Introduction to the Book of Nehemiah

Book of Nehemiah: Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem

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Zavada, Jack. "Introduction to the Book of Nehemiah." ThoughtCo, Dec. 29, 2016, thoughtco.com/introduction-the-book-of-nehemiah-701139. Zavada, Jack. (2016, December 29). Introduction to the Book of Nehemiah. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-the-book-of-nehemiah-701139 Zavada, Jack. "Introduction to the Book of Nehemiah." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-the-book-of-nehemiah-701139 (accessed September 20, 2017).
Book of Nehemiah - The Walls of Jerusalem Rebuilt
Nehemiah riding though rubble and telling the Jews to rebuild Jersualem. Peter Dennis / Getty Images

What Is the Book of Nehemiah About?

The book of Nehemiah is the last of the Historical Books of the Bible, originally part of the book of Ezra, but split off into its own volume by the Church in 1448.

Nehemiah was one of the most underrated heroes in the Bible, cupbearer to the powerful Persian king Artaxerxes I Longimanus. Stationed in the winter palace at Susa, Nehemiah heard from his brother Hanani that the walls in Jerusalem were broken down and its gates had been destroyed by fire.

Heartbroken, Nehemiah asked the king for permission to return and rebuild Jerusalem's walls. Artaxerxes was one of several benevolent rulers God used to restore his exiled people back to Israel. With an armed escort, supplies, and letters from the king, Nehemiah went back to Jerusalem.

Immediately Nehemiah met opposition from Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite, neighboring governors, who feared a fortified Jerusalem. In a rousing speech to the Jews, Nehemiah told them the hand of God was upon him and convinced them to rebuild the wall.

The people worked hard, with weapons ready in case of an attack. Nehemiah avoided several attempts on his life.  In an astounding 52 days, the wall was finished.

Then Ezra, the priest and scribe, read from the Law to the people, from dawn to midday.  They were attentive and worshiped God, confessing their sins.

Together, Nehemiah and Ezra reestablished civil and religious order in Jerusalem, casting out foreign influences and purifying the city for the Jews' return from exile.

    

Who Wrote the Book of Nehemiah?

Ezra is generally credited as the author of the book, using Nehemiah's memoirs in parts of it.

Date Written

About 430 BC.

Written To

Nehemiah was written for the Jews returning from exile, and all later readers of the Bible.

Landscape of the Book of Nehemiah

The story began in Artaxerxes' winter palace in Susa, east of Babylon, and continued in Jerusalem and the lands bordering Israel.

Themes in Nehemiah

The themes in Nehemiah are especially relevant today: 

God answers prayer. He takes interest in people's lives, supplying them with what they need to obey his commands. Besides providing building materials, God put his hand on Nehemiah, energizing him for the work as a mighty encourager.  

God works his plans through the world's rulers. Throughout the Bible, the most powerful pharaohs and kings are mere instruments in God's hands to accomplish his purposes. As empires rise and fall, God is always in control

God is patient and forgives sin. The great message of Scripture is people can be reconciled to God, through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.  In the Old Testament time of Nehemiah, God called his people to repent again and again, bringing them back through his lovingkindness.

People must work together and share their resources for the Church to flourish. Selfishness has no place in the lives of God's followers. Nehemiah reminded rich people and nobles not to take advantage of the poor.

Despite overwhelming odds and the enemy's opposition, God's will prevails. God is omnipotent. He gives protection and freedom from fear. God never forgets his people when they wander away from him.

He seeks to draw them back and to rebuilt their broken down lives. 

Key Characters in the Book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah, Ezra, King Artaxerxes, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, Geshem the Arab, the people of Jerusalem.

Key Verses

Nehemiah 2:20
I answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it." (NIV)

Nehemiah 6:15-16
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. (NIV)

Nehemiah 8:2-3
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

(NIV)

Outline of the Book of Nehemiah

  • Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem to rebuild its wall - Nehemiah 1:1 - 2:20.
  • The people overcome dangers to finish the work - Nehemiah 3:1 - 7:4.
  • A list names the people coming home from exile - Nehemiah 7:5 - 73.
  • Ezra reads the Law; the people renew the Covenant - Nehemiah 8:1 - 10:39.
  • The author names the people in Jerusalem and the area - Nehemiah 11:1 - 12:43.
  • Nehemiah cleans up civil and religious offenses - Nehemiah 12:44 - 13:31.

(Sources:  The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles; How to Get Into the Bible, Stephen M. Miller; Halley's Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley; Unger's Bible Handbook, Merrill F. Unger)