Ezra and Nehemiah

Restoring the nation after the exile to Babylon.

A Pattern of Restoration (6)

Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the LORD. “You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says the LORD of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.” Haggai 1.7-11

Not the way it was supposed to be
For all the seventy years Daniel and the people of Israel were held captive in the land of Babylon, Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord lay in ruins. Only a handful of the poorest people remained, to eke out a living on the land in a prolonged struggle to survive. The once-glorious City of God became overgrown by weeds and overrun by wild beasts. Israel had been cast out of her garden; and the garden had gone to seed.

This is not the way it was supposed to be.

God intended Jerusalem to be a shining city on a hill, the joy and beauty of the earth, the epicenter for His Law of love to reach the nations, that the nations might see His wisdom, seek His Presence, and become one with His people (Ps. 48.1-3; Mic. 4.1-5; Deut. 4.5-8).

When the seventy-year disciplining of His people came to its end, God raised up His servant, Cyrus, king of the Persians, to send the people back to the land of promise, to resume their covenant relationship with God (Is. 45.1-4; Ezra 1.1-5). Israel’s purpose was to return to the land, rebuild the temple, restore the city of Jerusalem, and wait for the promised Kingdom of God. To ensure this work of restoration would come to fruition, God raised up two men – Ezra and Nehemiah – to lead the people in these difficult undertakings.

God’s plans for His people had not come to an end. He intended them to have a future and a hope (Jer. 29.11), and the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem and the temple were interim objectives in God’s longer-term restoration project.

Leading for restoration
All the elements of the work of restoration are in view here: the rejection of pagan peoples and their ways; the renewing of covenant with God; the involvement of all the people according to their abilities and resources; and the realization of concrete objectives – the temple and the wall of Jerusalem – that would bear witness to the surrounding world of God’s goodness and favor.

The project began where Noah, Joshua, and David began, by restoring the people to their covenant relationship with God. First, the altar of God was constructed, and sacrifices were offered to His praise. Next – after a lengthy period of being distracted – the people set to work rebuilding the temple, under the leadership of Ezra and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah and the governor Zerubbabel. The finished project was not nearly as glorious as the first temple constructed by Solomon. But even the rather drab temple that was constructed served to create a longing in the hearts of God’s people for greater beauty and glory yet to come.

Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was the next project, and the leadership of this effort fell to Nehemiah. He took stock of the situation, rallied the people for the effort, assigned builders and posted guards, rebuffed the pagans who sought to distract him, and finished the project with a celebration of praise and worship that renewed the people and brought the joy of the Lord back to His land.

The temple and city wall restored, the priests and Levites reassigned, and the sacrifices renewed, all that remained was for Israel to appoint a king who would lead in the full restoration of the nation, and the realization of their worldwide mission (Is. 54.1ff).

But it would be many years before that next phase of God’s restoration project would begin.

Restoration for God’s glory

Let’s not miss the purpose of all this work of restoration. Why did God send His people back to Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple and renew the spiritual practices of the people? Why was it so important that the wall and city should be restored? For the pleasure of God, and for His glory; for the renewed promulgation of His Law, and the reviving of His people; and that a witness to the Lord might reach to all the surrounding nations (Hag. 1.7-11; Neh. 8.1-12; 10.1-39; 6.15, 16).

It pleases God to restore the wellbeing of His dwelling place, His city, His people, and His land. That is, the pleasure of God is renewed where such work of restoration takes place, and it extends to all who participate in that great work. God is glorified as grateful people sing His praises, renew covenant with Him, and glory in His bounty and goodness. And this great work of restoration bears witness to the unbelieving world that God’s Word is sure, His promises are faithful, His love is unfailing, His power is real, and His people are the citizens and ambassadors of His Kingdom.

The work of Ezra and Nehemiah represents perhaps the culmination of the Old Testament pattern of restoration, the most graphic and dramatic illustration of God’s determination that His sin-blighted world shall not remain so, but that His people, following His Word, will work to bring restored goodness and glory to all that God puts under their power.

But the work of Ezra and Nehemiah is not the high-water mark of restoration, either for the Old Testament or the work that glorifies God and brings His pleasure and goodness to the world. That great work would be on hold until the King should come to proclaim, bring near, receive, and give His Kingdom to the saints of the Most High God; and they, receiving from their Father the ministry of reconciliation, would begin that great work of restoring the world God loves to the way He intends it, the way it’s supposed to be.

For Reflection
1. How does the work of Ezra and Nehemiah illustrate the pattern of restoration we have been observing throughout the Old Testament?

2. How did the work they completed leave faithful Israelites longing for more?

3. What can you learn from the example of Ezra and Nehemiah about the ministry of reconciling all things?

Next Steps – Transformation: What’s one area of your life where you can take up some work of restoration – for God’s pleasure, goodness, and glory – today?

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore