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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 1

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Introduction

Nehemiah Chapter 1

Nehemiah was at one time part of the book of Ezra. This book covers the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. It is, also, a time of return to the laws of God. Some believe that most of it is an autobiography of Nehemiah’s life. It is not certain, however, who penned it. We will now begin the verse by verse study in

Nehemiah 1:1 "The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace,"

Nehemiah 1:2 "That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and [certain] men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem."

Nehemiah was living at the Persian court. Chisleu is the month of December on our calendar. This 20th year is speaking of the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes. It appears that Hanani was the brother of Nehemiah. He came to Nehemiah to tell him of his homeland. Israel was a nation of people, but it was, also, God’s family. Nehemiah wanted to know how the people who had gone back to Jerusalem from captivity were doing.

Nehemiah 1:3 "And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province [are] in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also [is] broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire."

The gates had been burned with fire before the captivity. The walls were broken down at that time, as well. These were things that had been left undone, since their return to Jerusalem. It seems, they had never reestablished themselves in their land.

Nehemiah 1:4 "And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned [certain] days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,"

Nehemiah had assumed, incorrectly, that everything in Jerusalem had been totally repaired. He was not aware that there was still much to be done. Nehemiah was brokenhearted at hearing this. He fasted and prayed to find the will of God in this for himself.

Nehemiah 1:5 "And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:"

This was almost identical to what Daniel had to say. Nehemiah was a believer in God. He called Him LORD. "Beseech" means pray, in this instance. He realized the omnipotence of God. God is all powerful. God keeps covenant with mankind, when they obey His commandments.

Nehemiah 1:6 "Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned."

We see an humble man confessing to the LORD that he had sinned. The weight of the sins of his father, and of the Hebrews, seemed to weigh as heavy on his conscience as did his own sins. He confesses for them all. His plea to God was that He had not turned completely away from His people. He was saying, Please hear my prayer.

Nehemiah 1:7 "We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses."

This was speaking of the wide range of sins they committed. They mainly had totally disregarded the wishes of God for their lives, and were living to please themselves. He was aware that the condition attached to being blessed of God, included keeping God’s statutes and His commandments.

Nehemiah 1:8 "Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, [If] ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:"

God had warned them in advance through Moses, that to disobey God brought curses, one of which was scattering into foreign countries as captives. They had disregarded the Word of God, and He had done just as He had promised. Their captivity was brought on them by their own transgressions.

Nehemiah 1:9 "But [if] ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, [yet] will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there."

The best explanation of this Scripture is another Scripture. 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." God would forgive them, if they were truly seeking forgiveness for their sins. God had saved this remnant of His people to start with again. God would gather them like a hen gathers her chicks. God loved them. Nehemiah 1:10 "Now these [are] thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand." It is as if Nehemiah was reminding God that these are the same people He had promised to forgive. 2 Chronicles 7:15 "Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer [that is made] in this place." God promised Solomon that anyone looking toward the temple and praying would be heard of Him. God had redeeemed them from captivity, now He must help them even more keep their relationship with Him. They were back in their land, but not in fellowship with the LORD as they needed to be. God would bless them, but they needed someone to help them stay in fellowship with God. It seems, they were quick to drift away, if there was not someone with a strong hand to keep them from it.

Nehemiah 1:11 "O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer."

It appears, that Nehemiah had made himself useful to the king and had acquired the distinction of the king’s cupbearer. It would be easy for him to be satisfied with what he had, and forget about Judah and Jerusalem. If Nehemiah was to go to Jerusalem, God would have to make it alright with Artaxerxes. Nehemiah had it in his heart to go to Jerusalem, and help with the work in rebuilding the walls and the gates. He felt he could be an asset in leading them back into good relations with God.

Nehemiah 1 Questions

1. What does the book of Nehemiah cover?

2. It is, also, a time of returning to the _______ of God.

3. Some believe it to be an _______________ of Nehemiah’s life.

4. Who was the father of Nehemiah?

5. The month of Chisleu is similar to what month on our calendar?

6. The twentieth year of the reign of ______________ is mentioned here.

7. Who was Hanani?

8. What did Nehemiah inquire of him about?

9. Where was Nehemiah living at the time?

10. Israel was a nation of people, but it was also ________ _______.

11. What report did Hanani give Nehemiah?

12. What effect did this have on Nehemiah?

13. What did he do about this, besides pray?

14. What did Nehemiah call God in Nehemiah 1:5?

15. What does "beseech" mean?

16. When does God keep covenant with mankind?

17. In Nehemiah 1:6, we see an _________ man confessing.

18. What was the confession?

19. Who was he confessing for?

20. What had God said He would do to them, if they transgressed His law?

21. What was the fulfillment of that?

22. What would God do, if they repented?

23. Quote 2 Chronicles 7:14.

24. Why had God saved this remnant of His people?

25. What was Nehemiah reminding God of in Nehemiah 1:10?

26. What was missing, since they had gone back to their homeland?

27. Whose prayers was Nehemiah asking God to be attentive to?

Verses 1-2

Neh 1:1-2

Introduction

NEHEMIAH GETS THE BAD NEWS ABOUT JERUSALEM

Josephus has a tale regarding the manner in which Nehemiah received this bad news. One day as he was walking around the palace in Susa, he heard some Jews speaking in the Hebrew language and inquired of them regarding conditions in Jerusalem. They told him of the constant enmity of the neighboring people, and of how they were subjected to harassment day and night, and even that many dead people could be found along the roads. The Scriptural account does not exactly correspond with this, unless we should set aside the usual opinion of commentators that Hanani was an actual brother of Nehemiah; but the narratives have one thing in common. Hanani was only one of several people who brought the bad news.

"It cannot be definitely ascertained whether or not Hanani was actually a blood brother of Nehemiah. However, in Nehemiah 7:2, Nehemiah again referred to him as his brother, leading to the speculation that he was really a brother in the ordinary sense." Williamson wrote that, "It is likely that the word (brother) should be taken literally."

Nehemiah 1:1-2

"The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

"Now it came to pass in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, that Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men out of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, that were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem."

"The words of Nehemiah" (Nehemiah 1:1). This stands as the title of the whole book; and the critical canard that, "These words were probably added by a later scribe," should be rejected. "No other historical book begins in this manner," and therefore no `later scribe’ could possibly have been so foolish as to make such an unheard of addition. However, all of the prophetic books begin thus; and in all these cases they constitute the title of the book, as they most certainly do here. "Verse 1a (Nehemiah 1:1) here contains the title of the whole book." "This book is one of the outstanding autobiographical masterpieces of the ancient world."

"Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah" (Nehemiah 1:1). The tribe to which Nehemiah belonged is not revealed; but, "Eusebius and Jerome assert that he was of the tribe of Judah." Jamieson supposed that this is true and added further that, "He was of the royal family of David." Matthew Henry, however, stated that, "If 2 Maccabees 1:18 is the truth in their statement that Nehemiah offered sacrifices, then we must conclude that he was a priest and therefore of the tribe of Levi." These references are an excellent example of scholarly comment on something which the sacred Scriptures do not reveal.

"The month Chislev in the twentieth year" (Nehemiah 1:2). The month Chislev corresponded to our November-December; and the twentieth year here is a reference to, "The twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes I (Longimanus), in the year 445 B.C."

"In Shushan the palace" (Nehemiah 1:2). "This is the same place as Susa, where Daniel saw the vision of the ram with two horns (Daniel 8:2)," and, "Where, in the year 478 B.C., Esther became Xerxes’ queen in this palace." "This place was the winter residence of Persian kings"; "It was located east of the river Tigris and near the head of the Persian gulf."

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 1:1. Make the following notation in the 6th column of the chart: "20th year, Nehemiah is permitted to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem." Since the events of the preceding book, 13 years have rolled away. (Nehemiah 2:1.) We are told in direct language that Nehemiah is the author of this book. We will not be confused, therefore, by the use of the pronoun in the 3rd person. Shushan was another form of Susa, which became the capital of the Persian Empire from the days of Darius Hystaspes. At the time our subject opens, Nehemiah was in this city a personal attendant of the king Artaxerxes.

Nehemiah 1:2. Nehemiah asked about the Jews who had escaped. We ordinarily think of that word as meaning one who had to elude his captor and get away without leave. It does not mean that in this place. The word Is from an original that is defined "deliverance" in the lexicon. It is said with reference to the Jews who had been in captivity, but had been given their freedom by the ones who had them in their control. Many of these were in Palestine and living in the vicinity of Jerusalem; concerning them Nehemiah made his inquiry of some individuals who had returned to Persia.

Verse 3

Neh 1:3

Nehemiah 1:3

A SUMMARY OF THE BAD NEWS

"And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire."

"The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down" (Nehemiah 1:3). This should not be read as meaning that the breaking down of the wall had happened only recently. At this point in history, the wall had never been rebuilt since Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed it. There had indeed been an effort by the Jews to rebuild the wall, somewhat earlier in the reign of this same Artaxerxes I; but that had been totally frustrated by the hatred of Rehum and Shimshai the deputy rulers beyond the River; and in Ezra 4:17-22, we have the record of how the enemies of Israel had forcefully stopped all such efforts to rebuild the city. (See my discussion of this in Ezra 4.)

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 1:3. The report given to Nehemiah was very disheartening. Mention was made of the condition of the walls. In the time of Zerubbabel (Ezra 4:12) we read that the walls were set up, having been thrown down prior to that, and the present account sounds as if the condition had just been made known. But we should remember that the time of Zerubbabel was almost a century before this experience of Nehemiah, and in that period they had again been let fall into decay. In those times of almost constant difficulties with neighboring governments, a wall about a city was of utmost importance. That is why there is such frequent mention of fenced (walled) cities. We may well understand, then, why Nehemiah was so affected by the report.

Verse 4

Neh 1:4

Nehemiah 1:4

NEHEMIAH’S RESPONSE TO THE BAD NEWS

"And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days; and I fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven. And I said:"

As cupbearer of the king, Nehemiah was a prominent and trusted member of the king’s court, living in honor, security and luxury; "But he could not forget that he was an Israelite, and this was similar to the emotions that governed the life of Moses."

"I prayed before the God of heaven" (Nehemiah 1:4). "This title of the Almighty is Persian rather than Jewish; but it was a favorite of Nehemiah who had been brought up in Persia." We keep encountering remarks of this kind in the writings of several commentators; but there is no way that they can be considered true. Jonah mentioned "The God of heaven" in the eighth century B.C. (Nehemiah 1:9); and we find it also in the works of Moses about one millennium before Nehemiah’s time (Genesis 24:3; Genesis 24:7).

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 1:4. Mourned certain days merely means he mourned for some time. Fasting was not generally commanded in the law, but was endorsed when done voluntarily. It was common for men to go on a fast when under great concern or anxiety. Of course we would expect a righteous man like Nehemiah to pray also at such times.

Paul T. Butler:

Nehemiah 1:1 begins with a statement that its source is Nehemiah: adequate evidence that he is the author of the entire book, or at least the major part of it, The month Chislev, their ninth month, would correspond roughly with our December. The reference to the twentieth year is explained more fully in Nehemiah 2:1. The custom of the time was to date all events from the beginning of the rule of the present king; each king’s rule would begin with the year one. Comparing this with Ezra 7:1; Ezra 7:8, and assuming that the Artaxerxes is the same person in each case, we can determine that the events of the book of Nehemiah begin thirteen years after Ezra’s start for Jerusalem, or twelve years after the conclusion of Ezra’s book, i.e., 445 B.C.

Susa was the city in Elam, 200 miles east of Babylon, where the Persian kings maintained a residence, and from which they ruled their kingdom for a part of each year (cf. comments on Ezra 6:2).

The Hanani of Nehemiah 1:2 was probably Nehemiah’s own brother: cf. Nehemiah 7:2. From the emphasis which is made in the sentence, it would appear that the visitors from Judah had not searched Nehemiah out with a grievance, but that Nehemiah had initiated the inquiry concerning his fellow-Jews who had “escaped,” i.e. returned to their homeland, and concerning affairs at Jerusalem.

Their report in Nehemiah 1:3 indicates both physical and mental distress, arising out of the condition of the city’s walls and gates. The breaking down of the wall (chiefly of stone) and the burning of the gate (chiefly of timbers) had been done by Nebuchadnezzar, 141 years earlier. Some suppose that this is a reference to more recent events of which Nehemiah would not have been aware before this, and that therefore, the walls and gates had been partially restored after the Captivity. The Bible makes no mention of previous reconstruction of the walls, except in the false report of Israel’s enemies in Ezra 4:12. If there had been any repairs, they surely could not have been very extensive.

Nehemiah’s grief as portrayed in Nehemiah 1:4 (It was perfectly acceptable for a man to weep because of mental anguish in their culture.) would be easily understood. Without walls the city would have no defense against vandalism or military action, except what they could supply with watchful human bodies. They would be especially vulnerable to the Samaritan’s, their nearest neighbors. There was something he could do, however: he could fast and pray.

Verses 5-11

Neh 1:5-11

Nehemiah 1:5-11

NEHEMIAH’S PRAYER

"I beseech thee, O Jehovah, the God of heaven, the great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and lovingkindness with them that love him and keep his commandments: let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee at this time, day and night, for the children of Israel, thy servants, while I confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee. Yea, I and my father’s house have sinned: we have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the ordinances, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye trespass, I will scatter you abroad among the peoples: but if ye return unto me, and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts were in the uttermost part of the heavens, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them to the place that I have chosen, to cause my name to dwell there. Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who delight to fear thy name; and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man."

"If ye trespass, I will scatter you abroad among the peoples" (Nehemiah 1:8). Here Nehemiah was remembering the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-8.

This is a fervent beautiful prayer, and there’s not a word in it that suggests any other person than Nehemiah as the author of it. Yet the critics who profess to know everything, and who are unable to find any dependable record whatever in the Holy Bible, declare this prayer to be fraudulently ascribed to Nehemiah. Hamrick stated that, "This prayer is probably not a verbatim quotation from Nehemiah." And Oesterley even professed to know who wrote it! "The Chronicler took this prayer from the Temple liturgy and put it into the mouth of Nehemiah"! It is difficult to imagine a more arrogant conceit than that which produces such comments. Where is there any prayer in the Temple liturgy that duplicates this? It simply does not exist.

"There was a grave personal risk to Nehemiah in his decision to champion the cause of the distressed citizens in Jerusalem, because his master Artaxerxes I had already accepted the charge of the Samaritans that Jerusalem was a bad and rebellious city (See Ezra 4:17-22); and any request of Nehemiah of Artaxerxes would involve asking him to rescind a decree that he himself had made only a few years previously."

"And grant him mercy in the sight of this man" (Nehemiah 1:11). Speaking of himself in the third person here, Nehemiah prays that God will grant him mercy before the king. "What man he means is explained by the following supplementary remark, `And I was cupbearer to the king,’ without whose favor and permission Nehemiah could not have carried out his intention."

"Mercy is what Nehemiah prays for, especially mercy from God, as he makes his petition before Artaxerxes." It is significant that Nehemiah in this prayer did not speak of Artaxerxes as `the king,’ but as ’this man.’ "Such expressions as `a man,’ or `this man,’" according to Oesterley, "Come from a Hebrew word that carries `a note of contempt."’ Perhaps Nehemiah was thinking that, "After all the great king is only a man, subject in every way to the will of God."

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 1:5. To beseech means to pray very earnestly. Terrible God means he is a God to be respected and reverenced. God’s mercy is offered on condition of obedience.

Nehemiah 1:6. No human is absolutely perfect, and a man like Nehemiah would be the last to make such a claim. He therefore expressed his penitence in this prayer. His confession did not mean necessarily that his personal life had been corrupt in the things that brought about the downfall of his nation. It had been about 100 years since the captivity, and he could not have been directly active in the national wrongs. He was speaking rather for the nation as a whole. The New Testament teaches us that the eyes and ears of the Lord are favorable toward the righteous (1 Peter 3:12). In accordance with that truth, Nehemiah made his prayer to God.

Nehemiah 1:7. We have dealt shows the prayer and confession referred to the nation as a whole, and not to Nehemiah personally. The commandments of the Lord mean his law as a whole. The statutes were the formal edicts or decrees enacted independent of the conditions, and the judgments were the decisions of the Lord rendered upon occasions that came up. However a decision was made on any special occasion, it became a fixed law for all Other like cases.

Nehemiah 1:8. Commandest thy servant Moses means he commanded Moses to give it to the people. This is another place that shows the error of those who try to distinguish between the "law of God" and the "law of Moses." They are the same as far as authority is concerned, so that all that Moses wrote is as much in force today as any certain part of it is. The word under present consideration plainly declared that if the people transgressed the law of God, they would be scattered among the nations. Nehemiah was mindful of the justice dealt out to his people, that it was in accordance with the word of God. But it had a redeeming feature which the prayer included, and it will be shown in the next verse.

Nehemiah 1:9. On condition of repentance, God has always been willing to forgive his wayward people. Looking to that provision in the divine plan, Nehemiah pled for mercy and help for his afflicted people in Jerusalem. God had promised to recover his people even though scattered afar, when they would have returned to him in their hearts.

Nehemiah 1:10. The Lord does not need any human information. He knows who are his people and who are not. The language of Nehemiah, therefore, was a part of an earnest prayer for divine guidance. He expressed his belief in the great power of God.

Nehemiah 1:11. Most of this verse is the same as the preceding ones in its sentiments. Nehemiah had been praying for the help of God and in general terms. He now came to particulars and asked that God cause mercy to be shown him by this man. The antecedent of the pronoun is the king of Persia as the closing sentence shows. A cupbearer is described in Smith’s Bible Dictionary as follows: "An officer of high rank with Egyptian, Persian, and Assyrian as well as Jewish monarchs. 1 Kings 10:5. It was his duty to fill the king’s cup and present it to him personally."

Paul T. Butler:

This prayer by Nehemiah is as noble as that of Ezra (Nehemiah 9:6-15), though Ezra was a religious official and Nehemiah was a secular ruler. This speaks well of Nehemiah’s habits of spirituality and fellowship with God: his practice of the ceremonies of religion.

The prayer begins in Nehemiah 1:5 with praise to God for His (1) greatness and (2) character of loving kindness. So Jesus began His model prayer with praise: a good model for us today. The loving kindness mentioned in this verse is not merely sentimental; it “always implies faithful compliance with the covenant .”

Nehemiah 1:6 speaks of Nehemiah’s persistence, day and night, and moves to confession. As Ezra had done (Nehemiah 9:6), so Nehemiah also identified himself with their sins. The mention of “thy servant” and “thy servants” was the formula of polite address.

Nehemiah 1:7 enumerates some of their sins. There were sins of commission (“we have acted very corruptly”) and sins of omission (“and have not kept thy commandments . . .”). See the Word Studies, end of this chapter, for the difference in emphasis between commandments, statutes, and ordinances. Note that Nehemiah identifies Moses with God’s giving of His law.

In Nehemiah 1:8-9 Nehemiah relies on one of God’s promises in His word, assuming they have repented. As Ezra had enabled us to see his familiarity with the Scriptures in Nehemiah 9:11 f, so Nehemiah’s prayer at this point is also a composite of several Scriptures:

1) If you are unfaithful I will scatter you: Leviticus 26:33.

2) But if you return to me: Deuteronomy 30:2 f.

3) I Will gather them from there and will bring them: Deuteronomy 30:4; Deuteronomy 9:29.

4) to the place where I have chosen to cause my name to dwell: Deuteronomy 12:5.

Nehemiah 1:10 recalls actions in the past in which God has assisted his people.

Nehemiah 1:11 asserts that the people were truly God’s servants, that they qualified for His promises by their regard for His name (personality), and asks that the prayer may succeed on the basis of compassion or mercy beyond derservings. “This man” of Nehemiah 1:11 is a reference to Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2:1 ff), whom God should move to favor the request which Nehemiah would bring before him,

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Nehemiah 1". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/nehemiah-1.html.
 
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