Introduction to Nehemiah
The Book of Nehemiah is a continuation of the history recorded in the Book of Ezra. Nehemiah grew up in Persia among the Jews who had been exiles in Babylon before Cyrus restored their freedom. Nehemiah had the honored position of cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, known as Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther. His position was one of great trust and responsibility (I Kings 10:5; II Chronicles 9:4).
Nehemiah was heartbroken when he received a report of the spiritual and physical poverty that existed in Jerusalem. Upon learning of Nehemiah’s great concern, the Persian king appointed him governor of Judah and gave him the authority to return to his homeland and rebuild the walls (Nehemiah 2:5-7; 5:14). This was about 100 years after Zerubbabel arrived in Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:5) and about 14 years after Ezra had gone to Jerusalem to restore the Temple worship (7:6). After much opposition the work ceased. Darius issued the second decree to rebuild the Temple in 519 B.C. In 458, Ezra dedicated the Temple (6:6).
The walls had remained in ruins since Nebuchadnezzar had completely destroyed Jerusalem about 140 years before (II Kings 25:8-11). The Jewish remnant had no protection against surrounding nations which could easily come in and rob them of their harvests and possessions. In 444 B.C. Artaxerxes issued the third decree permitting Nehemiah to rebuild the wall. Restoring the broken-down walls which had once protected Jerusalem from its enemies was Nehemiah’s first major project. Yet some of the leading citizens of Jerusalem who would benefit from those walls refused to cooperate with him (Nehemiah 2:19; 3:5; 4:1-12).
Although faced with many problems (4:12-23; 6:2-4,10-13), by continual prayer, fasting, and faith in the Word of God, Nehemiah led the people to complete the walls in the short time of 52 days (6:15). There was great emphasis placed upon hearing the Word, as well as understanding and applying it, which led to a revival among the people (8:2-3,7-8,12).
After the walls of Jerusalem were dedicated by Ezra and Nehemiah (12:27-43), Nehemiah continued in Jerusalem as governor of Judah for about 12 years (5:14). He then returned to the Persian court for an indefinite period of time. During Nehemiah’s absence from Jerusalem, the Word of God was once again disregarded and corruption and immorality gained acceptance (13:6). Nehemiah again obtained leave from the Persian king and returned to Jerusalem. With great fervor, he turned the nation from its sins, reestablished its Covenant relationship with God, and restored the people to true worship (13:7-31).