense for my soul in a cold dark world."