Ezra's Reform and Nehemiah's Work

Today's Bible reading: Ezra 6:19-22

But God's people were to be clean not only in His presence in the temple.  In about 458 BC, Ezra the scribe, a man “skilled in the law of Moses”, arrives with the new Group of returning exiles.  To his horror he finds that the law is not being kept.  In particular, the men are making themselves unclean by marrying foreign wives.  Lessons from the past had been quickly forgotten.

We might think that Ezra's reform was rather radical – especially his insistence that all non-Jewish wives be put away.  Yet such measures were called for, if the Jews were to continue as the heirs of God's people before the exile.  Holiness meant more than the restoration of temple worship; it also meant a life marked by total obedience to God's law.  Yet such obedience gradually came to be misunderstood as a human work, rather than a response to the gracious God of the covenant – a sad development that takes us down to the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day.  The covenant was replaced with a set of rules.

Nehemiah is sometimes seen simply as a political leader, in contrast to Ezra, the religious reformer.  Such a picture is not really accurate.  From the time he arrived from Persia with permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem - about 445 BC - Nehemiah also showed special concern for religious life.  Thus, the rebuilding of the walls is an act of worship, which climaxes in a service of dedication and praise.  To a holy nation belongs a restored holy city!

Prayer: Holy Lord, as You have set apart my life for Your kingdom, set my heart now to share Your Gospel with others.  Amen.