Sunday, June 1, 2008

Nehemiah Courageously Begins Rebuilding a Wall

Nehemiah Is Sent to Jerusalem

Nehemiah 2

1It was the month of Nisan in the twentieth year Artaxerxes was king. He
wanted some wine, so I took some and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in
his presence before. 2So the king said, “Why does your face look sad even though
you are not sick? Your heart must be sad.”

Then I was very afraid. 3I said to the king, “May the king live forever! My
face is sad because the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its
gates have been destroyed by fire.”

4Then the king said to me, “What do you want?”

First I prayed to the God of heaven. 5Then I answered the king, “If you are
willing and if I have pleased you, send me to the city in Judah where my
ancestors are buried so I can rebuild it.”

6The queen was sitting next to the king. He asked me, “How long will your
trip take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me, so I set a

7I also said to him, “If you are willing, give me letters for the governors of
Trans-Euphrates. Tell them to let me pass safely through their lands on my way
to Judah. 8And may I have a letter for Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest,
telling him to give me timber? I will need it to make boards for the gates of the
palace, which is by the Temple, and for the city wall, and for the house in which I
will live.” So the king gave me the letters, because God was showing kindness to
me. 9Then I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s
letters. The king had also sent army officers and soldiers on horses with me.

10When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite officer heard about
this, they were upset that someone had come to help the Israelites.

Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem

11I went to Jerusalem and stayed there three days. 12Then at night I started out
with a few men. I had not told anyone what God had caused me to do for
Jerusalem. There were no animals with me except the one I was riding.

13I went out at night through the Valley Gate. I rode toward the Dragon Well
and the Trash Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem that had been broken down
and the gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14Then I rode on toward the
Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for the animal
I was riding to pass through. 15So I went up the valley at night, inspecting the
wall. Finally, I turned and went back in through the Valley Gate. 16The guards
did not know where I had gone or what I was doing. I had not yet said anything
to the Jewish people, the priests, the important men, the officers, or any of the
others who would do the work.

17Then I said to them, “You can see the trouble we have here. Jerusalem is a
pile of ruins, and its gates have been burned. Come, let’s rebuild the wall of
Jerusalem so we won’t be full of shame any longer.” 18I also told them how God
had been kind to me and what the king had said to me.

Then they answered, “Let’s start rebuilding.” So they began to work hard.

19But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite officer, and
Geshem the Arab heard about it, they made fun of us and laughed at us. They
said, “What are you doing? Are you turning against the king?”

20But I answered them, “The God of heaven will give us success. We, his
servants, will start rebuilding, but you have no share, claim, or memorial in

The Holy Bible, New Century Version

NEHEMIAH (Nee huh mi' uh) Personal name meaning, “Yah comforts or
encourages” and name of Old Testament book featuring work of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah, the son of Hachaliah, is the main character in the book which bears
his name. Two other Nehemiahs appear in the OT: one in the group who returned
with Sheshbazzar (Ezra 2:2; Neh 7:7), and the other was the son of Azbuk, “the
ruler of the half part of Bethzur” (Neh. 3:16), a helper with rebuilding the walls
of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah and Ezra were one book in the ancient Hebrew and Greek OT, and
probably were not divided until after the Interbiblical Period (see Ezra for more
details). Jewish tradition says Ezra or Nehemiah was the author. Because of the
close connection between Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, one person might have
written or compiled all three books. Those who follow this argument refer to the
author as the Chronicler.

The literary style of Nehemiah is similar to that in Ezra. There are many lists
(ch. 3; 10:1-27; ch. 11; 12:1-26). The author/compiler wove Ezra’s and
Nehemiah’s stories together, Ezra being featured in Nehemiah 8.

The book has four major sections: the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls (chs. 1-
7), the Great Revival (chs. 8-10), population and census information (chs. 11-12),
and the reforms of Nehemiah (ch. 13). Nehemiah made two visits from King
Artaxerxes to Jerusalem (2:1-6; 13:6-7). His first, 445 B.C., was to repair the
walls; they were in a state of disrepair almost a century after the first arrival from
Exile in 538 B.C. The second was a problem-solving trip in the thirty-second
year of Artaxerxes (13:6), 432 B.C. Nehemiah was a contemporary of Ezra and
Malachi, and also Socrates in Greece (470-339 B.C.), and only a few decades
later than Gautama Buddha in India (560-480 B.C.) and Confucius in China (551-
479 B.C.).

Nehemiah held the distinguished position of cupbearer to the king (1:11).
This was an office of trust; tasting the king’s wine and food, the cupbearer stood
between the king and death. That Nehemiah, a Jew and a captive, served this
Gentile king in such a strategic capacity was an unusual credit and honor to this
man of strong character.

Nehemiah’s Memoirs include first person accounts (1:1-7:5; 12:27-47; 13:4-
31), and the other material uses the third person pronoun (chs. 8-10). Thus his
story is both autobiographical and biographical. Visitors to Susa informed him of
the dilapidation of Jerusalem’s walls. He was so upset that he cried and mourned
for days” (1:4). He prayed a confession (1:5-11). His grief became apparent to
Artaxerxes who permitted him to go to Jerusalem.

Nehemiah’s first act there was to inspect the walls at night (2:15). He then
called an assembly and convinced the people of the need for a building program.
He was an excellent leader who demonstrated engineering knowledge and
brilliant organizing ability (ch. 3). The work began.

Trouble arose from without and from within. Sanballat and his friends tried to
stop the work, but without success (ch. 4). Trouble from within was economic.
Building the walls caused a labor shortage; farms were mortgaged, and high rates
of interest were charged. Nehemiah said, “The thing you are doing is not good”
(5:9 NRSV). He corrected the problem and even gave financial aid to those in
need (ch. 5). Again Sanballat and other non-Jews made several attempts to lure
Nehemiah away from the job and shut it down. They failed. Nehemiah proved to
be a person of strong will and unusual boldness. “So the wall was finished ... in
fifty and two days” (6:15). The dedication of the wall is described later in 12:27-

The theological climax of the Book of Nehemiah and of the life of Ezra is the
Great Revival (Neh 8-10). It was a grand experience. It warrants close study for
revival attempts today. People assembled. They requested Ezra to read from the
book of the law of Moses (8:1). The book was probably the Pentateuch (Torah)
or some part of it. Ezra read, and others helped by giving “the sense, so that the
people understood the reading” (8:8 NRSV). This probably included translating
the Hebrew scripture into Aramaic, the commonly spoken language.

A great celebration occurred, and they observed the Feast of Tabernacles.
Results were impressive: “They made confession and worshiped the Lord” (9:3
NRSV) and “separated themselves from all strangers” (9:2) that is, they divorced
their foreign spouses. They prayed a long prayer of confession (9:6-37). The
people responded, “Because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it”
(9:38). The signers and terms of the covenant were then recorded (ch. 10).

Nehemiah was dissatisfied with the small size of the population of Jerusalem.
He made an ingenious proposal: to “cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in the
holy city Jerusalem, while nine-tenths remained in the other towns” (11:1
NRSV). Nehemiah’s last chapter cites his reforms made during his second visit to
Jerusalem in 432 B.C. He threw out a Gentile who was permitted to live in the
Temple; he restored the practice of tithing to support the Levites; he corrected
sabbath wrongs by those who bought and sold on the sabbath; and he dealt
forthrightly with those who had married foreigners, those not in covenant relation
with God.

Nehemiah was indeed an outstanding person. His theology was very
practical; it affected every area of life. Note his prayers and how practical they
were (1:4-11; 2:4; 4:4-5, 9; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31). He boldly asked,
“Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people” (5:19
NRSV; compare 13:14, 31). His faith was practical: “and the king granted me
what I asked, for the gracious hand of my God was upon me” (2:8 NRSV;
compare 2:18 for a practical application of this concept). He believed “the God
of heaven is the one who will give us success” (2:20 NRSV) and that “our God
will fight for us” (4:20 NRSV). He had respect for the sabbath, the Temple and
its institutions, the Levites, and tithing.

Nehemiah was an unusual person. Nehemiah was a man of action; he got
things done. He knew how to use persuasion but also force. One may properly
call him the father of Judaism. Because of Nehemiah, Judaism had a fortified
city, a purified people, a dedicated and unified nation, renewed economic
stability, and a new commitment to God’s law.

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