Nehemiah 7:73b-10:39 – God’s Covenant Renewed
SummaryThe story of Ezra's reading of the law breaks into the Nehemiah memoir, taking the form of a covenant renewal.
AnalysisThe timing is important. These events take place shortly after the completion of the reconstruction of the walls. Mention of the "seventh month" (7:73b; "Tishri," September/October) is even more important, since this marks the beginning of the religious New Year with convocations, sacrifices, the Day of Atonement, and the Festival of Booths (Numbers 29).
Nehemiah 7:73b-10:39 reintroduces Ezra to the narrative by relating his crowning achievement, namely, the introduction of the law as the theological center of the community. These chapters stand apart from their context and treat a different matter. It is likely that they have been ordered as a covenant renewal similar to the reforms of Asa (2 Chronicles 15:1-8), Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29-31), and Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:29-35:19). Seen in this way the chapters fall into a congruent structure: proclamation of the law (chapter 8), confession (chapter 9), and renewal of commitment to the covenant (chapter 10).
The placement of this material has caused problems for readers, who usually decide it is easier to read these chapters in conjunction with the material in Ezra. This was, after all, Artaxerxes's commission to Ezra, to introduce the law to the fledgling postexilic community. Why would he have waited until now to do so? Furthermore, Nehemiah's dual task of rebuilding the walls (Nehemiah 2-7) and repopulating Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11) seem to be artificially separated by this Ezra material. The present placement of this material suggests that the author considered Ezra's institution of the law as the most important event of the restoration.