“As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled” (Ezra 9:3).
The exiles were back in Jerusalem, and this time, they had leaders who were determined to keep them on the path of righteousness. Ezra, one of the priests, was especially influential in teaching the people how they ought to live.
Ezra devoted his life to studying God’s Word, applying it to his own life, and teaching it to others. He cared deeply for the people and their spiritual lives, to the extent that when he heard of officials and other leaders who had fallen into sin, he went into mourning on their behalf. He grieved for their sin, knowing that their blatant rebellion against God was worthy of the greatest punishment.
Ezra didn’t stop at grieving, though. After sitting in shock for an entire day, he fell on his knees before God and begged for His mercy on His wayward people. He acknowledged that they didn’t deserve any of the mercy God was already showing them in allowing them to live, much less His grace in bringing them back to their homeland. He confessed on the people’s behalf that they had sinned, once again rebelling against God’s perfect commands—in this case, by intermarrying with the idolatrous nations around them, the very sin that had started their downward spiral centuries before.
Ezra knew that it would be entirely just for God to wipe them out then and there. But he pled for mercy. He asked God to remember the remnant He had delivered from exile, to forgive them of their rebellion. He wept for the people’s sins as much as if he himself were the offender. He cared so much about them that the thought of their punishment was too much to bear. Though their own actions had brought judgment upon them, he was unwilling to watch them suffer. He took their grievances upon himself.