Today was exciting, as we read through several different books. We finished 2 Chronicles, read all of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and the beginning of Job. I loved being able to see the interworkings of the three restoration books: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, all having to do with a similar chronology.
Today, our focus will be those three books.
Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were referred to as First and Second Ezra, later being separated into Ezra and Nehemiah by St. Jerome (who translated the Latin Vulgate in the 4th century). John Wycliffe, in the 14th century, decided to refer to these writings as first and second Esdras, or the Nehemiahs. However, the current naming and separation of the books is a result of the Geneva Bible, which is the English translation that preceded the King James Bible by about 51 years. Contrary to popular belief, the King James Bible was not the first Bible translated into English; however, that discussion is for a different day.
Ezra is a book regarding the rebuilding of the temple, much like Nehemiah is about the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls. The beginning of Ezra is similar to the end of 2 Chronicles. We are shown that Cyrus, king of Persia, proclaims the return of the of the Exiles to Jerusalem. Was Cyrus the King of Babylon, or of Persia? 2 Chronicles 36:22 refers to him as king of Persia, whereas Ezra 5:13 refers to him as king of Babylon. Which is it? Both. Through Cyrus' reign, he became king of Persia, which was an empire state of Medes at the time, and further conquered many areas, including, but not limited to, Babylon, which would make the Babylonians subject to him as well.
Throughout Ezra, the foundation of the temple is rebuilt, but the work of the temple is ceased when Tettenai writes a letter to King Darius, temporarily convincing him that the Jews would rebel if they had their temple of God back. The final rebuilding was unable to occur until Ezra explained to Darius that King Cyrus previously allowed the rebuilding of the temple. Then, Darius found Cyrus' decree in the archives and made a similar decree himself for the rebuilding of the temple. After the temple was rebuilt, Ezra brings the Israelites together and they all confess their sins and make a covenant with the Law of the Lord.
Likewise, Nehemiah is a book all about the rebuilding of Jerusalem's wall. In fact, Ezra makes a star appearance in Nehemiah 8, when Ezra reads the law to the people in front of the Water Gate. At the beginning of Nehemiah, Nehemiah is sent to Jerusalem by King Artaxerxes to witness the condition of Jerusalem's wall. Though Nehemiah faces opposition from Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab, he continues composed and strong in the Lord, leading the people to rebuild the wall as a unit (Nehemiah 3 shows how they all built beside each other along the walls; incredible!). As in Ezra, Nehemiah and the people rededicate their lives to the covenant of God.
If reading the Bible chronologically, the book of Esther, which never mentions God by name, might be read in conjunction with Ezra. While there are many varying opinions in regards to the historicity of the book of Esther, the storyline and knowledge gained from the probable time period in the mid-5th century B.C. of the book is helpful in piecing together the history of the first and second return of the Babylonian exiles. Throughout the book of Esther, there are a few characters that I would consider in the spotlight. Namely, Esther, who was to become Queen to the king of Persia, Ahasuerus. King Ahasuerus is also a main character of the story. Mordecai, Esther's adoptive father, is initially Esther's guide at concealing her identity as a Jew, but is later highly honored before the throne. When he is honored, Haman, the fourth main character (there are arguably more than four, five if including Queen Vashti, whom Esther dethrones, but this will do for now), is furious, as he conspired to hang Mordecai for treason and later planned to annihilate the Jews (sounds a bit like Adolph Hitler). The book of Esther is about the Jews deliverance. While God is not mentioned by name, it is clear that God worked powerfully in Esther and Mordecai's life due to their faith.