“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 has given us such deliverance as this. Should we again break thy commandments, and join 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?”
Shall we sin again?
Occasioned by the fact that the returned captives, and particularly the priests, Levites, and rulers of the people had inter-married with the wicked of the land.
Seventy long years had the kingdom of Judah beenheld captive in Babylon, where the Lord had chastised them greatly because of their sins. And now the prophecy of Jeremiah was accomplished, so that they might return to their own land. Cyrus, the king of Persia had given commandment that the enslaved captives should be released to return to the holy city under the leadership of Nehemiah and Zerubbabel. The walls of the city again with great difficulty had been repaired, and the house of God rebuilt. Cyrus also instructed Ezra, the priest-scribe, to return with the vessels of the Lord’s house which Nebuchadnezzar had confiscated, and with firm orders to instruct the people in the Law of God. Upon Ezra’s arrival the princes of the people disclosed to him the popular but very grievous sin where the religious leaders had allowed the holy seed to mingle with the unholy, to intermarry with the heathen. Not only did they thereby violate the solemn dictum that Israel shall dwell in safety alone, but they also were committing the abominations of the heathen—a most grievous sin in the eyes of the Lord. Ezra was dumfounded when he heard of it. What lover of God’s Law would not be? His astonishment was so great that he rent his clothes, plucked off his hair, and sat down to mourn until the evening sacrifice. Then he appeared before the face of the Lord to spread out the matter before His throne of mercy in intercessory prayer. A most beautiful prayer, in which he confesses in shame this sin, admitting Jehovah’s righteous judgment for sins that were past, remembering God’s mercy that He had again given a season of relief and a nail in His house, and rehearsing the law which militated against the present evil. And in the words of our text raises the important question which is the subject of our present meditation.
Shall we again sin?
A most proper question in the light of past sins!
Israel was a people that was born in sin. By, nature ethically no better than the heathen which surrounded them. In spite of all the gracious dealings God had with this ancient people, Israel did not shake off the old man of sin. In spite of the fact that God had revealed Himself to that nation as to none other, they sinned yet more and more, committing all the abominations of the wicked. Israel had incurred great guilt. Yet the merciful Jehovah stretched out His hand through the prophets to warn His disobedient people to repent and return, until He is described as having become weary of it. But Israel did not listen. Hence, the Lord brought them into captivity, where under the cruel bondage in Babylon the remnant felt His chastening rod. Verily the sinner cannot play with God and get away with it. In His indignation He chastised them with the rod of Nebuchadnezzar and the wicked kings that succeeded him. And, O, what suffering they had endured. They became the gazing stock of the world, ridiculed and mocked, despised and forlorn. Worst of all they were separated from Jerusalem and the house of God. Verily, they experienced that to live apart from God is death. No wonder they wept when they remembered Zion, and hung their harps upon the willows when they were asked to sing one of Zion’s songs. In the light of all this: Shall we sin again?
You, O Israel, and you, O sinner! You who have learned what it means to be bound in the shackles of sin and death! You who have known what is the experience of being enclosed in the prison-house of sin and death, and separated from the house of Jehovah’s service! Should we sin again?
Pertinent question, indeed!
Also when you consider it in the light of the present deliverance!
O, how wonderfully Jehovah had kept His Word to send to His beloved deliverance from the house of bondage! Seventy years after His people had broken His covenant, He remembered it. He moved the heart of the king of Persia, Cyrus His servant, to send His people back to their own land. Once more they would have a nail in His sanctuary. He had not dealt with them as they had deserved. For if He had done so they would have been as Sodom and Gomorrah. They would have perished from the earth. Never would they have come into His presence again. But He had not reckoned with them according to their deserts. Their deliverance should have been a cause for everlasting rejoicing.
A proper question for Israel!
Do you think it right, O people of God, to sin again after you have been so wonderfully delivered? Does it seem just and proper that you should sin against God after He has dealt so graciously with you? Would you not by your very sin be reproaching the grace whereby ye were saved?
And dear reader, forget not that what happened to Judah was but typical of what has happened to us. Do we not also exclaim: that He has not dealt with us after our sins, but that He has removed our guilt as far as east from west is distant? Has He not laid on Christ the iniquity of us all? Did not our Saviour stand under the vials of His holy wrath, in order that we would never have to endure it? Does it then seem right to you and to me that we should then go out and sin again?
Also a most serious question!
Should we continue to break His holy commandments? Should we deliberately violate His Law, that Law which He has ordained for our life, and which must now serve as the norm for our faith and practice? For that is the implication of the text. Not simply does Ezra, mean that we should disregard the commandments, but as the English version expresses it: break, i.e., deliberately break off. God’s Law is a harmonious whole. When we transgress a certain commandment, we break off, we reject that commandment, and thus destroy the whole of the Law of God.
Here the question is: Should we break off Thy commandments by joining affinity with the people of these abominations? With that people whom the Lord at the entrance of Israel into the land of Canaan had expressly instructed that they should be utterly destroyed? A people, such as Moab and Ammon, who were godless and full of abominable idolatry? Shall we just join ourselves to them in marriage, which can mean not only that we give our sons and daughters to them in wedlock, but join in on their idolatrous practices? Such sin would not only be a breaking of the Law of God, but it would lead to Israel’s downfall, and bring upon them a curse. We could put the question this way: Should we, God’s redeemed people, after we have been delivered from sin and death by the blood of Christ seek affinity with the world, with its scheme, with its things? Would we then not be breaking not only the Law of God, but deliberately violating the tenure of all God’s Word which admonishes us: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers;” “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin;” “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors not to live after the flesh?”
Indeed, a serious question!
The seriousness of which lies not only in the fact that it is asked of us, but it is a question which is asked before the face of God. Understand it well, Ezra does not ask his contemporaries that question. O, indeed, they heard him pray, and therefore they too were confronted with the question. That would make the question serious enough. But the seriousness becomes all the more serious when you consider that it is asked before the throne of God. Ezra and Israel, you and I, stand before God with this question. Would you have the boldness to ask God whether you should sin again?
But answered question!
Answered it is with another question. Wouldest not Thou be angry with us till Thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?
God’s anger is His holy indignation!
The antithesis of His love and mercy!
Would not God be so angry that not one of the sinners should escape? The implication of this question should be understood as signifying that all the sinners would be destroyed.
And this is exactly the teaching of the Word of God. Consider what Peter writes in II Peter 2:20 —”For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” Or again, listen to what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes: (Hebrews 6:4-6) “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
Would not such incur the guilt of those described inHebrews 10:29: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
What is the proper answer then?
Indeed, not! By the grace of God we will fight the good fight of faith! We will mortify the old man of sin which is still in us, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. We will not allow fornication and all uncleanness, or covetousness, to be named once among us. For once we were the children of darkness, but now are we light in the Lord, and will therefore walk as children of light.
We shall no longer delight in breaking one of the least of God’s commandments, nor will we seek affinity with the world. For how shall we, who have become dead to sin, live any longer therein?
And on the basis of the perfect sacrifice and redemption accomplished for us by our Saviour, we will steadfastly look for our final and perfect salvation in the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness shall dwell.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”