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No darker moment had occurred in Israel’s history than the overthrow of Jerusalem, accompanied by the utter destruction of the temple, Yahweh’s dwelling place,
along with the deportation of a significant portion of the population to Babylon. The crisis that this produced with respect to the nation’s future was addressed prophetically
by Daniel and Ezekiel and historically by the restoration to the land under the leadership of three individuals. Ezra-Nehemiah affirmed historically that God was not yet finished
with His people, regardless of their past or present behavior.
These two books are treated as one in the Hebrew canon with authorship
being attributed traditionally to Ezra. Plainly the books are based on a number of different
(and different kinds of) sources, including lists, letters and personal memoirs.1
While Ezra may well have been the primary author, there is evidence of the work of an unknown compiler who would have, then, been responsible for the final, canonical, form
of the composition.2 The concluding statement of 2 Chronicles reveals the desire to connect the two works. However, the chronicler is likely a different (and later) author.
It is obvious that the canonical form incorporates records of earlier events, in fact nearly one hundred years earlier in the case of the lists of Zerubbabel’s returnees.
However, on the basis of the dating of Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem (mentioned in
1 Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 181.
2 For a summary discussion of the issues of authorship see ibid., 180-84.
Nehemiah 13:6) as 432 B.C., the final form of the dual composition must have been
completed by sometime shortly thereafter.3
Ezra-Nehemiah concerns the post-exilic return of Jews from Babylon to
Jerusalem over approximately a one hundred year span, that is, from c. 535 B.C. to c. 430
B.C. The Babylonians, who had been responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem and
deportation of much of the nation of Israel’s population, had in turn been conquered by
the Medo-Persian empire under Cyrus the Great. Cyrus reversed the Babylonians’ policy
of captivity, allowing conquered peoples to return to their land. Many Jews returned at
three different times under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
If written by about 425 B.C., as proposed, then it must be assumed that Ezra-
Nehemiah was intended first for those who were expected to carry on the post-exilic
renewal begun by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Canonically, the book would be
beneficial to Jews in any age who were truly intent on seeing the practical establishment
of God’s covenant but who might be seeing less than spectacular progress in that
Though no formal occasion is stated, it must be assumed, in line with the
assumptions made with respect to the original readership, that anticipation of continued
opposition to God’ purposes for His covenant nation necessitated this work which assures
Israel of God’s sovereign ability to fulfill their covenant mandate.
3 Merrill and Dyer suggest that it was written not much later than 425 B.C. in Charles Dyer
One or two books. Until the advent of the Septuagint Ezra and Nehemiah were
in the form of a single composition and it was not until the Middle Ages that Hebrew
Bibles separated them.4 Recent literary studies confirm, via a clearly discernable chiastic
structure, the unity of Ezra-Nehemiah.5 This chiastic arrangement helps to explain the
non-chronological location of various parts, for example the concluding listing of members
of Zerubbabel’s return.
Relationship to Chronicles. The repetition of the so-called Cyrus decree (2
Chron 36:22–23 and Ezra 1:1–4), along with certain linguistic and theological similarities,
have been pointed to as arguments for common authorship. Dillard and Longman
cite proponents of both views; Dyer and Merrill definitely rule out common authorship.6
Dates of Ezra and Nehemiah’s Missions. While Nehemiah’s mission is clearly
dated in the reign of Artaxerxes I (Neh 1:1) Ezra’s time of arrival is less definite (cf. Ezra
7:1–8). Since there is no overt reference to Ezra and Nehemiah acting jointly in
Jerusalem some have hypothesized that either Ezra’s ministry took place during the reign
of Artaxerxes II (398 B.C.) or that the text of Ezra 7:8 should be emended to read “thirtyseventh”
rather than “seventh.”7 This is unnecessary since the book is designed to reveal
and Gene Merrill, Old Testament Explorer (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001), 342.
4 See Dillard and Longman, Introduction, 180.
5 See David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on
Genesis-Malachi (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 158-61.
6 Dillard and Longman, Introduction, 181; Dyer and Merrill, Explorer, 341.
7 See Dillard and Longman, Introduction, 182 and Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A
History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987, 1996), 502-6.
the specific and unique contribution of each of the three leaders to God’s program of
national restoration, rather than to trace their relationship and inter-connectedness.
Despite past disobedience and present opposition, God is able to accomplish
His purposes for Israel through godly leaders and humbled hearts.
I. Zerubbabel’s Service: Israel returns to restore a worshipping presence in
the temple. 1:1—6:22
A. Zerubbabel returns with a company of willing servants. 1:1—2:70
1. Cyrus’ decree paves the way for return to the land. 1:1–4
2. Willing Israelites respond to God’s prompting. 1:5—2:70
a. They are encouraged with gifts and temple treasures. 1:5–11
b. They are enrolled according to their families. 2:1–63
1) From the people in general. 2:1–39
2) From the Levites. 2:40
3) From the singers. 2:41
4) From the gatekeepers. 2:42
5) From the Nethinim. 2:43–54
6) From the sons of Solomon’s servants. 2:55–58
7) From undeterminable origin. 2:59–63
c. They are totaled. 2:64–67
d. Some give freely to erect the temple. 2:68–70
B. Zerubbabel rebuilds the temple despite hostile opposition. 3:1—6:22
1. Building commences in the desire to worship. 3:1–13
a. The altar is rebuilt for sacrifice and offering. 3:1–7
b. The temple foundation is laid in joy and sadness. 3:8–13
2. Building ceases amidst opposition. 4:1–24
a. Building is opposed through subterfuge and harassment. 4:1–5
b. Building is halted through political intrigue. 4:6–24
3. Building continues through providential provision. 5:1—6:12
a. Building is resumed through prophetic encouragement. 5:1–5
b. Building is sustained through royal decree. 5:6—6:12
4. Building is completed to the glory of God. 6:13–22
a. Building is completed according to divine directive. 6:13–15
b. Building is completed in a celebration of joy. 6:16–22
II. Ezra’s Service: Israel returns to restore observance of Torah. 7:1—10:44
A. Ezra returns with a company of willing servants. 7:1—8:36
1. Artaxerxes’ letter paves the way for the restoration of Torah. 7:1–28
a. Ezra returns to reestablish Torah. 7:1–10
b. Artaxerxes provides for Ezra’s ministry. 7:11–28a
2. Willing Israelites respond to Ezra’s call. 7:28b—8:36
a. Men were enrolled by families. 7:28—8:14
b. Levites are recruited especially. 8:15–23
c. They fast and pray for direction. 8:21–23
d. Priests and Levites are entrusted with temple articles. 8:24–30
e. They go up to the house of God. 8:31–36
B. Ezra restores the nation in the face of the threat of assimilation. 9:1—10:44
1. Ezra humbles himself in confession of Israel’s sin. 9:1–15
a. Ezra receives the disquieting report of intermarriage. 9:1–4
b. Ezra confesses the nation’s sin of intermarriage. 9:5–15
2. Ezra leads the nation in separating from Israel’s foreign
a. Many Israelites encourage Ezra to invoke separation. 10:1–4
b. Ezra leads the nation in confession and separation. 10:5–44
III. Nehemiah’s Service: Israel restores the honor of Jerusalem. 1:1—7:3
A. Nehemiah returns to a company of distressed servants. 1:1—2:20
1. Artaxerxes’ letter paves the way for Jerusalem’s restoration. 1:1—2:10
a. Nehemiah is moved by disturbing news of Jerusalem’s
b. Artaxerxes grants Nehemiah leave to rebuild Jerusalem. 2:1–10
2. Nehemiah finds servants willing to undertake the task. 2:11–20
a. Nehemiah surveys the rebuilding task privately. 2:11–16
b. Nehemiah summons Jerusalem’s rebuilding openly. 2:17–20
B. Nehemiah rebuilds Jerusalem despite hostile opposition. 3:1—7:3
1. Rebuilding commences with corporate enthusiasm. 3:1–32
2. Rebuilding continues in the face of external opposition. 4:1–23
a. Israel is not discouraged by ridicule. 4:1–6
b. Israel is not deterred by threat of attack. 4:7–23
3. Rebuilding continues through ending internal oppression. 5:1–13
4. Rebuilding is validated through Nehemiah’s example. 5:14–19
5. Rebuilding continues despite treacherous conspiracies. 6:1–14
6. Rebuilding is completed and protected unto God’s glory. 6:15—7:3
IV. Israel’s Service: Israel is restored as the remnant of the covenant nation in
their land of promise. 7:4—12:47
A. Under Zerubbabel Israel had been released from captivity and
restored to the land. 7:4–73a
1. He reports on the small population of Jerusalem. 7:4
2. He reports the registry of the returnees from Babylon. 7:5–73a
B. Under Ezra Israel is renewed in their covenant obligation. 7:73b—10:39
1. Ezra prepares for renewal of the covenant by reading the
Book of the Law. 7:73b—9:4
a. The reading of the Law results in the joy of holiness. 7:73b—8:12
b. The reading of the Law results in obeying the Feast of
c. The reading of the Law results in confession and
2. The Levites lead in renewal of the covenant by rehearsing
Israel’s history as Yahweh’s people. 9:5–38
a. Israel confesses Yahweh as their covenant sovereign. 9:5–15
1) Yahweh is confessed as sovereign of the universe. 9:5–6
2) Yahweh is confessed as the covenant maker with
3) Yahweh is confessed as the redeemer of Israel
from Egypt. 9:9–12
4) Yahweh is confessed as the covenant God of
b. Israel confesses its failure as Yahweh’s covenant people. 9:16–31
1) They rebelled in the wilderness yet were not
forsaken by the Lord. 9:16–21
2) They rebelled in the land and were disciplined but
not forsaken by the Lord. 9:22–27
3) They rebelled continually and went in captivity but
were not forsaken by the Lord. 9:28–31
c. Israel commits itself to the service of Yahweh. 9:32–38
3. The people respond to the renewal of the covenant by
agreeing to its tenets. 10:1–39
a. The leaders affix their seals to the covenant. 10:1–27
b. The people swear allegiance to the covenant. 10:28–39
C. Under Nehemiah Israel dedicates itself to the service of Yahweh. 11:1—13:3
1. Jerusalem is voluntarily peopled in order to serve Yahweh. 11:1–36
2. Priests and Levites are recognized for service to Yahweh. 12:1–26
3. Jerusalem is dedicated to the service of Yahweh. 12:27–43
4. The temple servants are provided for in the service of
5. Separation is reemphasized in the service of Yahweh. 13:1–3
V. Epilogue: The challenges to Israel’s service will continue. 13:4–31
A. The temple will be prone to defilement. 13:4–9
B. The temple servants will not be properly provided for. 13:10–14
C. The Sabbath will not be honored. 13:15–22
D. Israel’s purity will not always be maintained. 13:23–29
E. Israel will always require a vigilant leader. 13:30–31
Israel’s exile to Babylon had plunged the nation into a crisis with respect to their status as Yahweh’s covenant people and their hope of realizing His covenant
promises. By skillfully combining three incidents of return from exile, Ezra demonstrates
that Israel is still Yahweh’s special people (cf. Exod 19:4–6) and that He, being sovereign
over the nations, is fully capable of restoring them so that they might effect their
I. Zerubbabel’s Service: Israel returns to restore a worshipping presence in the temple
The date of each one of the returns (Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah’s) is
fixed in reference to a Persian king who authorizes and supports the ministry of the returnee(
s). This is an important interpretive clue in that it establishes God’s sovereignty
over the nations in the outworking of Israel’s purpose in world history with the intent that
Israel might receive hope.
A. Zerubbabel returns with a company of willing servants (1:1—2:70).
Cyrus’s decree of 538 B.C. stipulated that it was Yahweh’s will for Israel to
return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, though this statement should not necessarily
be taken as indicating that the Persian monarch was a believer in Yahweh.8 The actual
leader of this first return seems to have been Sheshbazzar (1:11) though it is Zerubbabel
through whom God effects the rebuilding of the temple. Though only a minority of
Israelites returned they were of a willing heart and so gave of themselves physically and
materially (1:5–11; 2:68–70). The detailed numbering of returnees includes specific
groups who were especially suited and qualified for temple service (e.g. Levites, singers,
gatekeepers, and servants associated with Solomon, the great temple builder).
8 Ibid., 480.
B. Zerubbabel rebuilds the temple despite hostile opposition (3:1—6:22).
The priority of rebuilding the temple over political/security concerns (e.g. the
rebuilding of defensive walls) and renewal of the people under Torah indicates that it was
God’s presence among His people that was the key to their success. Hence, the task is
undertaken heartily and with great joy, though not without painful reminders of this
temple’s lessened glory (3:1–13). The temple’s importance in this respect is also indicated
by the (Satanic) opposition encountered in its reconstruction as witnessed by the
threat of subterfuge and harassment (4:1–5) and political intrigue, which temporarily
halts building (4:6–24). Despite great opposition Israel is able to complete the temple
through Yahweh’s provision, namely the encouragement of prophecy (Haggai and
Zechariah’s—5:1–5) along with the decrees and commands of the Persian monarchy
(5:6—6:15). The Feast of Tabernacles, celebrated upon return to the land and signifying
God’s sustaining faithfulness during the exile9 (3:4) is “answered” by the Passover and
Feast of Unleavened Bread which uniquely defined Israel’s existence and purpose (6:19–
II. Ezra’s Service: Israel returns to restore observance of Torah (7:1—10:44).
About fifty-eight years after the completion of the temple, Ezra returns for the
purpose of teaching Torah to Israel. In the same way that Moses had instructed and
founded Israel in Torah after the completion of the tabernacle (Leviticus—
Deuteronomy), so Ezra is instrumental in restoring the remnant to observance of the Law.
The same pattern describing Zerubbabel’s return and accomplishment is used to describe
9 See Eugene Merrill, “A Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther,” in A Biblical Theology of
the Old Testament, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 196.
Ezra’s, namely, the authorization of a Persian king, the accompanying of Ezra by those
willing to serve God, and Ezra’s successful service despite contrary circumstances.
A. Ezra returns with a company of willing servants (7:1—8:36).
There is no indication as to what prompted Ezra to return to Jerusalem at this
particular time. In view of the time gap between his and Zerubbabel’s ministry and the
lack of “provocation” it must be assumed that the intent is to demonstrate God’s wise
sovereignty in the outworking of His restorative mercy. What is apparent is that Ezra had
prepared himself in the knowledge and observance of Torah with a view to leading the
people into the same experience (7:1–10). Furthermore, Artaxerxes’ rather extensive
letter of authorization very clearly highlights Ezra’s focus on Torah (7:11–26; cf. 7:12,
14, 21, 25–26).
Though there were, apparently, many who were willing to go with Ezra, the
company did not include any Levites (8:1–15), a situation that Ezra remedied before
setting out (8:16–20). This somewhat inexplicable absence of temple servants may serve
to indicate that apart from God’s sovereign provision there would always be a lack of
those willing to dedicate their lives to the service of worship. With Yahweh’s direction
(8:21), protection (8:22–23), and provision (8:24–30) Ezra led this second wave of exiles
back to Jerusalem (8:21–32) and into worship (8:33–35). God’s sovereign direction is
once again underscored through the note that Artaxerxes’ orders were delivered to his
satraps and governors with the result that they gave aid to the Israelites on behalf of the
B. Ezra restores the nation in the face of the threat of assimilation (9:1—
The fact that the temple had been rebuilt by Zerubbabel and further provided
for by this second group of returnees (cf. 8:24–30), meant, at least symbolically, that
Israel could once again meet with their God. However, that did not mean that the people
where yet qualified to do so. In the same way that Moses provided a standard of holiness
as the necessary requirement for entering into Yahweh’s presence in the tabernacle (e.g.
in Leviticus), so the returning exiles were in need of such preparatory instruction. Israel
was to be a holy nation, uniquely set apart to Yahweh for His exclusive service (cf. Exod
19:5–6). The circumstance of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities had put Israel in
danger of being assimilated into the cultures of captivity, or at least adulterated through
cultural contamination. God had protected his people from complete assimilation or
destruction (cf. Esther) and was able to restore a remnant unto the Promised Land.
However, that did not mean that the danger of spiritual impurity through pagan contact
was not a real and continuing threat. In order to prevent such assimilation and to present
to God a people qualified to worship and represent him, Ezra deals decisively with the
practice of intermarriage between Israelites and their pagan neighbors (10:1–44), by
humbling himself before God and confessing the nation’s sin (9:1–15). The people
respond to the scribe’s call to separation, thus completing the first stage of the restoration
of a faithful remnant to the land (the completion of which will be developed in
III. Nehemiah’s Service: Israel restores the honor of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:1—7:3).
The pattern of Nehemiah’s return is the same as his predecessors, Zerubbabel
and Ezra, in that he secures the permission and support of the Persian king (Artaxerxes)
and accomplishes a mighty work involving willing Israelites. The difference is that
Nehemiah appears to return alone to find willing servants in Jerusalem rather than
leading a company from Babylon itself.
A. Nehemiah returns to a company of distressed servants (1:1—2:20).
In 445 B.C., while serving in the court of the Persian monarch Artaxerxes I,
Nehemiah learns of the plight of Jews living in Judah and of the state of disrepair and
destruction of the walls of Jerusalem and thus becomes burdened to personally address
the situation (1:1–4). His prayer appeals to Yahweh’s covenant promises as the basis for
sending him to Jerusalem’s aid (1:4–11). The Lord grants him favor in the king’s eyes
and, as was the case with Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel and Ezra, Nehemiah is afforded the
monarch’s authorization and provision (2:1–8). It would appear that Nehemiah returned
alone, however, with only the protective services of a royal bodyguard (2:9). His first
official act in Judah is to deliver the king’s letters to the governors of the area (2:9–10).
This indicates the fact that God is working through the gentile rulers to accomplish His
purposes for the covenant people, a repetition of an emphasis found in the ministries of
Zerubbabel and Ezra. Once Nehemiah has personally surveyed the building task (2:11–
16) he enlists for the project the cooperation of resident Israelites despite the derisive
opposition of gentile officials (2:17–20). Once again, the pattern of service in the face of
opposition is evident.
B. Nehemiah rebuilds Jerusalem despite hostile opposition (3:1—7:3).
God’s eternal purpose for Israel was linked not only to the temple but to the
city of Jerusalem itself. Hence, the city’s political viability was always at issue. The
rebuilding of the walls would serve to mark Zion as a defensible citadel and thus a
legitimate political entity. This is the task to which Nehemiah was called. Though
building commenced with great enthusiasm (3:1–32) serious opposition was soon
encountered. As usual, Satan’s hindering and destructive devices manifest themselves in
a variety of ways, both externally and internally. Opposition from without occurs chiefly
in the form of official governmental threat and obstruction. When mockery and ridicule
by Sanballat and Tobiah fail to deter the builders (4:1–6), they resort to threats of
physical attack (4:7–23) which only spurs Israel to further effort and defensive readiness
Internal strife threatens to deter building as poor Israelites find themselves
slavishly indebted to their more wealthy brethren (5:1–13). As a violation of Torah,
Nehemiah condemns the practice, commands restoration of property, and secures the
promise of compliance. At the structural center of this section10 (3:1—7:3) stands a brief
notice of Nehemiah’s personal generosity in providing for his own, contrary to the
practice of former governors (5:14–19). One of the central themes of Ezra-Nehemiah is
the importance of the leader in the success of God’s people. God’s leaders instruct,
inspire, provide for, and protect God’s people in their appointed tasks. In the fulfillment
of this role they may expect approval and reward (cf. 5:19; 13:30–31). The ultimate
leader, Jesus Christ, perfectly embodies such leadership, providing spiritually as well as
10 Cf. Dorsey, Literary Structure, 159-60.
physically and materially. Taken together, all of the leaders in Ezra-Nehemiah point
toward the ultimate rebuilder of Israel and Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When opposition to and oppression of the people fail to deter building, Satan
concentrates full force upon the leader (6:1–14). Nehemiah sees through the various
conspiracies of his enemies, avoiding both physical destruction and spiritual compromise.
As a result the wall was able to be finished in fifty-two days unto God’s glory (6:15—
IV. Israel’s Service: Israel is restored as the remnant of the covenant nation in their land
of promise (7:4—12:47).
The paired and alternating pattern centering on the three leaders (Ezra 1:1—
Neh 7:3) is capped by the “grand finale” in which the overall accomplishment of the
returns is set forth.11 In light of the selection and compression of events over this onehundred
year period, it is obvious that these various returnings from exile are to be
viewed as a whole—the Return. This last section, then, recaps the accomplishment of
each of the primary leaders with respect to Yahweh’s reestablishment of Israel in the land
as His covenant nation.
A. Under Zerubbabel Israel had been released from captivity and restored to
the land (7:4–73a).
Israel had gone into captivity as a result of their pervasive and prolonged
disobedience to the stipulations of the Sinaitic covenant (cf. Deut 28:15–68). However,
this did not end Israel’s existence as God’s special people since He had made promises to
them of an eternal nature (cf. Gen 12:1–3; 2 Sam 7:12–16). God had promised that He
11 Regarding the pattern structure see ibid., 160.
would bring them back when they repented (Deut 30:1–10; cf. Jer 30:3, e.g.) so that He
could ultimately fulfill His purposes for them. Though Zerubbabel is responsible for
rebuilding the temple, and thus reestablishing worship in the land (Ezra 1—6) his summary
part in the whole has to do with Israel’s physical restoration to the land, an event
inconceivable apart from rebuilding of the temple. Hence, the summary statement of his
accomplishment is “So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the
people, the Nethinim, and all Israel dwelt in their cities” (7:73a). This forms the basis for
Ezra’s service as the next statement indicates: “When the seventh month came, the children
of Israel were in their cities” (7:73b).
B. Under Ezra Israel is renewed in their covenant obligation (7:73b—10:39).
The central feature of the “grand finale” is Ezra’s leading of the nation in a
covenant renewal exercise.12 The reading and explaining of Torah results in joy over a
fresh understanding of the Lord and His purposes, though at first there was sorrow at the
hearing of the Law, due in no small measure to an awareness of their own failure (8:1–
12). Teaching of Torah also led to observance of the Feast of Tabernacles for the first
time since the days of Joshua (8:13–18). As symbolic of Yahweh’s provision for Israel in
the wilderness, Tabernacles reminded the nation that they had never been out from under
God’s protective care even while in Babylon. Finally, reading of Torah issues in
12 Cf. Merrill, “Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah,” 200: “The various elements just observed—
Torah, Tabernacles, and confession [Ezra 8:1—9:2]—clearly set the stage for what followed. The
sovereignty and exclusivity of Yahweh were affirmed (Neh 9:6), the history of His covenant relationship with Israel was recited (vv. 7–35), and the confession that the present assembled community is the servant
of Yahweh was gladly confessed (vv. 36–37). The whole occasion ended with a covenant commitment in these remarkable words of the assembly: “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it
in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it” (v. 38). In the great
tradition of reformation and revival in the past, Israel’s postexilic community thus bound itself once more
to the pledge to be the covenant people of Yahweh.”
separation and confession in preparation for a corporate expression of covenant renewal
While this section does not fall into the normal pattern of a covenant renewal
in terms of what is found in Deuteronomy or Joshua, it none the less displays Israel’s
awareness of its past failure and present responsibility with respect to its covenant obligations.
Yahweh is the God of the universe (9:6) who has become, as well, the covenant
God of Abraham (9:7–8) and his descendents, Israel (9:9–15), having redeemed them
from Egypt and having constituted them as His Son-Nation (cf. Exod 4:22–23; 19:5–6).13
In spite of this great privilege Israel had continually rebelled until finally they were sent
into exile in order to effect repentance and purification (9:16–31). The remnant that had
returned to the land had properly appraised their current situation and were expressing
that repentance in the expectation that God would honor His covenant and fulfill His
great purposes for them (9:32–38). The captivity had accomplished its intended goal (cf.
Deut 30:1–3). Leaders of the representative groups sealed the covenant (10:1–27) and the
people as a whole “. . . entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law. . .” (10:28–
39; cf. v. 29). Among other things this entailed separation from the pagan peoples of the
land and material support of the temple. Ezra had been effective in reconstructing Israel
into a committed covenant people.
13 The way in which this “covenant renewal” is structured may reflect the irreparable
fracturing of the covenant such as is indicated in such passages as Jeremiah 31:31–32. Though the Mosaic
covenant could never from that point bring Israel into the necessary obedience, until the New covenant was
instituted they would have to live with respect to the standards of the Old covenant. This is what they were
C. Under Nehemiah Israel dedicates itself to the service of Yahweh (11:1—
It is one thing to make a theological confession as a corporate exercise and
quite another to carry it through in a personal, practical way. Nehemiah’s contribution to
the “grand finale” of the restoration of the covenant community is to lead the people in
dedicating themselves to Yahweh’s service. This included the willing repopulation of
Jerusalem by those willing to leave their home towns to settle in the capitol (11:1–36),
and a formal listing of the priests and Levites who would be responsible for the temple
and its services (12:1–26). With the necessary people in place, Zion could once again be
commissioned as Yahweh’s city (12:27–43) and the temple supported as Yahweh’s
unique representation on earth (12:44–47). Such service could only be carried out by a
holy people, which required vigilance in remaining separate as a distinct people (13:1–3).
Nehemiah had contributed uniquely to Israel’s ability to serve as a set-apart people.
V. Epilogue: The challenges to Israel’s service will continue (13:4–31).
This last section begins with the recounting of an earlier incident of temple
defilement, which had occurred while Nehemiah was back in Babylon. As such it should
probably be taken as an epilogue warning of the necessity to be vigilant with respect to
maintaining the purity of service, rather than a continuation of the preceding material. All
of the incidents mentioned in this final section are reminders that there will be constant
threats to Israel fulfilling its covenant obligations. These must be met with resolve if they
are to succeed. The other main emphasis of this epilogue is to underscore the importance
of the leader of God’s choosing in the accomplishment of His purposes. Zerubbabel was
the descendent of kings, Ezra was a priest, and Nehemiah was an ordinary man. God used
all three in their unique capacities to accomplish His will. The ultimate leader, the man
Jesus Christ, came as the King-Priest to provide what no other leader or cadre of leaders
was capable of, the enabling of God’s people for obeying Him in order to experience His
ultimate blessing. In this way Israel’s hope for the future was not misplaced because of
the Leader who was to come.
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Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.
Dorsey, David A. The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on
Genesis-Malachi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.
Dyer, Charles and Gene Merrill “Ezra-Nehemiah: Building a Community of Faith.” In
Old Testament Explorer. Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001.
Kidner, Derek. Ezra and Nehemiah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979.
Merrill, Eugene H. Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel. Grand Rapids:
Baker Books, 1987, 1996.
Merrill, Eugene. “A Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah.” In A Biblical Theology of the Old
Testament, ed. Roy B. Zuck. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.
Yamauchi, Edwin M “Ezra-Nehemiah.” In 1 Kings-Job. Vol. 4 of Expositor's Bible
Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard D. Polcyn.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.