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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Day 266: Ezra & Nehemiah

Just what is Israel’s attitude to other nations? Ezra has strong views on this.  
Ezra plans national gathering
Ezra 10:1-8
He preaches and the people repent
Ezra 10:9-15
Foreign wives divorced
Ezra 10:16-44
Nehemiah’s grief
Nehemiah 1:1
His prayer
Nehemiah 1:5-11-4
Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem 437BC
His request
Nehemiah 2:1-6
Nehemiah appointed governor
Nehemiah 5:14
Letters and escort provided
Nehemiah 2:6-9
Sanballat and Tobiah’s indignation
Nehemiah 2:10
Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem
Nehemiah 2:11-16

It’s hard to understand why Ezra saw this as such a great sin. Since the exile, Israel has moved away from seeing God as just their tribal god, and understood him to be God of heaven and earth. They’ve realised that he is in charge of all nations, not just their own, so why is he so bothered that they should be pure? What about Ruth, that ancient example of a foreigner who was accepted into Israel, and even became an ancestor of David?
I think the answer is something to do with how they respond to God’s holiness. During the time of David, when Jerusalem was being built, he had difficulty dealing with the ark of the covenant, and his first attempt to bring it into the city failed. Nobody fully understands God, and they are super-cautious around him. Everything that comes anywhere near him must be super pure and holy. Marrying foreigners doesn’t equate with being holy, and notoriously, it led to Solomon slipping away from God, and other foreign wives like Jezebel led Israel into their worst episodes of idolatry. So in their new fervour to be faithful to God, foreign wives just reminds them of all their previous failures, and becomes a complete no-no.
Meanwhile, Nehemiah manages to get himself sent back to Jerusalem to help. Ezra is a scholar and a priest, but not a practical man. When he got in a lather over foreign wives, he summoned the people and preached at them, but it was pouring with rain and they just got miserable. He had to accept advice to solve the problem a different way. Now he needs a strong practical leader to organise the people and help them repair the ruined city. The first and greatest need is to rebuild its defensive wall. Nehemiah asks Artaxerxes if he can go and help - very nervously, because the king is notoriously difficult to please. But - the queen is sitting beside him ((2:6) and perhaps Esther’s influence is sufficient to get Nehemiah released. Good work, my lady.

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