Imagine your life as a refugee: stripped away from your family, your home, your friends, your neighbors, and everything you know, only to be forced away to an unfamiliar and distant land. Then, after 70 years, you’re allowed to return to your original home. You can’t begin again where you left off. Everything has changed. Your childhood home feels like part of a distant dream.
You try to restore what you had before you left, but you are disheartened because it will take lots of hard work and courage. This is the state in which we find the Israelites in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
These books show how God faithfully worked to restore the people of Israel to their homeland after their exile in Babylon. These two books in our Bible took place at about the same time and are one book in the Hebrew Bible.
Ezra was a scribe and priest who was well trained in the law of Moses (Nehemiah 8:1-12). Nehemiah, on the other hand, was a cupbearer to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I. Nehemiah was best known for rebuilding a large section of the wall of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians (Nehemiah 1:11), while Ezra worked to reintroduce Israel to God’s law and to restore proper worship of God in their homeland.
Because of Israel’s sin, God judged his people through the Babylonians. The Babylonians attacked, captured, and uprooted God’s people, taking them away from the promised land and into their land. After some time, Babylon was taken over by the Persians, who eventually gave the Israelites permission and support to return to their land.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are not a blissfully warm homecoming story, as you might expect. They reveal that Israel’s return to her land proved disappointing. It didn’t look like God’s promises to bless the nations through them was possible: they had no temple, no king, were few in number, and had morally compromised while in exile.
But there was still hope. There’s a key character in these books we must pay attention to. He has a funny name: Zerubbabel. He’s a governor, and one of the men who helped lead the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 2:2; 3:2; 5:2). We learn more about him from the prophetic books written during Ezra and Nehemiah’s time, Haggai and Zechariah. Zerubbabel stepped up to lead this shattered community to restoration and to encourage these people to seek God. He was anointed by God to help restore God’s people. Zerubbabel was also the glimmer of hope they needed—for we find out later in the Bible that he was the Xth great-grandfather of Jesus. Zerubbabel was the next link in the lineage that would lead to the Deliverer God promised to send his people.
Although God restored the temple, the walls, and the worship of his people through Ezra and Nehemiah and others like Zerubbabel, he did not bring the restoration they most deeply needed—yet. That would come when the promised Prophet, Priest, and King Jesus would enter the scene of human history. Jesus would lead his people into relationship with God through his sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection, and at that time God’s kingdom would truly come.
Jesus would lead his people into relationship with God through his sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection, and at that time God’s kingdom would truly come.
Though ultimate deliverance was far in the distance—and despite their faithlessness—the Israelites experienced God’s loving faithfulness, which is why these books are worthy of your attention.
Do you ever need a spiritual reboot during a challenging time? Do you ever need to be reminded that God still loves you, has a plan for you, and is faithful to his promises?
Ezra and Nehemiah’s personal accounts magnify God’s faithfulness to keep his promises, despite our failures. The God who was faithful to his covenant then is the same God who is faithful to his Word now.
As it says in Ezra 10:2, “there is still hope for Israel” (NIV). We know now that this hope is fulfilled in Jesus, but the books of Ezra and Nehemiah provide us with living stories that anticipate this hope to come. God revived the hope of his people by helping them rebuild their city and their place of worship, and demonstrated his quiet faithfulness by preserving for them the royal line that would lead to King Jesus.
These books remind us that we, too, are like refugees in this life looking for a home—a home that can only be found in Jesus, who is the only way to God (John 14:6). Read Ezra and Nehemiah to see how God is faithful to those who find their home in him.