Ezra and Nehemiah
By Don Ruhl
Cyrus, king of Persia, came to the aid of the Jews! The Lord spoke through Isaiah that such would happen (Isa 44.28). It is in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah that we see the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Ezra wrote of this surprising twist in the history of Israel (Ezra 1.1–4, Verses 2 and 3a are also the last words of the Book of Second Chronicles.).
Ezra was a scribe (Ezra 7.6). Do you know what scribes did? They made copies of the Scriptures. They also interpreted the Law. Therefore, he wanted his brethren to know the Scriptures, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7.10).
Later, we will see that the people wanted to hear the Law. They even requested a public reading of it. If you had been away from the church for many years, what would you miss? What would you want to be done to make you feel back at home?
The Return and Repentance
While Ezra worked to rebuild the temple, the people still needed rebuilding. Their lives were not in harmony with the Scriptures. Chapter 10 reveals one of the ways in which they violated the Law of Moses, by marrying people who had not converted to Judaism. However, one of the Jews approached Ezra and voiced support for doing what was right, “Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it” (Ezra 10.4).
The People Hungered for the Scriptures
The Book of Nehemiah records what the people said to Ezra, that they wanted the Scriptures brought out and read to them. They responded sincerely to the reading by weeping (Neh 8.1–12).
A New Effort to Rebuild the Temple
While the people initially wanted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, when they arrived they saw many other needs also. Soon those needs became a distraction and they neglected rebuilding the temple.
They forgot that forsaking God and His things had led to the captivity. Therefore, God sent prophets to the people to get them working again (Ezra 6.14–16). (See also Haggai 1.2–11; 2.15–19.)
However, people who had inhabited the land previous to the return of the Jews, opposed everything the Jews sought to do. This is where the Book of Nehemiah comes in.
Nehemiah and the Walls of Jerusalem
While some things went well, some things were still not good. Therefore, some of the Jews returned to Persia and reported to Nehemiah, who had stayed behind, that the Jews were still in reproach, because the gates and walls of Jerusalem were of no value, still being left in their destructed state for over 70 years.
Nehemiah asked the king if he could return to the city of his fathers and help them rebuild the gates and walls of Jerusalem. The king gave permission and Nehemiah went (Neh 2.11–13, 17, 18).
Both Ezra and Nehemiah helped rebuild the infrastructure of Jerusalem, and the spiritual nature of Jerusalem. All this in spite of opposition from their enemies.
The work of Nehemiah has inspired other works. Members of the congregation where I work as a preacher, went to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina to work with Operation Nehemiah to help rebuild New Orleans. The Nehemiah Housing Program and the Nehemiah Housing Corporation also got their impetus from the events of the Book of Nehemiah.