Reading Time: 5 minutes
My wife and I have three kids, and our son’s name is Ezra. It has been years since I read through the book of Ezra in the Old Testament (actually, the book of Ezra and Nehemiah comprise one book in the Jewish canon). In the last couple of days, I had a desire to read the book and see what insight the Lord might give, so I started reading.
I finished this morning and sat in silence for 10–20 minutes. Personally, I don’t like any music when I am in prayer. Silence is golden. Several things jumped out to me while reading, one of which is this: Ezra was deeply bothered and moved by the sin of the Israelites. At one point—and this is probably not the kind of thing that could make it in a children’s book—Ezra tore his clothing, pulled hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled (Ezra 9:3). On another occasion, Ezra prayed, confessed, wept, and “[threw] himself down before the house of God” (Ezra 10:1). Why did this stand out to me? Because I cannot escape the question, “What are my sins and the sins of the people around me, and do they bother me like they did Ezra?” In our pop-psychology age that has no doubt infiltrated the church, it seems that the message, “God can forgive you in Christ” has been replaced with, “God wants you to feel good all of the time.” This is an oversimplification of course, and God is the source and great trumpeter of joy. Yet, joy is not given freely. Joy comes through the cross, first the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then the Christian kneeling in its shadow. Joy is a gift, and the humble shall know it best.
But then something else caught my eye. Due to the encouragement and hope-filled words of Shekaniah son of Jehiel (read Ezra 10:2–4), Ezra finally gets out of his puddle and takes action. A proclamation goes throughout all of the land declaring that every single Hebrew must come to Jerusalem within three days. Ezra is preparing to tell them that they must divorce their foreign wives since the “intermingling” had resulted in compromised faith. Granted, this is a very difficult passage to read. I cannot help but think—and surely I am not alone—that divorce was not the appropriate response. Do two wrongs make a right? Did another prophet not emphatically proclaim that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16)? This aside, Ezra was doing what he thought right and what he believed would turn away the “fierce anger of our God” (Ezra 10:14). When the people finally gathered in Jerusalem within three days of being summoned, it says that they were “distressed” for two reasons: (1) the occasion (they knew that this was not going to be a party and that something wasn’t right, and (2) “because of the rain.”
Because of the rain.
These last four words remind me of why I so cherish the Bible: it is a very real and humble document that doesn’t shy away from mentioning the mundane pieces of everyday life that can really affect us. In this odd and rich book about the importance of corporate sin, marriage, holiness, leadership, and repentance, God sees to it that this small and insignificant phrase appears. It is an empirical statement that involves the five senses. Rain was falling and the people were seeing it (sight), hearing it (hearing), feeling it (touch), and quite possibly smelling and tasting it as well. All senses were engaged, and what effect did it have on God’s very imperfect people: it distressed them. If we are honest, the discomfort of the rain was nothing in comparison to why they were there, yet it is mentioned in the same breath as the first reason that distressed them.
Why do I find the mentioning of this phrase so appealing? It is a nice and helpful reminder that we are biological creatures, and that something as simple as lack of sleep, bad food, or the weather can deeply affect our thoughts and emotions. Just because we possess a spiritual, eternal soul is no reason to minimize, ignore, or even ridicule the physical part of our existence. Just as sunshine and vitamin D can improve mood, rain on the wrong day and at the wrong time can lower it. It is just part of life. So the next time it rains or you find something very simple getting you down, take a deep breathe and do not make too much or too little of it. Part of our spiritual existence includes our physicality, and God is the one that designed it this way. Part of what it means to be human is that we will sometimes be affected by “small” matters. But this is okay. The physical realm is not intrinsically evil, and something that is to be embraced and properly stewarded. Besides, taking too strong of a stance against the physical world and our biological presence in it is characteristic not of biblical Christianity, but of Plato’s metaphysics (must of ancient Greek philosophy). Besides, we always have the encouraging and comforting words: “…He remembers that we are dust” (Psalms 103:14).