At the end of the last article on prophets, we concluded with the last prophet Malachi and the end of the old testament books. However, there are 3 we have not gone over yet that seem to be out of place, at least, chronologically with where they are located in the old testament. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are three books that take place after the Babylonian exile and give insight into what life was like for the Jews after the exile. We will go through each book and then fit them into the overall storyline of the Bible and connections will start popping up everywhere.
The book of Ezra happens in two main parts. The first part describes the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem and then the second part describes the second group returning from captivity. Ezra was a scribe and priest and he led this second group of exiles back to their own land. Ezra is not only significant because of the historical context that it gives but also its spiritual links to the rest of the Bible. The prophets foretold of a remnant being brought back home after the exile, and Ezra, along with Nehemiah, are these exact stories. They tell the story of a people who rededicated themselves to God and to His commands. It teaches us that when we follow God, blessings follow.
Nehemiah is very similar in history and spiritual significance. Nehemiah led the third and final return of exiles back to Israel. Nehemiah was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes in Persia. The book focuses on the rebuilding of the city walls and Nehemiah’s character and leadership overflow in this book. We are to learn that even though we may not be able to serve God directly, like Ezra could, we can use whatever position He has given us, to serve for His purposes. Nehemiah is a book that teaches us to look for ways in our lives that we can serve God, even if it may seem impossible.
The last book, Esther, is one of my personal favorites and seems like it doesn’t belong in our Bibles. So much so, in fact, that God’s name is not even mentioned in the book at all, but God’s work can be seen all over this beautiful story. The story is focused around Queen Esther, Mordecai (Esther’s cousin), Haman, and King Xerxes. Like any good story, there is a villain and a hero. Haman is the villain, wanting to annihilate all of the Jews and Queen Esther becomes our hero. The story takes all kinds of twists and turns, flashbacks, and intense moments, all meant for the reader to see God working behind the scenes. It turns out that Esther ends up telling the king about Haman’s horrible plan, and Haman is killed and the Jews win. Although God is never mentioned, it is done almost intentionally. The reader is meant to look for God’s hand in the story and take it to heart. We may not understand what God is doing in our life right now, but someday we may understand it completely. Esther was put in the right moment at the right time and God does the same for us.
Although these books seem to be out of the storyline of the Bible, they actually fit right in. Ezra and Nehemiah point to the hope of the future Messianic kingdom with the rebuilding of the temple. Esther points to the Messiah as our hero who saves us from evil. These books may not have direct correlation expressed in them, but when we look at the overall storyline of the Bible, they are there for a reason. To point us to the future hope of the Messiah.