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Fast Days: Ezra 9: Impossible to Eat Print E-mail

Fasting1 Now when these things were done, the princes drew near unto me, saying: 'The people of Israel, and the priests and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons; so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the peoples of the lands; yea, the hand of the princes and rulers has been first in this faithlessness.' {S}

 

3 And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down appalled. 4 Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of them of the captivity; and I sat appalled until the evening offering.

5 And at the evening offering I arose up from my fasting, even with my garment and my mantle rent; and I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto God, my Lord;

6 and I said: 'O my Lord, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our guiltiness is grown up unto the heavens. 7 Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to spoiling, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.

8 And now for a little moment grace has been shown from God our Lord, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in His holy place, that our Lord may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. 9 For we are bondsmen; yet our Lord has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the ruins thereof, and to give us a fence in Judah and in Jerusalem. {S}

10 And now, O our Lord, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken Your commandments, 11 which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying: The land, unto which you go to possess it, is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, wherewith they have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness.”

Ezra’s fast is a reaction to the “appalling news” from the princes describing the unfaithfulness of the people. He spends the entire day on the ground with his clothes torn, his hair and beard ripped in agony. The verse does not mention that he was fasting until he rose, as if to say that his fast was not proclaimed but an inability to eat while mourning the spiritual descent of the people.

Ezra prays one of the most powerful prayers in the bible only after he arose from his fast.

Ezra’s is a fast because it is impossible to think of anything other than our sorry spiritual state. He rises from this state of mourning and offers his prayer, acknowledging his sense of inadequacy.

I suggest that we spend part of the day in such mourning, and conclude the fast by repeating Ezra’s prayer just before Ma’ariv:

“O my Lord, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our guiltiness is grown up unto the heavens.

Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to spoiling, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.

And now for a little moment grace has been shown from God our Lord, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in His holy place, that our Lord may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.

For we are bondsmen; yet our Lord has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended mercy unto us in the sight of the powers of the world, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the ruins thereof, and to give us a fence in Judah and in Jerusalem.

And now, O our Lord, what shall we say after this?

For we have forsaken Your commandments, which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying: The land, unto which you go to possess it, is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, wherewith they have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness.”


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