12 Feb He Sat Down, Astonished..
“So when I heard this thing
I tore my garment and my robe
and plucked out some of the hair
of my head and beard
and sat down, astonished..”
Ezra, Priest and Scribe
City of Jerusalem, Circa 460 BC.
Ezra was a puzzled man.
A thoroughly baffled, perplexed man.
And the source of his utter bewilderment was none other than his fellow countrymen.
Here they were, back in Judah after more than seventy years of captivity in the land of Babylon. Seventy years during which they had ardently cried out to the Lord for deliverance.
And then, just as the Lord had answered their prayer and delivered them back to their homeland, here they were, flirting freely with the same sinful practices that had caused their banishment in the first place..!
It was not as if they were unaware of God’s command concerning this matter, good reader.
Hundreds of years earlier, as the Lord had led their forefathers into the Promised Land, He had very clearly set out the conditions under which they were to live in the land of milk and honey.
And one of these was the following;
“You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you (for the Lord your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the Lord your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth.”
But the children of Israel had ignored this command over and over again, constantly falling into the sinful worship of these “gods”.
And so, just as He had warned, God had eventually delivered them into the hands of their enemies.
The Northern Kingdom had fallen into the eager hands of King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria sometime in the 730’s BC, never to be seen again.
And following closely on its heels, the Southern Kingdom too had been destroyed and its king, nobles, priests and countrymen had been carried miserably off to Babylon by a delighted King Nebuchadnezzar.
And among these hapless captives had been the family of Ezra, the son of Seraiah, a priest from the line of Aaron, the brother of Moses.
But thankfully, decades later, with the permission of the reigning King Artaxerxes, Ezra had made his way back to Jerusalem, and was now serving his countrymen as a devoted Priest and Scribe.
But oh, how soon these people forgot!
Ezra had soon discovered, to his utter amazement, that the Children of Israel had fallen back to the ways of their forefathers, and had once again failed to separate themselves from the abominations of their thoroughly depraved neighbours.
And they were dangerously close to committing the same deadly sins as their ancestors.
Indeed, several of them had taken the first step in this ominous direction by marrying women from the surrounding communities; communities that were hopelessly steeped in the worship of numerous, malevolent “gods”.
Now unfortunately for these people, the worship of these gods required particularly vile and debased practices.
Molech the god of the Moabites, par exemple, required regular appeasement through the sacrificial murder of children – by “passing through fire” – a most vicious and sadistic ritual.
Asherah, a goddess worshipped by the Hittites, was viewed as the purveyor of fertility and thus demanded a myriad of despicable sexual rites, including the detestable practice of temple prostitution carried out by both men and women.
And then there was Baal.
Wicked, wicked Baal, whose worship demanded the most noxious practices of all, and produced a most decadent lifestyle among his followers.
No doubt you remember Their Royal Wickedness King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, most ardent followers of this vile deity.
Queen Jezebel had in fact served as priestess to Baal and her influence, together with that of her weak-willed husband Ahab, had eventually led their fellow countrymen thoroughly astray.
Like god, like priest. Like priest, like people they say.
So now, hearing of his countrymen’s present folly, Ezra had immediately foreseen a clear and present danger; marrying into communities who still worshiped such “gods”, would inevitably lead to the Israelites’ falling away from the one true God, once again.
Just as had happened with their forefathers.
And so Ezra sat, astonished.
Terrified to see the same wily deception begin its dreadful work among his people, yet again..
This particular story, I believe, is a story of the tragic consequences of habitual national sin.
Sin that snakes its evil way from one generation to another, leaving its awful mark on each successive branch of the national family tree.
Sin that grabs by the throat and chokes off any sense of reason or moral propriety among the people.
Regretfully, dear reader, I would suggest that we too, as a nation, have fallen victim to this particular brand of collective sin.
That we have, from generation to generation, passed down deadly, insidious sin, with or without our intention or knowledge.
Tribalism and corruption, I believe, are the foremost altars at which we worship, and this indeed has been our greatest sin as a nation.
Our parents’ parents taught them to revile such and such a tribe; our parents then passed this on to our generation, and now we too unwittingly pass it on to our clueless children.
Consider, dear reader, the all-consuming issue of national corruption.
Some of our first national leaders grabbed, grabbed and then grabbed some more; and then infected the next set of leaders with a generous dose of this strange disease, grabiosis mellitus.
These new leaders in turn rose quite splendidly to the occasion, and of course we continue to see this “ailment” within our leadership, at all levels, to date.
This kind of national habitual sin cannot and will not leave, but by the fervent prayers of committed Saints and the determined action of men and women of Godly character.
And thus I am fully persuaded, that like Ezra, we can and should shake ourselves free of these two terrible vices, and fling them right back to Hades, from whence they came.
For our good friend Ezra did eventually get off that floor.
And through prayer, fasting and the determined action of a few like-minded Saints, he did eventually rid his generation of the potential consequences of that deadly, habitual sin.
And it turned out that it was quite possible to avert the odious plans of the enemy, that old Serpent, after all.
So let’s get to work, my friends, let’s get to work and rout out Tribalism and Corruption, for the sake of this, our Beloved Nation.
So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished.
Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive, and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice.
Image Courtesy: Sweet Publishing