Book of Nehemiah – Putting Up a Wall

English: Building the Wall of Jerusalem; as in...

English: Building the Wall of Jerusalem; as in Nehemiah; illustration from Sunrays quarterly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There has been much speculation about the author of the Book of Nehemiah. Many believe that the same person that wrote it also wrote the Book of Ezra, but the fact is that we just do not know that; and this writer strongly disagrees. Also, the insistence by many that part of Nehemiah was written by someone other than the prophet himself seems very misguided. For one thing, the opening sentence declares the scripture as “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.”

Secondly, although there are a very few select references to “Nehemiah, the governor,” practically the entire book is written in the first person voice. As we have mentioned before, it hardly matters, but there are often good reasons for a lapse into third person narrative mode, particularly when recounting detailed historical events. And it should be noted that the prophet is still writing in the first person throughout the final chapter.

Thanks to Verse one of the first chapter, we do know to the month and year when the news of the destruction of Jerusalem’s wall was brought to Nehemiah. The month of “Chislev” was the ninth month (November/December). “The twentieth year” refers to the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, which would make it 445 B. C. The reference to Hanani as Nehemiah’s brother in verse 2 is repeated in Nehemiah 7:2, and it seems to mean the relationship was in the literal sense of the word.

Why was the news of the wall’s destruction so devastating to Nehemiah? A city’s walls were much more than a defensive structure. It had tremendous symbolic value, and was a large part of what made a city a real and recognizable city. Without it, civil and sociological progress and status would all be hindered. Jerusalem would be no more significant than a large encampment. Without a wall, there could not even be a single city gate! Beyond their functional use, the gates themselves were significant as gathering places and for conducting business in an important city. Now, they too were gone.

The Persian Empire had reached its height under Cyrus the Great, having added to its borders by swallowing up the Babylonian Empire, including Elam, and its capital, Susa in 540 B.C. It was there that Nehemiah resided as the book opens, serving as the cupbearer to king Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:1, Nehemiah 1:11). The Persians had added Israel and Judah to their holdings, and they were known as “Beyond the River” (Nehemiah 2:7). Having released the people of Judah, who had become known as Jews, per the decree of Cyrus, the former captives had begun returning in waves. Following the news from Hanani and the others, Nehemiah obtained the king’s permission to go to Jerusalem, and set out on his journey (Nehemiah 2:7-8).

Nehemiah worked in Susa as a personal assistant for the king of the vast Medo-Persian Empire. When he heard that the rebuilding projects in Jerusalem were progressing slowly, he asked the king if he could go there to help his people complete the task of rebuilding their citys walls. The king agreed to let him go; so he left as soon as possible, traveling along much the same route Ezra had taken.

Nehemiah worked in Susa as a personal assistant for the king of the vast Medo-Persian Empire. When he heard that the rebuilding projects in Jerusalem were progressing slowly, he asked the king if he could go there to help his people complete the task of rebuilding their citys walls. The king agreed to let him go; so he left as soon as possible, traveling along much the same route Ezra had taken.

Chapters 8-10 hold very important significance. The passage includes what is known as the Great Water Gate Revival (a gathering in the square before the Water Gate) and the covenant renewal. A key part of this was the reading of the Law. For many of them, this would be the first time they had ever heard the entire Law of Moses read to them; and it was a very emotional and profound experience.

The Book of Nehemiah is a passionate story of a man’s determination to get something very important done. But it must be remembered that it was the execution of God’s will. God was determined to get the people back entrenched in the work of serving Him as God’s people in their own land after the exile. And when God wants something done, it gets done. Fairly short work was made of what seemed at the outset to many to be a monumental task that could easily take years. The wall was finished in 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15)! But the Book is full of historical detail and makes more complete the renewal of reinstating Mosaic Law that Ezra had begun in the previous chapter.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

Book of Ezra – Rebuilding the Temple

English: The Jews Return to Jerusalem in the T...

English: The Jews Return to Jerusalem in the Time of Cyrus; as in Ezra 1:1-11; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Book of Ezra is one of the books of the Old Testament that is generally classified as one of the books of history. The book is only 10 chapters long; and the first 6 chapters are written about events that occurred before Ezra came on the scene, beginning in 539 B.C. (Ezra did not arrive until 458 B.C.). Although Ezra 7:27 – 9:15 is written in the first person, indicating that Ezra wrote them, the first six chapters (as well as chapter 10) are written in the third person, leaving open the possibility of a different author for those chapters.

Ezra 7:27 – 9:15 is often called the Ezra Memoir. It hardly matters, but the reader should keep in mind the possibility that Ezra wrote that portion in that voice to differentiate the time periods, pointing out that the first six chapters predated him. Chapter 10 is largely a historical record. It documented those who had “broken faith,” taking foreign wives and having children with them. It is thought by some that the author of Ezra wrote the book of Nehemiah. Early rabbinical writings indicate that the two books were counted together as one book. Ezra’s arrival in 458 B.C., over 80 years after the book began, preceded the arrival of Nehemiah (445 B.C.) by 13 years.

English: Ezra Reads the Law to the People (Neh...

English: Ezra Reads the Law to the People (Neh. 8:1-12) Русский: Священник Ездра читает народу Закон (Неем. 8:1-12) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the first verse of the book tells us, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled,” the book begins with the time of captivity coming to an end. Ezra begins the story of the small remnant of Jews that returned to their ravaged land, including the building and dedication of the second temple . Ezra 2:64, following a more detailed account, tells us that their number “together was 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.” The book tells of the remnant’s struggle to regain and retain their identity as a chosen people.

For more information on the Proclamation of Cyrus and a link to the archaeological artifact known as the Cyrus Cylinder, which was found in the ruins of Babylon in 1879, see this previous post.

Key Events

  • Cyrus king of Persia captures Babylon     (539 B.C.)     Dan. 5:30–31
  • King Cyrus issues a decree freeing Jewish exiles to return     (538–537 B.C.)     Ezra 1–2
    • The remnant of Jewish exiles, led by Sheshbazzar, return  Jerusalem     (~537 B.C.)     Ezra 1:11
  • The rebuilding of the altar     (537 B.C.)      Ezra 3:1–2
  • The remnant rebuilds the Temple at its original location      (536 B.C. – 516 B. C.)     Ezra 3:8–6:22
    • Opposition and conspiracies against rebuilding / rebuilding ceases      (530-5B.C.)      Ezra 4:24
    • Rebuilding resumes (2nd year of the reign of Darius)     (520 B.C.)     Ezra 5:2; Hag. 1:14
    • Construction completed      (516 B.C.)       Ezra 6:15
  • Ezra the Priest leaves Babylon and comes to Jerusalem to teach the people and establish Mosaic Law (arrives in the 7th year of the reign of Artaxerxes)    (Ezra 7–8)
    • King Artaxerxes gives Ezra the authority to establish the law of Moses     Ezra 7
    • Ezra sets out for Jerusalem with more remnants, bringing royal gifts for the temple      Ezra 8
  • Ezra confronts the issue of Intermarriage / marriage to idolaters      Ezra 9–10
    • The people agree to dissolve the marriages      Ezra 10:1–17
    • Assembly of men from Judah and Benjamin in Jerusalem      (458 B.C.)      Ezra 10:9
    • Investigation  lasts 3 months   (458–457 B.C.)     Ezra 10:16–17
    • The guilty are documented      Ezra 10:18–44
/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.