When Ezra returns to Jerusalem he learns that the people of Judah, including the priests and the Levites, have intermarried with the women of the nations around them. Since historically intermarriage with someone who practices pagan worship leads the people away from the Lord, this news is very upsetting to Ezra. Ezra has a heart for the Lord and for the people to follow Him and His ways. The Lord told the Israelites back in the wilderness before they entered the promised land not to intermarry with the people of the nations around them. God said if they did, their hearts would turn from the Lord to the false gods of their pagan spouse and ultimately to their destruction (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).
In deep mourning, Ezra tears his clothes and falls to his knees in prayer over the remnant that was saved by grace from bondage in Babylon but continued to walk in disobedience to the Lord. Ezra cries out, “O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!”
“Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, ‘We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it.’” So over a period of time, Ezra helps the people dissolve these ungodly marriages and return to the Lord.
Next we meet Nehemiah, a Jew in exile who has risen to power in the Persian Empire. He hears that the people in Judah are in distress and that the wall of Jerusalem is broken down. “So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ’If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.’”
The king grants Nehemiah permission to return to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem for a set period of time. He sends letters with him to the governors of the region allowing him to pass through their land and he sends a letter to the keeper of the king’s forest requesting that he gives Nehemiah timber for the rebuilding.
When Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, he inspects the walls of the city and says to the officials, “‘You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.’ And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work.”
When faced with opposition from outsiders, Nehemiah responds, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”
Tomorrow, Nehemiah and the Jews will face more opposition regarding the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem; and Nehemiah is going to take a stand against the oppressors. Keep reading to see what happens.
(Ezra 9:1-10:44, Nehemiah 1:1-2:20)