7.54 Ezra-Nehemiah -- Consolidation of Reforms
At the time of Ezra's arrival, it had been 80 years since the first Jews had returned from Exile, but apart from the construction of the Temple, nothing much had been accomplished. They had coexisted with their pagan neighbors, married their daughters, and piddled around. Then Ezra came to demarcate the social boundaries of the holy nation, followed 13 years later by Nehemiah setting up the physical barrier against the outsiders. Other changes occurred in rapid succession, which consolidated the progress made by the two reformers.
a. The Jews separated themselves from foreigners (Neh 9:2, Neh 10:28, Neh 13:3, Neh 13:23-30).
b. They drew up a covenant (Neh 9:38).
c. They agreed to observe the Sabbath (Neh 10:31, Neh 13:15-22).
d. They instituted a tax on themselves for support of the Temple (Neh 10:32-33, Neh 10:39).
e. They took a tenth of the people away from the ancestral towns to live in Jerusalem (Neh 11:1-2).
f. They organized the service of the Temple: priests, singers, accountants (Neh 12, Neh 13:10-13).
g. Nehemiah evicted Tobiah the Ammonite from his private chamber in the Temple, which he had obtained through family connections (Neh 13:4-9).
Judah's subjection to Persian rule continued until the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th Century. He defeated the Persian Empire in 333, and Judah peacefully transferred its allegiance to Macedonia. Thus there was a century between the reforms of Ezra-Nehemiah and the fall of Persia. During this time, the reborn nation of Israel established itself upon the foundations laid by these two leaders, as Isaiah foretold:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit (Isa 11:1).
Jerusalem was the shoot on the stump of Jesse, whose trunk was sawed off by destruction and exile. The time of desolation was past, and a time of growth was at hand. Unfortunately, the Bible omits these vital centuries of later Persian and Greek domination, although the Apocryphal books come from the later Intertestamental period.
Post-Exilic Judaism prior to the Greek invasion was another definite stage of development in the understanding of the relationship between God and His people. In a way, it was a conservative throwback to hardline Mosaic rules. The religion focused on the Temple and the Torah, and resisted cultural contacts with outsiders. There is a complete absence of the prophetic voice after the 5th Century (Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi were the last "minor" prophets). Though Ezra and Nehemiah fulfilled roles reminiscent of the earlier "hero" figures -- judges -- neither had a distinctive encounter with God, or an impartation of the Holy Spirit in the manner of ancient deliverers. We have passed into the stage of "mature" religion -- less ecstatic, more reflective, ceremonial and dogmatic.