Nehemiah 1: Nehemiah, an Israelite of the tribe of Judah, is the writer of the book which bears his name. He was of one of those families which had not returned to Palestine under Cyrus’ decree about ninety years previous. Nehemiah was an influential man, a Counselor to King Artaxerxes. He learned of the pitiable condition of the returned Jews, and that their enemies had wrecked the walls and burned the gates of Jerusalem. Nehemiah at once sought the Lord, desiring wisdom and grace that he might perform his duty toward his people. After several days of prayer and supplication he determined to bring the matter to King Artaxerxes. His prayer was answered. He was permitted to go to Jerusalem and become its governor, with authority to act in the name of the Persian monarch.
Rebuilding Jerusalem’s Walls
Nehemiah 4: Arriving at Jerusalem, Nehemiah first noted the condition of the walls and then laid out a plan for rebuilding them. He awakened the zeal of all the people, and the work of rebuilding the walls went well. But this activity awakened the jealously of the neighboring rulers, and they came against Jerusalem to attack it and spoil and stop the work of repairs, fearing that it might succeed. This compelled Nehemiah and those who cooperated with him to divide their attention between building and defending. Their opponents were strengthened by “false brethren,” Jews from the surrounding country whose interest and sympathies were with these other peoples, who sought to discourage the workers and stop the work.
Nehemiah 5: Nehemiah’s work had almost reached success when a great wail of distress went out. The poor Jews had been giving all their time to repairing the walls and had thus cut off their income from other sources. In their zeal they went into debt in mortgages on their property. When the tax collectors came to collect the interest that was due they were unable to meet these, and facing destitution, they wailed greatly. Nehemiah discovered that the wealthy Jews had advanced money to their poor neighbors on mortgages with an extremely high interest rate, thus profiting by the calamities of their brethren. He called them together explained the brotherly obligations required by the Law. As a result, the wealthy Jews acknowledged their unjust course and rectified matters.
Nehemiah 6: But then outside enemies, recognizing that the wall was nearly finished, attempted new tactics. They professed a desire to reconsider the whole matter and to meet with Nehemiah. But he replied that his work was an important one and that he could not take time for discussion. Four times they sought to converse with Nehemiah and four times he declined. He perceived that they were merely urging this as a pretext, to lure him to a village twenty miles away on neutral ground. During his absence they might overpower the garrison of Israel and destroy the work, or they might do him violence at the conference, or both. Finally, the enemies resorted to the weapons of slander by insinuating that Nehemiah sought to make himself a king and that the Jews thought to rebel. The work on the walls was finally completed in a mere 52 days.
Two Festivals Celebrated
Nehemiah 8: The people spent the rest of the week at their homes, and then they celebrated the New Year with the Feast of Trumpets. The Law was read to the people and they found that the Law commanded that from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of the seventh month, the people should celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. They dwelt for a week in booths constructed of branches of trees, and kept that week as a special festival of thanksgiving to the Lord. It was a feast of ingathering or harvest home.
Nehemiah 13: Nehemiah remained at Jerusalem for twelve years before being recalled by Artaxerxes. He returned to Jerusalem by the king’s permission probably five years afterward. Meantime, the temporal interests of the Israelites had prospered, but they had suffered a moral and religious decline. Nehemiah immediately took steps to rectify the disorders, beginning with the cleansing of the Temple, the restoration of its service, the proper supplies for its ministers and reinstituting the Sabbath observation.
Nehemiah is a fine example to us as Christians, and will surely come back in the “better resurrection” as an Ancient Worthy.