“While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1 ESV)
What does confession look like? What does repentance look like? Throughout scripture we see various forms of sorrow, from weeping to tearing the garments, sitting in sackcloth and ashes to hanging oneself. Yet whether one shows these outward signs of an aggravated conscience or not, we know from the Bible that true, “godly sorrow brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Confession, no matter how emotional, is empty without repentance.
What exactly is repentance? Repentance is often defined as a change of mind. And if one truly changes his mind, a difference in behavior will manifest. In other words, repentance is true confession in action. Without a change of outward behavior, inward change likely did not happen.
In Ezra 10 we see both confession and repentance. Recall that in chapter 9 it was revealed that the people had sinned against God by marrying the pagan peoples they were expressly told not to marry. Chapter 9 ends with Ezra’s intercessory prayer and Chapter 10 is about the people’s response. What do we see in their response? We see their confession and outward sorrow expressed in tears and words. But we also see their repentance in determining to put away their wives and return to purity before God.
While their repentance is the most relevant point for us, the question will undoubtedly linger – why would God allow divorce, doesn’t he hate it? Indeed God does hate divorce; but in this circumstance, the preservation of the people of God – the very people from whom Messiah would come – was at stake! The evil of divorce was necessary in order to make right the evil of intermarriage. We we explore this more on Sunday.
The chapter – and the book – ends with a list. Imagine having your name on this list! Rather than a place like Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith”, your name would be among those guilty of disobeying God, recorded in a chapter in the Bible for all to read for the next several thousand years! The sins of the people were public and so this was made public. However, thankfully, their repentance was also made public. Like these individuals, you and I are all on the list of sinners. The question is, are we also written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Such a privilege is only granted by God’s grace in Christ, and manifested in our confession and repentance of sin.