“Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city?” (v. 18).
Deuteronomy 30:1–10; Isaiah 25; 40:1–4; 65:17–25; Jeremiah 31:31–34; and Micah 4:1–5 are just a few of the many passages that promise a grand and glorious restoration of God’s people after the exile. The prophets foresaw that the Jews would return to their land, that they would be exalted over the nations, that a new and everlasting covenant would be made with them, and that even creation itself would be transformed. When ongoing impenitence made it clear that the seventy years of exile were going to be extended, that the restoration blessings would not come all at once, many Jews doubtless felt discouraged (see Jer. 25:1–14; Dan. 9). But they were not left without hope. Restoration would eventually come to those who turned to the Lord in repentance and faith, seeking to follow His law. In the early days of the postexilic period, the era of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the people had some reasons to be optimistic, for the temple and wall of Jerusalem were rebuilt; the people were learning from the law, repenting of sin, and covenanting to obey Him; and the Jews rejoiced in all that the Lord had done for them (Ezra 6:13–22; 10:1–17; Neh. 6:15–19; 8–12). There was reason to think the people were perhaps ready for the restoration.
But by the end of the history told in the book of Nehemiah, it was clear that the Jews were not prepared to receive the promised blessings. When Nehemiah returned for his second term as governor, things were in shambles. During his first term, the people had covenanted to obey the Lord by keeping the temple holy, supporting the priests and Levites, observing the Sabbath, not marrying the pagans, and so forth (Neh. 10:32–39). But when Nehemiah returned, this covenant had been broken. We saw in 13:1–14 the pollution of the temple and failure to support the Levites. Today’s passage shows us that the Sabbath was being violated. Also, the Jews were intermarrying with the Ashdodites, Ammonites, and Moabites, becoming so much a part of those pagan peoples that half of the children of Judah could not speak the Hebrew language. Nehemiah acted to turn the people away from these sins (vv. 15–31), but the implication of this rapid fall is clear. Many individual Jews, including Nehemiah, were faithful to God, but the community as a whole did not have its heart set on following the Lord. The hope of restoration in the postexilic period was dimming.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
During the period between Nehemiah and Christ, the hope for God’s deliverance grew and the longing for the Messiah increased among the faithful. The initial promise of the postexilic period faded, and the faithful knew that the Lord would have to intervene in a new way to restore creation. Our hope remains set on the Messiah, whom we now know is Jesus. We proclaim Him as the One who will bring final restoration.