Today we begin our study of the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah. We will walk through the two books one at a time – first Ezra, then Nehemiah.
The last time we were in the Old Testament, we walked through Jeremiah, followed by Lamentations. In these two books, we saw God warn His people (the southern tribe of Judah) that their worship of other gods and their hardness of heart towards Him would cause them to lose their freedom and autonomy as well as their homes in the land God had given them.
The people of Judah ignored God’s hand against their northern cousins in Israel who had been taken captive by the Assyrians many years before. They also ignored God’s prophets and persisted in their sin. Just as God had promised, He sent the army from the north (the Babylonians) to take Judah captive and ransack Jerusalem.
God also promised to return His people to their homeland after 70 years of exile and captivity. God used Ezra and Nehemiah and others to lead His people back to their promised land. The chart below shows the relationship of the books of Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah, and their timelines.
|CHRONOLOGICAL RELATIONSHIP OF
|Ezra 1-6||Book of Esther||Ezra 7-10||Book of Nehemiah|
of Jews from
of Jews from Babylonian Exile
of Jews from
(chart from http://www.preceptaustin.org/ezra_commentaries)
Ezra was a scribe by trade, from the priestly family of Aaron (Ezra 7:1-5). As a scribe, he was likely the author of the book of Ezra (although he never identifies himself as author) and the book of Nehemiah. Scholars say that it is likely that Ezra was also most likely the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles. One such evidence to support this claim is that the ending of the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:22-23) is virtually identical to the beginning of the book of Ezra (Ezra 1:1-3).
Just as God led His people out of captivity in Egypt to the land He had promised them, He was now leading His people out of exile back to the land He had given them. God had used Moses to lead His people out of Egypt; now God was using Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah to lead His people back to their homeland.
Just as in their journey from Egypt to the promised land, God’s people would have enemies to face and choices to make as to whether to depend on Him or on their own strength. And just like their forefathers coming out of Egypt, God’s people would have to choose to live according to God’s Law or to ignore it and choose to live like their ungodly neighbors and their forefathers.
Both books of Ezra and Nehemiah deal with facing opposition from enemies and choosing to follow the Lord (or not). While Ezra and Nehemiah were not prophets, God used them as restorers, reformers, and rebuilders. Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s positions within their captor’s government allowed them access to documents and resources as God graciously turned the hearts of the king toward Himself and to His people.
While God was working through Ezra and Nehemiah as leaders, He was also working through the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. While these prophets are contemporaries of Ezra and Nehemiah, we will not look at their books at this time.
Chapters 1 – 6 of Ezra detail the first return of exiles and the rebuilding of the Temple under the command of Zerubbabel. Chapters 7 – 10 of Ezra document the second return of the exiles under Ezra’s leadership, as well as Ezra’s call for national repentance and reformation regarding intermarrying with the pagan nations surrounding God’s people.
From this overview, we see that God is the God of second chances. His love for His people leads Him to discipline HIs children for their wayward actions, but then restore them to a relationship with Himself, meet their needs, and be their God.
And just as He loved the children of Israel and Judah in Ezra’s day, may we remember that He loves us and gives us second chances in our day, also. God’s transcendent love bridges culture, geography, and time, as do His character traits of holiness and righteousness.
May we pay attention to what the Lord will teach us through this study, and rejoice in His unconditional love and our second chances.