Ezra and Nehemiah

The Word Is Alive

Ezra and Nehemiah

The Book of Ezra/Nehemiah, separated into two volumes in the Old Testament, represent a pivotal turning point in Jewish history. It begins an epoch that, in a sense, is still present, because the glories of David and Solomon were never regained in terms of the Jewish nation.

Even after the Second Temple was rebuilt (516 BC), the level of holiness of the First Temple era did not return, even during the days that Jesus was present. The Jews were still under the domination of a foreign power, and so it was to remain during most of the years that the Second Temple stood before its destruction by the Romans in AD 70. It was only due to the kindness and generosity of King Cyrus of Persia that the Temple could be built at all.

Cyrus issued a decree in 538 BC and a number of exiles commenced the return to the Persian province called Beyond the River and the part renamed as Judæa. They were led by Zerubbabel the governor and Jeshua/Joshua the priest. The returnees commenced the rebuilding of the temple but were plagued by local opposition and apathy. A further decree by King Darius I of Persia confirmed that they had the right to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem, but it was the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah that spurred the people on in their tasks of rebuilding.

However, that the return was ultimately a success at all was thanks to the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra re-established the spiritual life and faithfulness of the nation to the Lord and was considered so great that the Talmud describes him as worthy of having received the Torah, had not Moses preceded him. Nehemiah gave up a prominent position as a royal courtier for the sake of coming to Israel and rescuing the miniscule settlement from demoralisation. He was primarily responsible for ensuring that the city wall was rebuilt securely.

It seems that the nation was not worthy of total redemption; that will come only at the end of the current exile that is described in Revelation and was foretold by the prophets. Even when the royal edict was issued allowing the Jews to return to their own land, only 43,000 accepted the offer – a tiny fraction of the nation. Shocking? Most certainly, for this was an indication of the sorry state of the nation under foreign domination.

But there was a blaze of greatness unrelated to temporal sovereignty. Ezra and Nehemiah were members of the Great Assembly, a council of one hundred and twenty men, many of whom were prophets, which functioned over several generations and rejuvenated the nation. They prayed successfully that the craving for idolatry be abolished, which is why the idea of such worship seems so outlandish to believers in the modern era; they composed the standard prayers; and, most important of all, brought about the dramatic flowering of the Oral Law, which was and remains for Jews the primary repository of divine wisdom. For Christians, of course, this is found in the all sufficiency of Jesus as the Messiah.

The Book of Ezra

Introduction Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three
Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Summary

There is some supplementary material for the book and a mind map of its structure that may prove useful for study.

The Book of Nehemiah

Introduction Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three
Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Summary

There is some supplementary material for the book and a mind map of its structure that may prove useful for study.

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