Ezra/Nehemiah

Introduction

1. Name

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are named after their main characters, although the books actually involve the whole community. A major part of both books is the personal memoir of each man.

2. Theme

Returning and rebuilding.

3. Purpose

To encourage those who returned to the promised land to continue the work that Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah had begun.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 692.[/footnote]

4. Key verses

Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem: And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me (Ezra 7:27-28).

Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach (Neh. 2:17).

Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services (Neh. 13:14)

5. Key truths

• God endorsed and blessed Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah as they furthered the restoration after exile.
• Ezra and Nehemiah provided faithful leadership as the restoration of Israel faltered.
• The temple and Jerusalem played a central role in bringing God’s blessing to his people.
• The people of God must be led to repentance and holiness in order to receive God’s blessing.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 692.[/footnote]

 

I. Author

See “Lecture 7: Historical Books Overview” for general comments regarding authorship of the Chronistic history.
Both the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint considered Ezra and Nehemiah to be one book, the unified work being named “Ezra.” When the Masoretes tallied the number of verses of the book, they did it for the combined Ezra/Nehemiah. They also identified Nehemiah 3:32 as the centre of the book. This historical unity is confirmed by a parallel literary structure (see Pratt’s Literary Analysis). It was the Latin Vulgate which separated them into two distinct books, a division which was later taken up in our English Bibles.

It is likely that Ezra and Nehemiah originally formed one book. Ezra and Nehemiah acknowledge Jehovah as the God who always fulfils his prophecies, who always keeps his promises. Ezra views the return from exile from the ceremonial standpoint, Nehemiah from the civil. Ezra is the book of the rebuilding of the altar and the temple; Nehemiah is the book of the rebuilding of the walls of the city. With the dawning of the days of Ezra and Nehemiah the nation of Israel enters a bright new era. This is the time of restoration: returning from captivity and rebuilding the shattered nation.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 384.[/footnote]

A. Ezra

Jewish tradition cites Ezra as the author of the book that bears his name. The strong priestly emphasis, continued from Chronicles, would also support Ezra’s authorship as he was a direct priestly descendant of Aaron through Eleazar, Phineas, and Zadok (Ezra 7:1-5).

Although the book itself does not in its entirety claim to be the work of Ezra, nevertheless tradition seems to be justified in making such an assumption. For one thing, some of the book (Ezra 7ff) is written in the first person singular. It is quite possible that Ezra used these passages as a basis and added to them information obtained from other sources. The book bears the marks of unity, and if the “I” sections are the work of Ezra, it would seem to follow that the remainder is his also.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 370.[/footnote]

B. Nehemiah

Although the Book of Nehemiah opens with these words: “the words of Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah” and much of the book is written in the first person, it is assumed, on the basis of the theological and literary unity between Ezra and Nehemiah, that Ezra wrote the book using Nehemiah’s personal memoirs.

Ezra himself undoubtedly wrote most of the book named after him. (Note the use of/in Ezra 7-10) But he evidently incorporated into the final edition the personal memoirs of Nehemiah (i.e., the book of Nehemiah) including even his form of the list of returnees. Using Nehemiah’s library facilities, Ezra probably composed Chronicles during this same period.[footnote]D M Howard, An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

C. Chronicles

In Lecture 21 we examined the widely held view that Ezra wrote Chronicles and Nehemiah as well as the book named after him. There we concluded that single authorship by Ezra was a strong possibility. However, we decided to simply call the author of the Chronistic history “The Chronicler” in order to leave open the possibility that more than one author was involved, though they shared the same “Chronistic” outlook.

D. Sources

The following lists, documents, records were used by the Chronicler in the compilation of Ezra/Nehemiah:

1. The temple articles (Ez. 1:9-11)
2. Those who initially returned from exile (Ez. 2:3-70; repeated in Neh. 7:8-73)
3. The leaders who returned with Ezra (Ez. 8:2-14)
4. Those involved in mixed marriages (Ez. 10:18-43)
5. Those who rebuilt the wall (Neh. 3)
6. Those who sealed the covenant (Neh. 10:1-27)
7. New residents in Jerusalem and in the surrounding towns (Neh. 11)
8. The priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel (Neh. 12:1-26).

The following official letters were also used and were kept in their original Aramaic

1. The letter of Rehum to Artaxerxes (Ez. 4:11-16)
2. The reply of Artaxerxes (Ez. 4:17-22)
3. The letter of Tattenai to Darius (Ez. 5:7-17)
4. The memorandum regarding the decree of Cyrus (Ez. 6:2-5)
5. The reply of Darius to Tattenai (Ez. 6:6-12)
6. The letter of Artaxerxes on behalf of Ezra (Ez. 7:12-26).

 

II. Date

1. Earliest date

The books record the last events of the Old Testament period, from decree of Cyrus (539 BC) through to the work of Nehemiah (432 BC). So the earliest likely date is after the last events of the book during the later years of Nehemiah’s governorship.

2. Latest date

If we side with a traditional date for Ezra’s mission (458 BC), the latest date for final composition is 400 BC. However, critical scholars argue for a much later date after the death of Nehemiah.

a. On two occasions the writer looks back on events that occurred “in the days of Nehemiah” (Neh. 12:26,47). Although this may seem to suggest a period many years before, the phrase is used in conjunction with the days of others; Jehoiakim (Neh. 12:26) and Zerubbabel (Neh. 12:47). It would, therefore, seem natural for Nehemiah to employ a similar phrase with reference to his own time.

b. Jaddua the priest is mentioned in Neh. 12:11,22. Jaddua was high priest from 351 to 331 BC. He is mentioned by Josephus as the high priest when Alexander the Great entered Jerusalem in 330 BC. He was the great-grandson of Eliashib, the high priest in Nehemiah’s day. However, Nehemiah does refer to a married grandson of Eliashib (Neh. 13:28). It is not impossible, therefore, that he may have known the future high priest Jaddua when he was a child. If the reference is merely to Jaddua as a youth and not as high priest, the Darius mentioned is most likely Darius II (424-395 BC)

c. Another “problem” is the reference to “Darius the Persian” (Neh. 12:22). Critics argue that such a description would be unnecessary at a time when Persia was the supreme power and, therefore, the books were written in the later Greek period. Critics argue that the official title of the Persian Kings was “the King” or “the King of Kings.” Critics point to the first person passages in Ezra and Nehemiah which do go back to Persian times and speak simply of “the King.”

Dr Robert Dick Wilson made an exhaustive study of the subject and responded to the critics arguments:

It is a sufficient answer to this assertion to say that eighteen different authors in nineteen different documents from Persian times use this title altogether thirty-eight different times, and of at least six different Persian kings; that it is used of Cyrus seven years before the conquest of Babylon in 539 B. C. and of Artaxerxes III about 365 B. C., that it is used in Persian, Susian, Babylonian, Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew; that it was used in Media, Babylonia, Asia Minor, Greece and Palestine, and according to Herodotus in Ethiopia; and that it is used in letters, dates and other like documents of the Scriptures just as it is used in the extra-biblical documents. Further, it has been shown that it was not common for authors of the Greek period to use the title.[footnote]R D Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament (Philadelphia, 1926), 202-203.[/footnote]

 

III. Historical Analysis

1. Chronology

539 Cyrus II captures Babylon
538 Cyrus issues emancipation decree (Ezra 1:1)
538/537 Jews return to Palestine (Ezra 2)
538/537 Altar rebuilt (Ezra 3:2)
536 Temple foundations laid (Ezra 3:8-10)
536–520 Opposition encountered (Ezra 4:1-5,24)
520–515 Temple completed (Hag. 1:14-15; Ezra 6:15)
485 Opposition to Jews in Jerusalem (Ezra 4:6)
484–465 Esther and Mordecai rise in the Persian Court
463 Further opposition to Jews in Jerusalem (Ezra 4:7)
458 Ezra returns to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:1,8)
445 Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1)
433 Nehemiah visits Babylon and returns to Jerusalem (Neh. 13:6-7)

2. Three Returns

Just as the Israelites were taken into exile in three successive stages (605, 597, 586 BC), they returned in three stages.

538 BC First return under Zerubbabel (@ 50,000 returnees)
458 BC Second return under Ezra (@ 2,000 returnees)
445 BC Third return under Nehemiah

3. Kings of Medo-Persia

Cyrus 539-530 BC
Cambyses 530-522 BC
Smerdis 522 BC
Darius I 522-486 BC
Xerxes I 486-465 BC
(Ahasuerus)
Artarxerxes I 465-424 BC
Xerex II 424 BC
Darius II 424-395 BC
Artarxerxes II 404-395 BC

a. Cyrus : 1st return

The LORD moved the heart of Cyrus (Ez. 1:2; Ez. 6:22). In the past, the sovereign God had used the nations to discipline Israel. But now, in sovereign grace, the same God uses them to restore the nation. Cyrus’ own motivation was political, not theological (cf. Isa. 45:1-4). Nevertheless, all the might of the political world is under the rule of God, who faithfully preserves his people, to serve His purposes for His elect people.

b. Artarxexes I: 2nd and 3rd returns

The Persian throne returned all the exiled communities in Babylon without distinction and covered the initial cost of rebuilding their temples. Ezra and Nehemiah led the returns to Jerusalem under Artaxerxes I (465-424). The whole effort of Artaxerxes was to keep his empire intact. Judah was an important buffer state against the Egyptians, and the Persian kings needed a strong, loyal city under a man like Nehemiah, close to the border of Egypt.

4. Contemporary Prophets

Three prophets preached during the restoration period. Haggai and Zechariah are mentioned in Ezra 5:1 and Ezra 6:14. They stimulated and motivated the people to complete the Temple under Zerubbabel’s leadership. Also, although his name does not appear, most of Malachi’s ministry took place during Nehemiah’s return visit to Babylon. Those were years of backsliding on the part of the Jews in Canaan, when the first spiritual zeal had subsided.

Priests offered sick and injured animals to the Lord (Mal. 1:6-14). They showed partiality in the administration of justice (Mal. 2:7-9). The sabbath was ignored (Neh. 13:15-18). The non-payment of tithes forced Levites to neglect their duties in order to earn a living (Mal. 3:7-10; Neh. 13:10-13). The high incidence of divorce was a public scandal (Mal. 2:13-16). The people were spiritually totally disheartened and lost confidence in their religious leaders (Mal. 2:17; Mal. 3:13-15). Witchcraft, adultery, false witnesses and the oppression of the weak was common (Mal. 3:5). The poor were reduced to slavery (Neh. 5:1-5). Intermarriage with heathens was common (Mal. 2:11). As the children of those mixed marriages became more numerous there were serious implications for the future of the nation (Neh. 13:23-27). There was a serious danger of the disintegration of the Jewish community.

In addition to the prophet Malachi, therefore, God raised up two reformers to save and stabilize the nation. Their work was sufficiently thorough to ensure a continuation of the nation for four more centuries until the coming of the Messiah. Ezra reorganized and reformed the nation’s spiritual life. Nehemiah reconstituted its civil government.

 

IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative Outlines

Howard Waltke Pratt

A Historical Review (Ez. 1-6)

Ezra’s Memoirs, Part 1 (Ez. 7-10)

Nehemiah’s Memoir, Part 1 (Neh. 1-7)

Ezra’s Memoirs, Part 2 (Neh. 8-10)

Nehemiah’s Memoirs, Part 2 (Neh. 11-13)

Three Returns
(Ez. 1:1-Neh. 7:3)

Renewal and Reformation
(Neh. 7:4-13:31)

The return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Temple
(Ez. 1:1-6:22)

The return of Ezra and the rebuilding of the community
(Ez. 7:1-10:44)

The return of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the wall
(Neh. 1:1-7:3)

The return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the community
(Neh. 7:4-13:31)

Howard provides a rough outline based on the shift between first and third-person narration in the book. It glosses over some of the fine points of the text but still is a helpful guide:

Dorsey suggests the following chiastic structure:

a Zerubbabel’s return and list of returnees (Ezra 1-2)

b Building of temple and opposition from enemies (Ezra 3-6)

c Ezra’s return (Ezra 7-8)

d Purification of people (Ezra 9-10)

c’ Nehemiah’s return (Neh. 1-2)

b’ Building of walls and opposition from enemies (Neh. 3:1-7:3)

a’ Zerubbabel’s return and list of returnees: final reforms (Neh. 7:4-13:31)

The most obvious theme highlighted by the works’ structure is returning to the homeland. Three times in the structured parallel pattern of Ezra-Nehemiah the audience hears how godly Jews dared to leave their comfortable homes in the Diaspora to return to Judah and how, despite hardships and opposition, God was with them, blessing their efforts and their lives, and answering their prayers.[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 161.[/footnote]

2. Original Audience/Message

Ezra/Nehemiah was written to the Jews living in and around Jerusalem during the restoration period. He wrote to encourage them to work on the restoration project, but also to persuade those still in Babylon to come and help also.

The books were written to defend the legitimacy of the Ezra-Nehemiah program and the need to continue it. Each major portion of the book contains an apologetic quality. Since the new order had not brought the prosperity many expected, this book defended the continuation of the restoration program by showing how God raised up leaders and prophets to overcome opposition and continue the physical work of rebuilding the temple and city, and the spiritual work of restoring true worship and the authority of God’s law.

Ezra-Nehemiah is a historical narrative that presents the work of Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah in a very positive light. By showing only the positive side of their leadership, the book encouraged those who had returned from exile to continue the work these leaders had begun.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 692.[/footnote]

3. Genre

Although there are letters, lists and memoirs in the books, the genre is clearly that of historical narrative.

Ezra-Nehemiah is history writing, though also composed of a number of different sources that have their own generic shape. Letters, royal edicts, and lists, for instance, appear throughout the book. Most notable and attracting the most discussion are the first-person narrations of Ezra and Nehemiah. Both of these writings are called “Memoirs” in the literature, and they do bear a resemblance to this genre. A memoir is a first-person writing that is distinguished from autobiography in that the memoirist writes of great events that he or she has observed or in which he or she has participated, whereas the autobiographer writes of the self who has observed and participated in the events.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 184-185.[/footnote]

4. Characterization

The main characters, Ezra and Nehemiah, are presented in an unambiguously positive light. Both are models for spiritual and civilian life. They are good and all their foreign opponents are bad. It is a classic case of good v evil.

Between the wicked leaders of the surrounding nations and the righteous leaders of Israel stand the people of Israel. Both collectively and individually they are neither completely wicked nor completely righteous. Sometimes they are one, sometimes the other. Sometimes they act ambigu-ously. Yet it is the very ambiguity of their characterization that makes them the most well-rounded and lifelike characters in the story. We have no doubt how the leaders will act. Tobiah will always be wicked; Nehemiah, righteous. Not so the people. The unpredictability of their reactions in any situation creates much of the narrative’s tension. On whose side will they align themselves? Under whose influence will they fall? Will they qualify to meet the challenge God has set before them?[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 210-211.[/footnote]

5. Canonical Context

Ezra continues the Old Testament narrative of 2 Chronicles by showing how God fulfills His promise to return His people to the Land of Promise after seventy years of exile. Being the last book, chronologically speaking, in the Old Testament, before the New Testament begins, it’s ending is significant.

Ezra-Nehemiah has a surprising and, at first sight, awkward conclusion. It is almost as if Nehemiah 13 is a careless addition to the end of the book. After all, the climax of a holy people in a holy city has been reached and celebrated. The last chapter narrates a number of problems that Nehemiah had to handle. The question is, Will Israel survive just to repeat the sins of the past? Intermarriage dragged Solomon and the entire nation into a vortex of doom that led to the Exile. Will the postexilic generation go the same way? Thus the book of Ezra-Nehemiah concludes with an open question and a look to the future. Perfection, in a word, has not been reached.[footnote]Pratt.[/footnote]

 

V. Thematic Analysis

In Lecture 7 we noted the historical theological and literary unity of the Chronistic history. We also considered the themes which united the books of the Chronistic History. We will, therefore, consider how Ezra/Nehemiah relates to these themes.

1. Restoration of the Davidic Throne

In Ezra/Nehemiah, there is not as much focus on Davidic kingship as in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. He is referred to three times in Ezra (Ez. 3:10; Ez. 8:2,20) and eight times in Nehemiah (Neh. 3:15,16; Neh. 12:24,36,37,45,46).

In Nehemiah, four of the references are topographical (eg. the City of David). The one place which does highlight his position as the chosen king of the Davidic covenant is in the genealogy of Ezra 8:2which shows that the royal line was represented among the returnees in Ezra’s day. This genealogy also shows the original readers that they were descended from God’s people before the Exile and, as such, heirs to the promises to earlier generations. This was important, since the Exile had raised questions as to whether God’s promises indeed were continuing, or whether God’s people had a future at all.

David’s role in organizing the Temple building and worship is also recalled (Ez. 3:10; Ez. 8:20; Neh. 12:24,36,45,46)

Critical scholars have argued that the role of the Davidic dynasty in fulfilling the covenant promises is almost entirely absent and so have concluded that there is no royalist or messianic hope by the time the books were written.

However, apart from the Davidic references already noted, the prominence of Zerubbabel, David’s descendant, in Ezra 1-6 expresses the royalist and messianic hope.

The very presence of Zerubbabel gave hope to this first group of returning Jews. Because he was in the direct line of King David and had been placed in a position of leadership by the Persians, he was the object of messianic hopes (Hg. 2:23; Zec. 4:14). As such Zerubbabel played an important role in the early restoration period.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 226.[/footnote]

Also, the dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs under foreign rule (Ez. 9:7; Neh. 9:28-35) imply that things would be much better under Jewish leadership and that they longed for this to be restored. The references to the restored remnant including “all Israel” and “Ephraim” points to the hope of the earlier united kingdom being restored.

Finally, we should note that the emphasis on the Temple and the law is not incompatible with a “royalist” perspective and even an eschatological, messianic perspective, since among the king’s responsibilities were keeping the law, worshiping correctly, and leading the people in doing so, and it would be part of the future king’s mission to re-establish these in some way. Thus, we can conclude that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are indeed compatible with the other historical – and prophetic – books that emphasize the importance for Israel of the Davidic Covenant and the hope for the future it portended.[footnote]D M Howard, An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

2. Renewal of the Temple

Cyrus commissioned the return from exile with a view to rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple (Ez. 1:2) and re-starting the sacrifices in it (Ez. 1:4). Ezra and Nehemiah therefore concentrate on the rebuilding of the Temple and the wall around the city. The exile had questioned the existence of God’s people, the Temple and sacrifices. So, the unity of God’s people around the Temple and its sacrifices are central and demonstrate that God was faithful to His promises and His people.

The early chapters of Ezra are taken up with building the Temple and re-instituting religious ceremonies (Ez. 1-6). The first thing they did when they returned was rebuild the altar and re-commence regular sacrifices. When the Temple was completed, they dedicated it with a great celebration and installed the priests and Levites to care for it and its service (Ez. 6:16–18). Then they celebrated the Passover (Ez. 6:19–22). Mention is made of the returning temple personnel (Ez. 7:7; Ez. 8:15-20). The careful return of the Temple vessels and treasuries is highlighted (Ez. 1:6-11; Ez. 2:68-69; Ez. 8:24-34). In Neh. 8:10-18 the Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated as part of the great ceremony of reading the law. Even the attention to priests, Levites, and other Temple personnel in the various lists in both books attests to the importance of the Temple and its service.

It is noteworthy that Ezra begins and Nehemiah ends with detail relating to the temple. Indeed, it is not too much to claim that such a temple orientation, which is sustained throughout the two books, gives to them their inner consistency.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 311.[/footnote]

The Temple needed to be rebuilt in order to preserve the distinctive faith of Israel in the pluralistic Persian empire.

The various peoples of the empire were encouraged to maintain their distinctive cultures, but without religious exclusivism. In this environment, the Jews experienced tremendous temptation to surrender all their previous claims to having an exclusive revelation from God. In addition, there was enormous temptation to surrender those behaviors which had been designed to separate them from the surrounding pagan cultures. In this context, the reestablishment of a temple worship purified of pagan religious influences and the purification of the people from intermarriage with other peoples were both necessary.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

3. Reunification of God’s people

Cyrus’s commission concerned all of God’s people (Ezra 1:3-4). The long lists of people not only link the present generation with the past generation of Israel, but also emphasize the importance of each individual’s involvement in the restoration (Ezra 2:3-70; Neh. 7:8-73). The togetherness and unity of the people is seen in:

a. The generosity of those staying behind in Babylon to the returnees (Ez. 1:6), and of the returnees provision for the needy in their midst (Neh. 5)

b. The unity of purpose in building the Temple (Ez. 3; Ez. 6:13-18) and the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 3-4,6).

c. The willingness of many to move to Jerusalem from the surrounding countryside to repopulate the capital (Neh. 11).

d. The community-wide nature of Ezra and Nehemiah’s reforms (Ez. 10: Neh. 13). Ezra-Nehemiah stresses that all God’s people needed to be sanctified for the restoration of the nation to God’s blessings.

An essential part of their unity was their separateness from their unbelieving neighbors. It has often been said that Ezra/Nehemiah is the story of two walls, Nehemiah’s wall and Ezra’s wall. “Nehemiah’s wall” physically separates the people of God from their enemies, the unclean “Gentiles” (Neh. 13:15-21). On the other hand, “Ezra’s wall,” the law of God, erected a spiritual boundary between Israel and all other people (Ez. 6:21; Ez. 10:11; Neh. 9:2; Neh. 10:29). In essence, Ezra’s law, which included a strong emphasis on the prohibition of intermarriage, constituted a people fit to live within Nehemiah’s walls. At the end of the book of Ezra, we have a holy people dwelling in a holy city (Neh. 11:1). In the final episode (Neh. 13:4-31), we see clearly that if “Nehemiah’s wall” functions to encircle the holy people, it is also a boundary separating clean and unclean, a physical expression of the way Law-keeping was to keep Israel separate from the neighboring peoples.

4. Reformation under Mosaic Law/ Divine blessing and judgment

Due to the exile being caused by disobedience to Mosaic law, Ezra and Nehemiah exhibit a strong desire to do things in accordance with the Law of Moses.

Moses himself is referred to ten times in the two books, each time in connection with the law (Ez. 3:2; Ez. 6:18; Neh. 1:7,8; Neh. 8:1,14; Neh. 9:14; Neh. 10:29; Neh. 13:1). In each of these cases, the reference to the law or instructions of Moses is in the context of the people’s wanting to do things in accordance with the law.[footnote]D M Howard, An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

The importance of adherence to the Word of God is demonstrated in the following examples:

a. The people would not eat sacred foods until a priest was present with the Urim and Thummim (Ez. 2:63).
b. The people were anxious to build the altar of sacrifice so that they could offer sacrifices again (Ez. 3:2).
c. Priests and Levites were installed in accordance with the law (Ez. 6:18).
d. Ezra’s commission was based upon his familiarity with the law (Ez. 7:6).
e. The public reading of the law in a prominent place (Neh. 8-10).
f. The importance of understanding the Scriptures (six times in Neh. 8:1-12).
g. The celebrations following the reading of Scripture (Neh. 8:9–12).

5. Call to decisive action

Ezra/Nehemiah are extremely practical books with a strong emphasis on the need for decisive and immediate and persevering action, despite many adversaries.

 

VI. New Testament Analysis

The general atmosphere of the books is of disappointed hopes. The best is yet to be. The ultimate Messiah is anticipated.
Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah are types of Christ. Like Him, they sought to lead God’s people to spiritual blessing. Like Him, they confronted and corrected sin in Israel (Mat. 23:1-39; Ez. 9:1-15; Ez. 10:10-14: Neh. 1:6-7; Neh. 9:1-13,26-38; Neh. 13:15-27). Like Him, they prayed continuously for God’s people (Jn. 17:6-26; Ez. 9:6-15; Neh. 1:4-11).
Much reformation work remained even by the end of Nehemiah. Both Ezra’s prayer (Ezra 9:7) and Nehemiah’s prayer (Neh. 9:36) indicate that things could be much better than they were. The elders realized that the new Temple would not be as glorious as the former temple (Neh. 3:12-13). This general dissatisfaction, together with the emphasis on the Temple and the law, suggests that only a future Messianic King could reform and restore the Temple and the nation.
 

VII. The Message of Ezra and Nehemiah

Original Message: Continue the reformation and restoration until the people of Israel are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation walking in the light of the Law.
Present Message: Continue the reformation and restoration until the people of God are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation walking in the light of the Law.