Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ezra, Nehemiah and a Brief Bit of History

Like many, I was unaware of how interrelated the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are.  In fact, until my time in seminary, I was blissfully unaware of the relationship of Ezra, Nehemiah, the Apocryphal books of 1 & 2 Esdras, and the Vulgate books of 1 – 4 Esdras.  I find it especially interesting that Ezra and Nehemiah were actually a single work until their separation until the Fifteenth century[1].  I cannot help but wonder how folks in small churches around our great nation would react when presented with such facts.  That question and the deeper relationships of the previously mentioned documents are certainly of tremendous interest though well beyond the scope of the current blog.

With a more thorough understanding of the historical background, Nehemiah takes on a fuller meaning for me.  For instance, I had not considered the circumstances surrounding Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem (Neh 2:1-9) though the study with a new perspective was enlightening.   Chapter 6 takes on an especially new significance to me.  To say that the enemies of Nehemiah were unaware of the power of God should go without saying.  It is interesting though that they were unaware of the relationship Nehemiah enjoyed with King Artaxerxes.
It is my view that this period should also be viewed in the larger context of history.  Artaxerxes had a practice of funding the enemies of Greece (Athens specifically).  I mention that specific instance to make the point that Jerusalem was a very small part of a much larger kingdom.  My fresh understanding of this leads me to believe that while Artaxerxes’ fondness for Nehemiah was obvious, his granting Nehemiah’s request was little more than a favor for a favored friend.  From the perspective of Artaxerxes, it was likely nothing more than a footnote in the day-to-day administration of his kingdom.  From the perspective of the Jews of the day and believers today, it is proof positive that God was involved in influencing the affairs of men and of His chosen people.

[1] Lasor, William Sanford, David Allen Hubbard, and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996. (pp. 551)

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