What does it mean to be a faithful believer in a hostile nation? Does God care for His people even when they’re not the ones calling the shots? Most Christians are going to instinctively answer that second question “of course,” while most American Christians are going to stare blankly in response to that first question. In part this is because we are believers living after the coming of the Messiah. Had we been part of God’s people under the old covenant, we would have struggled more with that answer. To help us think about what faithfulness looked like in those days, and how we can consequently be more faithful in our own time, Wallace P. Benn has written a short reflection on three Old Testament books: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther: Restoring the Church.
This short book isn’t an in-depth commentary. Instead it’s more along the lines of a series of short reflections on big themes and sections of the exilic history books of the Old Testament. This isn’t the place to go for a line-by-line exposition of the text. Instead, it’s a place to go to get a big-picture overview of what these three often-overlooked books meant in their context and how they apply to us today. Specifically they explore how believers can live well in a society that they do not control, but that is simultaneously hostile and not-hostile at the same time. That is, there are elements of the society that are hostile to God’s people (most famously Haman, but also the peoples surrounding the promised land after the Jews are released from Babylon), but also elements that are at the least indifferent, if not occasionally friendly (the Persian King).
It goes without saying that contemporary Americans need to be able to think carefully about this kind of circumstance. Given the political polarization and the growing differences between Red states and Blue states, we need to be able to wisely navigate the coming cultural circumstances. Careful reflection on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther is a good place to start, and Benn has given us just that in short, digestible chapters. This is a great book to have on your shelf while working through this part of the Old Testament.