In the book of Ezra, chapters 8-10, we read concerning the return of some Israelites to their native land. When they had come out of captivity, they offered sacrifices to God (8:35). From this sacrifice they delivered some to the satraps and governors of the king as a commission. But when they did this, they heard some shocking news from the princes, “The people of Israel, and the priests and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, doing according to their abominations . . .” (9:1). Also we learn, ” . . . yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.” When Ezra heard this, he “sat down confounded.” What was Ezra to do? He did the first thing that any man of God ought to do–PRAY. He prayed to God asking for his help–“And now, O our God, what shall we say after this?” (9:10). He prayed to God praising Him for his mercy and righteousness–“And now for a little moment grace hath been showed from Jehovah our God, to leave us a remnant to escape and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage” (9:8); “O Jehovah, the God of Israel, thou art righteous; for we are left a remnant that is escaped, as it is this day . . .” (9:15)–and Ezra confessed the sins of the nation–” . . . behold, we are before thee in our guiltiness; for none can stand before thee because of this.” But, the apostasy had not yet been corrected. The people were still joined with their foreign wives. However, Ezra’s example of prayer for the nation encouraged others to do something about the problem. Shecaniah, a man of action, told Ezra, “Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise; for the matter belongeth unto thee, and we are with thee: be of good courage, and do it” (10:3,4).
“And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; and that whosoever came not within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the assembly of the captivity” (10:7,8).
It was at this great assembly that Ezra said, “Ye have trespassed and have married foreign women, to increase the guilt of Israel. How therefore (1) make confession unto Jehovah, the God of your fathers, and (2) do his pleasure; and (3) separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the foreign women.” In this statement Ezra gives us three steps out of apostasy.
God has always demanded that his people confess when they have sinned. In Leviticus 16:21, God says to Moses concerning Aaron’s job as high priest, “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him, all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins . . . .” In Psalm 32:5 David writes, “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity did I not hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” Wise king Solomon records in Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper: But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy.” In Matthew 3:6 as well, we see the example of those who were baptized of John. “And they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” So it is also under the New Covenant. James 5:16 teaches, “Confess therefore your sins one to another. . . .” And in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession is an integral part of man’s dealing with his own sin, and when men apostatize the first step back is through confession.
Do His Pleasure
The idea of doing God’s pleasure is simply to do his will, to obey his commands, to follow the teaching of the Bible. In Hebrews 5:9 the Bible says, “And having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation.” Salvation is to those who obey. Thus, for one to return from apostasy, which is disobedience, and regain salvation, he must be obedient, he must do God’s pleasure. Further, in Philippians 2:12,13 we read, “So them, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.” In this passage, we have a connection between the obedience of man and God’s good pleasure. The relationship basically is: as man obeys God, then God works through man doing his (God’s) good pleasure.
This is probably the area in which most people have a problem. We can understand confession, and we can understand obeying God, but why, they ask, do we have to separate ourselves from our friends, relatives, and especially our spouses? The answer is really quite simple–because God said do it! God’s way has, is, and will always be, the best way. God created man, and he knows each person better than that person knows himself. Let us determine to do things God’s way.
The idea of separation is, however, not new. Notice: “And Jehovah God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore Jehovah God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken” (Genesis 3:22,23). “And Cain went out from the presence of Jehovah, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (Genesis 3:22,23). “And Jehovah said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the ground . . .” (Genesis 6:7). “So Jehovah scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off building the city. Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because Jehovah did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did Jehovah scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8,9). “Then Jehovah rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:24-26).
Consider also: “Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in they land, lest they make thee sin against me; for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee” (Exodus 23:32,33). “Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land wither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee” (Exodus 34:12). “And ye shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall break down their altars. But ye have not hearkened unto my voice: why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive thme out from before you; but they shall be a thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you” (Judges 2:2,3).
Note also: “And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of Jehovah, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him . . . ” (Leviticus 24:13-16). “The hand of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So thou shalt put away the evil from the midst of thee” (Deuteronomy 17:7). “If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22). “If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and he deal with him as a slave, or sell him; then that thief shall die: so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee” (Deuteronomy 24:7). ” . . . if the witness be a false witness, and have testified falsely against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to do unto his brother: so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee. And those that remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil in the midst of thee” (Deuteronomy 19:18-20).
Finally in the New Testament we read, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17). “Put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:13). “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (Eph.5:11). “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions which they received of us. . . . And if any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. And ye count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14). God expects us to separate ourselves from evil men.
Let us be determined to oppose apostasy in every form. Let us be determined to make confession of our sins when we commit sin. Let us be determined to be pleasing unto God and do his pleasure. Let us determine to put away the evil from among the righteous. “Now therefore make confession unto Jehovah, the God of your fathers, and do his pleasure; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the foreign women” (Ezra 10:11).