the Fifth Week of Lent
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Nehemi´ah (comforted of Jehovah). Three persons of this name occur in Scripture; one, the son of Azbuk (), respecting whom no more is known than that he was ruler in Beth-zur, and took a prominent part in repairing the wall of Jerusalem [BETH-ZUR]. Another is mentioned (; ) among those who accompanied Zerubbabel on the first return from captivity. Nothing further is known of this man, though some writers hold him, without valid reasons, to be the same with the well-known Jewish patriot.
Nehemiah, whose genealogy is unknown, except that he was the son of Hachaliah (), and brother of Hanani (). Some think he was of priestly descent, because his name appears at the head of a list of priests in; but it is obvious, from , that he stands there as a prince, and not as a priest—that he heads the list because he was head of the nation. Others with some probability infer, from his station at the Persian court and the high commission he received, that he was, like Zerubbabel, of the tribe of Judah and of the house of David.
While Nehemiah was cupbearer in the royal palace at Shushan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, or 444 years B.C. [ARTAXERXES], he learned the mournful and desolate condition of the returned colony in Judæa. This filled him with such deep and prayerful concern for his country, that his sad countenance revealed to the king his 'sorrow of heart;' which induced the monarch to ascertain the cause, and also to vouchsafe the remedy, by sending him, with full powers, to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and 'to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.' Being furnished with this high commission, and enjoying the protection of a military escort (), Nehemiah reached Jerusalem in the year B.C. 444, and remained there till B.C. 432, being actively engaged for twelve years in promoting the public good (). The principal work which he then accomplished was the rebuilding, or rather the repairing, of the city wall, which was done 'in fifty and two days' (), notwithstanding many discouragements and difficulties, caused chiefly by Sanballat, a Moabite of Horonaim, and Tobiah, an Ammonite, who were leading men in the rival and unfriendly colony of Samaria (). These men, with their allies among the Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites (), sought to hinder the refortifying of Jerusalem, first by scoffing at the attempt; then by threatening to attack the workmen—which Nehemiah averted by 'setting a watch against them day and night,' and arming the whole people, so that 'every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon' (); and finally, when scoffs and threats had failed, by using various stratagems to weaken Nehemiah's authority, and even to take his life (). But in the midst of these dangers from without, our patriot encountered troubles and hindrances from his own people, arising out of the general distress, which was aggravated by the cruel exactions and oppression of their nobles and rulers (). These popular grievances were promptly redressed on the earnest and solemn remonstrance of Nehemiah, who had himself set a striking example of retrenchment and generosity in his high office (). It appears also () that some of the chief men in Jerusalem were at that time in conspiracy with Tobiah against Nehemiah. The wall was thus built in 'troublous times' (); and its completion was most joyously celebrated by a solemn dedication ().
Having succeeded in fortifying the city, Nehemiah turned his attention to other measures in order to secure its good government and prosperity. He appointed some necessary officers (; also ) and excited among the people more interest and zeal in religion by the public reading and exposition of the law (), by the unequaled celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (), and by the observance of a national fast, when the sins of the people and the iniquities of their fathers were publicly and most strikingly confessed (Nehemiah 9), and when also a solemn covenant was made by all ranks and classes 'to walk in God's law,' by avoiding intermarriages with the heathen, by strictly observing the Sabbath, and by contributing to the support of the temple service (Nehemiah 10). But the inhabitants of the city were as yet too few to defend it and to ensure its prosperity; and hence Nehemiah brought one out of every ten in the country to take up his abode in the ancient capital, which then presented so few inducements to the settler, that 'the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem' (; also ).
In these important public proceedings, which appear all to have happened in the first year of his government, Nehemiah enjoyed the assistance of Ezra, who is named on several occasions as taking a prominent part in conducting affairs (;;; ). Ezra had gone up to Jerusalem thirteen years before according to some, or thirty-three years according to others; but on either reckoning, without supposing unusual longevity, he might well have lived to be Nehemiah's fellow-laborer [EZRA].
Nehemiah, at the close of his successful administration, 'from the twentieth year even to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king' (), returned to Babylon in the year B.C. 432, and resumed, as some think, his duties as royal cupbearer.
He returned, however, after a while, to Jerusalem, where his services became again requisite, in consequence of abuses that had crept in during his absence. His stay at the court of Artaxerxes was not very long (certainly not above nine years); 'for after certain days he obtained leave of the king and came to Jerusalem' ().
After his return to the government of Judaea, Nehemiah enforced the separation of all the mixed multitude from Israel (); and accordingly expelled Tobiah the Ammonite from the chamber which the high-priest, Eliashib had prepared for him in the temple (). Better arrangements were also made for the support of the temple service (), and for the rigid observance of the Sabbath (). One of the last acts of his government was an effort to put an end to mixed marriages, which led him to 'chase' away a son of Joiada the high-priest, because he was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite (). His second administration probably lasted about ten years, and terminated about the year B.C. 405, towards the close of the reign of Darius Nothus, who is mentioned in [DARIUS]. At this time Nehemiah would be between sixty and seventy years old, if we suppose him (as most do) to have been only between twenty and thirty when he first went to Jerusalem. Of the place and year of his death nothing is known.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Nehemiah'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​n/nehemiah.html.