We finish the Old Testament this week! Let’s press on! The people of God are returning to the Land. They’re repenting. They’re living faithfully in exile. They’re looking for confirmation of the Lord’s love and for Elijah the prophet who will make straight the way of the Lord.
Here’s Mike Cosper again on the end of Esther: “This moment, like so many in the Old Testament, was a time of revival and renewal. But, it is also unique. Mordecai and Esther were not the only assimilated Jews in the empire. The cultural gravity pulled every Jew toward assimilation. The crisis, the war, and the celebration that followed were a kind of crossroads. Should they choose to see the events as the intervention of Yahweh, preserving them once again, or should they wipe their brows, be glad they’d dodged a bullet, and get on with their lives? Purim was inaugurated as a way of saying, ‘Never forget.’” Make observations about how our ‘cultural gravity’ is pulling us toward assimilation and away from faithfulness to Christ.
Last time we read Ezra, we saw the Temple completed, dedicated, and Passover celebrated. We pick back up with the people as they return to the Land. This time, Ahasuerus (Esther’s king) sends Ezra up to Jerusalem to teach the people. You’ll hear a desire for faithfulness on Ezra’s part, which leads him to public and corporate repentance when he realized the returned exiles have not been following the Law of Moses, but rather have intermarried with foreigners. The people are clear about their wrong doings and they throw themselves onto the grace of God saying “even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.
Similar to Ezra, Nehemiah begins asking the Lord for favor in his task. Nehemiah trusts in the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love, asking him to hear his servant’s earnest prayer. Then, Nehemiah makes a plan and counts the cost of his task before making a presentation to the King. After making the trip to Jerusalem, they get to work according to plan – even through opposition.
Nehemiah has two concerns: restoration of both the city walls and the city’s people.From the very first verse of chapter 6, we’ll see the antagonists attempt to frighten Nehemiah to no effect. We will see God’s faithfulness to Nehemiah alongside Nehemiah’s remembrance that the God for him is greater than those against him. In the midst of frustration, he keeps trusting his problems to the Lord.
Now that the city is completed and the people are restored to their lineage, it’s time for the Lord to speak through his word. Nehemiah 8 is one of the most well-known passages in the book – and rightly so. It’s a beautiful example of what should happen when the power of God’s word meets the sin of God’s people: reverent worship of the great and awesome God paired with open confession of sin.
The restoration work is completed and the wall has been dedicated. Now free from outside attack, Nehemiah and company can set their attention toward getting the internal affairs and operations of the city and the Temple up and running. The final reforms of Nehemiah bring the people into line with the regulations from the Book of Moses. We’re left with a hopeful, but anticlimactic ending because the presence of the Lord still has not visibly returned to his people in their place. And yet, it seems, there’s a renewed interest in obedience to the covenant.
Malachi fits right along with Ezra and Nehemiah’s efforts to purify the priests and temple regulations. The Temple is the place where God’s glory dwelled – but Malachi is introducing us to the idea that God’s glory will one day be known among the nations and true worship will be offered to him in every place. In chapter 3 there’s an astounding promise that the Lord will suddenly come to his Temple. The anticlimactic endings of Ezra-Nehemiah will be fulfilled shortly after the Lord sends “Elijah the prophet.” And with those words, thus ends our chronological journey through the Old Testament. As those who know the full story, it’s a beautiful preparation for Jesus, isn’t it