The Church and the World

Nehemiah 3.1

‘Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel.’

In the book of Ezra, the first six chapters are all about the first return of 42,000  Israelites from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem – the first great return. Ezra was not actually with that company; he remained in Persia as a leader among the Israelites in the capital, and as an attendant at court. But he had access to the documents; he quotes from them, understands them, and is plainly the author of this book. The second part of Ezra begins in chapter 7, when for the first time Ezra speaks in the first person, showing that he is now present in Jerusalem.

Ezra is a book of encouragement, a book of spiritual warfare, a book of strengthening, and of divine intervention – all the proofs the Israelites had, as they went back, that God was with them; his protection on the long journey home; the return of pure doctrine; the ability to worship God in truth again as he had ordained, and the paganism of Babylon now a thing of the past.

The Book of Nehemiah is traditionally regarded as having been authored by Ezra and he would have worked from Nehemiah’s memoirs. Ezra the scribe and priest had unique access (because of his position) to Persian records and of course he would have written under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The book is written – and this is one of the reasons why it is thought to be taken from Nehemiah’s own memoirs – as from Nehemiah, and it records his work in the reformation of affairs in Jerusalem and Judah.

This book starts in around 446 BC and Nehemiah is a principal officer of state in the Persian government of King Artaxerxes. A number of high-level visitors to the Persian court had visited Jerusalem and the neighbouring region (then all under the Persian Empire). The reports they bring fill Nehemiah with consternation at the state of God’s people and of Jerusalem, and he determines to ask king Artaxerxes for permission to go to Jerusalem in order to organise the rebuilding of the city walls.

If there are any books in the Bible which are about recovery from decline, it is these two books of Ezra and Nehemiah (they were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible). Ezra describes the rebuilding of the temple, and then Nehemiah tells us of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra enacted various reforms, some of which had broken down in just a very few years before Nehemiah came. Nehemiah too effected reforms, and he went away for just for a short while, and by the time he returned many of his reforms had already broken down.

So decline is very difficult to recover from, because people become set in decadent ways and often after a wave of reformation there is a certain slip back. There are great principles here, which which we need to keep in mind if recovery is ever to be effected – including the remedies necessary for a church to take, the methods used by Satan to hinder or reverse those remedies, and the kind of faith and dependence upon God which is vital to a reformation.

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