Thoughts on Ezra and Nehemiah, Day 16, Lent 2013

I read Ezra and Nehemiah in today's super-dooper Bible reading plan for Lent. Actually, I listened to most of it this morning while I did some mindless activities; making pancakes, moving branches into a pile, and bringing in firewood. In both books, as in Chronicles, there are many lists of names and head counts. Both documents feel to me like official reports back to the court in Persia. The style is very similar to Chronicles, which makes me wonder if the positivity of the Chronicles was intended to make a good impression on a Gentile government.

Ezra's focus is on the restoration of the Jewish temple and Nehemiah's focus is on the reconstruction of the city. About 80 years separate the two stories. Ezra is a scribe and priest, Nehemiah is a member of the Persian court. Their stories overlap, as Ezra shows up years after the temple restoration began, but before Nehemiah. Both stories begin with much hope, overcome hostility, resistance, and apathy, feel the joy in success, then end in downers. Ezra forces all the mixed Jewish-Gentile families to divorce, without exceptions (mercy) in order to remain in the Jewish community. Nehemiah has all non-Israelites excluded from the assembly (Nehemiah 13:3). Nehemiah also goes nuts over intermarriages. He reasons from Solomon's example, after beating down a few of his countrymen.

25 So I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear in the name of God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land. 26 “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” I demanded. “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives. 27 How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?”

However, David had a multi-ethnic kingdom, if not Gentile wives, and things were good. It is incongruous with Nehemiah's prayer that referenced God's loving kindness over and over again in ch. 9.

The worship service Ezra conducts in Nehemiah 8 is great. He stands up on a platform and reads the scriptures to the people, then various priests mixed in with the crowd in attendance provide interpretation and instruction to the people in their vicinity. It's familiar to the synagogue format that Jesus encounters a few hundred years later. I found this chapter a great inspiration for a different way to do church. I broke it down into four parts (123, 4) back in 2005. Six years later, I still like this idea of church.

I hope whoever reads this checks out these ideas, based on Ezra's method.

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