Bible Commentary Bible History General Theology

Nehemiah: One filled with sorrow

Nehemiah was filled with sorrow because the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and gates were burned. The King was concerned about Nehemiah’s sadness and allowed him to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of going back and helping to rebuild Jerusalem. It took 52 days to rebuild the walls. When the walls were completed, they were solemnly dedicated and guarded continually.

The Book of Nehemiah, presumed to have been written by both Ezra and Nehemiah, around 430-420 BC details Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the city wall, and all about Nehemiah’s reforms.

The book begins by talking about Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem, for thirteen years had passed since Artaxerxes issued the decree for Ezra to go and reform Israel. Now, Ezra’s work had been an early success, but when the Jews wanted to rebuild the city wall, they ran into many problems. Many of Israelite enemies accused them of rebellion against Persia, so the Israelites avoided any building of a wall.

We read about Nehemiah, for in Persia, Nehemiah, who was a Jewish official in the king’s palace, had become a cupbearer (which I have recognized is someone who is a wine steward). The Jews heard about Nehemiah and wanted to speak with him, for someone so trusted had to be someone they could trust also maybe. Nehemiah, though, was a man of God who prayed much, and therefore, knew the people’s troubles were resulting from sin. Therefore, Nehemiah brought a confession before God and interceded before Him for four months.

He prepared to speak to the king about this, but the king was taken aback about Nehemiah’s return. However, he was given permission after all to return and carry out the reconstruction of the wall that was planned. He obtained the necessary building materials. Soon, the rebuilding of the city wall had commenced. During the period of building this wall, a lot of antagonism had occurred. Much of the antagonism involved mockery, treachery, extortion, compromise, insults, and other forms of disloyalty – before it was finally accomplished, as we see in chapters six through seven. Right before it was completed; there was a significant event, in which people attempted to draw Nehemiah out of the city in order to kill him. However, Nehemiah knew their tactics and did not budge from the plan of completing the wall. In completing the wall, Nehemiah made a record of all of those that lived in Jerusalem now.

Next, now that the wall was finished, it was time to execute Nehemiah’s reformation. By the end of the sixth month, the wall was complete, which was right before Israel’s mid-year meetings and festivals had occurred, so he thought this is the perfect time for a celebration of the completion of the wall. After this, the people requested that Ezra, assisted by some Levites, would read the Law and explain it to the people, because it had been so long since they heard it. When people looked upon themselves and figured how far they had departed from the Law, they began to grieve and worry. Nehemiah thought that the festivities were going to be filled with a bunch of sad people. Nevertheless, to his surprise, there wasn’t much to worry about. People were intently focused on attending every reading of the Law.

After the end of the Feast of the Tabernacles, more readings of the Law occurred. Then, there was a time of confession and worship that was led by the Levites. After confession, a fresh covenant promise was made so that they would be faithful unto God. An oath was created as well, which was signed by many leaders. All of the people involved in this oath were bound to the covenant document that told them to be obedient to the Law. There were specific matters in the document, which involved mixed marriages, temple taxes, the Sabbath Day and Sabbatical Year, maintenance of the temple and rituals, and tithes and offerings. After that, listings were created of residents, and priests and Levites. Then, we see the dedication of the wall. After the reading of the Law and miscellaneous celebrations, it appears that they dedicated the wall. People joined in offering sacrifices, praised, and rejoiced God. Officials were then assigned to watch over the money and supplies that were brought by people to the temple. All of the Israelites gave one-tenth of their income to the central fund. After the funds would be collected, it would be distributed among the Levites, as they worked in different functions in the temple. People were also reminded to keep God’s temple holy and that Pagans were not allowed inside.

Now, after serving about twelve years governing Jerusalem, Nehemiah had been called back to Persia for a while. Some of the Jews’ old enemies had returned and caused issues, such as a mixed marriage for example. Nehemiah had heard and quickly corrected this situation, since it was a violation of the promise made. Also, they hadn’t paid tithes in quite a while, and because of this, the Levites no longer worked at the temple, but went to the fields to work instead. If that wasn’t bad enough, people were working and trading on the Sabbath.

All of these things broke the covenant promise that was made. Nehemiah was furious and intent on putting an end to it. He closed the city gates on the Sabbath, which prevented people from bringing goods into the city to sell. He made doubly sure that no one sold right outside the gate either. Nehemiah had continued to correct the people and helped them follow God’s Law the best they can. Nehemiah was remarkable in trying to keep up with the reformation and overall was helpful in continuing Israelite living in Jerusalem.

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