… Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
The Second Book of Return
Nehemiah continues the story of the Jews who return to Judah after the Babylonian captivity. The story of the first 2 groups to reach the land is told in the Book of Ezra.
Date. The 3rd return of a small group accompanying Nehemiah takes place in the 12th year of Artaxerxes (444 B.C.).
Authorship. Much of the book is clearly a first person report by Nehemiah. The final contents were probably compiled by someone else some time after 430 B.C.
Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a court official in Persia. The office of “Cupbearer” is not simply domestic. It is also administrative and marks the individual holding it a person of great trust and influence. Nehemiah’s administrative skills, and his personal power as a motivator are shown in his organization of the work of rebuilding Jerusalem walls. He was also a man of deep commitment to God, with a personality strong enough to influence the lives of those who lived in Judah toward godliness.
This high official in the Persian court of Artaxerxes asked for the governorship of tiny Judah, that he might rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He arrived in Judah about 446 B.C., nearly 100 years after the 1st group of exiles had returned. Nehemiah awakened the enthusiasm of the Jews for the project, firmly resisted the opposition of neighboring peoples, and saw the holy city once again surrounded by the walls. In the ancient world, city walls suggested significance as well as security. With the help of Ezra, Nehemiah also enforced OT laws which the community was again ignoring. After a time, Nehemiah returned to report to the king. The last chapter of the book tells us that Nehemiah returned as governor a 2nd time, probably around 433 B.C., only to find and correct the same abuses that existed before his first term as governor.
Nehemiah reminds us of the impact a single, committed individual can have on a society. Nehemiah surely is one of the most steadfast and admirable of OT heroes.
Outline. The Book of Nehemiah can be outlined by the 3 main accomplishments of Nehemiah in his 2 terms as governor.
I. The walls Rebuilt 1-6
II. The Covenant Renewed 7-12
III. The Sins Purged 13
Nehemiah – Although he rose to high position in the Persian capital, this wall-builder’s heart remained with his people and his God.
Ezra – The priest/scribe, whose story is told in the book bearing his name, supported Nehemiah’s efforts with his teaching.
Nehemiah returns (Neh. 1-2). Nehemiah puts the welfare of his people first.
The walls are rebuilt (Neh. 3-6). Jerusalem is again a walled city.
The people correct sins (Neh. 7-10). Confession and commitment mean revival.
Nehemiah returns (Neh. 13). Nehemiah finds the people have broken their promises and enforces obedience.
Christ in the Scriptures
Like Jesus, Nehemiah gives up a high position in order to identify with the plight of his people. Like Jesus, he comes with a specific mission and accomplish it. And like Jesus, Nehemiah’s life is punctuated by his prayerful dependence on God (1:5; Luke 6:12). His purpose is not just to get the Jews back to Jerusalem; his ultimate goal is restoration! The temple is rebuilt. The city walls are repaired. Jerusalem is reconstructed. The covenant is renewed. The people are reformed. According to the apostle Paul, Jesus came into our world for exactly the same reasons: reconciliation and renewal (2 Cor. 5:18, 19).