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Nehemiah 13 – Land, People and Blessing

The hopes that the return of the remnant following the Exile will be the Second Exodus and restoration spoken by the prophets are mixed.

A pagan king at God’s instigation has released Israel from bondage in Babylon, the people have returned to the land and rebuilt the temple. Furthermore, Israel has corporately rejected idol-worship once and for all. All these things point to restoration and a changed heart for Israel. The Exile has refined Israel in a way that did not occur in the wilderness or during the thousand ears they were in the land. Ezra re-establishes the Law of Moses in Israel and Nehemiah rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, this restoration is not all that could have been hoped for. The remnant occupies only a small part of the promised land in the vicinity of Jerusalem – the remainder having been settled by foreign peoples who had intermarried with the few northern Israelites who had not gone into exile (the Samaritans of the NT). The land experiences families and remains under the dominion of Persia then Greece and finally Rome. The land remains threatened.

In addition to the above the people are threatened due to their intermarriage with the surrounding peoples. Ezra and Nehemiah both make the point that it was Solomon’s intermarriage with the surrounding nations that led to his fall and the eventual exile. Will their intermarriages result in another fall and another exile.

Finally, even the blessing of a relationship with God is threatened. The failure to bring tithes and offerings mean that the Levites abandoned temple worship to farm their fields. The Sabbath and their gatherings are abandoned for buying and selling material good.

The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi show that while the return from Exile has some of the markers of a Second Exodus and restoration – it falls short of the ideals predicted by the pre-exilic prophets. God’s promises to Abraham of land, people and blessing were to restore Eden, a people for God and God’s dwelling with his people. The above comments indicate more will be needed to achieve this. The ideal hope and the unrealized fulfillment will close the story of the Old Testament.