Summary: A study of the biblical theology of Ezra-Nehemiah that situates the books within an account of redemptive history, emphasizing both what already had been fulfilled and what yet remained.
Dean Ulrich believes that the combined books of Ezra-Nehemiah have not received the scholarly attention they are due. In this monograph, he situates these books within the arc of redemptive history, particularly with regard to the promises of restoration made to Israel’s exiles.
He divides the structure of these books into three parts, with the second part covering a significant part of the two books with three stages.
Ezra 1-2: The decree of Cyrus and the exiles who returned. Not only does Cyrus decree the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple in fulfillment of prophecy but he returns the vessels seized when Jerusalem fell and permits the exiles to return with offerings of silver and gold and livestock to support the rebuilding. God has kept his promise and there is hope for the future.
Ezra 3:1-Nehemiah 7:73a: The performance of Cyrus’ decree in three stages:
- Stage one: The temple is rebuilt over a twenty year period. Expecting the promise of Isaiah 60 that the nations would participate in the rebuilding, instead they encounter local resistance and apathy, addressed under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, Joshua, Haggai, and Zechariah. Yes, the temple is rebuilt, but with nothing like its former glory and not yet realizing the positive response of the nations.
- Stage two: Ezra returns in 458 BC to rebuild the people so that the new temple is not defiled. Ezra teaches the people and calls on people to dissolve intermarriages unless the wives convert. Ezra leads the people in corporate repentance. They are back in the land but still prone to pursue the patterns of sin that led to exile.
- Stage three: Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem empowered by Artaxerxes to rebuild the walls and gates, critical to protecting the sanctity of the temple from those who are unfit spiritually to worship there (an idea I’ve not encountered before). Yet keeping out the unfit may also keep out the nations who would come to worship, a conflict with Zechariah’s vision.
At this point the temple is rebuilt, the people are being instructed in the holy life to which God calls them and the holiness of the temple is protected. But the promised glory, the king to come and the blessing to the nations awaits.
Nehemiah 7:73b-13:31: The continued reformation of the people. The charging of interest for loans with fellow Jews reveals the community renewal needed beyond the physical construction of a wall. Nehemiah and Ezra lead in the instruction of the people in God’s Word, leading to the confession of sin and the obedience of God’s command. Yet reformation is a continuous process as Nehemiah has to address intermarriage and commerce on the sabbath, and the graft of Tobiah, even after the glorious celebration at the dedication of the walls. This glimpse of glory was not enough to remove the need for continued repentance and reformation.
Ulrich moves between Ezra-Nehemiah and the greater fulfillment in Christ, yet also draws parallels between the “now and not yet” of Ezra-Nehemiah and the similar reality we face as we both live out kingdom come and await its full realization. In particular, the continued need for instruction in the Word, repentance, obedience and fulfillment of God’s mission are realities both for the returned exiles and we who are “exiles and strangers” awaiting our future hope. This is a useful study both in understanding the place of Ezra-Nehemiah in redemptive history and our own.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.