Series: Thru the Bible
Nehemiah and the issuing of the decree to restore & rebuild Jerusalem
As I told you as we were going through Ezra and Esther, Nehemiah was a contemporary with Ezra, though he did not come to Jerusalem until later after Ezra had already been there probably for some time.
The name Nehemiah means “the Lord comforts” and so his life story followed in the path of his namesake.
I typically write my own intros to these books of scripture before we dive in and explore them, but in this case I liked the simple, yet concise way in which David Guzik introduces this book, so I will simply quote from his excellent commentary.
“Some 1,000 years after the time of Moses and some 400 years before the birth of Jesus, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people were in a desperate state.
Their nations were destroyed.
First the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel and then the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah.
The city of Jerusalem was completely conquered by the Babylonians and the once-glorious temple of Solomon was destroyed.
When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they deported almost everyone from the city and the region – for some 70 years, Jerusalem was a ghost town, with the potential to end up like many ancient cities – completely forgotten except to history.
When the Jews were deported to Babylon, they began to make homes for themselves there. They settled down, and many still followed the God of their Fathers, but they did it from Babylon, with no desire to return to the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Some of these faithful Jews were raised up to places of prominence in the governments they were deported to. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–Nego became leaders in Babylon; Esther was made queen in the courts of a Persian king.
But after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, they were given the opportunity to return to their homeland, the Promised Land. Out of the some two or three million Jews deported from the land, only 50,000 decided to return to the Promised Land. That’s only something like 2%! But they did return, and in the days of Ezra, they rebuilt the temple and laid a spiritual foundation for Israel once again.
The Book of Nehemiah begins…
- 15 years after the Book of Ezra ends;
- almost 100 years after the first captives came back to the Promised Land;
- and some 150 years after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed.
After this long time, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were still in rubble.
Before this, citizens of Jerusalem had tried to rebuild the walls but had failed. In Ezra 4:6-23, we see that some 75 years before they tried to rebuild the walls, but were stopped by their enemies. No one thought this obstacle could be overcome, so the walls lay in ruin and the people stayed in trouble.”
Before we begin I again want to remind you of the timeline which Guzik already somewhat introduced.
If you remember, way back in our study of Daniel, Gabriel told Daniel the countdown leading to Messiah the Prince entering triumphantly into Jerusalem would begin when the decree was issued to restore and rebuild Jerusalem the city.
As you no doubt remember we found 4 commands given to return to Jerusalem and do reconstruction work, but the first 3 were all focused upon the temple.
Now, the first chapter of Ezra began with the first of the four decrees for the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Of course the first three were to restore and rebuild the TEMPLE, and the next two commands appear in the Ezra by the 6th chapter.
This first command was given by King Cyrus somewhere between 550-530B.C. Daniel was still at this point.
Then the second command came from King Darius and is recorded in Ezra 4-6 and occurred sometime between 522-486B.C.
Then between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7 is the reign of King Xerxes and the entire life and story of Esther which was between 486-465B.C.
Then, at the beginning of Ezra 7 is when Ezra actually is mentioned in association with King Artaxerxes who was in power 465–424B.C.
He was the one who issued the 3rd command to restore and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
The fourth and final decree was also from King Artaxerxes only that was the one foretold to Daniel by Gabriel. It was a command to rebuild and restore Jerusalem the city and so began the countdown to Messiah the Prince!
Nehemiah records having received favor from King Artaxerxes to go and restore and rebuild Jerusalem in the 20th year of his reign which would have been in 445B.C.
This places Ezra and Nehemiah’s returns to Jerusalem 13 years apart.
Ezra 7:8 records that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the 7th year of King Artaxerxes, while Nehemiah 2:1 has King Artaxerxes sending Nehemiah in his 20th year.
Nehemiah is to Ezra what the Levites were to the Priests.
Ezra, having been given favor with the king by God, had gone to Jerusalem to rebuild the tabernacle and restore a level of revival and holiness to the Israelites who had willingly returned from their captivity. So Ezra’s focus was directly spiritual, while Nehemiah was given favor from God to return and rebuild the wall AND the city of Jerusalem.
It was Nehemiah who was one of the primary instruments of God bringing the words of Gabriel to Daniel to pass. “From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives, there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will again be built, with plaza and moat, but in distressful times.” – Dan. 9:25
With all of this under our belts, let’s open the book of Nehemiah!
“(1) These are the words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: It so happened that in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year, I was in Susa the citadel.
(2) Hanani, who was one of my relatives, along with some of the men from Judah, came to me, and I asked them about the Jews who had escaped and had survived the exile, and about Jerusalem.
(3) They said to me, “The remnant that remains from the exile there in the province are experiencing considerable adversity and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem lies breached, and its gates have been burned down!”
(4) When I heard these things I sat down abruptly, crying and mourning for several days. I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
(5) Then I said, “Please, O LORD God of heaven, great and awesome God, who keeps His loving covenant with those who love Him and obey His commandments, (6) may Your ear be attentive and Your eyes be open to hear the prayer of Your servant that I am praying to You today throughout both day and night on behalf of Your servants the Israelites.
I am confessing the sins of the Israelites that we have committed against You – both I myself and my family have sinned. (7) We have behaved corruptly against You, not obeying the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments that You commanded Your servant Moses.
(8) Please recall the word you commanded your servant Moses:
‘If you act unfaithfully, I will scatter you among the nations. (9) But if you repent and obey My commandments and do them, then even if your dispersed people are in the most remote location, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen for My name to reside.’
(10) They are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your mighty strength and by Your powerful hand.
(11) Please, Lord, listen attentively to the prayer of Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who take pleasure in showing respect to Your name.
Grant Your servant success today and show compassion to me in the presence of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer for the king.”
“(1) Then in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought to me, I took the wine and gave it to the king.”
“Previously I had not been depressed in the king’s presence. (2) So the king said to me,
“Why do you appear to be depressed when you aren’t sick? What can this be other than sadness of heart?”
This made me very fearful.
(3) I replied to the king,
“O king, live forever! Why would I not appear dejected when the city with the graves of my ancestors lies desolate and its gates destroyed by fire?”
(4) The king responded, “What is it you are seeking?”
Then I quickly prayed to the God of heaven (5) and said to the king,
“If the king is so inclined and if your servant has found favor in your sight, dispatch me to Judah, to the city with the graves of my ancestors, so that I can rebuild it.”
(6) Then the king, with his consort sitting beside him, replied,
“How long would your trip take, and when would you return?”
Since the king was pleased to send me, I gave him a time. (7) I said to the king,
“If the king is so inclined, let him give me letters for the governors of Trans-Euphrates that will enable me to travel safely until I reach Judah, (8) and a letter for Asaph the keeper of the king’s nature preserve, so that he will give me timber for beams for the gates of the fortress adjacent to the temple and for the city wall and for the house to which I go.”
So the king granted me these requests, for the good hand of my God was on me.
(9) Then I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, and I presented to them the letters from the king.
The king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.
(10) When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard all this, they were very displeased that someone had come to seek benefit for the Israelites.
(11) So I came to Jerusalem.
When I had been there for three days, (12) I got up during the night, along with a few men who were with me. But I did not tell anyone what my God was putting on my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no animals with me, except for the one I was riding.
(13) I proceeded through the Valley Gate by night, in the direction of the Well of the Dragons and the Dung Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem that had been breached and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.
(14) I passed on to the Gate of the Well and the King’s Pool, where there was not enough room for my animal to pass with me.
(15) I continued up the valley during the night, inspecting the wall. Then I turned back and came to the Valley Gate, and so returned.
(16) The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had been doing, for up to this point I had not told any of the Jews or the priests or the nobles or the officials or the rest of the workers.
(17) Then I said to them, “You see the problem that we have: Jerusalem is desolate and its gates are burned. Come on! Let’s rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that this reproach will not continue.”
(18) Then I related to them how the good hand of my God was on me and what the king had said to me. Then they replied,
“Let’s begin rebuilding right away!”
So they readied themselves for this good project. (19) But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard all this, they derided us and expressed contempt toward us.
They said, “What is this you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
(20) I responded to them by saying, “The God of heaven will prosper us. We his servants will start the rebuilding. But you have no just or ancient right in Jerusalem.”
“(1) Then Eliashib the high priest and his priestly colleagues arose and built the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and erected its doors, working as far as the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel.
(2) The men of Jericho built adjacent to it, and Zaccur son of Imri built adjacent to them. (3) The sons of Hassenaah rebuilt the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and positioned its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
(4) Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakoz, worked on the section adjacent to them.
Meshullam son of Berechiah the son of Meshezabel worked on the section next to them. And Zadok son of Baana worked on the section adjacent to them.
(5) The men of Tekoa worked on the section adjacent to them, but their town leaders would not assist with the work of their master.
(6) Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah worked on the Jeshanah Gate. They laid its beams and positioned its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
(7) Adjacent to them worked Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, who were men of Gibeon and Mizpah.
These towns were under the jurisdiction of the governor of Trans-Euphrates.
(8) Uzziel son of Harhaiah, a member of the goldsmiths’ guild, worked on the section adjacent to him.
Hananiah, a member of the perfumers’ guild, worked on the section adjacent to him. They plastered the city wall of Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.
(9) Rephaiah son of Hur, head of a half-district of Jerusalem, worked on the section adjacent to them.
(10) Jedaiah son of Harumaph worked on the section adjacent to them opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah worked on the section adjacent to him.
(11) Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath–Moab worked on another section and the Tower of the Fire Pots.
(12) Shallum son of Hallohesh, head of a half-district of Jerusalem, worked on the section adjacent to him, assisted by his daughters.
(13) Hanun and the residents of Zanoah worked on the Valley Gate. They rebuilt it and positioned its doors, its bolts, and its bars, in addition to working on fifteen hundred feet of the wall as far as the Dung Gate.
(14) Malkijah son of Recab, head of the district of Beth Hakkerem, worked on the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and positioned its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
(15) Shallun son of Col-Hozeh, head of the district of Mizpah, worked on the Fountain Gate. He rebuilt it, put on its roof, and positioned its doors, its bolts, and its bars. In addition, he rebuilt the wall of the Pool of Siloam, by the royal garden, as far as the steps that go down from the City of David.
(16) Nehemiah son of Azbuk, head of a half-district of Beth Zur, worked after him as far as the tombs of David and the artificial pool and the House of the Warriors.
(17) After him the Levites worked – Rehum son of Bani and after him Hashabiah, head of half the district of Keilah, for his district. (18) After him their relatives worked – Binnui son of Henadad, head of a half-district of Keilah.
(19) Adjacent to him Ezer son of Jeshua, head of Mizpah, worked on another section, opposite the ascent to the armory at the buttress.
(20) After him Baruch son of Zabbai worked on another section, from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest.
(21) After him Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, worked on another section from the door of Eliashib’s house to the end of it.
(22) After him the priests worked, men of the nearby district.
(23) After them Benjamin and Hasshub worked opposite their house.
After them Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, worked near his house.
(24) After him Binnui son of Henadad worked on another section, from the house of Azariah to the buttress and the corner.
(25) After him Palal son of Uzai worked opposite the buttress and the tower that protrudes from the upper palace of the court of the guard.
After him Pedaiah son of Parosh (26) and the temple servants who were living on Ophel worked up to the area opposite the Water Gate toward the east and the protruding tower.
(27) After them the men of Tekoa worked on another section, from opposite the great protruding tower to the wall of Ophel. (28) Above the Horse Gate the priests worked, each in front of his house.
(29) After them Zadok son of Immer worked opposite his house, and after him Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, guard at the East Gate, worked.
(30) After him Hananiah son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, worked on another section.
After them Meshullam son of Berechiah worked opposite his quarters.
(31) After him Malkijah, one of the goldsmiths, worked as far as the house of the temple servants and the traders, opposite the Inspection Gate, and up to the room above the corner. (32) And between the room above the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and traders worked.”
“(1) Now when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he became angry and was quite upset. He derided the Jews, (2) and in the presence of his colleagues and the army of Samaria he said,
“What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they be left to themselves? Will they again offer sacrifice? Will they finish this in a day? Can they bring these burnt stones to life again from piles of dust?”
(3) Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was close by, said,
“If even a fox were to climb up on what they are building, it would break down their wall of stones!”
(4) Hear, O our God, for we are despised! Return their reproach on their own head! Reduce them to plunder in a land of exile! (5) Do not cover their iniquity, and do not wipe out their sin from your sight. For they have bitterly offended the builders!
(6) So we rebuilt the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height. The people were enthusiastic in their work.
(7) When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod heard that the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem had moved ahead and that the breaches had begun to be closed, they were very angry.
(8) All of them conspired together to move with armed forces against Jerusalem and to create a disturbance in it.
(9) So we prayed to our God and stationed a guard to protect against them both day and night.
(10) Then those in Judah said,
“The strength of the laborers has failed! The debris is so great that we are unable to rebuild the wall.”
(11) Our adversaries also boasted, “Before they are aware or anticipate anything, we will come in among them and kill them, and we will bring this work to a halt!”
(12) So it happened that the Jews who were living near them came and warned us repeatedly about all the schemes they were plotting against us.
(13) So I stationed people at the lower places behind the wall in the exposed places. I stationed the people by families, with their swords, spears, and bows.
(14) When I had made an inspection, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people,
“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awesome Lord, and fight on behalf of your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your families!”
(15) It so happened that when our adversaries heard that we were aware of these matters, God frustrated their intentions. Then all of us returned to the wall, each to his own work.
(16) From that day forward, half of my men were doing the work and half of them were taking up spears, shields, bows, and body armor.
Now the officers were behind all the people of Judah (17) who were rebuilding the wall. Those who were carrying loads did so by keeping one hand on the work and the other on their weapon.
(18) The builders to a man had their swords strapped to their sides while they were building. But the trumpeter remained with me.
(19) I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people,
“The work is demanding and extensive, and we are spread out on the wall, far removed from one another. (20) Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, gather there with us. Our God will fight for us!”
(21) So we worked on, with half holding spears, from dawn till dusk.
(22) At that time I instructed the people,
“Let every man and his coworker spend the night in Jerusalem and let them be guards for us by night and workers by day.”
(23) We did not change clothes – not I, nor my relatives, nor my workers, nor the watchmen who were with me. Each had his weapon, even when getting a drink of water.”
“(1) Then there was a great outcry from the people and their wives against their fellow Jews. (2) There were those who said,
“With our sons and daughters, we are many. We must obtain grain in order to eat and stay alive.”
(3) There were others who said,
“We are putting up our fields, our vineyards, and our houses as collateral in order to obtain grain during the famine.”
(4) Then there were those who said,
“We have borrowed money to pay our taxes to the king on our fields and our vineyards. (5) And now, though we share the same flesh and blood as our fellow countrymen, and our children are just like their children, still we have found it necessary to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have been subjected to slavery, while we are powerless to help, since our fields and vineyards now belong to other people.”
(6) I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints. (7) I considered these things carefully and then registered a complaint with the wealthy and the officials. I said to them,
“Each one of you is seizing the collateral from your own countrymen!”
Because of them I called for a great public assembly. (8) I said to them,
“To the extent possible we have bought back our fellow Jews who had been sold to the Gentiles. But now you yourselves want to sell your own countrymen, so that we can then buy them back!”
They were utterly silent, and could find nothing to say. (9) Then I said,
“The thing that you are doing is wrong! Should you not conduct yourselves in the fear of our God in order to avoid the reproach of the Gentiles who are our enemies? (10) Even I and my relatives and my associates are lending them money and grain. But let us abandon this practice of seizing collateral! (11) This very day return to them their fields, their vineyards, their olive trees, and their houses, along with the interest that you are exacting from them on the money, the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil.”
(12) They replied, “We will return these things, and we will no longer demand anything from them. We will do just as you say.”
Then I called the priests and made the wealthy and the officials swear to do what had been promised. (13) I also shook out my garment, and I said,
“In this way may God shake out from his house and his property every person who does not carry out this matter. In this way may he be shaken out and emptied!”
All the assembly replied, “So be it!” and they praised the LORD. Then the people did as they had promised.
(14) From the day that I was appointed governor in the land of Judah, that is, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes – twelve years in all – neither I nor my relatives ate the food allotted to the governor. (15) But the former governors who preceded me had burdened the people and had taken food and wine from them, in addition to forty shekels of silver.
Their associates were also domineering over the people. But I did not behave in this way, due to my fear of God.
(16) I gave myself to the work on this wall, without even purchasing a field.
All my associates were gathered there for the work.
(17) There were 150 Jews and officials who dined with me routinely, in addition to those who came to us from the nations all around us.
(18) Every day one ox, six select sheep, and some birds were prepared for me, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance.
Despite all this I did not require the food allotted to the governor, for the work was demanding on this people.
(19) Please remember me for good, O my God, for all that I have done for this people.”