EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Seventy years have passed since Israel’s demand for a king touched off a series of events that finally spiraled them into captivity during the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles. At this point, most of the Israelites have been born and raised in exile, having never seen the land their forefathers inhabited. For them, returning from exile—an event prophesied in Jeremiah 25:12 and Genesis 12:2 that is about to be fulfilled in the book of Ezra—meant moving to a new place only known from stories handed down from parents and grandparents. As such, some opted to stay in the land they were familiar with.
Ezra picks up the narrative as the Israelites—approximate fifty thousand (Ezra 2) who did long for the land of their forefathers—return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple that was destroyed by the king of Babylon. Cyrus, the king of Persia, not only conquered Babylon and liberated the Jews from captivity; he was “stirred” by the Lord to provide the Jews with the wealth, goods, and animals they needed to make the trip and restore their homeland (Ezra 1:1–4).
The journey back to the glory days of Zion would not be easy. Relocating would mean traveling over nine hundred miles in challenging conditions for many months. And once they arrived, they would have to reconstruct all ways of life. This wasn’t just about buildings, but about the whole culture of holiness; they would need to establish synagogues, work out details surrounding the observance of Jewish feasts and holidays, identify and weed out pagan habits that had cropped up during exile, and reunite a people who had been physically and spiritually fragmented. (Many of these Israelites had very different interpretations of what God expected them to do in some areas of the Law, since they had lived in captivity so long that their initial practices and beliefs would have been influenced by years of living in a pagan land that didn’t share their same national, Yahweh-centered history.)
Seven months after their arrival, when everyone was settled enough to come together “as one” to rebuild, they re-erected the altar, resumed the burnt sacrifices, and purchased (or traded for) the cedar and other materials they would need to lay the foundation for the Temple (Ezra 3:1). About seven months later, they began construction and, once the structure was completed, the priests blew the trumpets and all the people celebrated with cymbals, shouts of joy, and song (3:10–11).
Sadly, challenges came early on; they were first caused by the Samaritans, who initially sought to disrupt the Israelites by offering to help build the Temple. The Jews were wise enough to see the ruse for what it was and refuse their offer of assistance. The Samaritans therefore “weakened the hands of the people of Judah” and “troubled them in building” (4:4). By that, to expound on the bribery and frustrations listed in the next verses, they discouraged the Israelite workers during their progress by any means possible. They slandered the Jews, making rulers and leaders of the region (including those who took over Persia after Cyrus) believe they would “not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings” (4:13); in other words, the Jews would spend all their money rebuilding “that wicked city” (4:12), refusing to pay taxes and thus deteriorating the royal treasury. It was this kind of rebellion against government, the Samaritans reported, that had destroyed the Jews’ so-called horrible, evil, insubordinate homeland in the first place (4:15). The Babylonian leaders commanded that the work stop, and progress remained at an awkward standstill for years, until a new Babylonian creed was issued and they were allowed to continue.
Eventually, about twenty-one years after the arrival of God’s people back to their homeland, the Temple was assembled, and the people once again rejoiced, made sacrifices, and celebrated feasts and holidays. But this joy would not be without the heavy burden of warning that they were not impervious to the leadership of the surrounding nations, so they needed a deep-rooted encouragement—an encourager—to completely revitalize their nation’s pride and confidence. Little did they know they were about to experience a radical revival.
This brings us to chapter 7, which introduces us to Ezra, the book’s central character—a faithful scribe who teaches the Hebrews to go back to obedience under God’s Law if they want to experience the kinds of legendary blessings they had only until then heard about.
Ezra was from Babylonia; he himself was a child of the exile. While he lived there, because “the hand of God was on him,” he was freely able to dedicate himself to the study of the Law, and the Babylonian government gave him anything he asked for in this endeavor (7:6). This verse says “he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given.” The Hebrew word here translated as “ready” is mahir, and it doesn’t simply mean that he was emotionally, physically, and intellectually capable of doing what he was about to do; the true meaning of this word conveys a deeply developed skill, indicating that he was an “expert” of the Law, so to speak. Unlike some Israelites, who had devoted themselves to the Word of God in captivity as much as they could during the exile and remained faithful despite any foreign threat, Ezra was given the unique opportunity to devote all of his time pouring into the Scripture. He was, at this time in Israel’s history, the first and last authority on what God had commanded to His people from the beginning. In the days of kings, he would have been in the position of royal advisor, state secretary, or chancellor—one whose knowledge of the Law is so thorough that the very throne over all the kingdom would have bent an ear in Ezra’s direction before making any official decision or decree.[i]
When he left for Jerusalem, Ezra took a great multitude with him, stopping at the River Ahava to fast and pray for safe passage, showing once again that he was at all times humble before the Lord. This bode well for the group, as they were spared from “the hand of the enemy” and many ambushes along the way (Ezra 8:31).
After the masses were settled and Ezra was established as a great authority, Jerusalem officials reported to him that the Israelites had messed up again. Their holy-race bloodline was being contaminated through marriages with those in surrounding pagan territories.
Here we want to emphasize that God was not a racist. He wasn’t opposed to interracial marriage in the Old Testament times for the same sociopolitical and cultural reasons this issue has come up in recent history. For God, it is never about skin color or any kind of “imperfect race,” as Hitler regarded the Jews. When Israel’s men took daughters from foreign lands in the ancient days, it almost always resulted in the intermingling of religion; wives would be allowed by their weak husbands to continue worshipping their false gods, and eventually that practice would bleed into the camps and tribes until Israel, once again, became polytheistic, regarding Yahweh as only one of many gods they were obligated to follow. At any point in history, this corruption of worship would have been a great affront to God, but during some periods it seems to have been expected (such during the times of Judges). They would fall into a cycle of pagan idolatry, “whore” after other gods, face terrible consequences, beg for God’s intervention, promise to never do it again, and then do it again almost immediately when their troubles were over, causing the cycle to begin again… Over and over and over, this pattern appears in the Old Testament.
But this point in the story of God’s people flies off the page differently. We’re not just talking about yet another round of this behavior during a time when such disobedience became common and redundant. These folks had been exiled, punished, because they refused to follow God’s Law in this and many other areas. They paid for their crimes against Him in extreme, heavy ways that not only ruined their community for them, but it seeped into their children’s culture for seventy years, to the point that the children would never personally know what it was to be blessed as an inheritor of God’s most potent blessings. Now, for the first time in ages, the people had been given a second chance to prove to God that if He would only give them back their land and their inheritance, they would never go astray again. God was faithful to return them to the land of promise, where they would be free without persecution—in fact, with the blessing of foreign kings!—to worship God, unite as the community and nation they’d been only dreaming of for generations, and live with the happiness and purity that come from eradicating demonic idols from their midst.
This was their chance! Everything the Jews longed for in the depths of their soul, from the stories their grandparents had told them regarding the days when God had smiled upon them and their people flourished, was culminating into a beautiful return to righteousness and proper relationship with Yahweh. They were about to experience, for the first time in over half a century, the “good life” they had been told about. Fathers and mothers were anticipating the freedom and liberty to raise their children in a community that supported the virtuousness of their forefathers. Sons and daughters were participating in a God-glorifying lifestyle again, preparing to grow and make homes of their own in a society where blushing brides and untainted grooms would once again become the norm, and where marriages would be sanctified, blameless, and free from the heavy burden of guilt. Young children could play in the streets and visit the marketplace without their parents having to fear they would pick up on the defiled, corrupt teachings of locals who bowed to idols of wood and gold. An age of innocence was, for the first time in a lengthy, oppressive era of custody under pagan authorities, coming back to shine upon the Jews with success and prosperity and bless whatever they put their hands to do. Now, in a miraculous turn of events, the Jews had been freed from the chains that bound them for what felt like an eternity. God had granted them that moment to prove they meant all they had prayed about in lamentation during their exile. A remnant of Israel had been spared from the tyranny and domination of ungodly rulers and nations, and it was their chance to make it count. Everything they wished for and held dear in their hearts was riding on their willingness to be obedient to the God of blessing.
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DOES “THE MYSTERY OF JESUS” INCLUDE THE WORLD PREPARING FOR ANTICHRIST?
It was a new Exodus. A second Exodus. It was a freeing of God’s people out of the hands of immoral captors…
…And yet the people were once again defiling themselves by bringing in from pagan nations wives who would contaminate the spiritual sanctity of the tribes (see Malachi 2:11; Deuteronomy 7:3–4).
No wonder Ezra had such a reaction to this news.
He wrote, “And when I heard this thing, I rent [tore] my garment and my mantle [cloak], and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied [astonished]” (9:3). At that evening’s sacrifice (9:4), Ezra was surrounded by those who were trembling at the thought of God’s wrath as a result of the returned exiles’ intermarital conduct. He appeared before them just as verse 9:3 states, in a state of total mourning with clothes torn and hair missing from his head and beard (9:5). Though the sin was not his to account for, he prayed as if it was, feeling personally ashamed for the sins of his brothers. His prayer (9:6–15) began with the words, “Oh my God, I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.” He went on to acknowledge the desperation of men like himself who mourn the consequence of past error and the opportunity of his lifetime, begging for another chance at purity. The following excerpt is a little lengthier than ones we’ve included elsewhere, but we’re providing it in full so we can reflect upon the potency of his humility and passion:
Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments, Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, “The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness.” Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this. (7:15)
Such a meek and unpretentious prayer grabbed the attention of the listeners in Ezra’s gathering. Again, though he wasn’t personally accountable for the sins that had been committed, he grieved deeply for those who were guilty—those who, despite the warnings, could not personally know the consequences of their choices like their ancestors did. He was not seeking forgiveness and redemption for himself, but for sinful people who couldn’t possible know what they were doing.
In essence, he prayed that Yahweh would forgive them, because they knew not the full repercussions of what they were doing.
Sound familiar (Luke 23:34)?
As a result of this powerful and persuasive entreaty before God, Israelites from all over Israel came to join Ezra in a grand, corporate display of bitter weeping and confession. Men, women, and children joined in a mass recognition of their transgressions against God, earnestly pleading that the Lord would forgive them and still honor this chance they had been given to rebuild their nation under God, even though they could never deserve or earn such grace. The immediate response of the Jews after such a grand gesture was the purging of sin from their midst, rededication to God, religious reform, and a massive revival that would far exceed many of the grandest revivals of modern history…
But before we focus on that detail, let’s see what happens next.
The story of Nehemiah takes place in the same era as Ezra’s—a mere thirteen or so years after Ezra resumed construction of the Temple. Like Ezra, the book of Nehemiah is an account of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises despite the unfaithfulness of His people who repeatedly cave to weaknesses. Unlike Ezra, however, Nehemiah is governor of Jerusalem—not a scribe—and his goal is to see the wall around Jerusalem rebuilt. Here’s a brief overview of this short book:
When Nehemiah, a former cupbearer to the king of Persia, received word that the gates of Jerusalem had been destroyed, he couldn’t shake the sadness. In the presence of the king and queen, his countenance fell, and the king was stirred to help him, granting him all the goods and supplies he would need to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. When he arrived at the city, he, like Ezra, saw trouble in paradise; once again, as the Jews engaged in construction, the enemies from neighboring territories attempted to sabotage their progress (Nehemiah 1–2). The work ensued, and enemies mocked their efforts, saying even the work of a fox would crumble what they’d built. But the Jews remained steadfast; the wall’s height continued to increase as Nehemiah positioned guards to watch over the progress (3–4). Nehemiah’s enemies were relentless, sending threats and letters involving a fabricated plan of a Jewish revolt against Israel’s neighbors in an attempt to pull him from the wall-building project, but Nehemiah refused to be swayed by their pathetic attempts to distract him, and the wall was completed (6).
Following this, Nehemiah positioned holy men of God as fellow governors over Jerusalem. A registry was established to determine the number of families that had returned from the exiles and give leaders an idea of how the people were to settle within the districts of the city on a more permanent basis (7).
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Ezra reentered the story in the beginning of Nehemiah chapter 8. He led all of Jerusalem together, gathered as “one man” (8:1), into worship of Yahweh. Nehemiah declared the day as holy and instructed them all to eat and drink, and then Ezra told them to celebrate the Feast of Booths (a feast that had not been observed since the time of Joshua), and as they did so, there was rejoicing throughout all of Jerusalem (8:13–18). After this, the Levites led Jerusalem held a mass confession in Jerusalem. They retold a shortened version of the Exodus, revisited the past sin of the people, resealed the Covenant in writing, and detailed for those gathered what offerings were due God (9–10). Chapters 11–12:1–26 include a catalogue of the names of the leaders, priests, and Levites of Israel, as well as the remaining Israelites.
Then we approach the climax of Nehemiah: the dedication of the newly rebuilt wall (12:27–43). Musicians brought instruments and all the singers in Israel joined to form massive choirs that sang out great praises so that the celebration and thanksgiving in Jerusalem could be heard for miles around. The servants of the Temple were also established (44–47). The final reforms of Nehemiah are captured in this book’s last chapter, including the separation from pagans (13:1–3).
However, a critical detail comes next: While Nehemiah was away, having returned to the king of Persia to resume his duties as promised (13:6), Eliashib allowed a member of the high priestly family to marry a daughter of one of the primary foreign enemies who had tried to sabotage the Jewish builders, and the result was another mixed marriage. Eliashib even gave Tobiah, the husband of this pagan daughter, one of the sanctified, holy chambers of the Temple to live in (13:4–5). Watch how Nehemiah handles this contamination: “And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff to Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense” (13:8–9).
Let’s look at these same verses in the ESV to see if we can hone in on a parallel here:
And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
Sound like anyone you know? Compare:
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And he taught, saying unto them, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:15, 17)
The rest of Nehemiah 13 tells that the discovery that the monies due the Levites for their Temple services was not being distributed, and new treasurers were appointed (10–14); people were profaning the Sabbath by working, so Nehemiah had the gates closed and set up guards to ensure no trade would take place on that day(15–22); children of foreign wives in their midst could not speak Hebrew (they spoke the language surrounding Philistine cities), so Nehemiah chased them all away for defiling the covenant of the priesthood and “cleansed…them from all [pagans], and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites” (23–30). His last statement in the book is “Remember me, O my God, for good” (31).
Two characters, two types of Christ, two books, one story…
In Ezra’s character, we see a vivid type of Christ: Ezra had done nothing wrong, but interceded for the sake of his brothers’ and sisters’ chance at new life. Paul wrote that Christ intercedes for us in our transgression (Romans 8:34), and there is none holier to act on our behalf.
In Ezra’s story, we see God’s plan of redemption; we view a future promise of a fresh and permanent Exodus: a way back to purity, an escape from oppression no matter the vices that bind. Only in accepting the gift of Christ’s sacrifice are we free—and immediately so—from the sin we heap upon ourselves under the depravities of immoral choice.
And in Ezra’s office, we see a scribe: a man so dedicated to the Word of Yahweh that he dedicated his entire life to learning to discern whether the Israelites’ actions were within our outside of God’s will. Ezra knew the Law of God (7:10) and the consequences of disregarding it (9:3). No man knew this like Jesus did (John 17). (Likewise, anyone who knew the Scriptures should recognize that they all point to Jesus [John 5:39].)
Most importantly, Ezra brought reform and revival.
Nowhere else in Scripture—nor in the history of the planet—has anyone shown up to offer up their very life for the cause of God more than Christ, Himself. Since Jesus came, died, resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, the entire globe has been affected by His sacrifice and dedication in irreversible ways. Though there are occasions to weep for the immorality of our culture, there will always be plenty more occasion to cry for joy because of the Gospel message that prevails over all wickedness among men. Before Christ brought the spiritual “New Exodus” in His time, people were under the Law and ministry of condemnation, despite its glorious nature. But “if the ministry of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministry of righteousness exceed in glory” (2 Corinthians 3:9)! Paul’s words remind us that if the Old Testament path to salvation was glorious—and it was—how much more exceedingly glorious this “New Exodus” would be under the grace of the cross! Jesus brought not only reform, but a new path to God, unhindered by many of the strict regulations in the Mosaic Law. He went to the cross for our benefit and intercedes for us now at the right hand of the Father for our benefit!
Like Ezra, Jesus knows the will of the Father because of the endless hours of time He spent in His presence in solitude and prayer (John 17; Matthew 4:1–2; 14:23; 26:36–46; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32–42; Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 22:39–46).
Jesus is our Scribe!
And because He was perfect (Hebrews 4:15; 5:9), He is the supreme interpreter of the will of God. In Him, we have a spiritual pathway away from captors and into the liberty and freedom of the Master!
We are all called to be scribes—to study and rightfully divide the Word of God to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15). But now, unlike the ancients who floundered in Babylon awaiting a new era when God’s promises would be fulfilled, we have the fulfillment of all of God’s promises within Israel’s history in Jesus.
In Nehemiah, the type of Christ is easier to see on an immediate level. Not only did He bring reform (which Christ did, in spades!), he cleansed the Temple!
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Prior to the New Covenant in Jesus, the Temple was the only House of God, and Jerusalem was the only City of God. This is why the Jews don’t still practice animal sacrifice today. Without a Temple (because it was destroyed again after the days of Ezra and Nehemiah), there is no altar upon which to offer sacrifices. We will visit the idea of the internal “New Temple” (us) at more length in subsequent sections, it’s important to understand the weight of Nehemiah’s actions in cleansing Jerusalem. He wasn’t simply following the rules. Nehemiah knew, as did Ezra, because of the endless cycles of wrath and blessing, that the Lord God of Israel would not bless and sanctify a people who defiled the Temple or His city by disregarding the Law He had put in place through Moses to keep His land holy and separate from foreign religions. In addition to the mountain of Old Testament Scripture that addresses this reality, a couple of New Testament verses, as spoken by Jesus and later as written by Paul, help us understand this today:
And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)
Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. (1 Corinthians 10:21)
In former books, Donna Howell has discussed the difference between societal pluralism and societal syncretism. Pluralism, as it refers to religion in modern society, is the ideal that says a Jew can live next door to a Buddhist, who can live next door to a Hindu, who can live next door to a Christian, and so on, and no one is forced to worship in the same way as another. Syncretism, on the other hand, represents the blending of two religions into one, creating a sort of “hybrid” belief system that is no single religion at all. In essence, it places a theological “they don’t even know what they believe” stamp on their spiritual life. Jesus is seen as only one of many gods one must follow. In no way can this please God, as the Bible in its entirety makes clear. When these two concepts are kept strictly separate, pluralism does not innately anger God in modern times, because He understands that, via the New Covenant, all people must work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), learning to go to Him on their own, not having to be prompted by a culture established by forefathers. Likewise, we are no longer in the days when the holy bloodline of Israel needed to remain pure from in order to establish the House of God, because the Temple is now internal. However, there is a major push today to mesh the concepts of societal pluralism and syncretism into one, forming the very kind of one-world religion that plays into our eschatology (the study of the end times).
As you can see by the study of Ezra and Nehemiah regarding those who would willingly corrupt the nation of God by marrying into pagan cultures and worshipping both Yahweh and foreign gods, this agenda of syncretism has always been present both within the great enemy’s plot to contaminate God’s people as well as in the temptation of the flesh. Ezra and Nehemiah recognized, well before the words of Christ were spoken, that “a kingdom divided against itself will fall,” as the cyclic history of Israel proves.
Nehemiah not only cleansed the Temple in his time, he did it exactly as Christ did: with righteous anger and the overturning of furniture. He knew we “cannot drink from the cup of the Lord at the same time that we partake of the cup of demons.” We cannot pollute the precious Commandments stating that we’re not to worship false gods or make tribute to them in any way (including the construction of idols; see Exodus 20:3–4). The intense implications behind his cleansing of the Temple was therefore as present in his time as it is today. Israel should have known by then that they were not facing a mere hand-slapping, but a sentence of mass oppression (and possibly exile) for multiple generations if they didn’t keep the Law.
Today, adhering to biblical directives can still affect the blessing of God upon our children (who typically follow in the footsteps of those who raise them), but thanks to the sacrifice of our Lord and Christ, salvation and blessing from God has become a matter of personal conviction, no matter what culture or family a believer is a part of. Jesus “reformed” it all by His First Coming. Nevertheless, the pattern in the Old Testament by strict observers of the Law, like Nehemiah, set a standard of behavior for us to keep. If we do, then we demonstrate that we are “of the faith,” not “of the world,” and we will be recognized for resisting the temptations of syncretism in the final Day of Judgment. We will have partaken in the “New Exodus,” following the path that frees us from the captivity of the enemy and propelling us into all liberty in Christ.
There are more parallels that aren’t as obvious at first glance:
- Nehemiah was a cupbearer, a position that placed him literally “at the right hand” of the king to perform his duty of tasting the king’s drinks (thus “cup”) to ensure the king was not being poisoned. Had the king of Persia’s drink been poisoned, Nehemiah would have consumed it instead of the king—a job that was quite unsettling and laden with risk. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus noted He would rather not drink the “cup of poison” (His crucifixion) for His King and Father, but He did so, obediently (Matthew 26:39). After this, He ascended to “the right hand of the Father” (Acts 7:55–56). Additionally, as Nehemiah was willing to leave his position beside the king to see to the righteousness and inheritance of his people, Jesus was willing to leave his position at the right hand of the Father to see to the righteousness and inheritance of all people when he condescended His divinity and became human.
- Both Nehemiah and Christ wept over the state of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3–4; Luke 19:41–42).
- Nehemiah reestablished the Old Covenant (Nehemiah 8:1–9; 9:13); Jesus established the New Covenant.
- There was a “second coming” of Nehemiah to Israel (Nehemiah 13:9–9); there will be a Second Coming of Jesus (Matthew 24:44; Zechariah 13:1; 14:1–4; and too many other verses to list here, but see our study of Revelation).
- Nehemiah saw to the restoration of the priesthood, the Temple, and the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:10–11, 22); Jesus, in the New Advent, will see to the restoration of the same list (Ezekiel 40–47; Isaiah 2:1–4, 11:1–10, 66:17–25).
As Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around the City of God to separate the Jews from the evils of the pagan world, Jesus rebuilt the faith, establishing a new order for those of us who would separate ourselves and our families from the same thing.
The Son of God was, is, and always will be the absolute Nehemiah, the Builder of the partition between us and the world—that temporal place we are “in,” but should not be “of”:
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are… I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (John 17:11, 14–15)
We are called to draw strict lines and boundaries around our lives today, ensuring that we don’t, like the Israelites, pollute ourselves, our “temples,” and our families with the demonic influences of this world. But praise Jesus that we no longer must, like Nehemiah, draw strict lines around our cities to preserve the sanctity of a holy race. This was done for the sake of a new order, a New Covenant, a contract written and signed in the blood of the Lamb, that frees us from the old order of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:9)!
What a mighty God we serve, indeed. His mercies do endure forever (Psalm 118; 136). His love never ceases, and just as we begin to believe we have done too much sinning to “earn” or “deserve” His grace, we are reminded once again that the God of multiple exoduses renews His love and mercy for us “every morning” (Lamentations 3:22–23)!
Without the love and mercy of God, the Israelites would have perished and the Old Testament would have ended in Genesis. Without the love and mercy of this same God and His Son today, we, too, would perish—both physically and spiritually. As we stated at the end of our study on Ruth, be would be left to wander “the damned corners of the earth, belonging to no one other than the prince of the power of the air and awaiting death and judgment.” But because of the example set by men like Ezra and Nehemiah who plunged sin from the depths of the ancients—and because of the New Testament type found in Christ—we are given the knowledge of what we must refrain from, as well as the freedom to do so.
It’s a pop-culture idea today to see God as angry, faraway, disconnected from His people, and unmerciful to those who struggle with sin. But to the believer of the Bible, there really is no end to His mercy!
If that doesn’t inspire a hearty “Praise the Lord and Amen!” from God’s people, these authors don’t know what would.
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[i] “Ezra 7:6,” Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Bible Hub Online, last accessed February 18, 2022, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/ezra/7.htm.