Ezra 9:1–10:44, 1 John 4:7–12, Psalm 107:23–43
Of the spiritual gifts listed in the Bible, there is one that is particularly unpopular. It is the gift of discerning the heart of God. The prophets had this gift. They knew God’s mind on matters and that was the most important thing. When they told God’s people what He had revealed to them, their listeners were not happy. They either repented, which is a good response, or they tried to kill the prophet.
Ezra may have had this gift. Today’s reading from the Old Testament tells how he responded to some bad news about the behavior of the people. His officials told him, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.”
As soon as Ezra heard this, he tore his garment and his cloak and pulled hair from his head and beard and sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around him while he sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. (Ezra 9:1–4)
Then Ezra prayed: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today.” (Ezra 9:6–7)
I wonder how Ezra’s reaction would be received in our world where most people are not too concerned about Christians marrying non-Christians, or any other sin for that matter. Ezra was extremely distressed and expressed that publically and in prayer. He considered this an overwhelming sin now added to former overwhelming sin. What made him react like this?
The gift of spiritual discernment is characterized by a strong desire that the people of God know and do the will of God. Those prophets knew the seriousness of sin. It drives a huge wedge between sinners and God. If allowed to continue, sin will eventually ruin the sinner’s life, and often the lives of others. It may not appear to be that dangerous in the beginning, but those ways that seem okay to us are deadly when they do not conform to the will of God.
Sin is so serious that God was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for it, not out of wrath and a desire for righteousness even though this is part of it. God’s main motivation is that He loves people and He wants us to live in freedom from the dominion of sin, free to love Him and each other: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10–11)
Love motivates those black and white prophetic Christians. Sometimes they sound wrathful, or holier-than-thou, but without love, they would never make themselves so unpopular by telling and warning others about the will of God. God’s will and the lives of others are more important than being popular.
Prophets also know that when God sees sinners unwilling to repent, He can bring them low through oppression, evil, and sorrow. He can pour contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes. But He also “Raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth. Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” (Psalm 107:39–43)
If others are going to know the love of God, and if I truly care about them and their eternal well-being, then I must tell them about the seriousness of sin.