I finished the historical books of the Old Testament, Nehemiah (OK, if you don’t count Esther – but Nehemiah chronologically comes after Esther). Like all of the historical books it starts out so promising, with the glory of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem in its sites. The Temple has already been built as described in the previous book of Ezra. Now all that needs to be done to wrap up God’s working His Old Testament salvation history after the Jews failed to keep their part of the Covenant and were removed from the Promised land for 70 years was for Jerusalem to be built again to give the Jews one last chance at returning to God with all their heart, mind, and strength. It was hoped by those leaders who God put into their hearts and minds to glorify Him by returning to the burned out and destroyed center of the state of Israel that this would be accomplished. Throughout the book of Nehemiah his fervent wish was that God’s people would finally devote themselves to their God like they’ve never done before.
And it starts out this way. In spite of so many obstacles in their way. Particularly the pagan society that overtly attempted to thwart them at every turn. But they banded together bravely locking arm in arm, and rebuilding even with weapons in one hand and construction tools in the other. It is a marvel to behold, and success finally came with the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. The celebration was well deserved for this accomplishment and they glorified their God celebrating their feast with phenomenal joy, reading from the Book of the Law.
Sadly it wasn’t long for things to start to crumble. The reading of the Law caused them to realize that many of the people including the priests had been compromised by incorporating the habits and customs of the pagans around them. They confessed their sins and vowed to separate themselves, removing pagan wives and children, not buying and selling on the Sabbath, and a variety of other thing called for by the Law. But even though they made these agreements by the last chapter they have still started to slip and Nehemiah is still making complaints against the Nobles of Judah who are profaning the Sabbath, and there were Jews who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab who were particularly offensive because they tried to repulse Israel as they came out of Egypt led by Moses. Even the son of the High Priest was among them.
It is unfortunate that after such great rejoicing not many verses earlier that the history of the Old Testament should end on a particularly critical note. But all the Historical Book are this way, and it is a precursor to the next stage of God’s plan and the final unfolding of Salvation History when on a far more personal level God takes things into His own hands and takes measures to free His people in a more direct way from their sin and its horrible power. But first 400 years of silence as God’s voice is not heard must pass and the nation of Israel must fend for itself and wonder if there indeed will be any salvation from any quarter in an increasingly oppressive world.