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Nehemiah

Rebuild the Wall; Revive the People

Sunday, August 29, September 5, 12, and 19, 2004

  • Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Corinthians 10.12

  • So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, [September 21, 444 BC] in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Nehemiah 6:15-16

  • They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Nehemiah 8:8

History

  • The same as for Ezra, except for 1.d. (I have taken most of this history introduction from notes by Dr. Harold Hoehner of Dallas Theological Seminary).

Six Gentile kings dominated the Israelites during Ezra’s lifetime.

  • Cyrus, 559-530 BC (Ezra 1:1-4, 7, 8; Ezra 3:7; 4:3, 5; 5:13, 14, 17; 6.3, 14). See Cyrus below.
  • Cambyses, Cyrus’ son, 530-522 BC. He killed his brother Bardiya (Smerdis) in 525 and then led an expedition against the Egyptians. While he was gone, Gaumata (Bardiya-Smerdis imposter), in 622, took the throne. When Cambyses heard of the successful plot, he may have committed suicide.
  • Gaumata or Pseudo Smerdis (who posed as Smerdis, the brother of Cambyses whom Cambyses had killed in 525), ruled 6 months in 522 BC.
  • Darius I, 522-486 BC. He killed Pseudo-Smerdis and took power. After he had consolidated his power, he studied law, which was significant for what was to follow. Remember that when Tattenai of Syria interfered with the Jew’s rebuilding project, Darius ordered the search for Cyrus’ decree. After he read the decree, he ordered Tattenai to stay away from Jerusalem and leave the work on the temple alone. In fact, Darius ordered Tattenai to provide the money and supplies necessary (Ezra 4:5; 4:24; 5:5, 6, 7; 6:1, 12, 13, 14, 15).
  • Xerxes, 486-465 BC, Darius’ son, and king during Esther’s life (Ezra 4.6).
  • Artaxerxes I, 465-423 BC, Xerxes’ son and the king under whom Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and did their work (Ezra 4:7, 8, 11, 23; 6:14; 7:1, 7, 11, 12, 21; 8:1

Cyrus, King of Persia and Babylon, decreed in 538 BC that the Jews could return to Judah from exile and rebuild the city and the temple.

  • Cyrus succeeded his father as king of Anshan, a vassal kingdom of Media, in 559 BC.
  • In 550 BC, Cyrus rebelled against his maternal grandfather, Astyages, the king of the Medes. He took Ecbatana, the capitol, without a fight when Harpagus, one of Astyages’ generals deserted with his army to Cyrus. Cyrus was now king of the Medes and Persians.
  • In 539 BC, Belshazzar was regent in Babylon for his father, Nabonidus, who had gone to Tema in Arabia in 553 BC. Nabonidus returned to Babylon in April of 539 BC.
  • In September-October, 539 BC, Cyrus defeated the Babylonians at Opis on the Tigris River. He then defeated Sippar, which was across the river, on October 10, 539 BC.
  • On October 12, 539 BC, Ugbaru, the commander of Cyrus’ armies defeated Babylon without a fight. He diverted the Euphrates River, which ran through the center of the city, and the troops entered by the river bed. Belshazzar was killed (Daniel 5:30) and Nabonidus was taken prisoner.
  •  Cyrus appointed Darius the Mede (539-525) ruler of Babylon, Syria, and Palestine. Darius then appointed governors to rule under him (Daniel 5:30-6:3).
  •  Cyrus allowed the conquered people to take their gods and return to their homes. Furthermore, he decreed that the Jewish people could return home and rebuild their temple (Ezra 1; Ezra 6:3-5; 2 Chronicles 36:21-23)

The Jewish people returned to their land in three groups. This was similar to the three groups Babylon exiled (606 BC, 597 BC, and 586 BC.

  • The first group returned to Judah in 536 BC. Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel led them. Cyrus was king of Persia. They completed the temple in 515 BC, during the reign of Darius I (Ezra 1-6).
  • The second group returned in 458 BC. Ezra led them. Artaxerxes was king of Persia (Ezra 7-10).
  • The third group returned in 444 BC. Nehemiah led them. Artaxerxes was king of Persia (Nehemiah 1-2).

Nehemiah is most likely the author of the book that bears his name.

  • Nehemiah identifies himself as author of much of this book (e.g. Nehemiah 1:1; 2:1, 11; 4:13; 6:1, 10; 7:1).
  • The book came from Nehemiah’s diary or personal accounts of the time. Ezra may have written two sections of the book (Nehemiah 7:6-12:26 and 12:44-13:3).
  • Certainly Nehemiah is a main character; he is mentioned 7 times (Nehemiah 1:1; 3:16; 7:7; 8:9; 10:1; 12:26; 12:47).
  • Ezra is the other main character; he is mentioned 12 times in the section about spiritual repentance and renewal (Nehemiah 8:1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13; 12:1, 13, 26, 33, 36).

The prophets

  • Haggai (520 BC), Zechariah (520-518 BC), and Malachi (450-430 BC) taught and wrote God’s word during this time period.
  • The events of Esther also unfolded during the reign of Xerxes (485-465 BC).

Pagan religious founders lived at this time.

  • Gautama Buddha (about 550-480 BC) in India.
  • Confucius (551-479 BC) in China.
  • Socrates (470-399 BC) in Greece

Key Verses: Nehemiah 6:15-16 and Nehemiah 8:8

  • Nehemiah 6:15-16. So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, [September 21, 444 BC] in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
  • Nehemiah 8:8. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.

Theme

  • Rebuild the Wall;
  • Revive the People. 
  • Nehemiah demonstrates that God-guided and empowered spiritual and political leaders can revive a nations heritage and bring about spiritual and national repair and resurgence, even in the face of enemy propaganda, intimidation, arms, and treachery.

Overview Outline

  • Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem from Persia (Nehemiah 1-2).
  • Nehemiah leads the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s gates and wall (Nehemiah 3-7).
  • Ezra reads and explains the Law and the people agree to follow it (Nehemiah 8-13).

Chapter Titles

  • Chapter 1: News and prayer
  • Chapter 2: Return and reconnaissance
  • Chapter 3: Repair 10 gates
  • Chapter 4: Prayer, leadership, weapons
  • Chapter 5: Stop economic extortion
  • Chapter 6: Wall completed: Leadership, courage, and persistence
  • Chapter 7: Zerubbabel’s census compared
  • Chapter 8: Ezra teaches Torah
  • Chapter 9: Repentance and praise
  • Chapter 10: Allegiance to Torah
  • Chapter 11: Live in Jerusalem
  • Chapter 12: Census and dedicate the wall
  • Chapter 13: Reform priesthood, Sabbath, marriage

Trace the Theme: Rebuild the Wall; Revive the People

  • Nehemiah went to Jerusalem (444 BC) in response to the report that the remnant was in “great distress and reproach” (Nehemiah 1.3). He worked toward the establishment of Israel’s homeland security and national welfare by concentrating on the completion of the Jerusalem wall and gates in the face of enemy propaganda, ridicule, threats, compromise, slander, and treachery (Nehemiah 1-7), and by bringing about spiritual revitalization of the Jewish people now in Judah (Nehemiah 8-13).
  • Nehemiah inspected the city (Nehemiah 2:11-17), planned the work and assigned work (Nehemiah 3), armed the people (Nehemiah 4), stopped economic extortion (Nehemiah 5), and rejected the enemy’s threats and completed the wall (Nehemiah 4-6). Once the city wall was completed (Nehemiah 6:15; it took only 52 days), Nehemiah took a census of the returnees (Nehemiah 7).
  • Then Ezra, the priest and scribe, led a spiritual revival for the Lord and for Nehemiah by reading and explaining the Old Testament to the nation (Nehemiah 8). The Levites, priests, and people responded by repentance followed by rejoicing. The nation renewed their allegiance to God’s covenant, the Old Testament (Nehemiah 9-10). Nehemiah continued to lead the social, economic, and spiritual restoration by organizing the resettlement of the Jewish population so that there were enough residents in Jerusalem and by dedicating the wall (Nehemiah 11-12).
  • Nehemiah was recalled to the Persian capital in 432 BC (Nehemiah 13:6-7). When he returned to Jerusalem he corrected the priesthood, the observation of the Sabbath, and pagan marriages (Nehemiah 11-13).

Key People

Nehemiah

  • Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer, or we might say the personal aide, of King Artaxerxes I (465–424 BC) at the royal city of Shushan (Susa). Shushan, a winter capital of the Persian kings, was about 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf in present day Iran. As cupbearer he occupied the closest position to the king and therefore had the confidence of the king and had access to the king (Nehemiah 1).
  •  He got the report that Jerusalem and the people were in danger of being overrun and destroyed. The city walls and gates were still destroyed; the citizens had no defense against the enemy and their moral was low. The year was 444 BC, 13 years after Ezra had gone to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1).
  • Nehemiah prayed. King Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah a leave of absence. The king appointed him governor of Judah with authority to requisition supplies for his mission (Nehemiah 1-2).
  • Nehemiah attacked the immediate Judean problem.
    • He thought about the report—wept, mourned, fasted (Nehemiah 1.4).
    • Prayed based on God’s character (Nehemiah 1:5-11.
    • Confessed of the nation’s sins (Nehemiah 1:6-7.
    • Interceded to God based on God’s promises to Israel (Nehemiah 1:5, 8-10.
    • Acted by seeking the king’s permission to go to Judah (Nehemiah 2:1-7).
    • Planning the trip and traveling to Judah (Nehemiah 2.7-10).
    • Inspected the situation in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:11-16).
    • Planned for action (Nehemiah 2:17-20).
    • Chose and assigned his workers (Nehemiah 3).
    • Prayed (Nehemiah 4:4-9).
    • Set up an intelligence force and guards (Nehemiah 4:9-13).
    • Armed the citizens and workers and set up communications system (Nehemiah 4:14-23).
    • Encouraged the remnant (Nehemiah 4:14).
    • Stopped economic extortion (Nehemiah 5).
    • Did not fall to the propaganda, threats, intimidation, and treachery of the enemies (Nehemiah 4-6).
    • Completed the job in such a way that honored God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).
    • Organized guards against continued threats (Nehemiah 7:1-3).
    • Organized the citizens (Nehemiah 7).
    • Gave opportunity and encouraged Bible teaching (Nehemiah 8).
  • Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem in 432 BC; his leave of absence was apparently over (Nehemiah 13.6). He requested and was given another leave of absence. When he returned to Jerusalem he found spiritual regression among the priesthood and the people.
  • He soon initiated reforms of the priesthood, the Sabbath, and mixed marriages (Nehemiah 13).
  • Nehemiah was a patriot, leader, and man of action—all under God’s motivation and guidance. He excelled as a spiritual, political, and military leader. Nehemiah stood out as a man driven by the biblical worldview in a world driven by antagonism to God and God’s word.

 Ezra.

  • See the Ezra Bible Walk Notes

Sanballat

  • Sanballat was from Beth-horan in Samaria which is about 19 miles NW of Jerusalem. The Elephantine Papyri names him as governor of Samaria in 407 BC. The same papyri give his sons’ names as Delaiah and Shelemiah. These names indicate that Sanballat was probably a syncretistic worshiper of Yahweh.
  •  When Nehemiah returned in 445 BC, Sanballat was allied with the Samaritans and likely in Artaxerxes’ service. Sanballat opposed Nehemiah and his attempts to repair Jerusalem and organize the Jewish settlers (Nehemiah 2:10, 19: 4:7).
  • He tried to lure Nehemiah out of the city to kill him, but Nehemiah saw through his treachery (Nehemiah 6:1-9). Nehemiah prayed that God would judge Sanballat for his evil.
  • Sanballat’s daughter married into the Jewish priestly family—she married “the son of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest”—for which Nehemiah expelled the priest (Nehemiah 13:27-28).
  • Sanballat was power hungry; he used carefully planned propaganda to intimidate and mislead Nehemiah and the Jews; and he was treacherous. Like most bullies, he backed down once he realized that he could not intimidate Nehemiah.

Tobiah

  • Tobiah was an Ammonite (Nehemiah 2:10, 19; 4:3) and probably a deputy of Sanballat. He allied with Sanballat to oppose the Jewish settlement (Nehemiah 4:7), and he was part of the plot to lure Nehemiah out Jerusalem in order to kill him (Nehemiah 6:1-9).
  • His name means Yahweh is good. His son’s name, Jehohanan, which means “Yahweh is merciful” (Nehemiah 6:18), indicates Jewish ties. He was related to Eliashib, the priest (Nehemiah 13:4).
  • During the time Nehemiah was back in Persia (He left Jerusalem in 432 BC.), Eliashib, the priest in Jerusalem, gave Tobiah, who was an enemy of Nehemiah and his reforms, an apartment in the temple.
  • When Nehemiah did return, he threw Tobiah and his belongings out (Nehemiah 13:4-8).
  • Tobiah, like Sanballat and other political bullies and intriguers, realized that Nehemiah was not to be bullied, so he backed down.
  • Besides treachery, intimidation, and propaganda, Tobiah also was able to infiltrate the Jewish political and religious organization where he would have done much damage had Nehemiah not returned.

Key Words Used

  • Scribe, 7X (Nehemiah 8:1, 4, 9, 13; 12:26, 36; 13:13).
  • Covenant, 4X (Nehemiah 1:5; 9:8, 32; 13:29).
  • Law, 32X (Nehemiah 8:1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9; 9:3, 13, 29; 10:29; 13:3; and others.
  • Priest, priests, 44X (Nehemiah 2:16; 3:32; 12:30; 13:30; and others.
  • Weapon, 2X (Nehemiah 4:17, 23).
  • Wall, 33X (Nehemiah 1:3; 2:15; 4:1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 13, 15, 17, 19; 6:15; 7:1; 12:27; and others.
  • Prayer, Praying, Prayed, 7X (Nehemiah 1:4, 6, 11; 2:4; 4:9; 11:17;

Key Doctrines

  • National survival, establishment, and security come through spiritual, political, and military courage, preparation, and strength.
  • An armed citizenry is vital to defense of one’s family, city, and nation.
  • Leadership—spiritual, political, and military.
  • Worldview—biblical and non-biblical.
  • The Word of God is essential for God’s people to do His will and live right.
  • Ezra and Nehemiah were different, yet God used each of them to get His job done.

Lessons For Us Today

  • Does the Word of God direct my life over the long haul? Ezra taught the Word and the people accepted it.
  • Does my worldview come from the Bible or from the world system?
  • What kind of leaders do I want in the USA? Do I choose and support leaders who give spiritual, political, and military leadership based on the biblical worldview?
  • Do I agree that national survival, establishment, and security come through spiritual, political, and military courage, preparation, and strength?
  • An armed citizenry was necessary to maintain Nehemiah’s and the Jews’ freedom. Does this say anything about stringent “gun control” laws?
  • How does my view of military, economic, social, political, and spiritual life harmonize with Nehemiah and Ezra’s view?
  • God uses people who have different abilities, personalities, and gifts to do His work, and that includes me.
  • Do I support those in the ministry so they can concentrate on God’s service?

Closing Scripture

  • Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Corinthians 10.12