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
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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.  

Nehemiah 6 – Conspiracy Against Nehemiah

Having had their plans to derail the rebuilding of the wall thwarted, Sanballat, Tobiah, and their allies conspire to ambush and kill Nehemiah.  Several attempts are made to lure him into their trap, but he would not fall for it.  In desperation Sanballat sends a messenger with a letter (and pretending to speak for the king), speaking of rumors of Nehemiah trying to usurp the king’s authority and claim kingship for himself.  The ruse is intended to lure him to speak to Sanballat personally – at the king’s insistence (verses 5-7).  Nehemiah knows that Sanballat is lying and says so in so many words – then just prays for more strength (verses 8-9).

Jerusalem old city walls

We do not know much about Shemaiah, first mentioned in verse 10, or what the meaning is exactly of him being confined to his house – or what exactly had led  Nehemiah there.  It seems likely that he had been a priest.  But Nehemiah realized that he was not speaking from God, but rather was working for the enemy when he tried to get Nehemiah to go into the Temple (verses 10-13).  Nehemiah was not a priest, and so he knew that he was forbidden to go in (for just one example of scripture, refer to Numbers 16:39-40).  Nehemiah responds once again with prayer to God, asking for His justice in the matter (verse 14).

Only 52 days after it was started, the wall was finished (verse 15); and this amazing feat being accomplished in so short a time brought fear to the nations surrounding them, because they perceived that it only could have been accomplished with the help of God.  If God had helped them to do that, how else might He help them in gaining more power that could threaten them?  Verses 17-19 make clear that many of the nobles in Judah were guilty in this matter; and many sent letters to Tobiah and reported on Nehemiah to him.  So Tobiah now was sending letters to Nehemiah to intimidate him.

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © 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.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.

Nehemiah 2 – Nehemiah Sent to Judah

There is some confusion and speculation about the time factor in chapter two because of verse one’s mention of the month of Nisan, which corresponds to March/April, the first month, whereas Nehemiah 1:1 relates to the month of Chislev, the ninth month (November/December).  The best explanation seems to be that in those times in the near east, one of the most common ways of reckoning time was in regnal years.  But there is much argument about when those counted times began – whether at the start of a calendar year, the exact time of a king’s ascension, or other criteria.  Only two things are important for the reader to know –  1) that it was some time after Nehemiah’s prayer that his conversation with the king in verses 2-8 took place, and he was permitted to go to Judah to rebuild the wall, and 2) that it was the work of the Lord in answer to his prayer (verse 8).

Armed with letters to show the governors – who probably were instrumental in persuading Artaxerxes to halt building on the wall previously (Ezra 4:7-12), and permission to obtain timber and supplies (verse 8), he arrives some time later.  When he did, his possession of the authority of the king could not be in question, as he was escorted by officers of the king and horsemen (verse 9).  He inspected the wall, telling no one of his intentions while doing so, as verse 10 already hints at opposition.   When Nehemiah did make the work known to the priests, nobles, and officials, he made it clear not only that he had the king’s blessing, but also spoke “of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good.”  In verse 20, addressing the opposition (as for Tobiah, the Ammonites were Israel’s very long-term enemies), he distinguished between God’s people and those in opposition.

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © 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.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.

Nehemiah 1 – Nehemiah’s Prayer

Jerusalem Golden Gate

Nehemiah opens 13 years after Ezra arrived in Jerusalem (compare verse 1 to Ezra 7:7).  Ezra came about 57 years after the Temple was built, which was about 515 BC.  The twentieth year in this verse refers to that of the reign of Artaxerxes, which is about 445 BC.  At least one attempt at rebuilding the wall had been started  (note Ezra 4:12), but it had never been finished.  Some have surmised that the distress of Nehemiah at the news about the condition of the wall could be because he thought that because so many captives had already returned to Jerusalem so long ago, it should have already been rebuilt.  Whatever the case, he is living hundreds of miles away in another land in the Persian citadel, or fortress, Susa.

Nehemiah was cupbearer to the Persian king – a position of some prominence, and would afford great access to the king – as well as scrutiny.  His prayer to God in verses 5-11 is one of the great ones of the Old Testament.  It includes praise to God, heartfelt and genuine confession and remorse without excuses, and a plea of petition to the Lord.  In his plea, Nehemiah humbly asks the Lord to forgive them and restore them after having been scattered for their sins, as the Lord had promised in scriptures that include Deuteronomy 4:25-30 and Deuteronomy 30:1-6.

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © 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.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.