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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Nehemiah

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NEHEMIAH. 1 . One of the twelve heads of the Jewish community ( Ezra 2:2 = Nehemiah 7:7 ), 1E Esther 5:8 Nehemiah 2:1-20 . One of those who helped to repair the wall of Jerusalem ( Nehemiah 3:16 ). 3. See the following article.

NEHEMIAH. Son of Hacaliah and cupbearer to king Artaxerxes. Our sole source of information regarding this great Jewish patriot is the book that bears his name. According to this, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes ( i.e ., as usually understood, of Artaxerxes i. Longimanus, 464 424), b.c. 445 444, Nehemiah is at Susa, the chief city of Elam and the winter residence of the Persian court. Here, in consequence of a report that reaches him regarding the ruined condition of Jerusalem and its people, Nehemiah is, on his own initiative, appointed governor ( pechah ) of the province of Judæa by the king. He is granted a limited leave of absence by the latter, furnished with royal letters and an escort to assure his safe passage; and also with a royal rescript to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forests, commanding that he shall be furnished with sufficient supplies of timber. On arriving at Jerusalem, having satisfied himself as to the ruinous condition of the city walls, he energetically begins the task of rebuilding them, and, in spite of much opposition from without (from Sanballat and others), he, with the aid of the entire Jewish population drawn from the outlying villages, successfully accomplishes his undertaking within two months ( Nehemiah 1:1-11 ; Nehemiah 2:1-20 ; Nehemiah 3:1-32 ; Nehemiah 4:1-23 ; Nehemiah 5:1-19 ; Nehemiah 6:1-19 ; Nehemiah 7:1-73 ). All this, according to the usually accepted chronology, happened in the year 444. The wall was ‘finished’ on the 25th day of the 6th month ( Nehemiah 6:16 ), and on the first day of the following month the events of the religious reform described in chs. 8 10 apparently began. The Book of the Law was read by Ezra in the presence of Nehemiah before the people in solemn assembly; the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated ( Nehemiah 8:18 ); national confession of sin was made (ch. 9); and the ‘covenant’ was sealed, the people pledging themselves to observe its obligations (ch. 10). In Nehemiah 12:27-43 a description of the solemn dedication of the completed walls is given. If 2Ma 1:19 can be relied on as preserving a true tradition, the dedication took place on the 25th of Chislev (December), i.e . three months after the completion, and two months after the reading of the Law and the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.

The exact sequence of these events is uncertain. Some would place the reading of the Law, etc., subsequent to the Dedication, in the following year. Rawlinson proposed to place the Dedication 12 years later, in Nehemiah’ s second governorship. But this view is improbable.

Shortly after these events, it would seem, Nehemiah returned to the Persian court, and was absent from Jerusalem for some years.

How long exactly Nehemiah’s first governorship lasted, and for how great an interval he was absent from Jerusalem, are uncertaio. In Nehemiah 5:14 it seems to he stated definitely that he was goveroor in the first instance for 12 years. But in Nehemiah 13:6 Nehemiah says: ‘But all this time I was not at Jerusalem: for in the two-and-thirtieth year of Artaxerxes, king of Babylon, I went unto the king, and, after certain days, asked I leave of the king.’ On the whole it seems probable that Nehemiah 5:14 means that during the twelve years Nehemiah, though absent on court duty, was actually governor, ruling by deputies; and that in the 32nd year of the king’s reign he again secured leave of absence, and came to Jerusalem (b.c. 433). The evils he found on his return must have taken some considerable time to develop.

On his return to Jerusalem in 433 Nehemiah found various abuses and internal disorders rampant in the community. Eliashib ‘the priest’ had provided Tobiah with quarters in one of the Temple-chambers (Nehemiah 13:4 f.), the Levites had not received their dues, the Sabbath was openly desecrated in and around Jerusalem ( Nehemiah 13:15 f.), and, in spite of Ezra’s great puritanical movement, mixed marriages were still common, and the children of such marriages spoke ‘half’ in their mothers’ foreign speech ( Nehemiah 13:23 f.). Possibly information as to these developments had impelled Nehemiah to return. At any rate, on his arrival he asserted himself with characteristic vigour, and inaugurated drastic measures of reform. One characteristic sentence vividly illustrates this relentless zeal: ‘And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son-in-law to San-ballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me’ ( Nehemiah 13:28 ). ‘Thus cleansed I them’ he proceeds ‘from every thing strange, and appointed wards for the priests and for the Levites, every one to his work: and for the wood offering at times appointed, and for the first-fruits’ ( Nehemiah 13:30 ).

The Book of Nehemiah (see next article) is composite in character, and the narrative is in part fragmentary. Hence the actual course of events is by no means always clear and certain. Some scholars are of opinion that the Artaxerxes referred to is Artaxerxes ii. Mnemon (reigned b.c. 404 358), and suppose that Nehemiah was governor for the 12 years 384 372, and again at a later period. Josephus places Nehemiah in the time of Xerxes.

The personality of Nehemiah, as revealed in his memoirs, is in many respects strangely attractive. He appears as a gifted and accomplished man of action, well versed in the ways of the world, and well equipped to meet difficult situations. The combination of strength and gracefulness, the generosity, fervent patriotism, and religious zeal of the man contributed to form a personality of striking force and power. He is a unique figure in the OT, and rendered services of incalculable value to the cause of Judaism. Even his limitations reveal a certain strength ( e.g . his naïve prayer: ‘Remember unto me, O my God, for good all that I have done for this people’). Like all great men, he has become the subject of legend (cf. 2Ma 1:18 f.). But he deserves in every respect the eulogium pronounced upon him by ben-Sira ( Sir 49:13 ) and by Josephus, who ( Ant . XI. v. 8) says of him: ‘He was a man of good and righteous character, and very ambitious to make his own nation happy; and he hath left the walls of Jerusalem as an eternal monument of himself.’

G. H. Box.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nehemiah'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/n/nehemiah.html. 1909.

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