Ezra 9:13-14, “And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?”
This morning, there are a great many things changing quite quickly. In America these days, people are wondering what the future holds. Some live in doom and gloom wondering “how bad can it get?” However, no matter what happens daily as the courses of the natural realm come and go, certain realities and truths are timeless. These truisms are not “generally true” as so many aspects of life can be. These truisms are “absolutely true” since they are founded by the mouth of One that absolutely and fundamentally never changes: God Himself. While people on the fatalist end of the spectrum have taken God’s actions too far, we need to understand that God works in certainties based on the power and authority of His person. If He speaks, it is done. If he commands, it stands fast. (Psalm 33:9) Therefore, let us look at the absolute truths of this text, and see what lessons we can learn for our lives today.
The setting for our verses refers to an interesting time in the history of the Jews. During the life of Jeremiah the prophet, the land of Judah was overrun by the Babylonian empire to suffer and endure 70 years of captivity as the mouth of the Lord spoke in the close of II Chronicles 36. After Babylon was overtaken by the next world power (Medes and Persians), the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem by the decree of Cyrus the king. It was during this period of restoring the city of Jerusalem and the temple that men like Ezra and Nehemiah lived and wrote their respective books. However, during the process of rebuilding, some of the people mingled themselves with the idolatrous people of the land. These unions and the children they bore yielded a great wrong as the idolaters led the Jews into idolatry, and that point rings true today. The good hanging around the bad do not make the bad good. Rather, the bad make the good bad. (I Corinthians 15:33)
The first absolute truth (no matter the context or application) is that God has “punished us less than our iniquities deserve.” Whether speaking the realm of eternity or time, we do not experience the fulness of the wrath that our wrongs deserve. Speaking of eternal matters, what we deserved, God laid upon the darling head of His Dear Son. (Isaiah 53) What was justly ours to endure, He endured willingly and joyfully for us, simply because He loved us so. Speaking of timely matters, we deserve to have much more chastening and affliction than we have. God has mercifully given us so much in timely blessings that no matter what chastening we experience from Him, none of us can say, “That whipping could not have been any worse.” All of my chastening has been far less than I deserved, and therefore, I should never grow angry with the Lord over my experience here. Job endured far worse than I have and could in good grace say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
The next absolute truth builds upon the first one: He gives such deliverance as this. Ezra was speaking primarily from a temporal aspect that he and his companions should be so blessed to be able to see their homeland again. Captivity had ended, and they got to be partakers in the building and restoration effort. That was a great deliverance – and even though we could talk again about eternal deliverance too, we will regulate this section to the timely blessings of the land – which we have insights into today. God has blessed us with a land in our time. True, most of us that I know have been blessed to live in such a free land as America, but our better land while here pertains to the Lord’s church and vineyard. This land may seem like nothing in the eyes of the world (like Jerusalem was seen as a ruined city then), but it is a precious deliverance to be able to say that we have seen such a land as this.
How do we merit this land? Is it simply because we deserved it? Absolutely not! The previous truism shows that our deliverance to this land was not based on desserts as the Lord punishes less than we deserve. If he did not, none of us would ever see the church as we do not deserve such a great land. As an aside, I will say that the Lord expects obedience and faithfulness to those in the land, as He expected it in that day from Ezra and his brethren. However, Ezra’s return to Judah was not his just desserts but a blessing and mercy from the Almighty. Those of us today who have been blessed to see and experience the rich fragrance and elegant fruits of the Lord’s garden need to remember that God has given us such a deliverance as this so that our toils and labours here have a measure of relief to them.
The next truism stings harder than most truths do for me: should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? No man, woman, or child is without excuse for breaking God’s commandments, for God even commands the non-elect to uprightness. He will judge them for their lack of it in “the books” according to “their works” from Revelation 20. What stings for me is that I have sinned so greatly and abominably after I knew better. A lot of times growing up, I would get spankings and suffer consequences for doing things wrong, but the greatest sting came when the chastening was preceded by these words from Dad, “Son, you knew better than this.”
Oh how much greater the sting, when the Almighty speaks through the conscience to say, “Child, you knew better than this!” How could people such as we are who have been not only quickened by God’s grace but also blessed to have His word, see His truth, rejoice in His Son, and glory in His goodness still fall so easily to the affinities of this old world? Yet we do again and again! Just as they joined themselves in marriages to idolatrous people of the lands, we so often join our affinities and attention to a union with the things of this world. These affinities turn our minds from God and eventually lead our children to speak more of the world’s language without a good knowledge of God’s language – much like the children of these unions did.
The logical question to our continued wrongdoing would be: wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? These questions are actually answered in verse 15, but let us consider them in question form to draw out some more absolute truths. Firstly, does the Lord get angry with us? Scripture undeniably affirms this as just a cursory reading of His dealings with Israel in the wilderness under Moses will show. However, that anger never leads to an absolute consumption. God does absolutely get angry with us for wrongdoing, and we should never think that heaven views the affairs of life with complete indifference. He smiles upon goodness, and frowns in anger over wickedness. Yet, God’s anger still fits within a subset of the other absolute truth of not punishing us as we deserve.
Will there ever be a time without a remnant or escape is the question that troubles Ezra over their present state. Since God had already blessed them with such a great deliverance, had they “blown if completely forever?” Now, to answer that question, we must consider some other great truths. I Corinthians 10:13 tells us that with every temptation we encounter there is a way to escape somewhere. We do not always utilize it, but the escape is there. God never leaves us in a completely impossible situation with no way out. If we feel completely hedged in, we need to pray that He open our eyes as there is escape somewhere, and the answer to that portion of the question must be met with a resounding, “No!”
The truism of the “remnant” is a very interesting thought, and one page after page could be written about. The simple answer is that “no, God will not leave the world without a remnant” as the next verse shows. However, to see this “remnant” in the proper light, we must understand a few things. 1. The remnant will not always appear like some would expect. For example, the Jews thought the remnant would always be Jewish, which history has shown to not be the case. 2. The remnant will not always reside at a particular location. For example, the Lord’s central housing of the remnant is no longer Jerusalem as the pages of history have shown the footsteps of the flock encountering many different regions over time.
By the time that our Lord and Saviour walked these shores, He referenced His church and kingdom far more than He addressed national Israel when He talked about providential preservation. Through promises of “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) and others like it, we see that God will not leave this world without a shining light of the remnant. Though the faces changes and locations change, the providential protection of the Lord will manifest that no matter the circumstance or season a remnant will be present telling every generation following, “The Lord hath done this.” (Psalm 22:31)
Beloved, though Ezra penned these words many centuries ago, the force of the thoughts are just as weighty today as they were then. God has not changed, and therefore, these principles remain ever sure and steadfast. So, how should these thoughts touch our existence here? Knowing that God punishes us less than we deserve – and the flip side of blessing us with deliverance that is so great – we should reserve our lives in more holiness to Him. Though we still stumble as frail creatures of dust, we should strive to leave off the affinities of this present world more than we ever have. Though failure comes, we should double our efforts every day to “do better than we ever have before.”
Finally, we should take the comfort and solace that God has not, does not, and will not cast away His people that He loves from His sight. The remnant of faithful bands will continue in this world as a testimony to this great love and covenant. The remnant’s existence redounds to glorify and underscore the other promises of God, such as this great people and family that He everlastingly loves. If we have been blessed to experience the pleasure and privilege of being part of that remnant, we should value it highly. No other place in this world could be found that is higher, and nothing in this world should be viewed more highly than the blessed land that He has given us to dwell in. Tomorrow, these things will hold true, and verily, as long as the natural realm follows its courses, these truths will endure for every generation following.