Ezra-Nehemiah -- 7.45 - 7.55
The two books Ezra and Nehemiah can be studied together. In fact, in the Hebrew Bible, they are part of the Ketuvim ("Writings"), and are considered one book. They describe the return of the remnant of Judah from captivity in Babylon and the rebuilding of ruined Jerusalem. For the historical background of these books, refer to the section titled Exile and Return.
The 200 years from 600 to 400 were a chaotic period in the Middle East. From one perspective, the fate of Judah and Jerusalem was just a byproduct of the conflicts and interactions between the larger empires: Assyria, Babylon, Media, Persia and Egypt. But the Bible reverses the relationship of cause and effect: it is God who rules in the affairs of the great nations, and He accomplishes His purposes for His people through the Gentiles. Whether His purpose is warning, punishment, exile or restoration, God "pulls the strings" of kings and pharaohs, and causes them to unwittingly further His plans. As we have seen in our studies of the historical and prophetic writings, the prophets provide us with the hidden "key" to understanding the meaning of historical events.
As we will see in Ezra-Nehemiah, the book itself has a theological justification for Israel's most recent catastrophes -- the destruction of the Temple, overthrow of the God-ordained kingship, and relocation to Babylon. There is no raging against the Deity, no advocacy of anarchism, atheism or pantheism. "We have brought this disaster on our own heads," Ezra says (paraphrased), "but God is merciful to preserve some of us alive to allow us to start over." Indeed, this "starting over" is actually a very stringent restoration of the ancient Mosaic code of conduct and the Levitical order of sacrifices.
Picture a game of chess, where one player is losing badly, so the other player upsets the board and scatters the pieces, and then the game is restarted from the beginning. Same rules, but new pieces: the losing player fields a new king, a new queen and bishop, and all new pawns. But it is still chess, and the loser resolves that THIS TIME, he will concentrate better and move smarter. It is not until the time of Jesus that the game itself changes, and the opponents face each other on entirely different terms: the winner takes up a position on the loser’s side of the board!