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by Joseph Benson
THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH.
AS the book of Ezra gave us a history of the first restoration of the Jewish people after the Babylonish captivity, of their return to Judea, and the building of the second temple; so this of Nehemiah, who came into Judea about thirteen years after him, and succeeded him in the government there, contains a further account of their settlement in Jerusalem, particularly with respect to the building of the wall of the city, and the reformation of several corruptions which had crept in among them.
That Nehemiah himself, whose actions are recorded in this book, was the author of it, there can be no reasonable doubt: for he says as much in the beginning of it, and all along relates what he did in his own person in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and in other things. But, as has been intimated in the note on Ezra 2:2, there is great reason to suppose he was not the same person with the Nehemiah mentioned Ezra 2:1, and Neh 7:7 of this book, who returned with Zerubbabel. For, since from the first of Cyrus, (when Zerubbabel returned,) to the twentieth of Artaxerxes Longimanus, there are no less than ninety-two years intervening, that Nehemiah must have been a very old man; upon the lowest computation above a hundred, and consequently incapable of being the king’s cup-bearer, which this Nehemiah was, of taking a journey from Shushan to Jerusalem, and of behaving there with all that courage and activity which is recorded of him. We may conclude, therefore, that this was a different person, though of the same name.
In this Nehemiah we have the shining character of an able governor and true patriot, deeply concerned for the good of his country and the honour of religion; choosing to leave an honourable and profitable post in the greatest court in the world, and generously spending the riches he had gained in it for the public benefit of his fellow-Israelites, and encountering also, for the same end, inexpressible difficulties, and that with a courage and spirit very extraordinary and wonderful, but such as were absolutely necessary to reform the manners, and procure the safety, of such a nation as the Jews were. It has been universally observed, that the Jews never fell into any of their old idolatries after the time of the great Babylonish captivity; one great cause of which good effect, under God, without doubt, was the exceeding great zeal manifested, and care taken, by Ezra and Nehemiah, to instruct them in the law of God, and to give an early and vigorous check to the dangerous practice of marrying into heathen families. Of Nehemiah’s cares and labours to accomplish these purposes we have a full account in these his commentaries, wherein he records not only the works of his hands, but the very workings of his heart, inserting many devout reflections and ejaculations, which are peculiar to his writings. Twelve years he was the tirshatha, or governor, of Judea, under the same Artaxerxes, as is probable, that gave Ezra his commission. We have in this book his concern for Jerusalem, and commission to go thither, chap. 1., 2.; his building the wall of Jerusalem, notwithstanding much opposition, chap. 3., 4.; his redressing the grievances of the people, chap. 5.; his finishing the wall, chap. 6.; the account he took of the people, chap 7.; his calling the people to read the law, fast, and pray, and renew their covenant, chap. 8.-10. He peoples Jerusalem, and settles the tribe of Levi, chap. 11., 12. He reforms divers abuses, chap. 13. After Nehemiah we read of no more governors appointed over Judea by the Persian kings: but their affairs seem to have been left to the management of the high-priests, as we find they were in the following times of the Maccabees. This is the last historical book of the Old Testament that was written, as Malachi is the last prophetical book.
the Fifth Week after Epiphany