Ezra makes a cameo appearance in a crossover promotion between him and Nehemiah. For the second time, the Jews discover the law of Moses after presumably having lost it. As the foundational document for your faith, your culture, and your nation, it seems like there would be a better means of keeping track of that thing.
The retelling of the story of the relationship between God and the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews emphasizes a new aspect of the larger Bible story for me. It seems we often look back over the whole story with the biases of knowing how things end (or at least how they are now).
It’s so ingrained in the modern Christian reader to see God as the universal creator and savior that He is, setting the standard of absolute truth and metaphysical righteousness to which all are held accountable.
But remember that that’s not primarily how God related to His people through most of the Bible narrative. He came to Abraham as his God and promised to make a nation out of his descendants. He championed the Jews in their military campaigns after captivity and sometimes seems to be in competition with the pagan idols of the neighboring peoples.
Now, I don’t thin He ever claims to be limited in any way or to be substantially different than we know Him to be. But the image of Himself that He revealed to people throughout the Bible story is one of personal, almost contractual relationship: ‘I will protect you and prosper you if you worship me and follow my commands.’ It’s not a universal claim, at least at first. It’s about commitment and mutual bond.
I don’t know where that goes from there. It’s interesting to look back on the story of suffering for the Jews not as punishment for failing to meet a universal standard of righteousness but as breaches in contract, as if God says, ‘We had a deal!’
As I’ve pointed out in some of the minor prophets we’ve gone through over the past few months, God has begun to expand the picture to demonstrate to the Jews and the world that He is not just a national god but the only God and creator and judge of all of creation. I think this developing perspective sets up the Incarnation and redeeming work of Jesus to come, but looking back from this side of the Resurrection, it’s easy to forget that that hasn’t always been the frame of reference.