Nehemiah, contemporary of Ezra and cupbearer to the king in the Persian palace, leads the third and last return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. His concern for the welfare of Jerusalem and its inhabitants prompts him to take bold action. Granted permission to return to his homeland, Nehemiah challenges his countrymen to arise and rebuild the shattered wall of Jerusalem.
In spite of opposition from without and abuse from within, the task is completed in only fifty-two days, a feat even the enemies of Israel must attribute to God’s enabling. By contrast, the task of reviving and reforming the people of God within the rebuilt wall demands years of Nehemiah’s godly life and leadership.
Who Wrote Nehemiah?
Clearly, much of this book came from Nehemiah’s personal memoirs. The reporting is remarkably candid and vivid. Some scholars think that Nehemiah composed some portions and compiled the rest.
Others think that Ezra wrote 7:6-12:26 and 12:44-13:3, and that he compiled the rest making use of Nehemiah’s diary. A third view that neither wrote it seems least likely from the evidence. Nehemiah 7:5-73 is almost the same as Ezra 2:1-70 and both lists may have been taken from another record fo the same period.
As cupbearer to Artaxerxes I, Nehemiah holds a position of great responsibility. His role of tasting the King’s wine to prevent him from being poisoned places Nehemiah in a position of trust and confidence as one of the king’s advisors. As governor of Jerusalem from 444 to 432 BC, Nehemiah demonstrates courage, compassion for the oppressed, integrity, godliness, and selflessness.
He is willing to give up the luxury and ease of the palace to help his people. He is a dedicated layman who has the right priorities and is concerned for God’s work, who is able to encourage and rebuke at the right times, who is strong in prayer, and who gives all glory and credit to God.
The Christ of Nehemiah
Like Ezra, Nehemiah portrays Christ in His ministry of restoration. Nehemiah illustrates Christ in that he gives up a high position in order to identify with the plight of his people; he comes with a specific mission and fulfills it; and his life is characterized by prayerful dependence upon God.
In this book, everything is restored except the king. The temple is rebuilt, Jerusalem is reconstructed, the convent is renewed, and the people are reformed. The messianic line is intact, but the King is yet to come.
Keys to Nehemiah
Key Words: Jerusalem Walls
While Ezra deals with the religious restoration of Judah, Nehemiah is primarily concerned with Judah’s political and geographical restoration. The first seven chapters are devoted to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, because Jerusalem was the spiritual and political center of Judah. Without walls, Jerusalem could hardly be considered a city at all. As governor, Nehemiah also establishes firm civil authority. Ezra and Nehemiah work together to build the people spiritually and morally so that the restoration will be complete.
Key Verse: Nehemes 6:15-16
So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.
Key Chapter: Nehemiah 9
The key to the Old Testament is the covenant, which is its theme and unifying factor. Israel’s history can be divided according to the nations’ obedience or disobedience to God’s conditional covenant: blessings from obedience and destruction from disobedience. Nehemiah 9 records that upon completion of the Jerusalem wall the nation reaffirmed its loyalty to the covenant.