In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah are considered to be one book. After the return of the Jews in Ezra, the rebuilding of the temple and the enacting of spiritual reforms, what the Jewish people needed was a political leader. God provided him in the person of Nehemiah. His book recounts Nehemiah’s reforms and his rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was a spiritual man, but he was also a political figure. He would ensure, by force if necessary, that God’s people were obedient to God’s law. You will notice a difference between Ezra and Nehemiah. When Ezra learned of the great sins besetting the Jewish people of Judea, he tore his robes and pulled hair from his head and beard. But when Nehemiah learned of sin among God’s people, he pulled out the hair of the sinners’ heads.
Nehemiah ruled in Jerusalem for twelve years before returning to the service of the King of Persia. Some time after that, he returned to Jerusalem to discover God’s people had resumed their faithless ways.
And it is at this point, at the end of Nehemiah, that the history covered by the Old Testament comes to an end. There are more books to be sure, but the story is over.
Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the faithfulness of God to the unfaithful people He loves. Ezra attempted spiritual reform through teaching and example. Nehemiah attempted spiritual reform through spiritual leadership and force. Both ways failed in the long run. If the people of God are going to live like the people of God, the reform must come, not just from the outside, but from within each of our hearts.
How’s your heart?