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Ezra and Nehemiah

Ezra and Nehemiah
Judging by the language and writing style, the author of Chronicles most likely wrote Ezra and Nehemiah as well. Greek translators divided the book named Ezra, from the Hebrew word ezer, meaning “Yahweh Helps,” into Ezra and Nehemiah, or Nehemyah, “Comfort of Yahweh.”

The Talmud names Ezra as the book’s primary author and Nehemiah as the one who completed it. Haggai prophesied in Ezra’s day, Zechariah in Nehemiah’s. Nehemiah’s list of priests and Levites ends around 400 B.C., implying the book was completed shortly thereafter.

The Jewish Nation - Post Exile

Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther are the only books which tell of the Jews’ postexilic history, and even these contain only small pieces of history with large gaps in between. Ezra and Nehemiah describe events early in the Persian reign, which lasted from Cyrus’s defeat of Babylon in 530 B.C. until Darius III’s death when the empire dissolved into Alexander the Great’s in 331 B.C.

Nehemiah surveying the broken down walls of JerusalemStretching from Iran to Asia Minor and from Armenia to Egypt, at its height Persia covered two million square miles in all. Most of the Persian kings ruled kindly and diplomatically, encouraging their officials to work for the people’s best interest. They practiced the monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism, a morally superior religion compared to the Babylonians’ polytheistic and idolatrous religion. Perhaps Cyrus, a wise and humane leader, learned from David of Isaiah’s prophecies about his role in the Jews’ restoration. He resettled his subjects in their original homes and encouraged them to rebuild their places of worship.

Therefore Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem in 536 B.C. However, establishing his empire required Cyrus’s full attention, and when the Jews’ neighbors opposed the rebuilding and the Jews received no help from the emperor, work on the temple all but halted. Similarly Cambyses offered the Jews no help and under Smerdis the rebuilding stopped completely. At last, with Darius’s support and Haggai and Zechariah leading them, the Jews completed and dedicated the new temple in 515 B.C.

The Rebuilding Project

Nehemiah and the merchants on the Sabbath dayAround 463 to 454 B.C., Artaxerxes needed Judea’s goodwill since it lay on the highway to Egypt, so he indulged Ezra’s requests for Judea. Sometime after 450 B.C., the area around Judea rebelled and, afraid the Jews would join the rebellion, Artaxerxes joined the Samaritans in opposing the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem. When the rebellion had been quelled, Artaxerxes appointed Nehemiah governor of Judea and he led the Jews to complete the wall in only 52 days, all the while under serious threats of violence from their neighbors. Beyond the rebuilding of the wall, Nehemiah wanted to re-establish a spiritual culture in Judah. Rebuilding the spiritual culture took years, however. Changing the externals is much easier than allowing God to change us from the inside out.

Ezra and Nehemiah depict the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and provide historical information showing that the prophecies of Daniel 8 and 9 are rooted in fact. Whenever disaster befell God’s people or He was forced to carry out a judgment on them, He reserved a remnant to carry on His covenant. Noah and his family survived the flood; Lot and his daughters the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; 7000 prophets of Israel the persecution of Ahab and Jezebel. Though Zerubbabel’s followers numbered some fifty thousand, compared with Israel’s numbers in David’s era, they called themselves a remnant. This remnant theme carries through to the Second Coming when Jesus shall return and take His remnant to heaven.

Today, Ezra and Nehemiah offer hope for those whose lives are characterized by sin and rebellion. God forgives; every time a person exchanges the captivity of sin for true repentance the Israelites’ restoration is repeated. Regardless of how long we’ve been in rebellion God readily shows us how to rebuild our lives. As did the Jews, we will experience opposition. Satan resists our repentance as strongly as he did the Jews’ rebuilding Jerusalem, if not more so. But we learn a special lesson from the people’s persistence!
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