Ezra-Nehemiah

saint ezra

This isn’t very structured, but I wanted to get some thoughts down on Ezra-Nehemiah while I was thinking about them.

The connections aren’t as strong as I’d like across the board, but the return from exile is definitely seen as a new creation event. In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, or in the beginning of the return from exile, to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the heart of the king, recalling the Spirit stirring the formless and void waters of the deep. Then, king Cyrus speaks by the Spirit of God to send the exiles home. This is a division event: by Word and Spirit Cyrus is dividing the Jews and Gentiles up and sending the Jews to their homeland. The seven day creation structure peeks out here: Cyrus, by the Lord of heaven, is given dominion over the whole earth. The heaven and the earth calls back to Genesis 1 to the Lord creating the heavens and the earth. The firmament isn’t quite there, but the construction of the temple is similar to the “construction” of the firmament. The third day, land from sea, is indicated by Cyrus telling the Jews to leave the Gentiles behind and go to their home (typically symbolized by land in the OT). The fourth day, the heavenly rulers, are symbolized by the heads of Judah and Benjamin, the first two royal houses of Israel, and the priests and the Levites, who will take a more authoritative role in the new community. The fifth day, the swarming things, are represented by the cattle and costly wares all freely offered by the Persians. (James Jordan says that these spoils are the plunder of the Battle of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38-39, but I’m not very inclined to agree with this). I’m inclined to think that the whole Adamic community fills the sixth day slot in 1:11-2, but there could be a head in the form of Mithredath the treasurer. The seventh day slot is filled in chapter 3 when Israel celebrates the Feast of Booths which looks forward to the Great Sabbath (according to Jordan).

The foundation of the temple being laid could be equated with one of the days of the Lord. I think, based on Jordan’s work, that God would have visited Adam in the Garden each Sabbath with new commands to fulfill during the rest of the week. Visits from God are theophanies, which are accompanied by loud noise and sound and thunder. These sounds are recreated in the end of chapter 3 when people both celebrate and wail: just like the final day of the Lord, people will either see the temple-Church and be exalted or torn down.

Through chapter 8, we see a serpentine attack on the people. These accusers tell the king that the Jews will refuse to pay homage to him and that the construction of the temple will stop. Satan tempts the first couple by saying that they can be like the King; these people tell the king that Israel is building herself up as a king. The king commands the building to cease, but God allows the building to continue through his prophets, the world builders.

Ezra, having fended off a serpentine attack, is acting as faithful Adam. He is then given instruction to teach the people as Adam would have taught his family to praise God. Through his wisdom (7:25-26), Ezra sets up judges and priests to minister over the land as Moses had done earlier under the tutelage of Jethro, another Gentile. He hires twenty priests and 220 servants to the temple, which is the number of the Hebrew alphabet (22) times 100, indicating a fullness of service. He then sends 12 priests over all of the rest, a new priestly Israel. These priests are to guard the holiness of the temple, just as Adam was to guard the Garden from outside forces. This holiness is challenged in chapter 9 when Ezra notes the sinful intermarriage of Jew and Gentile. The seven nations that Israel cannot marry (the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites) are all descendants of the Serpent. Ezra notes that these sinful intermarriages are profanities in line with Leviticus 19:19; mixing where mixing should not occur. The people repent of their sin, and the Serpent is fully cast out.

Now we find Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the king. As a cupbearer, Nehemiah brings Eucharist to the Persian king. His sadness is unwarranted, though: if Cyrus is a Godfearer, he should know that his wine should bring joy to the people (Proverbs 31). He gives Nehemiah permission to leave and rebuild the walls of his city. James Jordan notes that the word Garden comes from “gan”, which is etymologically related to “gannah” or defend. Nehemiah surveys the walls that should defend his city and finds them lacking. The city is not a Garden, so he has to water and tend to the garden to rebuild it. In this way, we see Nehemiah acting as a faithful Adam as well. He, too, faces a Serpentine attack when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem resisted the rebuilding of the walls. Men are given spears so that half could defend the workers while half developed the land. This is how priests and kings should operate: priests would guard the holiness of the people while the king would develop his kingdom. Adam would guard his Bride and the Garden as he followed the rivers from Eden into the world.

In Nehemiah 5, we learn of oppression and other causes for exile from the land. Nehemiah works to end oppression against the poor to stay in the land. He even fasts to cope with the fact that his people are being oppressed and having their debts lorded over them. If time permitted, more could be said on chapters 9 and on. That might be better saved for a later post.

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