Have you ever noticed how Old Testament books always seem to end, well, on a bit of a downer?
Take Ezra-Nehemiah, for example. I have been reading through this cracking Old Testament account of the exiles who returned home from their exile in Babylon. It’s a great book: how Ezra and Nehemiah set about restoring the temple and the city walls and, more importantly, restoring the identity of the people back to being the faithful people of God.
Sure, their are trials and struggles along the way. Yet, Ezra-Nehemiah comes to a crescendo in Nehemiah 12:27 with the dedication of the city walls and a great celebration of joy by the people of God! Huzzah!
…only, it doesn’t end there.
Despite the impressive crescendo of the dedication ceremony, Nehemiah actually finishes with an epilogue that happened roughly 15 years after the events of chapter 12… and the scene we are greeted with is both highly depressing and strangely familiar:
- unfaithful and untrustworthy leaders abusing their positions and giving way to subversive people (13:4-14).
- Neglect of their dependence and privileged relationship with the LORD expressed in the Sabbath (3:15-22).
- Intermarriage with foreign women that distorts and dilutes the faithfulness of the people (v23-29)
- …and Nehemiah being almost a lone voice in leading and exhorting the people to faithfulness before the LORD (v30-31).
The New Bible Commentary has a great summary of these events.
It is as though the book is pointing to its own failure, reminding us that, however important good structures and routines may be (as was pointed out immediately above), nothing can substitute for the renewal of the naturally perverse inclinations of the human heart.’
(Nehemiah, New Bible Commentary)
The ending of Nehemiah, like so many Old Testament texts, has two opposing dimensions to it. It both point us in the direction that we need to walk… and then it highlights that we simply cannot walk it on our own.
The historical account of Ezra-Nehemiah finishes with a silent cry for an inward reform of the heart that would not come for another 400 years… but it did come eventually.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus accomplished all the things that humanity simply could never do. Jesus’ faithfulness brings the blessings of God promised in his Law and allowed the inward work of the Holy Spirit to be given to his faithful people.
Until the return of Jesus, we will still face the same struggle of faithfulness that is continually hounded and hindered by our sinfulness and unfaithfulness. And yet, we have a great hope: the ending of the eternal story of God’s people does not depend on us but on Jesus.
Which is why the ending of the whole Bible breaks the oh-so-familiar pattern that we see so often in the books leading up to the New Testament.
The ending of the great story of God’s people is one of eternal victory and triumph, of eternal reform and restoration, of eternal joy and celebration and worship… and this is because that ending depends on Jesus, and not us.