THE RETURN OF THE FAITHFUL REMNANT
Part II: EZRA, NEHEMIAH, AND QUEEN ESTHER
Biblical Period 9
Lesson #22

Dearest Most Holy Trinity,
The story of Queen Esther is one of providential protection'reminding us that even when You discipline Your people, you never abandon them. Esther's courage and resourcefulness stands out as a model of womanly virtue.Guide us in our study, Lord, helping us to understand that no force is greater than You, not kings, not armies, not the sweep of worldly events.We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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"And now, our God, listen to the prayer and pleading of your servant.For you own sake, Lord, let your face smile again on your desolate sanctuary. Listen, my God, listen to us; open your eyes and look at our plight and at the city that bears your name. Relying not on our upright deeds but on your great mercy, we pour out our plea to you. Listen, Lord!Forgive, Lord!Hear, Lord, and act!For your own sake, my God, do not delay'since your city and your people alike bear your name," Daniel 9:17-19

Please read Ezra 7:1-8:36: Ezra Returns to Jerusalem

There is a 60-year gap between chapters 6 and 7 of Ezra.During this time period the story of Esther occurred during the reign of Persian King Xerxes, who ruled from 486-465 BC. His son, Artaxerxes became king in 465 and allowed Ezra and the second group of Jews to return to Jerusalem about 80 years after the first exiles returned. Only 1,756 of the faithful returned in the second exodus to Judah, arriving in Jerusalemin the winter of 458 BC.

Question: What is Ezra's office, from what family is he a descendant? What second occupation is also mentioned?

Answer: He is from a high priestly family and is a descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses.He is also a scribe, which means he was trained to be skilled in writing and therefore probably served as a court secretary. In ancient times writing was a very prized and specialized skill. Jewish scribes, from the time of the period of the exile on were also scholars who studied and taught the Scriptures. As teachers of the Law of Moses they read to Law to the people, as well as expounded on the details and application of the Law in daily life. [Ezra 7:2].

Question: According to King Artaxerses' letter Ezra was being sent as the king's envoy to Judah.What was Ezra to take with him on his return to Jerusalemas provided by the Persians and the treasurers of the Trans-Euphrates provinces? See 7:11-27

Answer:

  1. All Israelites who wished to return to their homeland. It is interesting that "Israelites" is used rather than "Judahites." It indicates that it was Ezra's aim to recreate a united Israel.
  2. 7 of the King's advisors. Esther 1:14 refers to 7 nobles who had special access to the king. This special group of 7 advisors to the Persian king is also noted by the early Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon.
  3. "The Law of your God" refers to the 5 Books of Moses which compose the Law.
  4. Silver and gold to use in rebuilding the Templeand the required sacrifices provided from the royal treasury and from the Jews still living in Persian territory as a free-will offering.
  5. Also supplies of wheat, wine, and oil that will be used for the required communion offerings.

"why should retribution come on the realm of the king and of his sons?" Verse 23 may refer to the problems the king was facing in his huge empire. Egypt had revolted against the Persian Empirein 460 BC and had managed to expel the Persian forces with the help of the Greek Athenians in 459 BC. When Ezra traveled to Jerusalem in 458 the Persians were in the process of suppressing the Egyptian revolt. According to the Greek historian Ctesias, Artaxerxes had 18 sons.

Question: What limitations are placed on the provinces of Trans-Euphrates?

Answer: They do not have the authority to tax the Templenor do they have the power to tax its ministerial priesthood. The King exempted all Templeworkers from paying taxes.

It seems clear that Ezra, the king's scribe, had a great deal to do with the composition of this letter although it was not unusual for kings to grant tax exemptions to the priests of pagan temples [see the Gadates inscription of Darius I granting tax exemptions to the priests of Apollo].

Question: What personal charge does the King give Ezra?

Answer: He is responsible for appointing magistrates and judges to administer justice and he has the power to excommunicate, fine, imprison, or execute any offenders of the Law.  The point is that Mosaic Law has been elevated to the status of the official law, not only of the province of Judah[see v. 14] but also for the Israelite communities west of the Euphrates[vs. 25] which are also to be governed on the basis of Mosaic Law.

Ezra 7:27-28 is Ezra's doxology, praising God for all He has done for him and through him. The speaker is Ezra.  This begins the first person account, which will continue for the remainder of the book.

Question: In Ezra 8:15-20 for what reason were Ezra and the people compelled to wait for 3 days?

Answer: It was necessary to wait to recruit Levites to accompany the returnees. God had called these sons of Levi to special ministerial service and yet few of them were willing to embrace their vocation and return to the Holy Land. After waiting 3 days they managed to recruit 38 Levites from two families.

Question: Before setting out on the journey what special preparation did Ezra make and why?

Answer: He declares fasting and prayer for all the people. During the journey the people would be traveling unprotected without a military force [see 8:22] for approximately 900 miles over dangerous terrain. The journey would take four months. Having proclaimed to the King his faith that God would protect the caravan Ezra was embarrassed to ask for human protection even though he knew grave dangers awaited them as they traveled with 25 tons of silver [650 talents see 8:26] and other wealth. Ezra understood that their spiritual preparation for the journey was even more important than the physical preparations. Their prayers and fasting showed their humility and their total dependence on God for His protection as well as their faith that He was in control of their destiny. Our journeys may not be as long or as hazardous but the necessity of spiritual preparation is just as important. When we take the time to make God our first priority in any endeavor, we are assured that no matter what the outcome He will be there to guide us and to prepare us for the unknown perils that await us. [for more on the importance of fasting and prayer see Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 17:1; and Acts 14:23].

The journey began on the 12th of Nisan, two days before the Passover. The caravan arrived in Jerusalem, approximately 4 months later [as we count time; they would have said the journey lasted 5 months because they did not have the concept of 0-place value. This concept will not be introduced until the Middle Ages. They arrived in the 5th month; see 7:9].They rested for 3 days and then made sacrifices to Yahweh.

Please read Ezra 9:1-10:44: The Reforms of Ezra

Question: What was the first complaint brought to Ezra approximately 4 months [see 10:9] after his arrival in Jerusalem?

Answer: The people and their leaders had been contaminated by the practice of inter-faith marriages, which were expressly forbidden in the covenant obligations of Ex 34:1-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4. This is not to say the people were forbidden to marry foreign converts like Rahab of Jericho or Ruth the Moabite, but the foreigner must become a member of the Covenant with Yahweh.The actual phrase used by the orthodox Jews who approached Ezra is that "since they and their sons have married some of their women, as a result of which the holy seed has been contaminated by the people of the country."

Question: What did Ezra's contemporary, the Prophet Malachi, record about this problem in Malachi 2:10-16?

Answer: The prophet Malachi, who was prophesying at the same time as Ezra's mission to Jerusalem, indicated that some Jews had actually broken their marriage covenants with Israelite women to marry daughters of foreign gods, probably daughters of influential pagan land owners.

Question: What was the chief reason Yahweh gave for forbidding inter-faith marriages in Exodus 34:1-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4?

Answer: These marriages to idol worshipers will become a snare in the community and will lead sons and daughters of Israel away from their faith in Yahweh. Marrying outside the covenant was an act of infidelity for the Covenant people! [see Ezra 10:6, 18 ; Joshua 22:16; Daniel 9:7].

Historical note: The dangers of an Israelite community becoming lax in its marriage laws can be seen in the history of the community that is known as the Elephantine settlement in Egypt, an Israelite settlement contemporary with the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.Israelites in the community began to intermarry with the Egyptians. In order to respect and show tolerance for the gods of their spouses the Israelites began to make sacrifices to the Egyptian gods in addition to worshipping Yahweh. The Elephantine community was gradually assimilated into the Egyptian culture and completely disappeared having lost its spiritual as well as its physical identity.

Question: What was Ezra's response to this announcement?

Answer: He tore his clothes and pulled hair from his head and beard as a sign of his grief and distress.I rather prefer Nehemiah's reaction when he was confronted with the same problem of intermarriage.Nehemiah turned his grief and rage in another direction. Instead of pulling out his own hair he pulled out the hair of those who had been unfaithful to the Covenant marriage restrictions! [see Nehemiah 13:25]

Question: For how long did Ezra sit in this distressed state?

Answer: Until the time for the "evening sacrifice". This was the second Tamyid lamb sacrifice that took place at 3PM.This was also the appointed time for the 3rd hour of prayer and the time of confession.You will notice that the Tamyid Daily Sacrifice is the most frequently mentioned of all the sacrifices in the Bible [see Exodus 29:38-42; the next day began at sundown so "evening" only indicates the later part of the day].

Question: What does Ezra do facing what seems an insurmountable problem of infidelity to the Covenant? See 9:6-15

Answer: He confesses the sins of the people to Yahweh, begs for mercy, and asks God to provide a way for the people to come back into communion with Him.

Question: What is the result Ezra's prayer? See Ezra 10:1-4

Answer: The people come forward asking for forgiveness, repent their interfaith marriages, and promise to submit to whatever Ezra decides for them. That their repentance was sincere is indicated by their desire for Ezra's help in restoring their relationship with God.

Question: What is Ezra's decision? See Ezra 10:5-17

Answer: An assembly will be called at the Templeouter court in three days. Anyone who failed to come to the assembly would forfeit all their possessions, including their land and be excommunicated from the community.At the assembly [held in November/December, during the rainy season] a plan is set in place by which the illicit marriages would be reviewed by the elders and judges of their towns with the leaders of the families appointed by Ezra.

To forfeit the land meant to be disinherited or excommunicated from the community of Israel.This was to ensure that no pagan children would inherit Yahweh's Promised Land. In addition to the forfeiting of possessions, anyone who refused to come to Jerusalem for the assembly would be expelled from the assembly of the exiles and would not be allowed to worship in the Templeor to meet in the local synagogues to study Sacred Scripture. The practice of meeting in an assembly of believers to study Scripture had grown up during the years of exile when the people were without the Temple.It was a practice they kept when the returned to the Promised Land. In the synagogue the people studied the Word of God and in the Templethey offered their sacrifices.

Question: What are the two major divisions of the Mass? How do they relate to the synagogue and the Templesacrifice?

Answer: The Mass is divided into the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.During the Liturgy of the Word, like the synagogue, we study the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, and in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we offer our sacrifices united with Christ's perfect sacrifice which is a fulfillment of the imperfect animal sacrifices that were offered to God in His Temple during the time of the Old Covenant Church. So the Mass contains both the study of the Word and the Sacrifice in the same way that the Synagogue contained the study of the Word and the Temple, the sacrifice. The New Israel that is the Church is a transformation and a fulfillment of the Old Israel.

The crisis was resolved.It was determined that about 113 men were guilty of marrying pagan wives out of the approximately 29,000 families.Some of the marriages were probably judged as valid because the spouses had converted. Only 4 men opposed the decision of Ezra. That some of the marriages had produced children was not accepted as a reason for halting the divorce proceedings. The committee completed its work in three months.

Persian Kings of the Period of the Return

Name of King

Date of Reign

Relationship to Judah

Cyrus, The Great

559 - 530 BC

Conquered Babylon.First King of Persia. Probably knew Daniel. He allowed the people to return to their lands, returned what had been taken from the Templeand financed the rebuilding.

Darius I

522 - 486 BC

Continued to support the construction of the Temple.

Xerxes [Ahasuerus]

486 - 465 BC

Esther's husband. Allowed the Jews in Persiato defend themselves.

Artaxerxes I

465 - 424 BC

Queen Esther's step-son. Nehemiah was his cup-bearer.Allowed both Ezra and Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem

THE BOOK OF ESTHER

Please read Esther 1:1-10:3: Esther, Queen of Persia

The theme of God's faithful protection for His people, even those who elected not to return as the "faithful" remnant, is evident throughout the Book of Esther, even though the name of God or even the word "God" is not mentioned once in the entire Hebrew text [although God is named in the Greek text version].There are in fact two forms of the Book of Esther: one shorter form in Hebrew and another longer one in Greek.The Greek version contains the dream of Mordecai, the explanation of the dreams, and two edicts of Ahasuerus as well as prayers of both Mordecai and Esther. The Greek version also contains a second account of Esther's appeal to Ahasuerus and an appendix explaining the origin of the Greek version of the text, all of which are included in the Catholic Bible. The Greek and Jewish texts were included in the Greek Septuagint translations in use during Jesus' time in the 1st century; however, today Jewish and Protestant Bible translations only have the Jewish text. As for the absence of God's name in the Jewish text, Jewish tradition has always explained the absence of God's name as a necessary precaution since the story of Esther was sent out across the Persian Empire to all Jewish communities and the possibility of a pagan gaining possession of the book and destroying the name of God in some unholy fashion could not be risked.

The events described in the Book of Esther occurred between the first return of the exiles led by Zerubbabel and the second return led by Ezra during the years 483 to 473 BC [or between chapters 6 and 7 of the Book of Ezra].After the death of Darius I, the Persian king who allowed the Israelites to return to their ancestral lands, his son Ahasuerus [Xerses I] became king of Persia.The story takes place during the reign of King Ahaxuerus [Xerses I] at Susa[Shushan], the administrative capital of the Persian Empire. It s the only historical account of the vast majority of the Jews who chose to remain in Persia.

An author is not identified but the author's knowledge of Persian customs and palace protocol at the Persian capital of Susa as well as other events that occurred during the reign of Ahasuerus [Xerxes I] indicates that the author lived in Persia during this period.All events and customs and names of Kings are historically accurate, and since the author speaks of Ahasuerus in the past tense the work may have been written during the reign of his son and successor Artaxeres I in 465-424 BC.

SUMMARY OF THE BOOK OF ESTHER

BIBLICAL PERIOD

# 9 THE RETURN FROM EXILE

FOCUS

The Jewish Community threatened

Salvation of the Jewish Community

COVENANT

THE SINAI COVENANT

SCRIPTURE

1:1-----------------2:21-----------------5:1------------------8:4------------10:3

 

DIVISION

Introduction & Esther becomes queen of Persia

Haman plots to kill the Jews

Victory of Mordecai

Victory of the Jewish Community

TOPIC

Feasts of the King

Feasts of Esther

Danger

Deliverance

LOCATION

PERSIA- capitol city Susa

TIME

10 years [483-473 BC]

Question: What led to the banishment of Queen Vashti?

Answer: She initiated a sort of "wives revolt" by refusing to appear before a drunken husband and his guests. According to ancient Greek documents Xerses' wife was a woman named Amestris who was deposed according to the Greeks in 484/83BC. She is mentioned again as the Queen Mother in the reign of her son Artaxerxes.This woman may be the Vashti of the Book of Esther.

Mordecai, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin living in Susawas raising his young cousin Hadassah [in Hebrew = myrtle]. Her Persian name was Esther, which may be derived from the Persian word for "star" although some scholars believe it is derived from the name of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar.The presence of a large Jewish population in Persiaduring this time has been confirmed by the discovery of an archive of ancient texts found in the city of Nippurin southern Mesopotamia. The archive contains the names of 100 Jews who inhabited the city, some of whom held positions of wealth and importance. There has also been a cuneiform tablet discovered in Borsippa near Babylon which mentions a minister of the court at Susaduring the reign of Xerxes I [Ahasurasus] named Mardukaya. Many scholars identify him with Mordecai.

Question: What does Mordecai do to earn the enmity of Haman?

Answer: There are two explanations: First from the Greek text that Mordecai gained knowledge of a plot to kill the king by two eunuchs who guarded the palace. When they were executed for their part in the plot Haman decided to get revenge against Mordecai for their deaths. A second possible reason for Haman's animosity has to do with speculation about the ancestry of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite. In Esther 3:1-6 we are told that Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman'but why? Jews did bow down to foreign kings and acknowledge their authority. There must have been some other reason Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman in particular. Haman, son of Hammedatha, the Agagite may have been a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek [see 1 Samuel 15:20]. These people had attacked Israelduring her exodus from Egypt [Exodus 17:8-16]. Israel was commanded not to forget this act of barbarism but to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" [Deuteronomy 25:17-19]. In 1 Samuel 15 and 1 Chronicles 4:42-43 King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin and the Israelites wipe out most of the Amalekites of King Agag.Now 500 years later perhaps the enmity continues in a Jew who refuses to bow down to a descendant of Agag and a descendant of Agag who see the chance for revenge against the Israelites in general and the Benjaminite named Mordecai in particular.

Special laws protected the Persian king's dignity and protected him from assassination, for example only a person summoned by the king could approach him.

Question: Why was Esther fearful about going to the king in Esther 4:11?

Answer: It was possible that such a breach of protocol could result in death.

Question: What is ironic about the concluding events of the story?

Answer: There is a complete reversal in what Haman the vizier had planned for Mordecai.Instead of Mordecai being killed, Haman is hanged and Mordecai assumes Haman's position as the vizier or prime minister.Instead of the Jews being annihilated they are victorious.

Question: The theme of feasting is important in the Book of Esther. To celebrate God's deliverance of His people what national feast will the Jews initiate that is still celebrated today?

Answer: The Feast of Purim, meaning "Lots". This is not a Sacred Feast, like the 7 annual Holy Days but is instead a feast instituted not by God but by the people in thanks to God.

Question: What is God's position in this drama of the story of Esther?

Answer:Even though God's name is never mentioned in the Hebrew text it is obvious that His providence governs the outcome of every event in the story. Like Mordecai's dream, with God's help "the humble were raised up and devoured the mighty."[Esther 1:11]

This book was not widely embraced by the Jews prior to the 20th century. It is the only Biblical text not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was during the horrible years of WWII and the Nazi holocaust that Jews began to find comfort in the message of God's providence, faithfulness, and deliverance of His people found the Book of Esther. Today the Feast of Purim, which celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of Persia, is one of the most beloved feast days of the Jewish people.

THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH

Nehemiah, whose name in Hebrew means "Yahweh comforts", was a contemporary of the priest Ezra and served as the cup-bearer to Artaxerxes King of Persia[Queen Esther's stepson].Nehemiah's position in the court of the Persian king was very important. According to the Greek historian Xenophon [see Cyropaedia 1.3.9] one of the cup-bearer's duties was to choose and taste the king's wine to make certain that it had not been poisoned [see Nehemiah 2:1]. The need for faithful court attendants is underscored by the fact that Artaxerxes' father Ahasarus [Xerxes I], husband of Queen Esther, was murdered in his own bedchamber by one of his courtiers. Nehemiah had to have been a man who had the king's complete confidence. This is born out by the fact that the king will make him twice the governor of Judah: first for 12 years [Nehemiah 5:14] after which he was recalled to serve in Babylon[13:6] and then for a second term as governor sometime just prior to the king's death in c. 424BC. It was common in the royal court of Persia that the king's personal attendants were eunuchs.Nehemiah may have been a eunuch, which would explain why there is no mention of Nehemiah's family.The book is written as a first person account of Nehemiah's mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalemand was probably dictated by Nehemiah to Ezra the Priest/Scribe.

SUMMARY OF THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH

BIBLICAL PERIOD

#9 THE REMNANT OF JUDAHRETURNS

FOCUS

RECONSTRUCTION OF THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM

RESTORATION OF THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH

COVENANT

SINAI COVENANT

SCRIPTURE

1:1--------------3:1-------------------8:1-----------------11:1----------13:31

DIVISIONS

Preparation

Reconstruction

Covenant renewal

Covenant obedience

 

 

TOPIC

Political

 

Spiritual

Construction

 

Instruction

LOCATION

JERUSALEM

TIME

19 YEARS

 

TIME LINE: [all dates BC]

Judah vassal state of Persia-----------------------------------------------------Greek Empire--Hellenistic

States------

538516483-473458444336323 250

1st Jerusalem is Esther 2nd reurn3rd return Alexander death of Greek

returnTempleQueen of of exiles w/ Nehemiah the Great Alexander translation

of exiles rebuilt!Persia priest Ezrarebuildsinvades of Bible =

to Judah walls of Persia Septuagint Jerusalem

Although the people had completed the Temple in 516BC the walls of the city of Jerusalem remained in ruins for the next 70 years. God had promised to be Jerusalem's walls during the time the Temple was being rebuilt but now the time had come to provide the city with the walls and gates that represented power and protection to God's Holy City. When Nehemiah, cup-bearer to the King of Persia heard that the walls of the city were still in ruins he cried out to God and gave himself up to fasting and prayer [see Nehemiah 1: 1-11].In his prayer he confessed the sins of his people and included his own sins and the sins of his family that had brought them into exile just as God had warned them would happen in Deuteronomy 29:24-27: "Because they deserted the covenant of Yahweh, God of their ancestors, the covenant which he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt; because they went and served other gods and worshipped them[...] "this is why Yahweh's anger has blazed against this country, afflicting it with all the curses written in this book.In anger, inn fury, in fierce wrath, Yahweh has torn them from their own country and flung them into another country, where they are today."

And then Nehemiah reminded God of His hesed = "covenant love" for His people and the promise He made them in Deuteronomy 30:2-6: ".if you return to Yahweh your God, if with all your heart and with all your soul you obey his voice, you and your children, in everything that I am laying down for you today, then Yahweh your God will bring back your captives, he will have pity on you and gather you back from all the peoples among whom Yahweh your God has scattered you. [...] Yahweh your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love Yahweh your God with all your heart and soul, and so will live."

God had given Nehemiah the vision and the desire to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and so the last part of Nehemiah's prayer is the petition that the king will be receptive to Nehemiah's vision and desire and that his mission with God's blessing would succeed. He was not praying for personal success or advantage or position but only for success in God's work. God answered his prayer and in March of 445 BC King Artaxerxes gave Nehemiah the permission and the authority to travel to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city and to assume the position of governor of Judah.

Please read Nehemiah 3:1-4:23: Nehemiah Returns/ Jerusalem's Walls Are Rebuilt

Question: Who was Nehemiah's chief opponent in the rebuilding project?

Answer: Sanballat. The name is Babylonian. He was the chief political opponent of Nehemiah and held the position of Persian governor over Samaria. An Egyptian papyrus letter of the late 5th century BC refers to "the sons of Sanballat, governor of Samaria", confirming the Biblical account. Nehemiah's other opponent was a Jew named Tobiah who was probably governor of Transjordanunder the Persians. The reasons for the opposition of both Sanballat and Tobiah was probably not religious but political. They felt threatened by Nehemiah's exercise of authority.

Question: Was work on the walls limited only to the common men of Jerusalemand the surrounding communities? See 3:1 & 12

Answer: No, even women contributed to the rebuilding of the walls. It is interesting the High Priest [see 3:1] was the first person mentioned to help with the work and each priest also repaired the wall in front of his own house in addition to other sections [3:8]. The spiritual representatives of the people must set the example for the people to follow in order to have a spiritually healthy community. All the citizens of Jerusalemcontributed to the rebuilding project. Rebuilding the walls was a matter of national emergency and national pride.

As the opposition escalated half the workers rebuilt the wall while the other half, armed with spears and shields and other weapons defended the builders. Finally by the grace of God on October 2, 445 BC, 52 days after work had begun, the walls that had lain in ruins for nearly a century and a half were rebuilt!

Please read Nehemiah 8:1-9:38: Ezra Reads the Law to the People

On the first day of the seventh month all the people gathered to hear Ezra read the Book of the Law of Moses, what we refer to as the first 5 books of the Bible.

Question: What Feast day was it?See Leviticus 23:24

Answer: It was the Feast of Trumpets, Rosh Hashana, the first day of the civil New Year.

Question: What was the posture in prayer and praise of God and His Holy Word?

Answer: The people stood to hear the Word of God, the shouted "Amen" and then the bowed down with the faces to the ground in worship.

Question: Ezra continued reading the Book of the Law of Moses daily until the completion of what feast that lasted 8 days?

Answer: The pilgrim feast of Tabernacles. Feast of Trumpets began the 1st of Tishri and Tabernacles ended the 22nd of Tishri. Ezra read for 22 days.The celebration became for the people a national day of repentance.

Nehemiah 9:5-37 is one of the most beautiful prayers in the Old Testament outside of the Psalms. It praises the goodness of God's grace, power and faithfulness during Israel's history:

Question: What periods in Biblical History do you recognize in this poem as God is praised for His constant faithfulness during these various periods in the history of His people?You should be able to identify 8 different periods.

Answer:

      Creation: vs. 6

      The Abrahamic covenant: vss. 7-8

      The Exodus from Egyptand the miracle of the Red Sea: vss. 9-11

      The desert wandering and at Mt.Sinai: vss12-21

      During the conquest of Canaan: vss. 22-25

      Through the Judges of Israel: vss. 26-28

      Through the Prophets of Yahweh: vss. 29-31

      In this last example of His covenant love in the restoration of His people: vss. 32-37

In Nehemiah 10:39 the people recommit themselves to Yahweh's Covenant.

Please read Malachi 3:1-3; 3:19-24 [in Protestant translations to 4:5]: The Prophecy of Malachi

The Prophet Malachi was a contemporary of Governor Nehemiah of Judah. Malachi, whose name means "my messenger", directed his message of judgment to the 5th century people of Judah who were still plagued by corrupt priests, a false sense of security, and the other various sins that had led to the exile from which they had been restored. It is likely that Malachi may have proclaimed his message during the period of time between Nehemiah's two terms as governor, sometime between 432 and 425 BC.

In chapter 3 Malachi proclaims the event which will complete God's work in history. He announces that God's coming will mean judgment and purification as well as redemption.

Question: Who does Malachi promise Yahweh will send "before the great and awesome day of Yahweh's coming"?

Answer: The Prophet Elijah.

These last lines of the Old Testament are filled with love, hope and the promise of God's sovereignty. God is the Master of the future and He will render justice where justice is due.The hope of the future becomes ours when we trust in Him. With Malachi's death the voice of God's holy Prophets would be silent for 400 years until the coming of the one like Elijah who wore camel's hair and ate locusts and heralded the coming of the Messiah.

Question: Who was the last prophet of the Old Testament who was prophesied to come in the spirit of Elijah?

Answer: John the Baptist.

Alexander the Great and the Conquest of the Levant

Please read 1 Maccabees 1:1-10:

Alexander the son of King Philip of Macedonia burst on the world scene as a precocious 21 year old ready to take on the world after the death of his father in 336 BC'and he succeeded. He began by conquering Greece and then took his armies across the Mediterranean Sea to conquer the world super power, the Persian Empire. He embarked on campaigns in which his armies were victorious, stretching his empire and Greek culture from Persia, to Egypt, and into India. But Alexander was like a meteor flashing across a night sky. In 11 years he was dead and his empire was divided between his 4 strongest generals fulfilling, the prophecies of the Prophet Daniel in Daniel chapter 8.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What are the major themes of the Book of Ezra? Is it possible to be so far from God that reconciliation is impossible?

Answer:

The themes of the Book of Ezra are preservation, restoration, and God's faithfulness. The book opened with God's holy Templein ruins and the Covenant people in captivity in a foreign land.Despite great obstacles the faithful remnant of God's holy seed are returned to the land. The Templeis rebuilt and then God calls the people to repentance and then He restores and rebuilds the lives of His children. No one is so far from God that he or she cannot be restored through repentance and faith in His mercy and forgiveness.

 

Question: What is the major theme of the Biblical period: The Return of the Exiles?

Is it the same theme mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI in an interview when asked by a reporter if he wasn't concerned about the numbers of Catholics in America who were no longer going to Mass? There are American Catholics who feel we should abandoned our Traditions and embrace the modern trends of other Churches in accepting the ministry of priestesses, in being liberal in granting the disillusion of marriages and in allowing freedom of choice in birth control and abortion. Is it time for the Church to conform herself to the trends of the world? Please see Ezra 5:7; 11:12; Romans 12:2; 1Corinthians 1:20;

Answer: In response to the reporter's question Pope Benedict [who was at that time still Cardinal Ratzinger] said he was more concerned with the preservation of "the faithful remnant". This is the theme of the Return: the preservation of the faithful remnant'just as the faithful remnant was preserved in the great flood and in resisting idol worship during the period of the Divided Kingdom and Exile in a pagan land'so now through God's grace and mercy the faithful remnant returned to the Holy Land to prepare for the coming of the promised Messiah. We are not called to conform to the world'we are called by the grace of God to transform the world and to remain faithful to the teachings of Mother Church!

Readingsfor Biblical Period #10: THE REVOLT OF THE MACCABEES AND THE RULE OF THE HASMONS

The Rule of the Greek Seleucid Kings

Daniel 8:1-27; 1 Maccabees 1:10-24

Mattathias Unleashes the Holy War

1 Maccabees 2:1-7, 15-28

Judah"The Hammer"

1 Maccabees 2:49-50, 65-70; 3:1

Purification of the Temple

1 Maccabees 4:36-61

The Alliancewith Rome

1 Maccabees 8:1-32

The Death of Judah"The Hammer"

1 Maccabees 9:14-22

Jonathan Takes Command

1 Maccabees 9:28-31, 37-66

Judahcaught between Egyptian and

Syrian Empires

1 Maccabees 11:1-19

The Death of Jonathan

1 Maccabees 12:39-53; 13: 25-30

Simon, High Priest and Ethnarch

1 Maccabees 13:31-42

John Hycanus - Independence

1 Maccabees 16:1-24

Resources and recommended reading:

1.      Anchor Bible Commentaries: Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 Maccabees

2.      NavarreBible Commentaries

3.      The History of Greece, Will Durant

4.      The Ancient Near East, Will Durant

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.