In these books, the people and their leaders are very concerned with reminding themselves of who they are and where they come from. During this vulnerable time in Jewish history, Ezra and Nehemiah know it's important to develop a strong religious identity among the people if they're going to survive.
But how to do it? Well, kick out all foreign wives and children; keep rebuilding the Temple; celebrate the Sabbath and other holidays mentioned in the Torah; and restore Mosaic law as the basis for stabilizing the life of the community. And be really, really, serious about it.
The Jews had to guard their identity because they were a small and vulnerable nation, still in the rebuilding stage and surrounded by hostile nations. Exposure to foreign tribes could be pretty dangerous at this stage of the game. Persia, on the other hand, had no such problem. They were such a powerful empire that the emperor could allow, even encourage, the Jewish exiles to go home and establish their own kingdom and live by the rules of their own God.
Questions About Identity
What are your own ways of establishing your identity? Do you think any of them are sort of similar to the ancient Israelites—holidays, etc?
What is the importance of retaining a cultural identity? Is the way we develop that kind of identity in the modern world different?
How do Ezra and Nehemiah foster a sense of identity in the people?
Is your personal identity always rooted in the physical place you're in or the traditions of your ancestors?