the Bible – the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther – affirm that He will.
These books narrate the history of the first generations of Yahweh’s people after the exile. In the book of Esther, we will read about their redemption even though they are in a foreign land. In Ezra and Nehemiah, we will see their reestablishment in the Promised Land. We will cover this unit in about a week and a half, between May 15th and 26th this year. As you read, keep in mind the following observations:
1) The main events of the unit: The redemption and protection of Yahweh’s threatened people on foreign soil (Esther) and their reestablishment in the Promised Land through many trials and tribulations (Ezra and Nehemiah).
2) Yahweh’s outstanding attributes: His faithfulness, His mercy in forgiveness, His sovereignty
3) Yahweh’s main work: Preserving, redeeming, blessing and reestablishing His chosen remnant
4) The main participants: Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Mordecai and others from the generations of Yahweh’s people after the exile
5) The main reference to Jesus Christ and the gospel: “You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst” (Nehemiah 9:15; see also John 6:31-35 y 1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
Key observations: In one verse, the chronicler summarizes several decades of history and prepares us for the Bible unit that we are going to read today: “He
took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword [in the year 586
BC], and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of
the king of Persia [in the year 539 BC]” (2 Chronicles 36:20). This last event refers to the victory of the Medes and Persians led by Cyrus over the Babylonians. With
this victory, authority over the exiled Jews passed from the Babylonians to the
The Persians had a very different policy toward conquered minorities than the Assyrians and Babylonians had. Instead of keeping them in exile, the Persians promoted the reestablishment of their cities of origin and the reconstruction of their
temples. This new policy benefitted Yahweh’s people: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the
earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up”’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; see also Ezra 1:1-4).
Just as the deportation to Babylon occurred in three stages (in the years 605, 597 and 586 BC), the return from exile and the reestablishment of Jerusalem occurs in three stages, too. The first group returns shortly after Cyrus’s decree in 539 BC. Led by the governor Zerubbabel, they concentrate on the rebuilding of the temple which finally is finished in 516 BC. We read their story in Ezra 1 – 6 and in the books of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
The second group returns over 50 years later, in 458 BC. Led by Ezra, they
concentrate on the reestablishment of the people in the Mosaic Law. We read their story in Ezra 7 – 10.
The third group returns shortly thereafter, in 444 BC. Led by Nehemiah, they
concentrate on rebuilding the walls around the city. We find their story in the book of Nehemiah, part of which overlaps with Ezra.
Therefore, when you read Ezra and Nehemiah, remember that you are reading a historical narrative that covers over 100 years. Don’t be frustrated if the
main characters and events in Ezra 1 – 6 do not reappear in Ezra 7 – Nehemiah 13.
In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we will see that Yahweh blesses the remnant of His people who return and rebuild Jerusalem. But what happens to His
chosen people who don’t return from the exile? Will Yahweh abandon them? The book of Esther tells us no; instead, Yahweh will continue to protect and redeem His people living on foreign soil.
Although we read the book of Esther after Ezra and Nehemiah, historically it takes place during the reign of Xerxes (Ahasuerus; between 486 – 465 BC), that is, during the half-century of silence between Ezra 6 and 7. Therefore, if we want to follow the chronological thread, we see roughly:
1. Ezra 1 – 6, Haggai and Zechariah (539 – 516 BC)
2. Esther (probably between 480 – 475 BC)
3. Ezra 7 – 10 (458 –approximately 433 BC)
4. Nehemiah (444 –approximately 430 BC)
And in all that historical and geographic movement, Yahweh is the One who remains faithful and secure. Praise Him for his sovereignty and faithfulness despite the barriers of distance and time as you read the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.