Memoirs of the Way Home: Ezra and Nehemiah as a Call to Conversion, Gerald M. Bilkes. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014. Paperback, 187 pp. [Reviewed by Rev. Martyn McGeown.]
This is a brief, accessible, and helpful commentary on two neglected books of the Old Testament. Ezra and Nehemiah are post-exilic writings, that is, they were written after and describe life after the Babylonian captivity.
For many Christians that history is strange and unfamiliar. We treat it at the end of the Old Testament History catechism season, when students are looking forward to the summer break. It does not even seem to be as exciting as the life of David or the history of Daniel.
Therefore, such a commentary on these two important Old Testament books is welcome. This little book would be an excellent resource for a Bible study on the postexilic writings—throw in Esther (which is not treated in this book) and you have the complete set!
Bilkes’ commentary is not scholarly, so he does not burden the reader with technical details. That is no criticism. Sometimes, scholarly commentaries offer more stones than bread. They might explain the text—in great, and tedious detail—but they do not edify the reader. Bilkes gives enough historical background to make the material accessible, and then he devotes himself to exposition, illustration, and application. It appears that these chapters were originally sermons. At least, they are divided homiletically.
Bilkes explains his approach in the introduction:
For the most part, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are not the records of great heroic feats. 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 (), traveling as he does from the far country to the father’s house. In many ways, the narratives in Ezra and Nehemiah read like an extended account of the prodigal’s way back home. This journey has different phases, occurring over nearly a century. Yet, through it all, it is foundationally a journey from misery to joy, from sadness to gladness, from captivity to service (2).
The themes developed in these chapters are God’s sovereignty, God’s faithfulness, opposition and persecution, repentance, worship, prayer and reformation. About “reformation” Bilkes writes:
What is reformation, other than bringing the church of God back in line with the Word of God in doctrine, life and worship? Today we often hear, “The church must be always reforming,” a statement with which we heartily agree. Some people, however, mean by this that the church should always be adapting to changing times. What reform really involves, though, is constantly returning to the Word of God. Any development that doesn’t bring the church into closer subjection to the Word of God is not reformation, but deformation (54).
I enjoyed this book. It gave me a greater appreciation for the sacrificial zeal of the returning captives, and a greater appreciation for God’s mercy to His chastised, repentant people. If this book makes the post-exilic history of the Old Testament come alive, it has fulfilled its purpose.
And it will.