Evidently Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab must have thought Nehemiah was a moron for they tried to lure him to Ono which is somewhere outside of Jerusalem. It would never have occurred to Nehemiah that there might be something amiss meeting with three of his enemies. These people could not defeat Nehemiah with a frontal assault so they tried a more subtle approach.
What new approaches does Sanballat take to sabotage the rebuilding of Jerusalem? What qualities Nehemiah possess, as a leader and a man of God? Is he merely a nice man, or is there something more to him?
As the pressure from Sanballat intensifies, how does Nehemiah respond? Where does Nehemiah’s courage originate?
What happens to Israel’s enemies, once the walls of Jerusalem were completed?
What do you notice about the way the Jews celebrate the completion of the wall? The Levites, or many of them, had taken to live outside the walls of Jerusalem; most of these people were the singers. Centuries before David had appointed that an important faction of the Levites would be those appointed to sing and to tend to the music (see 1 Chronicles 25).
What practices are reinstated once the celebration is over?
Eliashib was, unfortunately, related to Tobiah – unfortunate for Eliashib that is. Perhaps now that Nehemiah has returned to Susa to see the king Tobiah will be able to execute his master plan. You may recall that Tobiah, along with Sanballat and some Arab (Geshem by name) had conspired to bring down all activity in Jerusalem. Tobiah took this opportunity and his close relational connection to Eliashib to move his quarters into the temple itself.
What reforms begin to erode in Nehemiah’s absence? Why were these problems significant? How does Nehemiah, God’s great leader, attack the problems he encounters?
The exclusion of the Ammonites and Moabites from the temple may sound ethnocentric to us, even racist. But notice the reason. These peoples had opposed the people of God from the very beginning. They tried to obstruct them as they entered the Promised Land and Tobiah, the Ammonite, opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple from the very beginning.
This chapter begins with the introduction of Ezra and it recounts his rather impressive genealogy which numbers among it such heroes as Hilkiah (the chief priest during the time of Josiah – who held Judah together during Josiah’s minority – see 2 Kings 22), Phinehas the son Eleazar who received honorable mention from God as being instrumental in staying the LORD’s plague against Israel (in Numbers 25), and perhaps most notably, Aaron the brother of Moses. Let’s just say that Ezra comes from good stock. Like so many before him, Ezra enjoyed the LORD’s favor.
Why is Ezra’s background and the role he will play in Jerusalem vital to the rebuilding efforts? How does Artaxerxes, the King of Persia, serve God’s purpose and pave the way for Ezra’s mission? It was believed that a defeated people pointed to a defeated God. How does God prove once again that he is still God even when his people are in exile?
Artaxerxes’ reason for such generosity is purely self-serving: he wants to get on the LORD’s good side: “What ever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons.” (Ezra 7:23 ESV emphasis added)
How does Ezra explain the favor and blessings he has received from the king? Why does Ezra refuse the king’s offer of an armed escort for their journey to Jerusalem? How do they “provide” for their own defense? What do the exiles do upon arriving in Jerusalem?
It is not insignificant that the 12 bulls for all Israel are offered but yet only three tribes are represented here (Levites, Judah, and Benjamin). There was always a kinship among all the tribes of Israel particularly when it came to worship. (You may remember that the first king of the Northern Tribe [Israel] Jeroboam I set up the golden bulls – one in the north at Dan and the other in the south at Bethel – just so that the people would not have to go to Jerusalem to worship and thus limit defection to Judah.)
Verse 36 tells us that once Ezra delivered the edict to the king’s satraps (like governors) and governors in “the province Beyond the River, they aided the people and the house of God.” (Ezra 8:36 ESV)
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you … and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them and show no mercy to them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. (Deuteronomy 7:1-4 ESV emphasis added) [Well, maybe not so quickly. – j.t.]
From at least the time of Solomon, intermarriage with non-Israelites had been at the root of all of the evils that had pervaded the land. As indicated above in Deuteronomy, the infection results in idolatry. Because Ezra can read, he must have familiarized himself with the relative recent history of Israel (from the time of the tearing of the kingdom until the Babylonian Captivity). Prophet after prophet had proclaimed the word of the LORD regarding the national sin of idolatry which they linked to the intermarriage of the people with the heathen. Solomon, the wisest of the kings, was ensnared by idolatry.
Was nothing learned by the dispersion and the captivity? The Northern Tribes were dispersed and managed to lose their tribal identity. The prophets had continually warned both Israel and Judah that the LORD would cast them out of his sight because of idolatry. I wish I had Ezra’s sensitivity about my own sin as he had for his people.
Why does Ezra respond the way he does to the news of widespread intermarriage between the Jews and the neighboring peoples?
Romans 8:34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us?
How does Ezra the priest play the role of Jesus the High Priest for the remnant of Israel?
How does Ezra’s repentance inspire the people around him? How does the repentant hearts of the people move them to take action?