When the first delegation of Jews returned to the [Promised Land], they met discouragement. It is at times like this that you let down. It has happened to many Christians. Someone has said that discouragement is the devil's greatest weapons. The Jews let down their guard and intermarried with the surrounding heathen and enemies of God and Israel. That in turn led to a practice of the abomination of the heathen. The lack of separation plunged them into immorality and idolatry. The returned remnant is in a sad, sordid, and squalid condition.
Now there are several things Ezra could have done in this situation. He could have broadcast a program on patriotism, run up the Israeli flag, displayed the Star of David, and held great rallies on patriotism. But he did not do that. He might have delivered a withering blow against the intermarriage and immorality and idolatry by making speeches, but Ezra did not do that either. Or he could have followed another procedure: he could have formed an organization and become involved in trying to recover these couples who had gone into this immorality. That, my friend, is how we do it today. But I want you to notice what he did. It is something that we don't see much of in our day.
And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonished. (Ezra 9:3)
When all of this was brought to Ezra's attention, and he found that it was accurate, he was absolutely overwhelmed and chagrined that God's people would drop to such a low level.
Today we talk about the apostasy of the church — at least I do. But I wonder if we are as exercised about it as we should be. Friends, it is so easy for you and me to point an accusing finger at that which is wrong, but notice what Ezra did. He was so overwhelmed by the sin of his people that he tore his clothes and tore out his hair. Instead of beginning a tirade against them (which would have been characteristic of many people today), notice the next step Ezra took.
Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice. (Ezra 9:4)
There are many who profess to have a love for the Word of God, and they have notebooks and marked-up Bibles to prove it. The interesting thing is that their own lives are marked up and fouled up, and they are doing nothing about it. They say that they believe the Word of God, but it has no effect upon their lives whatsoever. They do not tremble at the Bible. Like the man of the world, they say, "God is love." And He is — it is wonderful to know that God is love. But He is more than that. Our God is a holy God. He will punish sin, and that is the thing that is troubling Ezra.
Ezra sat astonished "until the evening sacrifice" because of the transgression of those who had been carried away. Ezra was shocked by this. Does this concern us? Really, today, how much are we involved? How much do we believe the Word of God? My Christian friend, it would pay you and me to go to a solitary place and ask ourselves these questions: "Do I really believe God's Word? Do I really obey it?"
And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God. (Ezra 9:5)
What does it mean to spread out your hands to God? It means that you are not concealing anything. It means when you go to God in prayer, friend, that your mind and soul stand absolutely naked before Him. Ezra went to God with his hands outspread. He was holding nothing at all back from God. The apostle Paul put it this way, "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Timothy 2:8). We need to remember that in our prayer lives.
—From Edited Messages on Ezra by Dr. J. Vernon McGee