“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 ESV
The book of Ezra takes place after the Babylonian exile. At that point, Babylon was overtaken by Persia, and the new king allowed Israel to return to their land to begin rebuilding. Ezra was a teacher, an expert in the Scriptures, and he returned to the land to teach, helping God’s people understand and obey the Law of God.
However, the nation had not lived according to God’s law, leading Ezra to mourn over Israel’s unfaithfulness and pray to the Lord. He offers a prayer that doesn’t shrink away from admitting the sins committed by Israel. Rather, Ezra acknowledges the failures and asks for forgiveness. The nation’s guilt originated with their ancestors, as their fathers’ sins led to the destruction of Jerusalem and their captivity in Babylon—their lineage has been full of disobedience, and Ezra repents before the Lord. To repent is to turn away from sin and to the Lord.
Confession isn’t always easy or pleasant. Yet time and again in Scripture, confessing our sins, repenting, and asking forgiveness are demonstrated and commanded. Sometimes in Scripture, the confession is delayed and the guilt over sin festers. Notice, after all these years go by, Ezra’s confession was corporate, on behalf of the people. If you’re in leadership, whether in a church, classroom, school, or family, there may be occasions when corporate confession and repentance is in order. To follow in Ezra’s footsteps means praying humbly to the Lord, acknowledging our sin, being quick to confess, and asking for His forgiveness.
That’s what leaders do. That’s what Ezra did… and it may be what’s needed from you today.