The Holy Scriptures

Ezra 1‑10; Nehemiah 1‑13; Esther 1‑10; Job 1‑42  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther are the last historical books of the Old Testament. All three are post-captivity. Ezra and Nehemiah consider the remnant of Jews that returned to Judah, while Esther takes place in the land of their exile. This was the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:2424And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)). The book of Ezra describes the construction of the temple; Nehemiah, the restoration of the city of Jerusalem. Ezra, the priest and a ready scribe, was concerned with the ecclesiastical state of things, while Nehemiah, the King’s cupbearer and governor of Judah, was occupied with the civil. In these books we see faith displayed in the day of ruin.
The return to Jerusalem of the Jews from captivity was not a random event at the whim of the king, but rather one whose precise time had been prophesied by Jeremiah: “For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jer. 29:1010For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10)). Further, the very sovereign under whose hand this would take place, Cyrus, was named long before (Isa. 44:2828That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. (Isaiah 44:28)).
Before the foundation of the temple was laid, the altar was raised up, for therein was their refuge. But the enemy is always ready to hinder. Seeking first to join with them, then in open opposition, he sought to bring the work to a halt (Ezra 4). Discouragement set in and the work ceased—long before Artaxerxes’s edict (ch. 4:17-24). The condition of the people had to be addressed before God moved the king, and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were raised up to this end (Ezra 5:11Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. (Ezra 5:1)). The temple was finally completed—though without the ark it was an empty house.
The book of Nehemiah commences in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes—a very important date, for it begins the prophetic seventy weeks of Daniel (Dan. 9:2525Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. (Daniel 9:25)). In that year the command to build and restore Jerusalem was given to Nehemiah (Neh. 12). Again, the enemy tried to hinder the work, for these were troublous times. There were enemies not only without but also within. With a weapon in one hand, they built with the other (Neh. 4:1717They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. (Nehemiah 4:17)) until the work was complete, for it was wrought by God (Neh. 3-6).
In Nehemiah 9 the people bind themselves by a covenant, only to prove again that there is no power within man to keep what he promises. At the end of the twelve years, after a brief visit to Artaxerxes (Neh. 13:66But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: (Nehemiah 13:6)), Nehemiah returns to find the enemy dwelling within the courts of the house of God, the Levites neglected, the Sabbath violated, and the people again united with the strangers of the land (Neh. 13:7-287And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense. 10And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. 11Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. 12Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. 13And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. 14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof. 15In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. 16There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. 17Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. 19And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. 20So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. 21Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. 22And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy. 23In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: 24And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people. 25And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. 26Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. 27Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives? 28And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. (Nehemiah 13:7‑28)). Such is the continual failure of the first Adam—fully proven at Calvary.
The events described in the book of Esther occurred during the reign of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), the father of the Artaxerxes of Ezra 7. The mass of Jews had remained in their land of captivity, even though the proclamation of Cyrus (Ezra 1:11Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, (Ezra 1:1)) had gone out more than half a century earlier. The name of God is not once mentioned in this book, but God’s ways are sure. Though hidden, He will deliver His people, even when He can no longer publicly own them.
When Esther becomes queen, Mordecai stays, a despised Jew, in the king’s gate. Haman the Agagite (an Amalekite; 1 Samuel 15:88And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. (1 Samuel 15:8)) plots the destruction of Mordecai and all Jews. But Mordecai is exalted; the adversary of the Jews (Haman) is exposed and destroyed, as well as the Jews’ enemies (Esther 6-7). The book closes with Mordecai promoted to the second place in the kingdom (Esther 10:33For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed. (Esther 10:3)).
In our Old Testament arrangement, the book of Job marks the beginning of the poetic books. Chronologically it would appear to fall during the latter portion of Genesis—after the flood and before the law. Job, an actual person (Ezekiel 14:1414Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God. (Ezekiel 14:14); James 5:1111Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. (James 5:11)), lived in the land of Uz, generally understood to be in Arabia. He was one who, by God’s own testimony, was perfect and upright, “one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (Job 1:88And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? (Job 1:8)). The entire account is about Job’s extraordinary trial.
This book has been widely misunderstood, and many fall into the same trap as Job’s friends—that Job brought his suffering upon himself because of his sins.
Man by nature views his prosperity as God’s approval and affliction as His disapproval—yet clearly there are instances where the wicked prosper (ch. 21) and, as in this case, where the righteous suffer. This view of God has terrible implications.
There was a needs-be in Job’s life. However, the question was not, “What is this that thou hast done?” (Gen. 3:1313And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. (Genesis 3:13)), but rather, “Where art thou?” (Gen. 3:99And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (Genesis 3:9)). The book considers man’s state in nature quite apart from any question of sins committed. Man would seek to justify himself before God—and surely such a man as Job had plenty to rest upon—but he does not know that he is entirely at enmity with God.
Aside from the first two chapters in which we learn the origin of Job’s trial, the remaining chapters are a dialogue between Job and his three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar; ch. 3-31), Elihu (ch. 32-37), and finally the Lord Himself (ch. 38-42).
Eliphaz speaks from experience (ch. 4:8; 15:10). But God cannot be found by experience, and this is reflected in his comments (ch. 22:3). We only know God by the revelation that He makes of Himself.
Bildad speaks from the conscience (ch. 8:6). But conscience condemns man without remedy. Like his friends, Bildad views the government of God as the full measure and display of His righteousness, a doctrine that proves our utter ignorance of God.
Zophar is a legalist—do and you will live (ch. 11:13-15). But man has no power to please God through good deeds.
In Elihu, we have in type the mediator, of whom Christ is the fulfillment. Elihu points Job’s thoughts away from himself towards God. In his trial Job failed to see that God was for him. Elihu’s heart yearned for Job (ch. 32:19).
Job finally hears the Lord answer him out of the whirlwind (ch. 38:1). With his eye now fixed on God and His glorious power revealed in creation, Job can only say, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (ch. 42:56). Therein is Job’s deliverance in the measure that he could know it—God is the justifier; He has found a ransom (ch. 33:24).
N. Simon