Bekah's Heart, Bible Journaling, Devotional

Reflections on Ezra and Nehemiah


These words echoed through the halls of churches all across the world this past Sunday. However, when I look around our world, we still see so much hurting, pain, and even death. I saw it in the eyes of a friend, in words across Facebook, in stories of suffering splattered all over the news. I’m guessing each one of us can look back on this past week and find at least one moment where the reality of sin in this world seemed, if only for a split-second, bigger than the resurrection.

I read a blog post earlier this week in which the author described her struggle to believe the resurrection of Jesus. She resonates with the Jesus of Good Friday because suffering, she knows; new life is just too distant of a concept. She said,

“… I found I couldn’t even envision a risen God. A victorious living God.

A suffering God? A dying God? An oppressed God? Yeah, I could see that.”

– Sarah Moon in “Resurrection and the Surviving God”

While I may come to different theological and personal conclusions on some things than Sarah, I very much appreciated her insights. Her view into the struggle we all face sometimes in reading God’s Word claiming ‘new life’, ‘resurrection’, ‘victory’, and then look around our world (or even our own life) seeing destruction, suffering, and pain made a lot of sense to me. I loved the concept she presented that sometimes resurrection simply is the power to get up and walk through another day here on earth. She shared:

“I didn’t single-handedly defeat depression and the pain from my past when I rose off that floor. I didn’t defeat the powers of evil or anything like that. But I survived.”

“Today, I’m going to embrace the idea of resurrection as this: Fellow survivors, God is with us.”

These are the thoughts I had on my mind as I began reading Ezra and Nehemiah this week. These books of the Bible (likely originally one book together) set up a pretty bleak situation. Exiled for years… these people were slaves… their city and place of worship in complete ruins.

In the midst of it all God calls some people to begin rebuilding. It wasn’t glamorous. It didn’t happen overnight. There was a lot of pain along the journey. Enemies rose up in every situation. At one point God’s people were forced to even stop rebuilding work on the temple for about 20 years! Later on in the story as they each worked together rebuilding the wall around the city of Jerusalem, they had to have their work tools in one hand and keep a weapon in the other in order to defend themselves. This promise of restoration wasn’t feeling much like a reality right then.

There, in the midst of all of that, this verse in a prayer of confession stood out to me:

“We are slaves, but you have never turned your back on us. You love us, and because of you, the kings of Persia have helped us. It’s as though you have given us new life! You let us rebuild your temple and live safely in Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 9:9)

Even as the people turned their back on God, they recognized that their God never had, and never would, turn on them. They saw His love. They saw new life.

They survived. They got up and did what they needed to do for another day. While we live here on this earth, sometimes that’s exactly what new life and resurrection look like: power to get up and do it all again another day. Right there in the middle of death and suffering, illness and disease, violence and hopelessness, we have hope to take another step.

We have hope because one day, none of those things will be there. A true Resurrection Day is coming, one that will destroy death FOREVER! God is rebuilding His world and there we will live fully in safety, never again as slaves, only as beloved children.

Revelation 21:3-5 says it this way:

“I heard a loud voice shout from the throne:

God’s home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are goneforever.

Then the one sitting on the throne said:

I am making everything new. Write down what I have said. my words are true and can be trusted.” (CEV, emphasis added)

That’s the resurrection Jesus made possible in His own death and resurrection. That’s the resurrection that begins in little ways even now amid the death, suffering, crying and pain: God making His home with us and giving us power to get up again and again each time one of those things beats us down. That’s the resurrection I long for. That’s the resurrection I believe in.

He is alive! Alleluia!

66 in 52 Challenge

Ezra and Nehemiah – Week 14 {66 in 52 Challenge}

This is part of the 66 in 52 Bible Journaling Challenge. Over the course of the 52 weeks in 2018, I am focusing in on one verse from each book of the Bible with many others who have signed up to join me. Each week I will post a summary page with some thoughts about that week’s book(s) of the Bible along with some links that may help our reflection. Click here to sign up if you want to join us at any point along the journey! Click here to see where we’ve been so far!


Week 14 - Ezra, Nehemiah

The Big Picture of Ezra and Nehemiah:

Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book. In some later manuscripts they were divided into three, telling the three main stories of the book, though most modern Scriptures have two books. Together they tell of the return of some of God’s people from exile. First, Zerubbabel leads a group to rebuild the temple. Then Ezra works on reminding the people of God’s commands, and Nehemiah returns in the midst of this to rebuild the city walls. This all happens over the course of almost 100 years (Approx. 538 B.C. – 443 B.C.).

Key Events in Ezra and Nehemiah:

(The approximate dates below were found at this website.)

  • Ezra 1 –  – King Cyrus declares that the Jews can go back to Jerusalem (Approx. 538 B.C.)
  • Ezra 2 – A list of all who returned and the gifts they gave to rebuild the temple.
  • Ezra 3 – Altar restored, sacrifices were made, temple reconstruction begins (approx. 536 B.C.)
  • Ezra 4 – Construction on the temple stops (approx. 535 B.C.)
  • Ezra 5-6 – Temple construction resumes and is completed (approx. 515 B.C.)
  • Ezra 7-8 – Ezra returns to Jerusalem with more exiles (approx. 458 B.C.)
  • Nehemiah 2-3 – Nehemiah returns to lead a group of people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (approx. 444 B.C.)
  • Nehemiah 4-5 – Conflict with people surrounding the city trying to stop them from rebuilding
  • Nehemiah 6 – The wall rebuilt in only 52 days
  • Nehemiah 8 – Ezra reads the Book of the Law to the people (approx. 443)
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A Few Key Verses and Possible Reflection Questions/Prayers:

Some of us are planning to read through the whole book each week, while others are just focusing in on one verse (two this week since we’re in two books!). This section of the weekly intro post might help you narrow down a verse to reflect on for the week, but you do not have to choose one of these verse, pick any section of the book you want! These are just some ideas.

  • ‘Rise up, this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it!” Ezra 10:4
    REFLECTION: Sometimes we need to stop and let someone else, maybe even God take care of a situation. Other times we need to rise up and do what we’ve been called to do. What “matter is in your hands” this week that you need to take courage and do? Who is around you to support you?
  • “With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord.” Ezra 3:11
    REFLECTION: What can you praise and thank God for today? Is there a song your can play or sing that represents your praise well?
  • Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14
    REFLECTION:  What does fighting for your family look like this week? Who is “them” that you need to not be afraid of? How can you focus on the great and awesome Lord who fights for your family in the middle of whatever you’re facing this week?
  • “Yet our God turned the curse into a blessing.” Nehemiah 13:2
    REFLECTION:  Where has God turned a bad situation into a blessing in your life recently?

God’s Grace in Ezra and Nehemiah:

Grace is all about what’s undeserved. Multiple times throughout these two books these leaders get undeserved gifts. Just take Nehemiah for example. When he asks his leader, the king, for permission to return, God’s favor is upon Nehemiah. The King not only lets Nehemiah go, but sends all kinds of supplies to help in the process. God provides all Nehemiah needs to do what He has called him to do. This grace had to be encouraging to him as he thought about the huge task before him and endure great opposition. I am so thankful that we serve a God who provides all we need… and then some.

Some Other Resources:

The Challenge:

So now it’s your turn! Pick a verse and settle in this week, or read through the whole book. If you post any picture or blogs on social media, tag them with #66in52challenge so we can all share in this journey together!