What you get in the Ezra-Nehemiah Bible Atlas:
- 18 high definition maps in 3D
- Created to illustrate the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah
Ezra, the priest behind the new Temple
Nehemiah, the winetaster who rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls
For an entire generation, half a century, Jewish priests like Ezra were jobless in their fields. For priests, work revolved around the Jerusalem Temple. But it had been a busted rock pile since Babylonian invaders leveled it in 586 BC.
Then along came an Iranian (Persian in Bible times). He conquered the Iraqis (Babylonians in Bible times). His name was Cyrus, king of Persia. He freed Babylon’s political captives, including Jews the Babylonians brought back with them after the war.
Remarkably, Cyrus and Persian kings after him paid for supplies to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. Seven of the 10 chapters in Ezra’s short book are about struggles Jews faced in rebuilding that Temple. Local non-Jewish officials opposed it. They didn’t want the Jewish nation to rise from the dead. That may be because they lived in what used to be the Jewish nation. Jews might start confiscating their land.
Ezra’s dream job
Ezra’s dream was to teach Jews at Jerusalem’s Temple. He wanted them to know the laws of God, and to live by them. So, he left Babylon. He led a caravan on a three-and-a-half month march from Babylon to Jerusalem. They arrived in the summer. His story will end the next spring, as far as the Book of Ezra tells it.
With winter approaching, he discovers that many Jews—priests included—have married local, non-Jewish women. He rips his clothes and tears out some of his beard hair in horror.
Marrying non-Jews and adopting their religion and culture is what had gotten both Jewish nations erased from the world map. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC. Judah in the south fell to Babylon in 586 BC. To Ezra, it looks like the Jews haven’t learned a sliver of a thing.
So, the priest decides to teach them a lesson.
One hundred and thirteen Jewish men have married non-Jews. Some men had kids by those ladies. Ezra orders the men to divorce those wives and send them back to where they came from. And they’re to take the kids with them.
Nehemiah is one odd story.
He’s a Jew serving wine to a Persian king in what is now Iran. Who saw that coming?
The king, Artaxerxes, trusts this Jewish man with his life.
How did Nehemiah get there? Likely he was the descendant of Jews taken captive to Babylon (Iraq) about 150 years earlier, when Babylon leveled Jerusalem and other cities and took the Jews captive.
About 50 years later, Persia (Iran) defeated Babylon and freed the Jews and other captives to go home. But many Jews stayed because they grew up in exile. Iraq and Iran was the only homeland they knew. Yet, many returned to the land of their ancestors to rebuild Jerusalem and the other cities.
Nehemiah gets word that Jerusalem’s walls are still broken down and the city gates are gone. It’s a city undefended. He can’t believe it. By this time, Jews have had about 90 years to fix those walls.
Winetaster becomes city builder
So, Nehemiah talks the king into giving him a 12-year leave of absence so he can repair the walls. It certainly seems odd that the king would grant his winetaster’s Big Ask. Yet the king also agrees to give him the wood for the job, sends him with a detachment of soldiers as an escort, and then appoints him governor over the Jewish province of Judah.
That’s what the southern Jewish nation of Judah had become, a Persian province ruled by a Persian king who even chose the songs Jews could sing at the Temple (Nehemiah 11:23).
Earlier, when Babylon exiled Jews from their homeland, settlers moved in. They hated the idea of Jews returning to power because it meant the Jews would try to take back the land and get rid of everyone else.
Nehemiah had 12 years to fix the walls. It took him 52 days.
Nehemiah rallied Jerusalem-area Jews to join the work. They felt the clock sands slipping away while their neighbors plotted to stop the work. Murdering Nehemiah seems to have been one plan on the table. Attacking the work crew was another.
Jewish construction workers carried their weapons on the job in daylight, guarded the walls all night, and didn’t get much sleep during those 52 days and nights.
Nehemiah spent the rest of his 12-year leave reminding the people what it meant to be Jewish. They studied the Laws of Moses that we read today as the first five books in the Bible.
Misbehaving Jewish priests
Nehemiah returned to Persia perhaps because his leave was up or for the annual celebration of the king’s coronation day. But he came back, apparently to deal with misbehaving Jews.
He dealt with corruption among the priests. He even banished a son of the high priest. Then he prayed for the man’s family:
“God above, remember that rotten family. They stink up the priesthood and spit on the covenant of their ministry as priests and Levites” (Nehemiah 13:29).
He convinced the Jewish to people renew their vows to God and reminded them of how to behave.
Once, he got ranting, face-slapping, hair-pulling mad about Jewish men marrying non-Jews. He insisted that Jews marry Jews. Nehemiah said, “I made them swear an oath: ‘I will not let my sons and daughters marry foreigners. Period” (Nehemiah 13:25).
He told the people that marriages with foreigners are what got the Jewish nations erased. Jews married outsiders and started living like outsiders, ignoring God and worshiping idols.
He didn’t want the Jews to fall into that trap again. Neither did a priest named Ezra, whose story appears in the Bible Book of Ezra, just in front of Nehemiah’s story.
For a time, the two seemed to work as a tag team that took on all offenders of the Laws of Moses.
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