Slaves at Home

Ezra and Nehemiah each provide their own distinct reports of the Jews’ return from Babylonian exile. Even if the portrayal of this return as a “second exodus” is not a particular, literary concern in these books,1 the narrative’s inclusion of elements like captivity, release, land resettlement, and covenant establishment certainly echo important features in the narrative of Israel’s exodus from Egypt.2 Even so, Ezra and Nehemiah include in their portraits of the people’s experience of some “reviving” (מחיה) a stroke in which the people also found themselves still to be slaves (Ezra 9:8–9; cf. Neh 9:36).3

As a prime example of the people’s slavery in “the land that you gave to our fathers to eat its fruit and its goodness” (Neh 9:36; הארץ אשׁר־נתתה לאבתינו לאכל את־פריה ואת־טובה), “its increase goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins” (Neh 9:37; ותבואתה מרבה למלכים אשׁר־נתתה עלינו בחטאותינו). This observation situates even the returned community as being, to some extent, still subject to the covenant’s curses (e.g., Deut 28:33, 51). Yet, the promise still stood of a day when Abraham’s children would again freely enjoy the produce of the land (Deut 30; Isa 55; cf. John 4:35; Rom 4:13; 10:1–17).

1. Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (1st American ed.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 634.

2. Cf. P. M. Venter, “Canon, Intertextuality and History in Nehemiah 7:72b–10:40,” HvTSt 65, no. 1 (2009): 161.

3. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 745–46; N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 1; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 268–79, 299–301; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 125–31, 428–30.