Memoirs of the Way Home: Ezra and Nehemiah as a Call to Conversion by Gerald M. Bilkes
This new book on Ezra and Nehemiah by Professor Gerald M. Bilkes of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary is a great snapshot of the Ezra and Nehemiah in both historical and practical perspective. Bilkes writes, “They read more like the confessions of a humbled prodigal and bear an uncanny resemblance to the experiences of the younger son in Christ’s parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), traveling as he does from the far country back to the father’s house” (2). The people of God are returning from exile to rebuild the temple and in the case of Nehemiah, to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem. Gerald is keen to point out in his writing that the Jews responded to their covenant keeping God is often how people respond to the gospel today; some respond with their hearts changed and live out the gospel while others ‘at the end of the day, go on living as they have always lived, ‘after hearing the gospel and the need for repentance (15).
What was so good about this look into Ezra and Nehemiah was the way Bilkes makes these post-exilic books so contemporary to the church and its place in history. After highlighting the importance of the genealogical records given in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7, Bilkes writes, “Today, we no longer use genealogies in the same way. But how important it is that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life! The membership records of our churches may be inaccurate, but this Book of Life is perfect and accurate. What a mercy that Christ has come” (24)! Gerald made it a point to note that God works through families and this is no less the case than in the family line of Christ (Matthew 1). I think the genealogical records also indicate the mighty way our covenant God works through a line of families throughout the generations, and in every generation there are those that are faithful to the end. Why is this important? One, we need examples of those before us who walked the path of faith to give us encouragement as we face great difficulties, brokenness, and sin in our lives. Secondly, we need the reminder that God does not give up on his people, that he never removes his presence from those who are led by the Spirit.
Lastly, Gerald provides his readers with a healthy dose of wisdom as he faces Nehemiah’s challenge to the people. Gerald writes, “He met the badness of the people’s situation with the goodness of the Lord’s disposition…It is only God’s goodness that can empower weak hands and raise up distressed spirits” (95). Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the city itself was no small task and couldn’t be done by Nehemiah himself. What was needed was a Herculean effort that could only come from the goodness of Almighty God. The application here is that Nehemiah met the people with the terrible situation that they were in but he didn’t leave them there but pointed them back to the one who could strengthen their hands. This good word is very applicable to believers who find themselves in either bad situations or dealing with their own sin, trying to find a way out for freedom to flourish. Resting in Christ and fleeing to His grace is the only way forward.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for the copy of this book in exchange for review.