End of exile

This Sunday we come to the end of our study of the Old Testament figure Nehemiah. But the ending of Nehemiah is a letdown.

God had brought his exiled people back to Jerusalem. Despite all kinds of opposition, the walls were rebuilt, the city was secure, the sacrificial system was restored, and the people were worshipping again.

After 12 years as governor, Nehemiah stepped aside for a time. When he returned, he found that the people were doing the same kinds of things that had made God angry centuries before. There was legalism, cronyism, materialism, and more. Angry and frustrated, Nehemiah immediately sought to correct the problems.

Had the reforms been for nothing?

Not without self-pity, Nehemiah cried, “Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God.”

It’s one thing to take the people out of exile.

It’s something else to take the exile out of the people.

It’s one thing to lead a reformation.

It’s something else to be content with God when the reforms don’t seem to last. 

What we miss, if we don’t know our Bibles well, is that the Book of Nehemiah marks the end of the Old Testament history. Everything that comes after Nehemiah is wisdom literature or prophetic writings. The Bible is basically silent about the history of God’s people for the next 400 years, until the New Testament writers come on the scene. 

Someone told me recently that they had prayed and prayed but God had failed to answer their prayers. Therein lies one of the great questions of life. It seems to me that for every answered prayer, there’s a reform that didn’t fully take, and a frustrated reformer who can only cry out to God.

But for Nehemiah, all was not lost. The people were worshipping, if imperfectly. The Holy City was restored, if still under assault.

Maybe the point is to make us long for the once-and-for-all reformer, Jesus Christ.

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