Lesson 3 of 6
In Progress

Background of Nehemiah

Ezra-Nehemiah (one book in the earliest manuscripts) helped the Jewish community in Jerusalem understand who they were, after the return from exile to Babylon and at the beginning of Second Temple Judaism.

The disastrous events of 587 B.C.E. – the destruction of the temple, the end of the Davidic monarchy and Israel as a political entity–climaxing with the deportation of the upper-class population to Babylon–had necessitated a radical reassessment of Israel’s identity and relationship with God. What did the crises say about them? Had they been abandoned? Were the gods of Babylon victorious or was God responsible for their situation? Would they be delivered from exile? Israel’s answers to these questions in exile had been largely negative, interpreting the events as God’s judgment on an unrepentant Israel in fulfillment of the prophetic warnings of the past, especially those of Second Isaiah:

“Who gave up Jacob to the spoiler, and Israel to the robbers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey?” (Isaiah 42:24).

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14).

Eventually, however, they began to accept the onus for judgment and exile, and realized that this was not God’s final word. Once again, the proclamation of Second Isaiah was formative, this time as a message of hope. The community addressed by Ezra-Nehemiah, the sons and daughters of those who had returned and experienced the first fruits of that hope, needed to discover who they were and to be encouraged in the situations they now faced. They needed to be reminded of the institutions that had been developing for many years and to see that their identity and continuity with the past was nurtured and sustained through such endeavors.

Ezra-Nehemiah marked a new beginning (or re-birth) for Israel as a people, nation, and religion.