All we’re facing together

There are parts of the Bible that make us modern readers cringe a bit. Some of it is culture and more of it is covenant. Let’s consider the book of Ezra for an example today.

In Ezra 9, the prophet prays to God. His posture of prayer speaks to the shame and guilt he carries. The people of God have not lived up to their calling as a distinct people. In particular, many men have married into pagan families. This intermarriage between cultures has brought punishment from God.

That bothers us because it feels like God wants us to keep ourselves separate from other people. There’s no sense of love or equality in that. To be sure, the Lord expected the people to adhere to the commandments given to them. They were to be God’s light to the world. They would be set apart.

That’s a helpful reminder for us. God had a covenant with the Israelites. The decrees that comprised their covenant were not once-for-all orders that every person on earth would have to follow. Taking the intermarriage example, that’d be impossible, wouldn’t it? Instead, let’s keep in mind God gave these commandments to the people of God. This was their covenant.

Our tendency is to look at a passage like Ezra 9 and wonder what sin or act of disobedience brought their punishment. Once we figure that out, we set to make sure we don’t commit that same sin. On the surface, that makes sense. Why would we want to do something that God commanded the people not to do? The problem is that a lot of what God expected them to do or not do related to their culture and their covenant.

That sounds like God’s commands are relative, that we don’t have to adhere to them if we aren’t comfortable with them. In one sense they are. They were God’s commands to the Israelite people. I’ve heard many people today say just to follow the Ten Commandments. That’s fine, but that makes the rest of God’s law relative, doesn’t it? You’ve picked a part you think is most important.

Who gave you that authority?

But we don’t just write off commandments that seem unrelatable to us or our modern senses. Instead, we ask what themes or priorities can we gleam from how God instructed the people? It isn’t always simple. That’s what makes our willingness to abide in Christ so important. And we can look to Ezra’s example of prayer to offer insight as well. He bowed, literally bowed, in humble confession. He hadn’t married anyone outside of the people of God. Yet, he prayed because, “our iniquities have risen higher than our heads.”

As we seek to be faithful to God, we’ll need to keep praying. We’ll need to keep asking faithful questions of ourselves and one another. And we’ll need to keep engaging with scripture to hear God’s leading. That’s the only way we can make sense of all we’re facing together.

Stay blessed…john

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John Fletcher

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