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Nehemiah was a Jewish man who served as a high ranking official in the Persian Empire during the reign of Artaxerxes, first as cupbearer to the king, then as Governor of Judah. As governor, he led the successful effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Much of the Book of Nehemiah is written by Nehemiah in first-person.

Cupbearer to Artaxerxes[]

Hanani's report[]

In 445 BC, Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes,[1] a position of great importance and trust. He lived in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire.[2] That year, one of Nehemiah's brothers, Hanani, returned from Judah with a report of the conditions there.[3] Hanani reported that the Jews who had returned to Judah from the exile were in great trouble, and Jerusalem was in a state of disrepair, with its walls still destroyed from the Babylonian invasion over a century earlier.[4]

When Nehemiah heard of this, he wept and fasted and prayed to God, confessing the sins of himself, his family, and the whole nation,[5] but also asking God to hear the plight of the Jewish people, for He had promised that if they were to return to following Him, He would deliver them from their troubles.[6]

Request to go to Jerusalem[]

Later that year, after much prayer, Nehemiah was in the presence of Artaxerxes as part of his cupbearer duties.[7] In his role, Nehemiah was supposed to be joyful while in the presence of the king, but this time he was sad, and Artaxerxes recognized this.[8] When the king asked what was wrong, Nehemiah told him of the conditions of Jerusalem, the land of his fathers graves, and how that was the cause of Nehemiah's sadness.[9] This was a risky thing to say to the king, because Artaxerxes himself at the beginning of his reign had decreed that Jerusalem not be rebuilt, after he had been given false testimony by some adversaries of the Jews such as Rehum (though Artaxerxes had since commissioned Ezra to go to Jerusalem and teach the Law, and provided a generous freewill offering to God at the Temple). At this point Nehemiah quickly prayed again, and Artaxerxes asked Nehemiah what he wanted, and Nehemiah requested that he be sent to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem.[10] God's favour was on Nehemiah, and Artaxerxes appointed Nehemiah governor of Judah, gave him all the supplies he requested, and authorized him to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.[11]

Governor of Judah[]

Arrival[]

Judah was part of the larger province of Beyond the River, so when Nehemiah arrived he presented his letters from the king to the officials of Beyond the River. When he heard someone had come to seek the welfare of the Jewish people, Sanballat, governor of Samaria (another province, neighbouring Judah, within Beyond the River), was very angry.[12] Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah set out to inspect the city walls, and found that they were in a grave state of disrepair.

Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem[]

Nehemiah then gathered the people and said, "Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem."[13] He was confident that they would be successful, because of how God's good hand of favour had already been upon him in this mission.[14] Opponents of the Jews, including Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, were enraged at this and accused Nehemiah of rebelling against the king,[15] but Nehemiah knew that God would make them prosper.[16]

Nehemiah led all the people in the rebuilding of the wall, and despite many attempts from his enemies to thwart the work, they finished in only 52 days.[17] To guard against attacks from Sanballat and the other enemies, half of the workers had to stand guard with weapons and armour while the other half built, and even the ones who built kept a sword strapped to their side at all times.[18] But with the help of God, Nehemiah and the Jews succeeded in their mission.

Reading the Law[]

After the completion of the wall, all the people assembled together for the scribe Ezra to read the Book of the Law, and to make sure the people understood it.[19] Upon hearing the law, the people wept, but Ezra and Nehemiah instructed them that it should be a day of rejoicing.[20] Afterward, the people celebrated the Feast of Booths, with such a celebrations the likes of which had not been seen since the days of Joshua.[21] After this all the people made a firm covenant to always keep the Law and uphold proper worship in the Temple. Nehemiah led the leaders who sealed the covenant.[22]

Nehemiah's Reforms[]

As governor of Judah, Nehemiah undertook many reforms for the cause of justice. He forbid the people from taking their Jewish brothers and sisters as slaves to repay debts.[23] He also stopped the oppression of the poor through the exacting of interest in a difficult time for Judah.[24]

Furthermore, as governor Nehemiah was entitled to raise a tax on the people to pay for his daily expenses, but Nehemiah refused to do so as it would create extra burden on the already struggling people.[25] He did not use his position for personal gain, nor did he allow his servants to do so. In his role as governor, he was responsible for hosting many officials and diplomatic visits, but even this he paid out of his own money instead of imposing additional taxes, which he had the authority to do.[26]

Legacy[]

Nehemiah closed his book by writing "Remember me, O my God, for good."[27] He repeated variations of this prayer throughout the book, showing how he wanted to be remembered.

Verses[]

  1. Neh. 1:11 (Link)
  2. Neh. 1:1 (Link)
  3. Neh. 1:2 (Link)
  4. Neh. 1:3 (Link)
  5. Neh. 1:6 (Link)
  6. Neh. 1:9 (Link)
  7. Neh. 2:1 (Link)
  8. Neh. 2:2 (Link)
  9. Neh. 2:3 (Link)
  10. Neh. 2:5 (Link)
  11. Neh. 2:8 (Link)
  12. Neh. 2:10 (Link)
  13. Neh. 2:17 (Link)
  14. Neh. 2:18 (Link)
  15. Neh. 2:19 (Link)
  16. Neh. 2:20 (Link)
  17. Neh 6:15 (Link)
  18. Neh. 4:18 (Link)
  19. Neh. 8:1 (Link)
  20. Neh. 8:9 (Link)
  21. Neh. 8:17 (Link)
  22. Neh. 10:1 (Link)
  23. Neh. 5:8 (Link)
  24. Neh. 5:7 (Link)
  25. Neh. 5:15 (Link)
  26. Neh. 5:18 (Link)
  27. Neh. 13:30 (Link)
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