And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this. – Ezra 9:13-15 ESV
God had mercifully and miraculously returned a remnant of the people of Judah to the land He had given their ancestors. After 70 years in captivity in Babyon, where they had been sent by God because of their rebellion against Him, they had been allowed to return. But when Ezra had arrived he had found things in a less-than-satisfactory state. The people had violated the command of God to refrain from intermarrying with the people of the land. Even after having experienced the mercy of God and having witnessed first-hand His power, they had disobeyed Him again. And Ezra was saddened and shocked. He was also amazed that God had not simply wiped them off the face of the earth. They fully deserved it. And God would have been fully in His right to do it. But instead, He had punished them far less than they had deserved. He had returned another remnant to the land. He had specifically sent Ezra, a scribe and an expert in the law of God to help the people reestablish their understanding of and obedience to God’s holy commands. God had allowed an earlier group of returning exiles to rebuild the temple. Now He was sending Ezra in order to help restore the faithfulness of the people. And while they stood before God as guilty and condemned, He was extending mercy and administering His grace.
Ezra knew that they were guilty and deserved nothing but the full extent of God’s wrath. But He also knew that God had determined to send back a remnant for a reason. It was all part of His divine plan. It was in full keeping with His original covenant with Abraham. God was going to bless them in spite of them. He was accomplishing something that was going to have far greater implications than they yet realized. God had originally told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). The apostle Paul would later explain the true implications of this promise when he wrote, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ” (Galatians 3:16 NASB). God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham was to be fulfilled through a specific individual, a future descendant whom Paul identified as Jesus, the Christ or Messiah. God was restoring the people to the land, not because they deserved it, but because He was divinely orchestrating human history in order to arrange for the birth of His Son in the land of promise. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the people of Judah would have been living back in the land for some time. Jerusalem would have been restored and reoccupied. The land of Judah would once again be occupied by the people of God. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). God’s grace and mercy on the people of Judah had a point. His restoration of the people to the land had far greater implications than they could even comprehend. It was about far more than just the restoration of the people to the land. It was about the ultimate restoration of sinful people to Himself. Paul explains the unbelievable nature of this good news. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” (Romans 5:6-9 NLT).
God has given us less than we deserve. We all stand before Him as guilty and condemned. But rather than judge us as we deserve and sentence us to death as His law requires, He sent His Son to die in our place. Not because we were righteous and deserved it, but because God loved us, even as we willingly sinned against Him. Ezra knew that they did not deserve to be back in the land. They had done nothing to earn that kind of favor from God. And even once they had been returned, they had continued to sin. God’s grace was amazing to him. And the grace of God extended to us as believers in Christ should never cease to amaze us. Each of us has received far less than what we deserve. We were sinners against a righteous and holy God, and yet He showered us with His love, grace and mercy. We have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT). The incredible reality of that news should never escape our notice or fail to illicit our gratitude and obedience. We deserve wrath, but have been given redemption. We had earned God’s rejection, but have enjoyed restoration. Far, far less than what we deserved.