This week we finish up the book of II Chronicles, read our way through both Ezra and Nehemiah and begin the book of Esther.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah used to be one book in the Hebrew Bible before being separated. Both of the books deal with the return of the Israelites from captivity in Babylon. The Book of Ezra consists of ten chapters. Chapters 1-6 cover the period from the decree of Cyrus the Great allowing the first return of exiles (about 538BC) to the completion and dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem (about 515BC). This part of the book is largely told in third person, as if someone is retelling what has been told to them. But chapters 7-10 are largely told in third person (presumably by Ezra himself), dealing with his mission to Jerusalem (about 465BC) and his struggle to purify the Jews from their inter-marriage with non-Jews.
Nehemiah is about 20 years after Ezra. He is the cupbearer to King Artaxerses of Cyrus and is sent to help build up the wall around the city of Jerusalem and reform the people according to the law of Moses. The first part of the book is all hard work - rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, setting up guards along the wall and gates, taking a census of the people, having the law of Moses read to the people, leading the people in repenting for their sins and beginning a new covenant with God. After twelve years of hard work, Nehemiah returns to Susa. Later he comes back to Jersualem and finds that the people have backslid in his absence. So he takes measure to enforce his earlier reforms and asks for God's favor.
Next we turn to another book of the exile, Esther. The book of Esther is interesting because while the name of God is never explicitly mentioned in the book, God's action is certainly implied. Esther is a Jewish woman living in exile in Persia. When the Persian king Xerses banishes his wife, a contest starts to seek a new queen. Esther is one of the women presented and ultimately Xerses' choice. Tensions arise between Xerses' right hand man Haaman and Esther's uncle Mordecai until the life of all Jews are threatened. My favorite part of the book is Mordecai's question to Esther which spurs her to take a risk: "And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?"(Esther 4:14)
I love how we see God working things out among his people for a return after the exile..... prompting the leaders of foreign nations to help rebuild Jerusalem and provide native leaders for oversight. It reminds me of the truth of what Paul wrote centuries later in Romans 8:31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?"
Here is the schedule:
15, Sunday: II Chronicles 34 - Ezra 1
16, Monday: Ezra 2-5
17, Tuesday: Ezra 6-9
18, Wednesday: Ezra 10 - Nehemiah 3
19, Thursday: Nehemiah 4-7
20, Friday: Nehemiah 8-11
21, Saturday: Nehemiah 12 - Esther 2
May God add his richest blessings to the reading, the hearing and most importantly the living out of His Holy Word. Amen.