Ezra-Nehemiah

Ezra and Nehemiah are books that most people skip over to get to the New Testament. Let’s take a moment to learn about these books, so that we may stop, take a look at their importance and their message, and we will find that they too can give us great hope.

According to Hebrew tradition, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book.  The two books have historical unity and therefore are still considered together even though we separate them in our contemporary Bibles.  Nehemiah roughly covers the twelve-year period that he served as governor in Judah, from 445 B.C. to 431 B.C., or perhaps a few years after that.  It was in 445 B.C. that Nehemiah received the news that the Jerusalem walls were in such dreadful shape.  He arrived in Jerusalem in 444 and got right to work.  His was the third group to return to the Land.  Zerubbabel led the first group in 536 B.C.  Ezra led the second group back from captivity in 457 B.C. and finally Nehemiah’s return was in 444 B.C.

Remember that the Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire and changed the organizational structure and philosophy.  Under King Darius I, the Persian Empire was divided into twenty satrapies.  We might compare these “satrapies” to our own fifty states.  Each one was governed by a Persian “Satrap” or commissioner.  Perhaps we’d compare him to a state’s governor.  These satrapies were quite independent and their governor’s wielded a lot of autonomous power.  They had the authority to levy taxation and to organize troops.  Each satrapy was then further divided into provinces, which we might compare to our own counties.  These provinces were managed by a local governor who was usually a descendant of the local noble family similar to a mayor today.  Judah belonged to the satrapy “Beyond the River,” which was essentially everything west of the Euphrates.  Zerubbabel and Nehemiah were governors of the province of Judah within “Beyond the River.”  Their enemies were also their neighboring provinces which were all part of the same satrapy.  The province of Samaria was governed by Sanballat while the province of Ammon-Gilead was governed by Tobiah.  Geshem governed the province of Arabia-Idumea.  These characters show up in our Story chapter as the antagonists that Nehemiah faced.  They were not particularly opposed to the reestablishment of the religious life of Judah, but were concerned that Judah would become a more powerful political threat to their own provinces.

The most important purpose for the books of Ezra-Nehemiah was the survival of the remnant community that God restored from the Babylonian exile.  The promise made to King David that his royal descendants and nation would never end was at stake.  Essentially, the promise-keeping ability of God was at stake.  The nation who had gone into exile for her consistent disobedience returned to their Land to rebuild the temple and restore their people to a relationship with God.  But they were easily discouraged and their work stalled.  Ezra and Nehemiah were reformers who were determined not to allow this re-emerging but fledgling nation to fall back into her old ways.  Their stories and subsequently these books were written to encourage joy in returning to a relationship with God to a fearful, discouraged, needy group of Israelites who were no longer sure of their own identity.  Therefore, Nehemiah concentrated on first rebuilding the city walls and then rebuilding the broken people.  High Priest Ezra led the spiritual reformation that culminated on what had to be an all-out revival. These people listened to the Word from sunup to noon as they listened attentively. They wanted and needed to hear the Word once again.

Sadly these two Old Testament books tend to be the dustiest, least used books in the Bible.  Perhaps by bringing Ezra and Nehemiah to life, we will see the need for all Christians to embrace key and strategic leadership positions in every sector of our own communities. God can breathe new life into us as we read and take to heart the message of hope found in these books.

What was your biggest take away from reading Ezra, Nehemiah or chapter 21 of “The Story?”

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