Last time we met, we spoke about the Babylonian Captivity, how thousands of Jews were taken from their homeland to be captives in Babylon. After 70 years in Babylon, the Persian Empire (in modern day Iran) conquered the Babylonian Empire (and most of the rest of the Middle East) and the Persian King Cyrus told the Jews in Babylon they may return to their homeland (Ezra 1:1-4).
The story of the Jews return can be found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra was a priest and Nehemiah was a political leader and each took the responsibility to help the Jews rebuild their lives in Judah. Ezra made it his priority to teach the people God’s law so that they would not fall into such reckless idolatry and injustice again (Ezra 7:10). He gathered the people to hear the law read, and recruited teachers to explain its meaning (Nehemiah 8:1-8). When the people heard the law read, they wept, because they knew that the devastation they experienced was the result of their ignorance of God’s law. But Nehemiah reminded the people that God has not given up on them, and that they should celebrate that God has brought them home (Nehemiah 8:9-12).
But even though God had brought them back from Babylon, their nation was just a shadow of its former self. Their glorious city and temple were still in shambles. They were a poor vassal state to the Persian Empire. Not only that, as a small minority in the Persian Empire, they were very vulnerable to the nefarious schemes of others.
The book of Esther tells the story of how a brave Jewish woman helped save the Jews from genocide by a maniac in the Persian court. But overall, the return from exile was a struggle. The people still faced threats, oppression, and conquest. It caused them to ask, “where is our savior?” When will God restore his kingdom to its former glory? When will we be truly free?
As we get to the end of the Old Testament, the story feels very unfinished. God’s Covenant for a Holy People still seems like a distant dream. There continues a ministry of prophets to the people who will call them back to the idea that God desires to be their God and for them to be his people, but he needs them to turn their hearts to him, to trust him, to worship him, and to wait patiently for his salvation.
Journaling Questions this Week:
- Have you ever known anyone who had to completely “rebuild” their life?
- What makes you feel “distant” from God?
- What do you think God means when the prophets say, “return to me, and I will return to you.”?