Introduction to the Book of Nehemiah
I. The Writer. Nehemiah.
Nehemiah 1:1 “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace…”
II. The Occasion, Date, and place.
Nehemiah, as the governor of Jerusalem, wrote from a different perspective than Ezra, but at essentially the same time. (Nehemiah 8:2,9) Ezra wrote from his perspective as a priest and dealt with the religious issues of the people.
Norman L. Geisler states “Ezra relates the restoration of the Nation’s Temple and Nehemiah records the reconstruction of the nation’s capital city. Together they provide an account of the religious and political activities of the remnant which had recently returned from the Babylonian captivity.”
Outline of the Book of Nehemiah
I. Rebuilding. 1:1-7:73
A. Nehemiah, the man. 1:1 – 2:8
1. His professional life.
a. He was the cup bearer for the king.
b. He had personal access to King Artaxerxes.
We note that he served the king of Persia, but his heart was with the King of Kings and with God’s people.
2. His personal life. 1:2-11
a. He was a Jew of the captivity.
b. He loved the Lord and longed for Israel to be restored.
c. He had a great burden for Jerusalem. We see three things about this man in the introduction-
His Concern, His Contrition, His compassion.
1). His Concern. “…I asked them concerning the Jews…” 1:2
2). His Contrition. 1:4
“…when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven…”
3). His Compassion. 1:11
He had determined to act. His concern in asking and his contrition in hearing led him to compassion on the people. He could had said that he would pray for them and in time, with the blessings of God, they would rebuild the city and restore the nation. But his compassion led him to believe that he, as a subject and a servant of the Most High God, must get involved personally and he prayed, asking God to lead him and open the door of service.
“…and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
What do we pray about? Do we ask God what He would have us to do?
3. His Petition to the king. 2:1-8
He requested the king to allow him to return and rebuild Jerusalem.
a. His regular duty 2:1,2a
1). To present the king and his guest with food and drink.
This event may be a special occasion as the king’s wife is present, being noted in vs. 6
It seems that this was not the normal practice of the kings. Refer to –
Esther 4:11 All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.
2). To protect the king.
a). From sickness or death as a result of poisoned food.
b). From sadness or sorrow –
Esther 4:1-2 When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry; And came even before the king’s gate: for none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.
The king’s life was always thought to be in danger. Artaxerxes’ father was murdered by the chief of his guard. Artaxerxes’ older brother was accused of the crime. The murderer of his father also tried to kill him, but was killed himself in a hand to hand struggle. It is no wonder that he demanded a high level of protection!
b. His response to the King. 2:2b,3
1). His apprehension – he was in a dangerous position.
2). His appreciation – he voiced his appreciation for the king.
3). His anxiety – he told of his concern and sadness for the condition of his people in his homeland.
c. His reliance was on the Lord. 2:4
Proverbs 8:14-16 Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength. By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
d. His request. 2:5,6
e. His research. 2:7,8
He had prepared for this opportunity, expecting the Lord to bless.
Nehemiah was aware of the opposition facing the project from the non-Jewish population. They had caused many problems to Ezra in the rebuilding of the Temple that had been authorized by Cyrus. Refer to Ezra 4:4-6, 23-24.
Nehemiah wanted to be as prepared as he could be to deal with supplies, building materials, or opposition from those in the surrounding areas.
4. His position.
Before we continue in the study of Nehemiah the builder, we should learn more about his character. To be the King’s Cupbearer and then be assigned by the king as the governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah had traits that were appreciated by the king who in all likelihood appointed him personally to his position.
He was a man of –
a. Intellect. He was able to direct the operations of the kings table.
b. Integrity. He was able manage the property of the king. Pantries, cellars, kitchens.
c. Irreproachable loyalty. He protected the king.
d. Insight. He received information and formulated plans to solve problems.
e. Interest. He asked first about the people of Jerusalem, then the city.
f. Immediacy. He knew that he needed God’s direction and sought Him in prayer.
g. Intent. He formulated a plan and waited on the Lord.
h. Inspiration. He could motivate others to share his vision.
i. Implementation. He was co-labourer, leading in the work.
j. Intrepid leadership. He remained calm and courageous in the face of danger.
Nehemiah displayed the qualities necessary in the leader who would plan and carry out the work of rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem in difficult times.
B. Nehemiah, the builder. 2:9 – 7:73
1. His arrival. 2:9-11
a. The presentation of documents. 2:9a
b. The presence of the Kings authority 2:9b The kings soldiers
c. The provocation of the enemies. 2:10
1). The Samaritan’s animosity against the restoration of Israel.
2 Kings 17:26-28 Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land. Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land. Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.
Luke 10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
John 8:48 Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?
These delighted in the suffering of Israel. They should have been aware of God judgment on those that hate His people.
Psalms 7:15-16 He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.
2. His assessment of the task. 2:12-16
3. His admonition to the people to build. 2:17,18
4. His attitude toward the opposition. He was opposed in seven ways.
We should learn from his responses!
a. Opposition – Ridicule. 2:19, 4:1-3
Response – “…The God of heaven, he will prosper us…”
b. Opposition – Anger 4:7
Response – “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto God, and set a watch against them…”
c. Opposition – Discouragement. 4:10-12
Response – “…Be ye not afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren…”
d. Opposition – Greed (danger from within) 5:1-9
Response – “…It is not good that ye do. Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?”
e. Opposition – Deceit 6:1-4
Response – He remained focused on the service unto the Lord. “I am doing a great work. Why should the work cease, whilst I come down to you?”
f. Opposition – Intimidation 6:5-9
Response – “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands'”
g. Opposition – Betrayal (danger from within) 6:10-14
Response – “…Should such a man as I flee…? 6:11
“My God, think thou upon… the rest that would have put me in fear”. 6:14
Opposition is to be expected in the Lord’s work, but the Lord is near –
Psalms 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
4. His administration of the construction. 3:1 – 6:15
a. Phase One – repair the breaches in the wall. 3:1 -4:6
Psalms 41:9 Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.
1). The priests led by example. 3:1
a). Eliashib influenced his brethren, the priest, and the people of Israel to begin the work.
A parenthetical look at Eliashib –
b). Eliashib injured his testimony through using his position for corrupt practices.
Refer to Nehemiah 13:4-8
Eliashib chose relationship over right. It is very possible that Tobiah was a servant of the Persian court and had influence with the king. His son was married into the family who signed the convenant pledge. (Nehemiah 3:4,30; 10:21,22). Tobiah took care to cultivate good relations with the people (Nehemiah 6:19) He was related to Eliashib and encouraged him to use his position as High Priest to provide him with a secure lodging place in Jerusalem while Nehemiah was out of the country.
The Lord admonished us that we cannot divide our allegiance and serve the God and the world –
Luke 16:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
The results of this effort are sadly revealed in the life of Demas. He had been a partner with Paul in the ministry –
Colossians 4:14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.
Philemon 1:24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
– and then lost his testimony by turning to the desires of the flesh –
2 Timothy 4:10 “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica…”.
It is a wonderful thing to begin right in our service unto the Lord, but we must also determine that we will end right – That we may say with Paul –
2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
c). Eliashib intimidated the leadership to accomplish his purpose.
Nehemiah 7:2 That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many.
Read Nehemiah 13:4-9 Hanani was the governor in the absence of Nehemiah. Hanani was a good and faithful man, but he was not as Nehemiah. He allowed the people to do things that Nehemiah would not have. We are reminded of the difference between Moses and Aaron. Aaron gave in to the desires of the people instead of leading them in the right way. Leadership is not always a family trait.
Note that Elishib’s strength influenced others (to build the wall) but his weakness also influenced those around him. When the leadership is self-serving the people will suffer!
2). The people joined together in the work. 3:2
The Lord teaches us in His Word the benefits of depending on Him and on one another –
Psalms 127:1 A Song of degrees for Solomon. Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
If one family did not do their best and build their portion of the wall securely, the entire community would be in danger. It is the same with the church! If we do not serve the Lord together according to His direction, we leave an opening for danger and destruction in the church.
Colossians 2:18-19 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
3). The pride of some was noted. 3:5
a). The Tekoite Nobles remind us of that group of proud souls who will always be numbered among God’s people who believe that they are better than others, they are not subject to the normal duties and responsibilities of men.
Proverbs 18:11 The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.
Proverbs 28:11 “The rich man is wise in his own conceit…”
Psalms 49:6-11 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
We are admonished in God’s Word to be humble and obedient unto the Lord, no matter what our state in life is –
1 Timothy 6:17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
b). The Tekoites chose to serve the Lord instead of following the example of their leaders. Refer to 3:27
They could have excused themselves and been like the heads of the family, but they had personal integrity. They rose above the example of these whose pride and arrogance kept them from serving.
1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
4). The preliminary work was completed. 4:6
The people were encouraged in the work by step by step completion of the task. They may have been overwhelmed if they were directed to construct the wall in its entirety – length and height. They were able to quickly build the wall around the city to its half height, then complete the building knowing that they could accomplish the task.
b. Phase two – raise the wall to a protective height. 4:1 – 6:15
1). The conspiracy of the enemies. 4:1-8
a). The plan of the enemy.
(1). Insult (Mocking the people and their work) 4:1-3
(2). Intimidation. (Threaten the people with physical violence) 4:7,8
b). The plea of Nehemiah. 4:4-6
He encouraged the people as those before him had done.
Joshua 1:9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
(2). Jehoshaphat. 2 Chronicles 20:10-15 (note the identity of the enemy)
2). The concern of the people. 4:9-12
a). The condition of the city. They had to clear the debris from the city. 4:9,10
b). The constant threat of the enemy. Waiting to ambush the labourers. 4:11,12
3). The charge to the people. 4:13,14
a). The solution to their problem –
(1). Fear God.
(2). Fight for their families
These same situations were known to the early church and they are known among us today –
2 Corinthians 7:3-5 I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.
b). The solution to our problem today. We must receive the same charge and act accordingly.
(1). Fear God.
(2). Fight for our families.
We are in a spiritual battle, the war is raging and believers must be aware of the dangers in the world!
Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
Work, but wear your armour when you go out!
4). The continuation of the work. 4:15-23
a). They determined to complete the wall. 4:15 “…every one unto his work.”
b). They discouraged their enemies. They were prepared to face them. 4:16-23
Nehemiah learned from the account in God’s Word of those that were before him –
Note Joab’s instructions to Abishi as they prepared for battle –
2 Samuel 10:11-12 And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth him good.
5). The confrontation of sin among the people. 5:1-13
a). The complaint of the people. 5:1-5 The rich had taken advantage of the poor.
b). The confrontation of the guilty. 5:6-13
(1). The authority of the Word of God.
Leviticus 25:39-43 And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubile: And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return. For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God.
(2). The appeal to their conscience. 5:6-11
(3). The acceptance of the rebuke and restoration to the people. 5:12,13
6). The charity of Nehemiah. 5:14-19
We note Nehemiah’s care for the people both physically (Protection and Provision), mentally (working together), and spiritually. His desire was truly as was stated in Nehemiah 2:10 “… there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.”
7). The complicity of the Jews to destroy the testimony of Nehemiah. 6:10-14, 17-19
King David despaired over the treachery of his friends –
Psalms 41:9 Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.
8). The completion of the wall. 6:15
a). The second phase of Nehemiah’s plan was completed. This was not the completion of the project though. Remember that Nehemiah was not only rebuilding the walls. We need to be reminded that the city had been surrounded by protective walls in the centuries before.
(1). David took the city from the Jebusites. 2 Samuel 5:6-9
(2). The enemies of Israel. 2 Chronicles 21:16,17
(3). Joash King of Israel broke into the city of Jerusalem and took treasures.
2 Kings 14:13,14
(4). Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city. 2 Kings 25:10
b). The walls were simply physical barriers which could be breached. What the people needed to understand was that the walls were a symbol of their separation unto God. The army of Israel on the walls could not withstand the military forces of the world. This had been proved before. The people needed the walls to remind them that they were the people of God – His chosen people in His chosen place.
Remember Nehemiah’s initial question concerning Jerusalem –
Nehemiah 1:2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
He was concerned for the state of the people. He was still concerned for the state of the people which involved their relationship with God – submission and obedience. He began Phase three which would build their sense of community and their submission and service to God.
c. Phase three – requirements for security. 7:1-73
1). Installation of faithful leadership. 7:1,2
2). Implementation of security measures. 7:3
3). Initiated a registry of families. 7:4-69
a). Determine citizenship.
b). Determine property rights.
c). Determine priesthood.
4). Investing financially to support the work. 7:70-73
II. Revival. 8:1-10:31
A. The Reading of the Law. Ezra the Scribe taught. 8:1-12
1. They were assembled.. 8:1,2
2. They were attentive. 8:3-6
3. They were admonished. 8:7,8
4. The were affected. 8:9,10
5. They were appreciative. 8:11,12
B. The Restoration of the Feast of Tabernacles. 8:13-18
C. The Repentance of the people. 9:1-10:31
1. The Confession of their sin. 9:1-38
2. The confirmation of their submission to God. 10:1-31
III. Repopulation of Jerusalem. 11:1-12:26
1. The protection of Jerusalem the priority.
2. The population of Jerusalem chosen by lot.
IV. Restoration of national identity.
A. The Priest and the Levites were set in their task. 12:27-47
B. The people were separated unto the Lord. 13:1-31