Dealing With Sin in a Biblical Way – Ezra 10:1-17
Intro: There is one thing that every one of us has in common. It’s something that you don’t like, but have lots of. It can look good, but its not. You were born with it. But hopefully you will not take it with you when you die. What is it? Sin. In today’s article, we are going to discuss how to deal with sin from Ezra 10:1-17.
By God’s grace, dealing with sin is possible.
We will learn from this account how to deal with sin. And we will learn four lessons about how to deal with sin.
I. Dealing with Sin Starts With the Right Heart Attitude
II. Dealing with Sin Needs A Plan.
III. Dealing with Sin can be messy.
IV. Dealing with Sin is most successful when there is accountability.
I. Dealing with Sin Starts with the Right Heart Attitude (1,6)
In chapter 9 we saw that the people had become entangled with sin disobeying this command in Deuteronomy 7:3-4.
Deuteronomy 7:3-4 – Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.
They had broken a clear command from God not to intermarry with the unbelieving, pagan nations around them. This is not because the people of Israel were ethnically superior to others. Ruth and Rahab are examples of people who were welcomed into the family of God’s chosen people when they turned to Him. It was because almost universally people of other nations were idol worshipers and committed a host of abominations in God’s sight. Marriage is the closest, most intimate relationship that there is. It is IMPOSSIBLE not to be affected and influenced by one’s spouse. God told the people that intermarriage with the other peoples would negatively impact their relationship to God. Their unbelieving spouses would drag the people’s hearts away from God and to false religions. This can be seen clearly in the life of Solomon.
This sin was not limited to the poor or uneducated or common people. The leaders in fact were “foremost” in this sin. They sinned in a greater percentage than the rest of the people. The leaders does not include only the political leaders, but also the spiritual leaders, the Levites. Of all people, the Levites should have been the ones who refused to compromise, who stood on God’s law without giving in to sinful temptations and cultural pressures. Instead of setting a positive example for the rest of people and deterring the people from sinning, they made it easier for the rest of the people of Israel to sin. Since the leaders sinned, the rest of the people could offer justification (to themselves or others) for their sin. “Hey, even the Levites and priests are doing it. It must be OK.”
Just as in that time, the world today has a problem with tolerating sin. This is very easy to see when we look at media. Sins are not only excused, but they are applauded just like Paul warned in Romans 1:32, “They not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
It is easier to see these problems in others than it is in ourselves. The more important question is not “does the world have a problem with tolerating sin?” It is, “Do I have a problem tolerating sin?” Each of us needs to examine ourselves. We must hate sin like God does and never tolerate it in any form.
In the last chapter we saw that the leaders’ bad examples were a precedent for the people. Now we see what a difference a righteous leader can make. Ezra clearly and publicly reacted against this sin. He did not allow people to feel comfortable anymore while committing sin. And his reaction to the sin served as a rallying point for all of the people.
Ezra has the right heart attitude about the sin. Real confession always starts from the heart. He is ashamed. He is sorrowful. He is humbled. He ripped out his beard and pulled out his hair (I don’t dare do that or I might not have much left.)
Ezra 10:1 says he was “praying and confessing, weeping, and throwing himself down.” When he first hears about it, he does not immediately try to solve the problem on his own. His reaction is to pray. This is always a good place to start.
Joel 2:13 – Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
James 4:8-10 – Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Dealing with sin requires the right heart attitude. Grieve, mourn, wail. Sin is serious and should be treated as such.
When I share the gospel, I often ask people, “Do you have sin.” And they normally reply, “Yes.” Then I ask, “is your sin serious?” They normally say, “no.” They say this because their standard is not the same as God’s. Maybe they compare themselves to other people.
Imagine for a moment that I challenge two my children to jump across the river. My 3 year old gets a running start and jumps, but goes mere inches before crashing into the water. So my 10 year old confidently asserts that he is better. He runs and jumps about three feet. Of course, I can jump even farther. I jump perhaps six or seven feet and then fall in. From one perspective I am much better than my children. I jumped perhaps even one hundred times the distance of my young daughter. But when comparing to the goal of jumping across, all of us fell woefully short. That is what sin is like. A person may think he is much better than others, but in reality he will only think he is good if he is comparing himself to the wrong standard. Compared to God’s standard we are all far short.
Application: Today we will be talking about the Israelite’s sin and how they dealt with it. But as we go through the passage I want you to think about your own lives. What is your attitude toward sin? Do you react like Ezra did? Do we really hate sin like God does or do we tolerate it like the world around us? When is the last time your sin caused you this level of sadness?
II. Dealing with Sin Requires a Plan (2-8)
Let’s first look at the person who suggested this plan, Shecaniah.
A. Shecaniah’s family members were guilty.
In verse 2 you will note that Shecaniah was the son of Jehiel and the grandson of Elam. If you look at verse 26 you will notice that six members of his family were involved in this sin, including his own father. For this reason it would have been hard for him to speak out. He may have sympathized with the sinners or felt pressure from his family to be quiet. Yet he knew that sin must be dealt with even among those close to him.
He did not follow his family to do evil, but instead spoke out against it. Exodus 20:2 says, “do not follow a crowd to do evil.” You do not have to sin, just because your family or the world around you is. Stand firm, even if you are on an island by yourself.
B. Shecaniah identifies himself as one of the people.
He starts off admitting the unfaithfulness of the people. Notice that he, like Ezra, used the personal pronouns “we” and “us” even though it appears that he personally hadn’t committed this sin. He takes responsibility as a fellow Israelite and fellow family member of those who had sinned.
This is a good example for us of how to be intercessors for our families, church, and nations.
C. Shecaniah realizes there is hope!
Notice verse 2: Yet now there is hope for Israel! This was a dark time for his people. Their sin threatened their very existence as a nation. But even in the darkest of times, there is still hope.
This is one of the most amazing and exciting truths in the Bible. No matter how deep a hole we are in, God’s grace is big enough to help us out of it. No matter how lost we are, He can find us. Like the father of the prodigal sin, he is always waiting to forgive us, to welcome us back into His loving arms.
Application: Is there some sin that has been plaguing you for years? Some bad habit you just can’t get rid of? There is hope! God is willing to forgive and show mercy to you. Come to Him today and confess.
D. Shecaniah encourages the brethren to take action.
See verse 4: Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.”
Here we see five keys that should be part of a good plan deal with sin.
1. Arise – This is an action word. Dealing with sin requires initiative. You cannot expect to keep facing temptation in the same way and for the results to somehow be different. Someone once said the “definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.” If you are struggling with temptation. Arise. Get up. Do something different. Take drastic measures. Make a plan. Satan has a plan of attack against you. What is your plan of attack?
Perhaps every day you want to get up earlier and start your day off reading the Bible. Your alarm rings, but oh, the bed is so cozy feeling. What does one swipe of the snooze button really matter? Or perhaps two. And maybe this is repeated every day. I have a suggestion. Try something different tomorrow. Perhaps you should put the phone across the room. Or maybe buy one of those alarm clocks which will squirt you with cold water when it rings.
2. Take responsibility – In order to effectively deal with sin, you must first take responsibility for it. “It’s not your fault” says the world. It is your environment. It is your upbringing. It is your parents. But in the Bible we learn that God holds each person responsible for their own sin. And we must take responsibility if we are to deal with it and move past it.
3. We will be with you – We will discuss this one a bit more later. But here we see the principle of accountability.
4. Be courageous – Dealing with sin takes courage. In 1948 a man named Al Johnson committed a bank robber, stealing $1000. Four years later he came to know the Lord. He knew he could not keep his sin secret anymore. So he walked into the District Attorney’s office and confessed his crime. Later he walked to the front of his new church and confessed to the congregation. Then he went to the bank and paid back the money that he stole. Al knew he may go to jail, but he also knew that he had to confess. It took a lot of courage. Saying, “I am sorry. Please forgive me” are some of the most difficult words, but they are so cleansing.
5. Act – When you have the plan in place, you must act on it. Many times we know what we need to do, but do not follow through.
Perhaps some of you have a broken relationship with someone who was close to you. Perhaps you need to act by picking up the phone and making a call and saying, “I am sorry.” Maybe some of you need to confess something to your boss or your teacher or your parents. If you have been living with the guilt of sin, then today the same message is for you that was for the Israelites, “Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.”
What was his plan?
His proposal was to make a covenant with God and separate themselves from the foreign women in these relationships. Let’s take a look at this proposal. As we do, we will see that…
III. Dealing with Sin can be Messy (3, 9-11)
A. The first part is to make a covenant with God. This is an excellent place to begin. They were admitting their wrongdoing and making a vow to God “fix” it. This shows that they realized their sin was primarily against God.
B. The second part is a drastic step to solve this problem and not without controversy. It is an ugly and messy plan. They were to “put away” their wives. It should be noted that the word “divorce” is not specifically used in this chapter although the effect looks similar.
As bad as it was to send away the wives, it would be even more difficult to send away the children of these marriages who were completely innocent parties. Then why do this? Let’s look at this issue in detail:
1. First we need to know God’s view of divorce. The biblical view of divorce is VERY different from the view in the world. People fall in love and then after a while this “love” grows cold and they “fall out” of love for whatever reason. When this random anti-love bug strikes, the couple feels justified in getting a divorce. They often offer the excuse that it is not fair to the kids or their spouse to put them through a marriage that doesn’t have that spark anymore.
A few common causes of divorce include: money, unfaithulness, and one of the top ones is housework. Vows which have been made are cast aside. This view of divorce is a stark contrast with the Bible.
Malachi 2:16 – For I hate divorce,” says the LORD
Romans 7:2-3 – For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
God hates divorce. God’s plan has always been one man and one woman for life, literally until death do them part. In Matthew 5 Jesus said that divorce and remarriage is adultery and that marrying a divorced person is adultery. He did give one possible exception, which is the infidelity of one partner. We don’t have time to talk about this today.
When we look at the whole context of Scripture, we know that we should forgive even seventy times seven times. Ephesians compares marriage to Christ and the church. Just as God forgives us for the same sins again and again so we should forgive our spouses.
2. If God has this view of divorce, then why did Ezra agree with this plan? I can think of two reasons.
A. God hates divorce, but God also hates their sin of getting married to pagan people who would lead them astray from God. Because of their sin, they are faced with a dilemma of two bad choices with no good way out.
Bad choice number 1 equals staying married to these people and living with these sinful relationships. The result would likely be disastrous in that a huge part of the remnant would gradually fall away from God and incur God’s judgment.
Bad choice number 2 is to immediately end these relationships. This would be messy, but was a necessary step to ensure the spiritual purity of the nation.
Application: There is an important lesson here. The lesson is that our sin can lead us into situations from which there is no good way out. Remember that God did not lead them into this dilemma. He warned them against it. Their own sinful choices led them into it. Sin is messy. It messes up our lives and the lives of those around us.
By far the best solution is to obey God on the front side. If you do, you will avoid these types of dilemmas.
B. We should also keep in mind the fragile state of the remnant. There was a small remnant of people who returned to Jerusalem. They were unprotected (there were no walls). They were few in number. Their faith was volatile. God had already been judging them for their sins. Another deliberate and prolonged rebellion against God could be disastrous.
My understanding of this passage is that desperate times call for desperate measures.
So how do we apply this passage:
1. Do not use this passage as a basis for getting a divorce for any reason. This passage is “descriptive” and not “prescriptive.” It describes something that happened in a very unique situation under the Old Covenant. It deals with the health of the nation of God’s chosen people rather than advice for individuals.
2. Note also that the New Testament command in 1 Corinthians 7:12-13, “if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.”
If you are already married to an unbeliever, whether that happened before or after you came to Christ, you should remain in the marriage unless they leave. God may sanctify and save your spouse through your testimony.
3. Most importantly, be warned! Bad company corrupts good morals. This passage shows us how serious it is to yoke oneself with the world.
2 Corinthians 6:14 – Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
For all of the singles out there, please do not consider getting married to an unbeliever. Being yoked together doesn’t only apply to marriage, but to any alliances including dating. When a dating relationship ends, the couple says they “broke up.” There is an emotional bond. Someone may say, “I will not marry the person unless they become a believer. We are not bound.” I would ask, “What would you think if the person you are dating dated others at the same time?” You wouldn’t like it. There is a bonding.
Following God is hard. It is hard as a single. It is hard as a married person with a believing wife. It is exponentially harder as a person married to an unbeliever. God knows our weaknesses. He knows how susceptible we are to temptation from a spouse who doesn’t share our same love of God.
Amos 3:3 – How can two walk together unless they are agreed?
Believers and unbelievers have completely different worldviews and value systems. Your spouse should agree with you on these most important things which will make for a harmonious, joyful, and productive marriage.
What will you spend your money on? What will you do on Sundays? How will you spend your free time? How will you decide whether or not to take a lucrative job offer? Yesterday in the men’s conference we talked about how important it is for a husband and wife to agree in the way they raise and discipline their children. How can a believer and an unbeliever agree on any of these things? There is no agreement.
If you marry an unbeliever there will be constant friction and disagreement. You will not be able to resist that daily temptation just like Solomon couldn’t.
Your spouse should be the one encouraging you in your relationship with God, not discouraging you. If you would like more information on this, I have some printouts in the back. These have a list of relevant Bible verses related to dating or marrying an unbeliever.
IV. Dealing with Sin Requires Accountability (12-17)
We see the principle of mutual accountability throughout the passage:
1. In verse 5 Ezra had all the people make an oath. They agreed together and before God that they would do this. Because they did it as a group, there was accountability. They could not go back and say “I didn’t agree to this.” They could encourage and help each other to follow through.
2. Verses 14 and 16 – Here again we see the principle of mutual accountability.They would do it together. Two is better than one. Men were chosen to supervise this process and help make sure that it was carried out according to what had been agreed. This was a wise plan. It might be easy to agree to deal with the sin when listening to Ezra’s sermon in Jerusalem with believers all around. It would be a lot harder when they went back to their towns and saw these women (probably very beautiful women) face to face.
Application: If you want to properly deal with sin, you also need to find a way to get accountability. Sitting in church it is easy to agree and think “I will stop that sin,” but then when you return to your own life and no one is watching it is just as easy to fall into the temptation again.
We know that for lifestyle changes, like exercising or dieting, accountability can help keep us on track. The same is true for temptations we face. If you are dating or courting, get accountability. If you are tempted in business, tell a Christian brother or sister to ask you questions. If you are tempted by pornography, get help from a brother who can keep you accountable. If you are tempted to sleep late or binge watch television shows, ask a friend to call you and check on you.
Proverbs 27:17 says – As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
God wants us to help each other. I once received a phone call. The person said, “I am about to pass by a temptation. Please call me in 10 minutes and make sure I am OK and don’t fall into it.” I said, “Ok.” I did call him and he was fine. He knew I would be calling to check and that provided even extra incentive not to fall into the temptation. Sometimes you might be afraid that your friends will judge you when you get accountability. I don’t think they will. They will understand and probably respect you even more for being humble and honest.
Conclusion: Today’s passage is a heavy passage. A dark cloud of sin and guilt hangs over the people. As they stand in the rain they face their guilt. They are faced with two terrible choices. Either way people will get hurt. God’s judgement has already come upon the nation before and they are afraid of incurring it again. Yet even in the midst of this, we are reminded, there is still hope. There is still hope in spite of this.
Today you too may feel a cloud of guilt. Perhaps some choice you have made in the past or perhaps some sin you are struggling with now. I want to encourage you, that in spite of this, in spite of anything you have done, no matter how bad, there is still hope for you. Whether you are a believer struggling with sin or have not yet turned to God, there is still hope. Turn to your neighbor and say, “No matter how dark things are there is still hope.”
We should deal with sin. We should make a plan. We should get accountability. At the same time, our hope is not in our will power or our ability to change. Our hope is in? Who? Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross brings hope to the very worst of sinners. He took your punishment so that you don’t have to take it. He wants to forgive you. He wants to pour His grace out into your life and heart. However, you must confess first. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess your sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
As we close in prayer, please stand with me. We will have a moment of silent prayer before the Lord. If there is any sin that you need to deal with, please deal with it now. Confess it to Him. Ask Him to replace the darkness with His light, so that you can shine His light again.
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