Welcome Back to the Bible Blog!
I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that the Hebrew Bible, what we refer to as the Old Testament, arranges the books in a different order than we are accustomed to seeing them when we open our Bibles. However I don’t think I ever explained why ours are in a different order.
Another name for the Hebrew Bible is the Tanakh. The name is an acronym of the Hebrew words Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim, which stands for “Law, Prophets and Writings”. With these books (or scrolls originally) grouped this way, Chronicles (or our 2Chronicles) was the last book of the Hebrew Bible. Other than this difference in order the content of the Hebrew Bible and our Old Testament is the same.
So why do we have a different order? Our Old Testament books are in the same order as those in the Septuagint (sometimes referred to as the LXX). The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible written by 70 (or 72) scholars as early as the late 2nd Century BC. Septuagint is a Latin word meaning “seventy” and LXX is the Roman numeral for 70. The LXX was written for Hellenistic Jews (or Greek Jews, if you will) who were spread all over the known world, but were losing their knowledge of the Hebrew language. By the time of the Disciples the LXX was the commonly accepted version of the Old Testament.
So now to Ezra…
Did you notice that Ezra 1:1-3a is literally identical to the ending verses in 2Chronicles 36:22-23? Obviously these two books should be ordered together as we have them. The transition to Ezra and Nehemiah signals the end of the captivity of the Southern Kingdom and the beginning of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of each other. Ezra led the rebuilding of the temple of the Lord and Nehemiah the rebuilding of the walls and gates around Jerusalem.
In Ezra 3 we read that as the foundation was laid for the temple that there was great rejoicing among the workers, but among those old enough to have seen the first temple, they wept with a loud voice. These knew that this “new” temple wouldn’t come close to measuring up to the glory of the former temple. This mixed celebration is symbolic of the return itself, which was a triumph of sorts, but fell way short of the great hopes the people may have had as they returned.
Shortly into the rebuilding project opposition raised its ugly head. Jews from the North wanted in on the rebuilding efforts, but they were turned away. In anger they approached King Artaxerxes and got him to issue a decree calling a halt to the rebuilding project. When the news reached the workers the rebuilding ceased, at least for a while.
However he was lied to in order to convince him to issue the decree and he was unaware that a previous king, King Cyrus of Persia, had ordered that the rebuilding should take place. When King Darius came to the throne of Persia the workers resumed their construction. When the agitators complained to the king that this work was ordered to be stopped, the workers appealed to King Darius asking him to search the archives, for King Cyrus had issued a written decree that it should be built. After a careful search was made they found the written record and the construction continued as planned.
You think your father was the one who came up with the idea to, “Get it in writing”? The wisdom of a written record goes way back beyond that! Speaking of getting things in writing, God put things in writing for them (and us) way back when. He can always take us back to His “archives” and remind us of His written decrees…
That’s exactly what he does at the end of Ezra. The people have continued to marry foreign wives and have children by them and in chapter 10 they confess their sins before God. They were ordered to put away their foreign wives and children and make the appropriate guilt offerings before God.
So then who took care of these foreign women and their children?
Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the king, hears that the walls of Jerusalem are broken down and the gates have been burned and not repaired. He is heart-broken as he looks for a way to ask the king for permission to return and rebuild the walls of the city.
In Nehemiah 2 we see a great principle that we all should follow. When the king asks Nehemiah, “What are you requesting?” we read…
‘So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” ’ Nehemiah 2:4b – 5
Did you catch that?! Nehemiah prayed before answering! How many times in your life have you wished you had done that? Particularly with very difficult things it is important to pray before speaking. The result of this encounter was that the king sent Nehemiah with his full blessing to return and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem!
Of course this endeavor, like the rebuilding of the temple, was not without opposition. These scoundrels threw every play in the book at Nehemiah. However Nehemiah, their governor, was an inspiring leader who rallied the citizens of Jerusalem to complete the work. One way in which he inspired them was to follow the advice of our Savior (advice that wouldn’t be spoken of for several hundred more years) when he said…
The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. Nehemiah 5:15
Soon the wall is completed and Ezra the priest (remember Ezra?) reads the Law to the people and they resume the Festival of Booths, which hasn’t been observed since Joshua son of Nun. Since Joshua son of Nun?!?! Are you kidding me?
How appropriate that their entire history should be summarized and read to them in chapter 9. We all need a reminder from time to time! Don’t we?