Ezra 10:4 (ESV) … “Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.”
Never underestimate the power of the prayers of one dedicated believer (James 5:16–18), for the intercession of only one concerned person can make a difference in what God will do to and for His people. As Ezra prayed and wept at the altar before the house of God, “a very great congregation of men and women and children” came together, and they fell under conviction of sin.
“They too wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1, niv). This response wasn’t something that Ezra worked up; it was something that he prayed down. The priests had offered a lamb on the altar, but Ezra gave the Lord an even greater sacrifice. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17, nkjv).
As I watch the contemporary religious scene, I note that churches occasionally feature “Christian comedians” and “Christian clowns,” but not much is said about people who know how to weep and pray. As much as anyone else, I appreciate a sense of humor and a good laugh, but there comes a time when God’s people need to stop laughing and start weeping and confessing. “Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:9–10, nkjv). That’s God’s formula for revival.
Shecaniah was the spokesman for the people, a man whose own relatives had sinned by marrying foreign women (Ezra 10:26). In my pastoral ministry, I’ve seen churches split and their witness almost destroyed because people have sided with their disobedient relatives in matters of discipline instead of with the Lord and His Word. Perhaps Shecaniah remembered what Moses wrote about the evils of being partial in judgment (Deut. 13:6–11; 17:1–13). Paul taught this same principle for the local church (1 Tim. 5:21).
To most of the people gathered around Ezra, the situation probably appeared hopeless; but not to Shecaniah, who said, “Yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing” (Ezra 10:2). He confessed that he and the rest of the nation were guilty, and then suggested a plan of action.
The plan was simple but demanding. First, the nation would corporately covenant to obey God’s law. Then, Ezra and a group of men who “trembled at the Word” would decide how the matter would be settled; and the people promised to obey whatever was decreed. But everything had to be done according to the Law of Moses.
Ezra accepted the plan. He immediately swore in the leading priests and Levites as the committee to investigate the matter and see to it that the law was obeyed. But instead of participating immediately in the investigation, he withdrew into one of the rooms of the temple to fast and pray for God’s guidance. He left it to the special committee to make the decisions and tell the people what to do. Wise is the leader who involves other people in the process, especially when the issue is so sensitive.
In verse 4 we see the congregation supporting Ezra to get to the work of sanctifying the people. So, the committee issued a proclamation to the people of Jerusalem and of the outlying villages to appear in Jerusalem within three days or be in danger of expulsion from the community. At that time, each marriage would be investigated, and the committee would discover who had violated the Mosaic Law.
A humble praying leader, a willing people, and a faithful and courageous committee worked together to accomplish a difficult task. What an example for the church to follow today!