Saturday 29 August 2009


Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of how God restored his broken people after they came back home from their exile to Babylon.

Ezra 9:9 sums up the major theme of these books: ‘Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.’

1. One Book
Although Ezra and Nehemiah are separated in our English Bibles, they were originally written as one long work, and are best read as one book. They also contain different ‘forms’ of literature – some personal memoirs, some lists, some family trees, some letters – but they’re one book and they tell one story.

2. Real Events
Ezra and Nehemiah tell of real events. A number of times, they record dates which we can check out with reasonable accuracy. Ezra begins in 539 BC, and Nehemiah ends in 433, about 100 years later.

After Jerusalem is torn down, about fifty years go by, Babylon slowly crumbles, and Persia takes over on the world scene (see 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; cf. Ezra 1:1), with Cyrus allowing subjugated peoples to return home.

Ezra 1-6 tells of a first wave of exiles who return and eventually rebuild the temple (in 516). More than fifty years go by (during which the events which are described in the book of Esther happen back in Persia) before Ezra the scribe comes on the scene, in 458 (not appearing until chapter 7 of the book which has his name on the cover). Then about twelve years later, in 445, Nehemiah comes from Persia to rebuild the walls of the city. The last date in Nehemiah is 433, bringing us pretty close to the end of the Old Testament period.

3. Restored People
Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of a restored people. The books are sometimes used to illustrate lessons about leadership or building projects; and there may be ways in which they are models of leadership for us, in the priorities they set, and in how they go about things. But they have much more to tell us about the factors involved in the restoration of all of God’s people.

There are different dimensions to restoration. Ezra chapters 1-6 focus on the restored temple. But bricks and mortar are not enough, so in chapters 7-10 we see the people being brought under a restored rule. That brings us to the first part of Nehemiah, with its interest again in bricks and mortar: restoring the walls of the city, in the first seven chapters. And then, once again, the people can build a wall around their city, but they also need to build a wall around their lives: the new city requires a new society.


The new temple (Ezra 1-6)
• Return of the exiles (Ezra 1-2)
• Rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3-6)

The new rule (Ezra 7-10)
• Responsibility of the scribe (Ezra 7-8)
• Reformation of the people (Ezra 9-10)

The new city (Nehemiah 1-7)
• Resolve of the governor (Nehemiah 1-2)
• Reconstruction of the walls (Nehemiah 3-7)

The new society (Nehemiah 7-13)
• Renewal of the covenant (Nehemiah 8-10)
• Restoration of the nation (Nehemiah 11-13)

4. Sovereign God
Ezra and Nehemiah teach us that God is sovereign. While they were in exile, they were promised restoration: Jeremiah spoke about God making a new covenant with the people; Ezekiel had a vision of dry bones coming to life. But it would be God who would do it. He wants to do it because he is a faithful God, a merciful God, a covenant-keeping God. And he can do it because he is a sovereign God.

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