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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH
The book of Nehemiah is the latest of the historical books of the Old Testament. It is the continuation of the history of the company of people which had returned under Zerubbabel and Ezra to the land. In Ezra we saw the remnant getting back and rebuilding the temple, the place of worship. In Nehemiah we have the record of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, and the restoration of the civil condition of the people, the partial and outward reestablishment of the Jews in the land. The book bears the name of Nehemiah, because he is the leading person in the recorded events, and likewise the inspired author of the main portion of this record. Two other persons by the name of Nehemiah are mentioned in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. One was the son of Azbuk (Nehemiah 3:15 ) and the other belonged to the returning remnant under Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 ). From these, Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah must be distinguished. His genealogy is obscure. Besides being the son of Hachaliah, the only other mention of his family is found in chapter 7:2; there he speaks of his brother Hanani. Some class him as a priest for the reason that he heads the list of priests. But his name is given there as the princely leader of the people. As to his office, he carried two titles. He is called “Tirshatha” in chapter 8:9, which means ruler or governor. In chapter 12:26 his title is also governor; the word used is “pechah,” the Turkish word “pasha.”
There can be no doubt that this man of God wrote chapters 1 to 7:5; it is an autobiography. Chapter 7:6-73 is a quotation of a register of names, which differs in numerous places from the register in Ezra 2:1-70 . Both were probably copied from public documents, perhaps from the book of Chronicles mentioned in chapter 7:23. The discrepancies between Ezra 2:0 and Nehemiah 7:0 show that Nehemiah did not copy from Ezra’s record. Chapters 8 to 10, it is claimed by some, were not written by the hand of Nehemiah. It has been suggested that Ezra is the author. The remaining section, chapters 11 to 13, bears the clear mark of Nehemiah’s pen.
The History it Contains
Nehemiah was the cupbearer in the palace of Shushan, serving Artaxerxes the King. When he learned the deplorable condition of the people in the land of his fathers, he sat down, wept and prayed. The king discovered the source of Nehemiah’s sorrow, and permitted him to go, giving him full authority to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and to help his people. This was in the year 445 B.C. Nehemiah reached the city the same year, and was for twelve years actively engaged in the welfare work of Jerusalem. The city wall was finished and the work done in spite of the many hindrances and obstacles the enemy put in the way. Sanballat, the Moabite, and Tobiah, the Ammonite, were Nehemiah’s chief enemies. With them were allied the Arabians, Ammonites and Ashdodites. They tried to hinder the work by mocking the workmen, then by threatening them with violence. When their attempts failed to arrest the restoration of the wall, then they tried craft. Nehemiah came out victorious. And there were also internal troubles among the people, threatening disruption. Thus as Daniel the prophet had announced, the wall was rebuilt and the work finished in troublous times (Daniel 9:25 ).
After the city had been fortified, the wall built, religious reforms were inaugurated. At the Watergate the law was read and expounded by Ezra the priest. The feast of tabernacles was also celebrated, followed by a solemn fast, repentance and a prayer of humiliation and confession of sins. A covenant then was made. In all this Nehemiah was assisted by the pious Ezra. About 432 B.C. Nehemiah returned to Babylon. His stay there does not seem to have been very long, and he went back to Jerusalem. After his return he demanded the separation of all the mixed multitude from among the people. He also expelled the Ammonite Tobiah from the chamber which the high priest Eliashib had prepared for him in the temple. Then he chased away the son-in-law of Sanballat, a son of Joiada the high priest. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Nehemiah died at an advanced age.
Interesting light has been thrown on this book and the conditions of the Jews of that period by the recent discovery of Aramaic papyri near Assouan. These papers were written twenty-four years after Nehemiah’s second visit to Jerusalem, and sixteen years after the death of King Artaxerxes; they were therefore probably written during the lifetime of Nehemiah. These papyri speak of the Jewish colony in the land, and the house of the LORD with its worship, as well as what the enemy did to the people.
The Spiritual Lessons
Nehemiah is a beautiful character well worth a close study. He was a man of prayer, who habitually turned to God, seeking His wisdom and His strength. The rebuilding of the wall, the different gates, and the men who toiled there, the attempts of the enemies and their defeat, all contain truths of much spiritual value and help. The reader will find the spiritual and dispensational lessons pointed out in the annotations of each chapter.
The Division of Nehemiah
The contents of the book are best divided into three sections.
I. HOW NEHEMIAH RETURNED TO JERUSALEM AND THE BUILDING OF THE WALL (Neh. 1-7)
II. THE SPIRITUAL REVIVAL (Neh. 8-10)
III. THE PEOPLE ESTABLISHED, THE DEDICATION OF THE WALL, AND NEHEMIAH’S FINAL ACTS (Neh. 11-13)
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19