THE BOOKS OF NEHEMIAH AND EZRA
The Book of Nehemiah is a narrative history. Nehemiah authored it at about 430 B. C. Nehemiah wrote it to record the events of returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the walls in 445 B. C. In we can see the book was written as a first-person story, and represents “The Memoirs of Nehemiah”. Jewish tradition says a priest named Ezra—who knew Nehemiah, added his memoirs to his book. Nehemiah and Ezra are two of 12 history books in the 39 books of the Old Testament. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally a single volume, but apparently written as a sequel to I and II Chronicles, which were also a single volume. The story takes place in Persia and Israel. Nehemiah leaves Susa, capital of the Persian Empire, in what is now Iran. He travels to Jerusalem.
In Chapters 1-7, Nehemiah recounts the events of his temporary return to Jerusalem from Persia, and rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in 445 B. C.
From Chapters 8-13, is a time of Israel finding and establishing themselves again as a nation, after the long period of the exile in Babylon. Ezra leads all the Jews in a renewal ceremony.
To help us understand the Book of Nehemiah better, we need to go back in history a little and look at the Jews before their exile.
God chose the nation called “Israel” to be His special people He wanted the people to love Him and to worship Him. And He wanted them to obey Him. In the city called Jerusalem, which was their capital, they built a great temple. The people worshipped God and gave sacrifices to Him in this temple. Israel became a powerful nation. But the people in Israel did not obey God 9:16-18, They worshipped the gods of other nations. In God tells that they must not marry people who were not Jews. This is because people from other countries “worshipped” other gods. So God caused the people in Israel to suffer troubles and difficulties. The Israelites continued to sin against God God sent prophets to warn them about this, but the Israelites did not listen to these men. Instead, the Israelites continued to do bad things (Nehemiah 9:29-30). God only allowed them to suffer that they would remember Him. He wanted them to obey Him. Then He could do good things for them again.
The nation is divided into two parts. The northern part was called Israel and the people called the inhabitants “Israelites”.
The name of the southern part was Judah and the people called the inhabitants “Jews”.
Jerusalem was in the southern part. The Book of Nehemiah is about the people in Judah. However, sometimes Nehemiah calls them the people of Israel.
Many years later, the Babylonians took control of the country of Assyria, and the Babylonians were enemies of the Jews. The King of the Babylonians was Nebuchadnezzar.
In 586 B.C., the Babylonians destroyed the “temple” and the city of Jerusalem.
Now, we return to the present time of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, two parts of the same story. They tell us about the time when the Jews return from Babylon to their own country called Judah. Babylon was about four months walk east from Judah. After the Persians defeated the Babylonians, then Cyrus, the King of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to Judah.
The Book of Ezra is the first part, and tells about the first two groups of Jews who returned to Judah. The book also explains how the Jews built their temple again, and how Ezra helped the Jews to know God’s commands and to obey them.
The Book of Nehemiah is the second part. It tells the story of a Jewish man who was a very important official who worked for the King of Persia. God sent Nehemiah to Judah in order to do a special task.
Nehemiah would help the Jews to build the walls around Jerusalem again.
Both men worked together to restore the city and rededicate its people to God.
Nearly 100 years after the first wave of Jews return from exile in what is now Iraq, they have a temple in Jerusalem. But they have no protection for it, or for the people living there. The city walls are a wreck from the Babylonian invasion nearly 100 years earlier.
In verses 1-3, we see that Nehemiah is a Jew working in Shushan in the Persian palace more than a thousand miles away. If you remember, the story of Esther in the Bible took place in the Shushan palace. Hanani, son of Hachaliah, brings Nehemiah the depressing news that the walls of Jerusalem lay in ruins. Nehemiah can’t believe that his people are allowing the Holy City to lie in ruins.
In verses 4-11, Nehemiah sat down and wept and prayed before the God of Heaven and confessed the sins of the children of Israel.
Nehemiah confronts King Artaxerxes and asks for a leave of absence, so he can go and repair the most sacred Jewish city.
In verses 7-10, we see that Nehemiah was confident that God was arranging for him to go to Judah, so he became even bolder. Nehemiah asked the king for letters granting him safe passage, and a letter granting him local timber for construction. The king also gave him an armed escort for the 1000 mile journey.
In verse 11, “For I was the king’s cupbearer”.
Nehemiah describes himself as “the king’s cupbearer”. That’s a palace servant who brings the king his wine, after tasting it to make sure no one has spiked it with poison. Sounds like a lowly position, staffed by an expendable human being. But that’s not true.
Official cupbearers for many kings carried a lot of influence at the palace. After all, cupbearers generally saw the king every day and had the kings’ ear. And they certainly had the kings’ confidence, since he trusted them with his life. This is what evidently put him in a position to speak to the king and request favors from him.
Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem in 445 B. C., as the provincial governor of Judah. He immediately surveyed the damage to the entire city on his well-known night journey around the walls.
In the text from thru we see Nehemiah describing his efforts to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem, even in the face of hostile neighbors. He enlisted the help of the people to quickly repair the breaches in the wall. He also urged them to set up guards to defend against the constant threat of those who opposed their efforts, the Samarians, Ammonites, and the Ashdodites.
Nehemiah was a good leader, but he could not build the walls alone. He needed many people to help him. He was pleased with their work. In Chapter 3, there are many names. The Bible does not mention most of these people elsewhere. Most of them were the leaders of families, but only a few were important in the local region. They were not builders and they had no special skills to do the work. But they realized that Nehemiah was right. They did an important job for God. Nehemiah felt these people deserved honor, so he recorded their names and jobs that they did. When Nehemiah records some of the names he also mentions their families. He does this often in the rest of the book. Families were important to the Jews. In we see the name “Meremoth”. This name appears again in
Nehemiah organized the workers into construction crews, assigning each crew to a section of the wall. This sped-up the work by spurring on some friendly competition among crews. After just 52 days, the Jewish workers finished closing all breaks in the wall. They also plugged each of the city’s gateway entrances with massive wood doors.
In “So the wall was finished… .” and when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
* If you remember the importance of re-building this wall goes back to the ninth chapter of the book of Daniel. From the time to build and restore Jerusalem until the Messiah shall be cut off/killed would be 483 years. This was the starting point for Daniel’s prophecy in Chapter 9.