“Remember the instruction You gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me and obey My commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for My Name.’” Nehemiah 1:8-9
What’s Going On?
Last week we saw the beginning of the era known at The Return when the Israelites begin to resettle in and around Jerusalem. We saw the first wave return under the leadership of Zerubbabel who will be remembered for rebuilding a much smaller version of The Temple. During the second wave, Ezra the priest led the people to turn their hearts back to God. This week we’ll see a third wave under the leadership of Nehemiah who will take on the project of rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem.
The book of Nehemiah might have been titled ‘Ezra Part Two’ as it continues the story from our reading last week and Ezra himself is central to the storyline. Ezra has already been in Jerusalem for fourteen years when word gets to Nehemiah in Susa, Persia that they are having trouble. Nehemiah asks the Persian King to send him down to help out. When he gets there, Nehemiah inspects the wall and begins the work of rebuilding it by asking each person to repair the area in front of their homes (Facing the Giants is a movie which beautifully uses this illustration). The work is completed in just fifty-two days and then they all gather to hear Ezra read the Book of the Law. The people recommit to the Lord and then Nehemiah returns home leaving Ezra in charge. He makes a second trip to Jerusalem later when he learns that they fall short of keeping this commitment and gets them back on track.
Esther tells us of a young Jewish woman who becomes the wife of the Persian King after winning the position in a beauty contest. Once she is Queen, she uses her influence to stop an edict from killing all Jews within the Persian kingdom led by an official named Haman. One interesting thing about the book of Esther is that it is the only book in the Bible not to mention the Name of God! Also interesting, Esther’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible outside this book.
When and Where Are We?
Nehemiah is living as one of the Jewish exiles in Susa on the far eastern side of the Persian Empire. He will travel about a thousand miles from Susa to Jerusalem (twice). The Persian Empire included what is today known as Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. The time period will be about 500-400 BC.
The book of Esther likely takes place at the same time as, or possibly before, the book of Ezra. It is during this time period that the word “Jew” begins to appear meaning those who came from Judah, even though this generation of Jews had been born into the Babylonian/Persian exile and had never even been to Jerusalem. You’ll also notice the word Israel no longer means the northern kingdom only, but refers to the original Israel including all 12 tribes. Only the land around Jerusalem will be resettled, however.
- Persian Kings – Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes (Ahaseurus), and Artaxerxes
- Nehemiah – Persian Kings cupbearer who travels from Susa to Jerusalem to help rebuild the wall
- Esther/Hadassah – Jewish girl who goes from beauty queen to Queen of Persia, saves Jews
- Mordecai – Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, Esther’s older cousin and caretaker
- Haman – an Amalekite who sends out a proclamation to have all the Jews killed
“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” Esther 4:14
Weekly Reading Schedule:
- Monday: Nehemiah 1-4
- Tuesday: Nehemiah 5-8
- Wednesday: Nehemiah 9-13
- Thursday: Esther 1-5
- Friday: Esther 6-10
- Saturday: (get a jump start on next week and read Job 1-6)