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Holman Bible Dictionary
Nehemiah and Ezra were one book in the ancient Hebrew and Greek OT, and probably were not divided until after the Interbiblical—Period (see Ezra for more details). Jewish tradition says Ezra or Nehemiah was the author. Because of the close connection between Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, one person might have written or compiled all three books. Those who follow this argument refer to the author as the Chronicler.
The literary style of Nehemiah is similar to that in Ezra. There are many lists (Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 10:1-27; Nehemiah 11:1; Nehemiah 12:1-26 ). The author/compiler wove Ezra's and Nehemiah's stories together, Ezra being featured in Nehemiah 8:1 .
The book has four major sections: the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls (Nehemiah 1-7 ), the Great Revival (Nehemiah 8-10 ), population and census information (Nehemiah 11-12 ), and the reforms of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:1 ). Nehemiah made two visits from King Artaxerxes to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-6; Nehemiah 13:6-7 ). His first, 445 B.C., was to repair the walls; they were in a state of disrepair almost a century after the first arrival from Exile in 538 B.C. The second was a problem-solving trip in the thiry-second year of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 13:6 ), 432 B.C. Nehemiah was a contemporary of Ezra and Malachi, and also Socrates in Greece (470-339 B.C.), and only a few decades later than Gautama Buddha in India (560-480 B.C.) and Confucius in China (551-479 B.C.).
Nehemiah held the distinguished position of cupbearer to the king (Nehemiah 1:11 ). This was an office of trust; tasting the king's wine and food, the cupbearer stood between the king and death. That Nehemiah, a Jew and a captive, served this Gentile king in such a strategic capacity was an unusual credit and honor to this man of strong character.
Nehemiah's Memoirs include first person accounts (Nehemiah 1:1-7:5; Nehemiah 12:27-47; Nehemiah 13:4-31 ), and the other material uses the third person pronoun (Nehemiah 8-10 ). Thus his story is both autobiographical and biographical. Visitors to Susa informed him of the delapidation of Jerusalem's walls. He was so upset that he cried and mourned for days” (Nehemiah 1:4 ). He prayed a confession (Nehemiah 1:5-11 ). His grief became apparent to Artaxerxes who permitted him to go to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah's first act there was to inspect the walls at night (Nehemiah 2:15 ). He then called an assembly and convinced the people of the need for a building program. He was an excellent leader who demonstrated engineering knowledge and brilliant organizing ability (Nehemiah 3:1 ). The work began.
Trouble arose from without and from within. Sanballat and his friends tried to stop the work, but without success (Nehemiah 4:1 ). Trouble from within was economic. Building the walls caused a labor shortage; farms were mortgaged, and high rates of interest were charged. Nehemiah said, “The thing you are doing is not good” (Nehemiah 5:9 NRSV). He corrected the problem and even gave financial aid to those in need ( Nehemiah 5:1 ). Again Sanballat and other non-Jews made several attempts to lure Nehemiah away from the job and shut it down. They failed. Nehemiah proved to be a person of strong will and unusual boldness. “So the wall was finished in fifty and two days” (Nehemiah 6:15 ). The dedication of the wall is described later in Nehemiah 12:27-43 .
The theological climax of the Book of Nehemiah and of the life of Ezra is the Great Revival (Nehemiah 8-10 ). It was a grand experience. It warrants close study for revival attempts today. People assembled. They requested Ezra to read from the book of the law of Moses (Nehemiah 8:1 ). The book was probably the Pentateuch (Torah) or some part of it. Ezra read, and others helped by giving “the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8 NRSV). This probably included translating the Hebrew scripture into Aramaic, the commonly spoken language.
A great celebration occurred, and they observed the Feast of Tabernacles. Results were impressive: “They made confession and worshiped the Lord” (Nehemiah 9:3 NRSV) and “separated themselves from all strangers” ( Nehemiah 9:2 ) that is, they divorced their foreign spouses. They prayed a long prayer of confession (Nehemiah 9:6-37 ). The people responded, “Because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it” (Nehemiah 9:38 ). The signers and terms of the covenant were then recorded (Nehemiah 10:1 ).
Nehemiah was dissatisfied with the small size of the population of Jerusalem. He made an ingenious proposal: to “cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in the holy city Jerusalem, while nine-tenths remained in the other towns” (Nehemiah 11:1 NRSV). Nehemiah's last chapter cites his reforms made during his second visit to Jerusalem in 432 B.C. He threw out a Gentile who was permitted to live in the Temple; he restored the practice of tithing to support the Levites; he corrected sabbath wrongs by those who bought and sold on the sabbath; and he dealt forthrightly with those who had married foreigners, those not in covenant relation with God.
Nehemiah was indeed an outstanding person. His theology was very practical; it affected every area of life. Note his prayers and how practical they were (Nehemiah 1:4-11; Nehemiah 2:4; Nehemiah 4:4-5 ,Nehemiah 4:4-5,4:9; Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 6:9 ,Nehemiah 6:9,6:14; Nehemiah 13:14 ,Nehemiah 13:14,13:22 ,Nehemiah 13:22,13:29 ,Nehemiah 13:29,13:31 ). He boldly asked, “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people” (Nehemiah 5:19 NRSV; compare Nehemiah 13:14 ,Nehemiah 13:14,13:31 ). His faith was practical: “And the king granted me what I asked, for the gracious hand of my God was upon me” (Nehemiah 2:8 NRSV; compare Nehemiah 2:18 for a practical application of this concept). He believed “the God of heaven is the one who will give us success” ( Nehemiah 2:20 NRSV) and that “our God will fight for us” ( Nehemiah 4:20 NRSV). He had respect for the sabbath, the Temple and its institutions, the Levites, and tithing.
Nehemiah was an unusual person. Nehemiah was a man of action; he got things done. He knew how to use persuasion but also force. One may properly call him the father of Judaism. Because of Nehemiah, Judaism had a fortified city, a purified people, a dedicated and unified nation, renewed economic stability, and a new commitment to God's law.
I. God's Work Must Be Done (Nehemiah 1:1-7:33 ).
A. God's leaders must be informed of needs in God's work (Nehemiah 1:1-3 ).
B. God's leaders must be responsive spiritually to needs in God's work and must pray (Nehemiah 1:4-11 ).
C. God's leaders must enlist the aid of others, sometimes outside the family of God (Nehemiah 2:1-9 ).
D. God's leaders likely will encounter opposition (Nehemiah 2:10 ).
E. God's leaders must exercise caution and discretion along with careful planning (Nehemiah 2:11-16 ).
F. God's leaders must inform and challenge God's people to work (Nehemiah 2:17-20 ).
G. God's work demands hard work, good organization, plenty of cooperation, and good records to give credit where credit is due (Nehemiah 3:1-32 ).
H. God's leaders will pray in the face of ridicule and insult (Nehemiah 4:1-9 ).
I. God's leaders may expect opposition from within as well as from without (Nehemiah 4:10-12 ).
J. God's leaders must encourage weary workers with practical, prayerful faith (Nehemiah 4:13-15 ).
K. God's work gets done by hard work and committed workers (Nehemiah 4:16-23 ).
L. God's work is slowed by internal problems of unfairness (Nehemiah 5:1-5 ).
M. God's leaders must confront profiteering problem causers (Nehemiah 5:6-13 ).
N. God's leaders at times can be sacrificially generous to meet a pressing need (Nehemiah 5:14-19 ).
O. God's leaders know opposition can be very personal and must deal with it head on (Nehemiah 6:1-14 ).
P. God's help and the cooperation of many workers bring success (Nehemiah 6:15-16 ).
Q. God's work can have traitors within (Nehemiah 6:17-19 ).
R. God's leaders will enlist others and give them clear instructions (Nehemiah 7:1-5 ).
S. God's leaders need to keep and use good records (Nehemiah 7:6-73 ).
II. God's Way Must Include Revival and Reformation (Nehemiah 8:1-13:31 ).
A. God's people want to hear God's Word (Nehemiah 8:1-3 ).
B. God's Word must be read and then interpreted (Nehemiah 8:4-8 ).
C. God's way calls for joyous celebration (Nehemiah 8:9-12 ).
D. God's way prescribes formal expressions of joyous worship (Nehemiah 8:13-18 ).
E. God's way elicits confession (Nehemiah 9:1-5 ).
F. God's people give practical expression to prayerful repentance (Nehemiah 9:6-37 ).
G. God's people are willing to commit themselves (Nehemiah 9:38 ).
H. God's people will sign pledges of commitment (Nehemiah 10:1-27 ).
I. God's people must give practical expressions of commitment (Nehemiah 10:28-39 ).
J. God's people must be willing to make some changes (Nehemiah 11:1-2 ).
K. God's work requires good records (Nehemiah 11:3-12:26 ).
L. God's work should be dedicated and celebrated (Nehemiah 12:27-47 ).
M. God's people must be a separated people (Nehemiah 13:1-9 ).
N. God's work, including His finance program, must not be neglected (Nehemiah 13:10-14 ).
O. God's day must be respected (Nehemiah 13:15-22 ).
P. God's way demands purity in marriage and in ministers (Nehemiah 13:23-31 ).
D. C. Martin
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Nehemiah'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/n/nehemiah.html. 1991.