Survey of the Old Testament - Lesson 36


The book of Ezra-Nehemiah records the last events, chronologically, in the Old Testament. Ezra returned from exile with authorization to teach the Law of the Jews and institute the sacrificial system. Nehemiah returned to rebuild Jerusalem. They fail in their human attempt to rebuild heaven on earth, which encourages you to look forward to the city built by God.

Miles Van Pelt
Survey of the Old Testament
Lesson 36
Watching Now

I. Introduction

A. General information

B. Position in the canon

C. Authorship

D. Dates of major events

II. Structure

III. Language

IV. Historical Person

A. Priest and scribe

B. Ezra’s reforms

V. Nehemiah

A. Historical person

B. Reform 1

C. Reform 2

D. Reform 3

VI. Redemptive Historical Context

  • Dr. Miles Van Pelt is offering an opportunity to study the Old Testament and understand its overall message in more detail. The Old Testament consists of 2/3 of the Bible, and serves as a foundation for many teachings found in the New Testament. Its main purpose is to point towards Jesus who makes possible a new covenant with God's people. The structure of both Testaments follows a covenantal pattern that compels humans to make choices regarding their relationship with God, while demonstrating His patience and perseverance in doing so.
  • Knowing the purpose, structure and theological center of the Old Testament, will help you understand more accurately the character of God, and his purpose in the world and in your life. The Old Testament teaches you about Christ and describes his ministry. Colossians 3:15-16 reads, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."

  • What you decide is the theological center of the Bible will determine how you understand the Bible and apply it to your life. You can see unity in biblical authorship by the number of times the phrase, “thus says Yahweh” is used in the Old Testament.  The person and work of Jesus is the theological center of the Old Testament. The living force of the canonical word must be the incarnate word. The proper nouns used in the Bible indicate the important characters and themes.

  • Jesus claims that the Old Testament finds its ultimate meaning in him. After his resurrection, Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus and gives them a lesson in biblical interpretation. The Father and the Scriptures testify about who Jesus is. In Romans 1:3, Paul refers to the Gospel being revealed through his prophets, in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son. Every book in the Bible teaches about Christ so every sermon should teach about Christ. Hebrews 11 refers to the great cloud of witnesses.

  • The Kingdom of God is the over-arching theme of the whole Bible. God governs his kingdom by his covenants. The covenant of grace is in effect throughout the Bible and has different administrations.

  • The form that our Bibles come to us in is meaningful for interpretation. The Hebrew Bible has a different order of the books than the English Bible.  

  • The order of books in the English Bible and the Hebrew Bible is different because the criteria for determining the order is different. The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible reflect an emphasis on covenant, and also teaching important concepts then giving a practical example to illustrate how to put it into practice.

  • The three divisions in the Old Testament are the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Genesis and Revelation are the introduction and conclusion to the Bible and have parallel themes. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are the four covenant books that record the birth and death of the covenant mediator and contain his life and teachings. The former prophets record the history of Israel. The latter prophets call people to repent and return to God.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the authors who wrote the books of the Bible were inspired by God will influence your position the authorship of the Pentateuch. The traditional view is that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament at about 1200 to 1400 B.C. The documentary hypothesis claims that there were four or more separate authors that wrote beginning in about 900 B.C.

  • Genesis is the covenant prologue and is both protological and eschatological. It is the most covenantal book in the Bible. One way to outline the book is into twelve parts, each beginning with the phrase, “these are the generations.” Creation is described using a theological order.

  • Chapter 2 is a detailed description of the sixth day of creation, culminating in the creation of woman. Chapter 3 describes the Fall and the consequences. Hebrew homonyms link the passages and intensify the descriptions.

  • Noah functions as a prophetic covenant mediator. God promises a remnant in his covenant with Noah and also renews the covenant of common grace. God continues his redemptive covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The book of Genesis ends with the narrative of Joseph.

  • This is the beginning of the formal documents of the covenant of God with the people of Israel. It begins with the birth of Moses and ends with the people of Israel coming out of Egypt.

  • Leviticus is primarily instructions to promote the holiness of God’s people. It provides a system that allows for a holy God to live among an unholy people. In the sacrificial system, there are 5 kinds of offerings. Jesus is the fulfillment of the observance of the Day of Atonement.

  • The book of Numbers is a record of the events of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The purpose is to contrast the faithfulness of God with the faithlessness of the Israelites. The time in the wilderness was a period of testing for the people of Israel.

  • This is a renewal of the Mosaic covenant in preparation for entering the Promised Land. It’s an encouragement to keep the Law and a reminder of blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience. Deuteronomy points us to Jesus who ultimately fulfills the Law.

  • Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings describe the nature and purpose of the Sinai Covenant and the historical events of the occupation of the land. God know that the people of Israel would fail to obey the Mosaic Covenant, so he had planned from the beginning to establish the New Covenant when the time was right.

  • Joshua was the successor to Moses. The book of Joshua focuses on the Promised Land. The people of Israel enter the land, conquer the land, divide the land between the tribes and then renew their covenant with God. Holy war and covenant obedience are important themes.

  • Judges has two introductions, two conclusions, six major judges, six minor judges and one anti-judge. It can be described as the, “uncreation” of Israel. Their purpose was to judge the nations and to deliver the people of Israel from their oppressors.

  • The book of Samuel provides the answer to the crisis of kingship. Samuel, as the last judge and first prophet, anoints Saul as king. The people of Israel reject Yahweh as king. Saul is anointed by Samuel and serves as king but is later rejected because of disobedience. David is anointed king because God acts according to his own will. Solomon begins well and ends badly.

  • The book of Kings is the story of the monarchy in the nation of Israel. It begins with the united monarchy under Solomon, then after his death, is divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. We can learn about God’s character and the importance of living in a covenant relationship with God.  

  • The Latter Prophets are covenant lawyers. They are executing the lawsuit of God against Israel for unfaithfulness to the covenant. Prophets use both oracular prophecies and sign acts to communicate their message.

  • Isaiah is sometimes described as the, “fifth gospel” because it is quoted so much in the New Testament. The themes in Isaiah are both timely for his generation and also point to their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus and the end of time.

  • Jeremiah’s call was to tell the people of Judah why they were going into exile and also to give them hope for future restoration. The book contains oracles, accounts of visions and symbolic actions, prophetic laments and historical narratives.

  • One key to understanding Ezekiel is the glory of God in the temple. The book begins with God appearing to Ezekiel, then God leaves the temple and, in the end, God returns. Ezekiel’s oracles and signs illustrate each of these.

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these 12 minor prophets are treated as one book. Each one is a covenant lawyer that is prosecuting God’s lawsuit against the unfaithful nation of Israel and also preaching a message of hope for restoration. The Day of the Lord is the day of the king’s victory over his enemy, either to crush an enemy or to save a people.

  • These books are about how you think and live in light of the covenant. The genres include narrative, poetry and prophecy. The Hebrew Bible order emphasizes teaching then example.

  • Covenant life is a life of worship. The book divisions in the manuscripts were purposefully arranged so the book as a whole has a meaningful narrative. It emphasized the kingship of Yahweh, the Davidic line and the temple. You can use specific patterns of construction for understanding lament, thanksgiving and hymns of praise psalms. You can also use the same patterns to help you respond to God and worship him.

  • Job deals with the issue of human tragedy and suffering. Job never knows what happened in heaven that resulted in his suffering. His three friends made correct theological arguments but they were misapplied. Job speaks about suffering and hope. God challenges Job at the end of the book, and also restores his possessions and children.

  • Solomon created a collection of practical wisdom sayings. Some were for instructing children, some for instructing kings, but they all are applicable to help everyone live in the light of the covenant of grace in the context of common grace.

  • Ruth follows Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. Even though she is from Moab, she lives in Israel with her widowed Israelite mother-in-law to take care of her. She marries Boaz and is included in the genealogy of David and Jesus.

  • Marriage should be both rock solid in terms of covenant commitment and white hot in terms of sexual intimacy. If it is both, you can better resist temptation, endure hardship and promote wholeness.   

  • The message of Ecclesiastes is that true knowledge, wisdom and meaning in life begins with the fear of the Lord. The author of Ecclesiastes, likely Solomon, tests this conclusion and is unsuccessful in finding ultimate meaning in activities, “under the sun,” like wealth, relationships, power, projects, etc.

  • Lamentations is a collection of funeral dirges lamenting the fall and exile of Jerusalem. The elegant structure of the book is a contrast to the chaos and destruction of the events that are taking place. Each poem gives you a different perspective on God’s character and his covenant faithfulness.

  • Esther is a story of living a life of faith in exile. It Bringing “shalom” into a hostile environment sometimes even requires risking your life. The festival of Purim commemorates God saving his people and is still celebrated today.

  • Daniel and Esther are examples of living a life of faith while in exile. Daniel was different than the writing prophets because he is not primarily a covenant lawyer prosecuting God’s lawsuit against the people of Israel. The first six chapters are biographical stories highlighting God’s power to save and his sovereignty over the nations. The second six chapters are visions of the future.

  • The book of Ezra-Nehemiah records the last events, chronologically, in the Old Testament. Ezra returned from exile with authorization to teach the Law of the Jews and institute the sacrificial system. Nehemiah returned to rebuild Jerusalem. They fail in their human attempt to rebuild heaven on earth, which encourages you to look forward to the city built by God.

  • The return from exile is not the greater one prophesied by the prophets. We still look forward to the return from exile with them in the resurrection. Chronicles traces the seed that was promised and gives an account of the return from exile.

Take this opportunity to study with Dr. Miles Van Pelt as he shows you patterns and themes that will help you understand the Old Testament and the whole Bible. He will give you an overall view of the Old Testament then discuss specifics about each of the books. 

For instance, you might ask, "What kind of book is the Old Testament?" The OT is a single story told three times over: once in Genesis, once in Exodus through Nehemiah, and once again in Chronicles (just like day 6 in Genesis 1–2). The OT loves to repeat itself, repeat itself, repeat itself. This is how it teaches us. The Old Testament is about 2/3 of the Bible and is the basis for everything you read in the New Testament. The better you understand the Old Testament, the clearer you will understand the message of the Bible. 

What is the Message of the Old Testament? The Old Testament points to the New Covenant. The teachings, prophecies and examples of covenant life point to Jesus who makes the New Covenant possible and inaugurates it. There are also examples in the Old Testament of how human efforts to create heaven on earth fall short, so that we will anticipate and yearn for our ultimate deliverance from exile.

What is the Structure of the Old Testament? The structure of the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole, is covenantal. God offers to live in the covenant of grace with him and compels them to make that choice. The administrations of the covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus demonstrate God's patience and perseverance to include as many as are willing.


Recommended Books

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Take this opportunity to study with Dr. Miles Van Pelt as he shows you patterns and themes that will help you understand the Old Testament and the whole Bible. He will give...

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Dr. Miles Van Pelt

Survey of the Old Testament



I. Introduction (00:11):

We are in now our lecture for Ezra-Nehemiah. As you've been tracking with us, Ezra-Nehemiah appears in the third section of the Hebrew Bible. We call this the writings. The writings are about covenant life. How do you think and live in light of the covenant? There are two sections in the writings, life in the land and life in exile. We're in that second subsection life in exile. How do you think and live in light of the covenant, but while you're in exile.

A. General Information (00:39):

So, God's covenant family, but you're not home. There's a lot here to do with suffering, faithfulness, and hope. We're in the last section of Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. These books kind of go together to form a corpus, and I'll tell you why later. The books of Ezra-Nehemiah record the last events, at least chronologically speaking, in the Old Testament period. You can see, for example, that there's a reference to the Book of Chronicles in Nehemiah.

So, Chronicles is already written. Nehemiah is quoting from it or talking about it. When he says in Nehemiah 12:3, "As for the sons of Levi, the heads of their father's houses were written in the Book of Chronicles." Okay. They call it the Book of the Words of the Day in Hebrew. "Until the days of Johanan and the son of Eliashib." So, whoever wrote Nehemiah or Ezra-Nehemiah, already knows about the Book of Chronicles. It'll be interesting and intriguing to figure out then why does Ezra-Nehemiah come before Chronicles?

In our English Bibles, it's Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. There's a theological reason for that. We want to make sure we understand it. Now, I'm talking about the books, Ezra, Nehemiah or the book Ezra-Nehemiah. In Hebrew, it's always been considered a single book. It wasn't until about 1500 AD that they broke it up in the Hebrew Bible, in the Jewish Bible. In the English Bible tradition, we have it broken up much earlier, probably around the time of Jerome. We're going to treat the book together because it was conceived of as a unity.

In fact, in the manuscripts, right, there's no break between the books, right. They're always together. There's no counting after Ezra, when it says like, "This is the middle verse, this is the middle letter." That only appears after Nehemiah. It accounts for both of those books together. So, we're going to talk about the book Ezra-Nehemiah, not the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. This is the Ezra-Nehemiah corpus. If you want to know the tradition, oh, the tradition goes back to origin, in fact. So, it's pretty good and late.

B. Position in the Canon (02:34):

So, for the English Bible, the Vulgate. Okay, position in the canon. This is when we're going to talk about why this is here. In our present English versions, they immediately follow First and Second Chronicles as part of the historical books. We saw that in our earlier lectures that this order reflects that one assumed by Josephus and found in the Greek versions. It also reflects proper chronological sequencing since the events of Ezra-Nehemiah follow those in First and Second Chronicles. In the Hebrew canon, we know they're among the writings. That's almost the unanimous witness of the rabbinic sources.

So, why would we have this division like this? I'm going to tell you the overall reason. Then when we back up, and then we'll talk about why that is later. The overall reason for this sequencing that we have in the Hebrew Bible is to show and demonstrate that the return from exile that the Jews experienced in 538 and afterwards was not the ultimate return that they were to expect. Remember, it is prophesied that when they come back, they'll be more prosperous, numerous, have a great king, and a great temple. It'll be better than it was under Solomon. It never, ever happened. So, how does it tell that story? Here's how it works.

At the beginning of Ezra, Ezra opens up with the Decree of Cyrus in 538 BC, that the exiles can go home. That's the Cyrus Decree. Ezra and Nehemiah records that going home, all the way down to about 400 BC. Then they rebuild part of the temple. They rebuild the walls, build the gates, foundations. They're really going to be keen on that. They're trying to rebuild what they had. Then we're going to get all the way down to the end of Chronicles. At the very end of Chronicles, guess what shows up again? 538 BC, the Decree of Cyrus, you can go home.

It's a little schizophrenic. Hey, we already went home. That's the whole point. That's the tact way of saying, "Yeah, you've returned home, but that isn't the exile I was talking about." Let them go up. They go home. They rebuild, they rebuild, they rebuild. No Davidic king. No great temple. They're still under foreign oppression and dominion. So, Cyrus again, has to say, he doesn't say it again, but it's recorded again. "Hey, it's time to go home again." It's that pregnant pause for 400 years after that like, "Well, when do we go home? How do we go home?" Right? It's not until Jesus comes and talks about new Exodus at his transfiguration that we know when that happens.

C. Authorship (05:09):

So, the reason for this arrangement is to kind of show us that the return from exile we're about to talk about in Ezra-Nehemiah was a failure. When was this book written? According to the Babylonian Talmud, of course, we've talked about that a lot, the Jewish tradition, right? Ezra was the author of both First and Second Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. That makes great sense because we know he was an expert and skilled scribe. He collected books, read books. Nehemiah established a library, all kinds of stuff like this. This view still has many adherence today in recent scholarship.

In my mind, Ezra, and I don't know this for sure, but in my fantasy Old Testament mind, Ezra is the guy who collected all the books and put them in their final form. He is the canonical, the final editor. He under the inspiration of God shaped the final books, put them where they were, maybe put in some of those seams, like at the end of Deuteronomy and the Malachi that we saw that were canonical seams, did all that kind of stuff, Added the, "To this day," sort of things and made sure that everything was in good shape. He was the skilled scribe.

Other scholars, however, hold that the author of First and Second Chronicles also wrote Ezra-Nehemiah, but that this person was not Ezra because there's so much similarity in the language. You can see there's an argument for everything. Still, other scholars hold that the authors of Ezra-Nehemiah were different from the authors of First and Second Chronicles. It's crazy. Whenever you have these things, there are always people vying for it. I'll tell you kind of what I'm thinking. Ezra-Nehemiah differ from most Old Testament books in that they include extensive sections written in the first person. But that is true they have extensive sections, but I want you to think about this.

Do you remember when we talked about Ecclesiastes? We had a first person intro, a third person intro, but then a third person part. Or, with Daniel, the third person part at first, and the first person vision part. So, that's not too uncommon. I think this argument's not as good. First person references naturally suggest that these sections, if not their respective books, were written by Ezra-Nehemiah themselves. That's what I like about the first person sections is that kind of say, "Hey, if they're written in the first person, it seems like they would be the guy's writing it." There appears to have been some editorial work or reworking of either Ezra-Nehemiah, or both. This is because the list of returnees from the exile appears both in Ezra 2, and Nehemiah 7. Remember how the Bible actually repeat themselves?

D. Dates of Major Events  (07:28):

It's how they do it because they're going to, when I show you the outline, it's how they balance the sections. You kind of get a sense of what's going on. But that means that there's been, what I think it is there, there's been strategic rehearsing of the data to bring you back to a certain spot. So, all kinds of things. In terms of dating then, sometime between five or 458 BC, 458 BC Ezra's return, and 404 BC, the end of the reign of Darius. So, the latter part of the 400s, this is probably written. Now, here's how you have to imagine it.

Do you remember Moses during different stages of the Exodus and the wilderness wandering, he was writing things down as they happened? You remember Joshua at different stages during his ministry, though he's leading, he was writing things down as they happened? Well, I think of it very much like that. You can switch from first and third person in those realities. At various stages in their ministries, while they were administering, serving, and doing all leading, they were writing down these things. At the end, they came together. That can explain some of the different layers, and the feels, and the repetitions, and stuff like that because it happened in real life.

It wasn't they went to their office, sat down at the end of the day, and like Bilbo or Frodo, and wrote the book out when it was all done. They were writing as it happened. Sometime between, in your brain, think the exact numbers are tough, just think 450 to 400. The Old Testament cannon closed at 400 BC. Then there was silence for 400 years. That's that intertestamental period. That's when we have things like Maccabees, and the wisdom of Ben Sira. So, all of that intertestamental literature that we use. That's not biblical literature. That'd be stuff like Bill Mounce's commentary on First and Second Timothy and Titus. Or, a Tim Keller book, or a John Piper book. Great books, not inspired, perspired.

That literature helps us understand the Bible, but it's not the Bible. It's important to know that. In terms of dates, before I go through the the basic content of the book next, I just want you to have some dates in your mind that are helpful for understanding what we're about to see. So, the first one is 538 BC. That's the Decree of Cyrus to leave. Just so you know, they weren't forced to leave. You didn't have to go, but you could go. Many God fearing Jews left, but many stayed like, Esther and Mordecai. They're not to be impugned for either staying or going. Just in God's providence that's what happened.

536 is our next event. These are all in the BC category, but I'm not writing that all over the place. In 536 BC, Zerubbabel goes to Jerusalem with fellow exiles. That's going to be all of Ezra one through six is going to record that for us. In 520 BC, they begin to build the temple. Okay, in 520 BC and then in 516 BC, they dedicate the temple. That's when they look at it and say, "This is not very good." I'll read you this section. Now, this is not Haggai, but it's the dedication of temple. It's important to see.

"And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo." We've talked about those prophets. They were post-exilic prophets. "They finished their building by the Decree of God of Israel, and by the Decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes, Kings of Persia." It took them through Cyrus, through Darius, and through Artaxerxes to get this thing done. "And this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. And the people of Israel, the priest and the Levites, and the rest that returned to exile, celebrated the dedication of this House of God with joy."

So, just to give you context then. So, this is now we're at the dedication of the temple. Further context will be helpful. 484 to 465, it's a period we've already covered. That's Esther and Mordecai in Persia ruling. We're going backwards in time. It drives Western people crazy. They want to go forward in time. We're definitely going back to the future. Then it's in 458, right, 458. This is when Ezra comes back. Then in 445, that's when Nehemiah comes back.

When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem in 445 BC, the major part of his ministry or mission was to rebuild the city walls. The temple had been done. That it was time to do the walls. The walls were completed in the same year of his return, only six months later. He was a master administrator. I don't know if you remember how they did it. They were under affliction from people around him. They had their sword in one hand, and their tools in another. So, almost like we would see people working in the Middle East right now during all the conflict. They've got their rifle on their back, and they're working their job because they don't know when they're going to be attacked.

II. Structure (12:39):

The walls were completed in that same year. He reestablished a sense of community, giving the people recognized political status and an honest administration, kind of purged the wicked administrators. Jerusalem and its village around it was resettled. In chapter 11, the city walls were dedicated and Levites were appointed for religious service. This is the macro structure of Ezra-Nehemiah as one book. But I have conveniently divided it. The reason is what you'll see is that there are some parallels in the way the books are constructed by how the materials arranged.

So, the very First part in Ezra, really in Ezra one to six, is Israel's returned from exile and temple rebuilding. But that can be divided into the return in one and two. So, they return from exile in one and two with Zerubbabel. Then they rebuild the temple in three to six. That's when you have a lot of conflict. The reason there's so many chapters there is because it's they're coming back to a land that they've been gone to for a long time. Different people are in charge.

Some people don't want the temple rebuilt. Some people do want the temple rebuilt. There's letters going back and forth to the king. It's an administrative nightmare. They just can't email. The letters are going back by transport by foot, and back by foot, and back by foot. So, it takes a long time. After you get the return from the exile and temple rebuilding, Ezra returns to Jerusalem and institutes reforms in seven, and eight, and nine, and 10. Then you get Nehemiah's return to Jerusalem and wall rebuilding.

So, up here, it's temple rebuilding, down here, it's wall rebuilding. Then you get internal and external problems much like you have in the building of the temple. Then you have covenant renewal in Nehemiah eight, nine, and 10. Nine is the big covenant renewal ceremony. If you think about it, it matches First Kings eight where Solomon dedicates the temple and they do this big covenant renewal thing. It matches Joshua 24 and that big covenant renewal ceremony. It really matches most of Deuteronomy, but it's just quicker because that's a covenant renewal ceremony.

So, it's in that tradition. You'll see the history of Israel played out. You'll see Israel sin confessed. You'll see them pleading, or they're pledging a loyalty to Torah because they've already made a big mistake and been kicked out. They know now that if they become idolators they're in deep trouble. What's interesting is after exile, there's never a mention of idolatry in Israel again. It was purged from their myths that way. You can see how it purified them. Now, they still were sinners. The prevailing problem from golden calf into the Book of Judges, all the way to the divided kingdom is idolatry, infidelity to the covenant.

III. Language (15:25):

Now, that idolatry is just gone. It's not mentioned anymore. It could be there still. But it's just never mentioned. Then we get Nehemiah's reforms. The reforms come in marriage reforms. We'll talk about that. So, that's kind of the order and the contents. You can see, return, build, reform. That's the flow, return, build, reform. Those are the dates. That's how it works out. Like the Book of Daniel, the Book of Ezra has two sections written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. Aramaic we already know, if you've listened to the Daniel lecture, was the lingua franca of the day, or the international language of the first-half of the millennium in the Ancient Near East.

It was the international language of trade, diplomacy, and communication, just like English is today. If you want to know those sections, it's Ezra 4:08 to 6:18, which Terry has read. And Ezra 7:12 to 26. The transition to Aramaic in 4:07 is marked by the statement, "This letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language." It actually says that right there in the text. The Aramaic there are the letters that were written back and forth. So, you actually have a copy of those ancient letters in our Bible. The Aramaic sections consist largely of official documents. Of the 67 verses of Aramaic, 52 of them, 52 of those verses are letters, are records.

IV. Historical Person (16:52):

Only 15 verses are narrative that kind of say, "This is what got sent there." It appears that the author copied the Aramaic documents, then linked them with connecting material in his own language also in Aramaic. The dialect of Aramaic here is what's called, if you want to know, Imperial Aramaic, which was common from 700 to 200. They're right smack in the middle of that Imperial Aramaic. When you think about biblical Aramaic we talk about, it's really that Imperial Aramaic. It's more than biblical, but that's just what appears in the Bible. Who was this Ezra? How did he get this job that he has? This will help you read kind of what was Ezra doing and why was he allowed to do this?

A. Priest and Scribe (17:31):

He is a priest. His priestly lineage is traced back through 16 generations to Aaron the high priest. That's in Ezra 7:01-5. This genealogy serves to show him generally qualified for the task at hand. Ezra has this kind of special connection. God raises up people who have no special connection to anything else. Think of Jephthah? The son of a concubine, kind of kicked out. God loves to work with the unexpected. But in this case, because he's an official administration here, it's nice to know that he's linked to that family. His role in the temple and administration of that is going to be important.

He's also a scribe. Besides a priest, Ezra's a scribe. He's well-versed, and it says in 7:6, "He's was well-versed in the law of Moses." Furthermore, in 7:10, it says, "He had devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the Lord to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel, and to doing them." There's a threefold thing. It's great for anyone studying the Bible. You study it, you teach it, you do it, right. In that order. So, you study it, you do it, you teach it. One evaluation of him says, "He's the priest and teacher, a man in matters learned concerning the commands and decrees of the Lord God of Israel," 7:11.

In 7:10, that's the famous for, "For Ezra set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules." Study, do, teach. Okay. Ezra was a pretty popular dude in post biblical Judaism. He was placed on par with Moses, in kind of they would do their favorite rankings. Who is the greatest basketball player at of all time? Who's the greatest quarterback of all time? The rabbi sat around and said, "Who's the greatest Jewish guy of all time?" Moses was up there with Michael Jordan, or whoever you think is the best. He was credited along with the men of the great synagogue with the origins of the synagogue. They think that Ezra was behind the establishment of the synagogue, right, which would've been in exile.

B. Ezra’s Reforms (19:32):

The temple was way, way far away. You could not go to it. So, what you did is you established houses of learning where you studied the Torah. That's what a synagogue was. Places in exile where you gather together to study the law or the Torah, God's Word. Okay. You would meet there. You would read it. You would study it. It's like the first Jewish school system for Torah observance. We still have those things today in existence. Let's think about Ezra's reforms in Ezra nine and 10. Both Ezra and Nehemiah engage in certain reforms. Some of the big ones have to do with the marrying of foreigners. So, in Ezra nine and 10, there's this whole issue of marrying foreigners and how that's been a problem for them. How has that been a problem for them?

Now, let's think about that from their historical perspective. We've got to think about where Ezra's coming from. You'll remember back in First Kings 10 and 11, right, that what turned Solomon's heart astray was his marriage to foreign wives. When Ezra and Nehemiah account Israeli starting to marry foreigners, they're very concerned. They're very concerned. Now, we don't know a lot about the details or the background of these women. Were they truly pagans? Were they converts? If they were truly pagans, then maybe these divorces were legitimate. But maybe it was an overstepping. There's a debate about that.

We know that several biblical figures did take foreign wives, with no apparent censure by God. For example, Abraham took Hagar, which was not good because it caused problems. But it wasn't against the rules to marry an Egyptian at that time. Joseph married Asenath, and Egyptian, an Egyptian priest's daughter. She was probably pretty into the whole cult system, religious system. Moses married Zipporah, a Midianite. Remember, they got mad at him for that. God said, "Hey, back off." Then Boaz married Ruth. David married Maachah, a Geshurite. So, some of these wives, especially Ruth, may have been converts to Israel, but not all certainly were.

Here in Ezra, eight groups of people are mentioned that they marry. You'll recognize some of these names as the uh-oh names from the lists in Deuteronomy. Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. This is from Ezra 9:1. Those are all of the lists of kind of the do not touch from Deuteronomy, right. These are the ones that they got them in trouble for them. The list, especially recalls two passages cited above, Exodus 34:11 mentions these groups. Deuteronomy 7:1 also mentions these groups specifically. The concern in Ezra, according to 9:2, is that the Holy race, which is not a great translation. It's literally the Holy seed, which now, we understand what they mean because we've been talking about seed theology ever since Genesis 3:15.

The Holy seed has been polluted. This recalls phrases describing Israel as a Holy nation and a Holy seed, and desiring Godly seed from these marriages in Malachi 2:15, and especially Isaiah 6:13, where this precise term occurs again. The whole quest for that is Israel's returning. They do not want to go back to the corrupt state that they were in. But what they don't realize, this is kind of under the current, is that it wasn't the marriages that were necessarily corrupt. It was their hearts that were corrupt. Then their hearts were going after their gods, which is what made it bad. It didn't happen for Moses. It didn't happen for Abraham.

The phrase in Malachi occurs in the context of mixed marriages, where the terminology Isaiah refers to the Holy remnant of God's people. After Ezra persuaded all the Israelites to deal with this problem, a list of offenders is given. The list is carefully ordered, starting with the religious officials and then the laity. So, he puts the religious officials in charge first and saying, "You should have known better." Then he says to the laity, "You should have followed." The list includes 27 clergymen and 84 laymen, a total of 111 persons altogether. There were about 30,000 people who returned. So, 111 people in trouble is not too bad.

If God is unfavorable to divorce, as we know like from Malachi, or Deuteronomy, or the New Testament, right, then is Ezra forcing people to violate the law? Is Ezra forcing people to violate that law? Some say yes, that this judgment would've been too harsh. That they should have just sent them away or something like that, the couple. But as to whether the law violates the divorce law of Deuteronomy 24, Walt Kaiser argues and notes, "That this law did permit divorce for something indecent." Something indecent found in a wife, and that this could not have been adultery since in that case, the death penalty was called for.

So, Deuteronomy has a clause that divorce is permitted for something indecent being found in someone. But that indecency does not require the death penalty, which is what adultery was for. It could be that indecency could be culturally related in terms of faith. Then if that's the case, then Kaiser argues that this is the very law Ezra may have had in mind because he was a master of the law. He was invoking that clause to protect Israel at that time from further corruption. That's Ezra and his reform. You can see Ezra is a priest scribe. He really wants to help Israel get on the right track.

V. Nehemiah (25:02):

One of the ways he's doing that is he's reforming marriage. Now, the reforming of marriage is a good thing because you can see how it got us in trouble. For example, at the Tower of Babel, or the flood. Similar thing, bad things happen in those contexts. It always precipitates judgment. It was the flood. Then the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah were precipitated by this. It has also caused Solomon's kingdom to be torn apart. So, it's a very a touchy issue, both kind of biblically theologically and practically in the mind of Ezra. Now, we move to Nehemiah. Who is he? Like Ezra, Nehemiah also returned Judah with a commission from the Persian king. But this time his commission was civil. Ezra's commission was religious.

A. Historical Person (25:45):

He was to teach the people the law, and to help them obey it, and live in the land according to the law. Now, that that kind of educational system has been in place, Nehemiah is being sent back to reconstruct the city. His job before he leaves is he's the cupbearer to the king. Now, the cupbearer to the king is someone you really, really trust. You bring him his food. You eat his food. You talk with him. You trust him. He trusts you. He asks the king to go home, right. The king says, "Yes." He provisions him for the trip. A late intertestamental Jewish tradition mentions a library founded by Nehemiah, which given the chaotic conditions after the exile, he very may well have done.

Listen, to this. This is from Second Maccabees 2:13. "The same things are reported in the records and the memoirs of Nehemiah." "And also, that he founded a library and collected books about the kings and the prophets. And the writings of David. And letters of kings about vote of offerings”. Here we have Nehemiah starting a library, the record of a library, with things like books about kings, prophets, writings of David, and the letters of kings about vote of offerings. I love it that we have literary activity going on in here because we know that that's the way the literature was established and preserved. We've got internal witness. Now, Nehemiah has more reforms than Ezra. He's coming back to really reform a lot of things. He has three major reforms.

B. Reform 1 (27:14):

The first reform occurs in, well, the first reform occurs in Nehemiah five after he gets back. He rebuilds the wall. The first thing he does is he gets back, he takes care of the wall because if you don't take care of the wall, you're subject to foreign invasions. He's out there every morning, measuring, and measuring, and measuring, and counting, and counting, and counting. He's obsessed with walls, foundations, and gates. I want you to remember that. He's obsessed with walls, foundations and gates. The first reform is in Nehemiah five. It deals with debt, usury, and land reforms, due to the life threatening conditions with the scarcity of food.

C. Reform 2 (27:53):

People are extorting each other and manipulating each other. They're not loving their neighbor as themselves. Nehemiah says, "Stop it. No more debt, no more usury. We're going to help people. We're going to make this right. The government's not going to be corrupt anymore." He purifies the government. We need a new Nehemiah. So, his second reform is in Nehemiah 10. Now, that first reform takes verses. You can see the reforms in there are going to last a while. His second reform is in Nehemiah 10. It's the covenant commitment renewed. First, they separate themselves from foreigners. They forswore mixed marriages to foreigners.

They separate themselves and they say they're going to be being faithful. Second, they address the problem of Sabbath keeping. Here's what happened. Foreigners were selling on the Sabbath. The Jews were not to violate the Sabbath by buying from them. They kept doing it. So, Nehemiah just finally walled off the city and wouldn't let anyone come in on Saturday, on the Sabbath. Now, that's important you've got to realize, is because the reason that God sent Israel into exile is because they weren't keeping the Sabbath and the Jubilee years, like in releasing of debt.

That's why the exile was 70 years. Sabbath breaking and Jubilee breaking were a major reason, like idolatry, for exile. Again, just like Ezra was really concerned about the marriage issue because that got him in trouble. So, like the Sabbath and the Jubilee releases were very important because Israel hadn't done that. If they don't do that, then they're fearing. Then they'll go into exile again. A lot of this is being done in light of why they went into exile the first time. So, it's just in our minds, it's weird, why are they doing this? We don't have a context for it. But they're thinking about what it was like under the monarchy, how it got divided, what happened that we got kicked out of the land for, and we don't want to have any of that again.

We don't want any foreign marriages. We don't want any corruption. We don't want any non-Sabbath keeping non-Jubilee keeping times because that's what got us. Third, they promised to pay a temple tax to support the temple and its ceremonies. That is they're going to start tithing again. Okay. They promised to bring wood offerings for the altar. They promised to support the temple personnel, the priests, and the Levites, and says, "We will not neglect the House of the Lord anymore." It's funny because Nehemiah found out that the priests were having to go out and work, and get food, and fend for themselves. He said, "Hey," Nehemiah said, "Hey, this cannot be done. The priest's job are the priest's job. We have to do this and bring it to them." They're really kind of putting that economy back in order how it should be.

D. Reform 3 (30:36):

That's the first and second reform. So, the first reform is kind of social justice. The second reform has to do with marriages and temple care. The third reform comes to the conclusion of the book, and sums up the essence of the entire work, "Purification from any contamination, establishment of correct worship, and provision for all things cultic." So, here's what they did. First, they once again, addressed a separation from foreigners. Second, Nehemiah found out that Elijah the priest had violated the temple by offering space in the store rooms to Tobiah. He was renting out rooms in the temple to make money. It was the first Airbnb in the temple. He said, "None of that." So, because what they were doing is they were trying to use what God had given them to benefit themselves to the exclusion of others.

They're trying to make money off God. This is the context here. Nehemiah discovered again that the Levites and the temple singers were working in the field in order to survive. He rebuked them. He brought back the tithe system. Next, Nehemiah found out the Sabbath was being violated. He fixed that again. Next, the issue of mixed marriages came up again. Nehemiah's initial reaction was a violent one, more aggressive than Ezra had been in his first one. However, reading carefully between the lines, the text does not say that the foreign wives were put away, but only that Nehemiah made the people swear not to take more wives.

He also found out that the priestly line was being corrupted by inner marriage. That's a big no-no. You don't want the line of Aaron being corrupted. The reason for that is if you look, there are big genealogies in two places here. They're looking for the right priest and how to establish things, and who's coming back. That's why Ezra even found out his own genealogy. He wouldn't come back until he could establish his genealogy, to make sure he could help in the appropriate way. They are very careful to be looking how to, in some sense, let me say it this way, rebuild the kingdom of God on earth in an appropriate way. So, that it’s not lost again.

VI. Redemptive Historical Context (32:39):

That's going to make a big deal here. What's the redemptive historical context for this then? We see here that from 538 to 400, God's people come back and they try to rebuild, let's say heaven on earth. The reason I know this is for this reason. In the Book of Ezra and Nehemiah, there is the word for gate, wall, city, and foundation, in higher concentrations than almost any other place than a few places. We have it in the building of the temple, back in Kings, and we also have it in the descriptions of the new temple in Revelation 21 and 22. Let me show you this. In Ezra-Nehemiah, the word for gate occurs 39 times. The word for wall 32 times. The word for foundation seven times. The word for city, 28 times.

In Revelation 21 and 22, there's the Greek word for gate 11 times, wall six times, foundation 12 times, city 12 times. I've never seen such correspondence like that in terms of concentration. Those two chapters are even smaller. Think about this. Nehemiah is out there every morning, measuring, measuring, measuring. He's trying to rebuild the City of God. He's trying to make heaven on earth. Guess what? You can't make heaven on earth. The return from exile is a human attempt to rebuild it. God never fills that temple. There's never a king back on it. It's really important that we understand that that return from exile is not the right one. But the right one, we could see the same emphasis in Revelation 21 and 22, where gate, and wall, and foundation, and city, are all blowing up.

I know if you've read this material, you think like, "Well, it's a little bit boring. I really don't understand it." Here's what we do with it. We take it to say, if you just look it up, right, go to Amazon and dial up Nehemiah. It's all about six principles of leadership, eight principles of leadership, nine principles of reform. It's not about leadership and reform. It's about human inability to make heaven on earth. Adam corrupted it. They tried to do it in the Tower of Babel, corrupted it. They did it in the theocracy in Jerusalem, and they couldn't sustain it. Israel had the best opportunity to make the best religion, best city, best system in the world with all the resources. They have God's Word, God's law, God' king, God's presence. It was literally for a time heaven on earth, the theocracy. They corrupted it.

And so, now they come back in kind of this dingy hodgepodge, dirty, ramshackled bunch of people. They try it again. In our eyes, it should look sad. It's impossible for us to rebuild heaven on earth. That's a very strong message for this book right here to have at you. That's why there's rebuilding the temple and rebuilding the city. That's the essence of the kingdom. Those walls. Think about Sampson's work in Gaza. He destroys the gate, and he destroys the temple. They're trying to rebuild that stuff to make it secure again. But it's not. In 70 AD the stuff all comes down again. There is no permanent city. You can see the theme we've been tracing throughout the whole Bible and how this book fits into it.

One of the things about understanding life in exile and how to live in light of the covenant is to recognize that this world is not our home. We will never be at home here. This is not heaven on earth. You can't build it here. You only have to look forward to that city whose builders and foundations are God, like Abraham did, to survive in this world. The good news about that is once you do, then you can live in this world with way more peace because you realize this world can't satisfy all your longings. This world wasn't built for it. In fact, this world now, is suffering under the curse, and will only send you frustration.

VII. Conclusion and Questions (36:34):

That's what the author of Ecclesiastes is showing you. That if you try to live in this world under the sun, in this section, that you'll only have frustration. But you can navigate that frustration with the fear of the Lord, reverence and awe for the One who saved us. So, that's our Book of Ezra-Nehemiah. It's a great book theologically. It's a great book historically too, because we actually have a record of the return from exile that is later described as a failure. We don't have to guess at what it was or wasn't. All right, any questions?

So, they were trying to be really careful not to repeat the four mistakes? Is that where the movement of the Pharisees came from?

Yes. Certainly is, yeah. I wouldn't say Ezra-Nehemiah were Pharisees.


But you could see the careful concern to follow the smallest detail of the law because their breaking of the law got them kicked out. But here's the thing. You could break all those little laws. God, I don't want to say He didn't care, but God was not going to bring wrath and judgment on a man, if he tithed 11% instead of 10%, or 9%, right, counted wrong. It was the incessant whoring after other gods. I’ll put it like this. If my wife yells at me, it hurts me, but it's fine. If my wife does something mean to me, fine. If my wife neglects me, fine. We do things, right. But she's always devoted to me. Does that make sense? She's always coming after me. But if she leaves and has an affair, and an affair, and an affair, that's a whole different thing.

Israel just wasn't making little mistakes. They sold themselves out for other gods. As a security plan, because remember in the ancient world, they were like, "There's the storm god. There's a fertility god. There's the corn god, Dagon." So, it's like, "I like Yahweh. But I need all these other insurance policies as well." They didn't trust that Yahweh alone could be the storm God, the corn God, the grain God, the God of this land, the God of that land. If you remember, in the book of Jonah, the sailors asked him, "Where are you from? Where are you going? What's your family? What's your job?" They weren't asking for his resume. They were asking, "Which god have you angered so that we can appease him?" Then he said, "I worship the Creator of heaven and earth." That's when their jaws dropped.

Then they realized they had to throw him over the boat. That's how that world worked back then. That all these other gods secured certain blessings for you like Asherah and Baal, fertility, children, crops, stuff like that, all the things you needed to thrive in the land. The thing Yahweh was saying is, "I'm the only one who can give that to you." They just wouldn't believe it. It wasn't just minor infractions like they went to church with a sore on their arm, which they shouldn't have done. Or, they didn't wear the right underwear that day to go to church, the Levites. It was that they continually and over repeatedly whored after their gods, unfaithfulness. They missed the big picture. Do you know what I mean? They missed the big picture. They thought that keeping those rules would get them in.