Ulruch, Dean R. Now and Not Yet: Theology and Mission in Ezra-Nehemiah. NSBT 57; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. 184 pp. Pb; $28. Link to IVP Academic
Dean Ulrich has served both the church and academy. His North-West University (South Africa) PhD dissertation was published as The Antiochene Crisis and Jubilee Theology in Daniel’s Seventy Sevens (Oudtestamentische Studiën 66; Brill, 2016). He has also published a commentary on Ruth (P&R, 2007) and served as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Wexford, Pennsylvania. His experience in both church and academy is clear in his Now and Not Yet: Theology and Mission in Ezra–Nehemiah. In this new NSBT volume, Ulrich shows that participating in God’s mission for his world is a key message of Ezra and Nehemiah.
As Ulrich describes in his introduction, there are many reasons for academic and pastoral inattention to the books of Ezra-Nehemiah. For many, Ezra-Nehemiah is a legalistic jumble of sources, lacking a coherent theology and littered with obtuse lists. For others, Nehemiah stands as a model for leadership (usually by contemporary writers looking for proof texts for their leadership principles). Ulrich argues Ezra-Nehemiah is a literary unit with rich missional theology which illustrates how God’s people continue to experience his salvation in the post-exilic world.
After a chapter outlining what he means by biblical theology and Ezra-Nehemiah’s contribution to biblical theology, Ulrich works his way through the books thematically (although this follows the order of the books themselves). The first section of Ezra deals with the return from exile (ch. 3), the rebuilding of the temple (ch. 4), and the security of Jerusalem (ch. 6). Throughout these chapters, he integrates the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in order to offer a narrative of the rebuilding of the early community in Judea after the exile.
Most Bible readers associate Ezra-Nehemiah with rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, but Ulrich also points out that the books are interested in rebuilding the people of God (ch. 5). By the time Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, the people have been worshiping in the rebuilt Temple for many years. For most modern readers, the problem of foreign marriage seems strange, and Ezra’s solution seems drastic: divorce foreign wives and exclude them from the people of God! This is even more surprising since there is no evidence the Gentile women were encouraging their Judean husbands to worship idols, as with Solomon. Ulrich admits the measures “may seem harsh, gut the identify and mission of God’s people after the exile were at stake” (94). The new community must take steps to preserve its distinctiveness or it will “transmute into something quite different from the original vision of the founder” (94).
Perhaps another reason for scholarly and pastoral inattention to Ezra-Nehemiah is the books ends unsatisfactorily (156). We know that the post-exilic community continues to struggle, and the tensions present in these books continue through the Maccabean Revolt and into the first century. This is the “now, not yet” from the subtitle of the bool. Although the Temple is rebuilt and the walls of Jerusalem are complete, the people continued to struggle with certain practices such as tithing, Sabbath, and intermarriage. Ulrich draws Malachi into his discussion of the end of Nehemiah, since that late prophet deals with the apathy of the Judeans. The book of Daniel addresses some of these issues from the perspective of those still living in exile. There were faithful Jews living in the Diaspora, even if Judeans struggled with certain practices.
Conclusion. Ulrich’s Now and Not Yet will serve as a theological commentary for both pastors and academics teaching through Ezra-Nehemiah, two overlooked Old Testament books.
NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.