Nehemiah starts out with Nehemiah learning of the state Jerusalem is in after the exiles return. The wall of Jerusalem is still in disrepair, and Nehemiah prays for forgiveness and blessing in rebuilding the city. Nehemiah, who is cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, asks the king if he can leave for a time to help rebuild his homeland, and get supplies along the way. His petition is granted to his joy. Rounding up the Jews, Nehemiah gets to managing the work of rebuilding. Nehemiah encounters opposition among the other peoples who are living in Jerusalem, but Nehemiah steadfastly prays that work will continue, and their enemies will be thwarted—which they are!
Apart from rebuilding, Nehemiah is also concerned with following God’s law. He notices that the poor are being abused and mistreated at the hands of the nobles, and tells the nobles to fear God and fulfill His commands or else the other people groups will continue to scoff at them. Nehemiah, on his part, continues to labor at the wall and even refuses the fine foods he was entitled to in his role as governor in Judah. Eventually the wall is restored, but Nehemiah’s enemies still try to harass him to ultimately no avail.
Ezra reads the Book of the Law to those who are in Jerusalem. The people weep when they hear the Law (an encouraging sign because people recognize their sins), but Nehemiah tells them that this is a holy day, and one of joy. Days later, after the Festival of Booths, the people confess their sins and renew themselves under God’s covenant. While some people live in Jerusalem, most decide to live in the surrounding areas.
Nehemiah returns to the king for a time, and then comes back to Jerusalem to see how work is progressing… and in many ways it isn’t! The temple is being neglected, and the people are failing to follow God’s law. Nehemiah tries to correct what he can, and he prays that God will remember him for what he did.
Who wrote it?
The two books of Ezra and Nehemiah were once one book, but it is unknown who wrote most of the book. Chapters 7-10 of Ezra are partially in the first person, so it is not hard to make an educated guess at Ezra writing at least that part of the book. In a similar fashion, though, parts of Nehemiah are also in the first person (referring to Nehemiah).
When does it take place?
Nehemiah first arrives in Jerusalem in 445 B.C. In chapter 13, Nehemiah leaves for Jerusalem again, which takes sometime between 433 and 423 B.C.
How does Nehemiah apply to me today?
Even when we think Israel has finally learned their lesson after their 70-year exile, and vows to uphold God’s law, Nehemiah finds out in the last chapter of the book that the Jews started backsliding yet again. Fortunately, in earlier OT books God has already made known a new covenant that will see His law written not on stone and parchment, but on the hearts of everyone. If you’ve been keeping up with the Old Testament through this point, one thing that should stand out to you is the default state of man is sin. God’s law is perfect, but we are sadly not. It would take a miracle to make us right with God. Luckily, a miracle is what the Israelites would be getting in a couple hundred years…
As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
The Bible Project video on Nehemiah (also covers Ezra)
Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0