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Introduction to the Book of Nehemiah

Table of Contents

General Info

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Brief Survey

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Key Verses

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace.  The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”  When I [Nehemiah] heard these things, I sat down and wept.  For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  (1:3-4)

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”  Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”  Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?”  It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.  (2:4-6)

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.  Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”  (2:17)

After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”  When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.  (4:14-15)

So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.  When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.  (6:15-16)

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand.  And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law...  Ezra opened the book.  All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.  Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!”  Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.  (8:2-3,5-6)

The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand — all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.  (10:28-29)

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.  (12:27)

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Author and Date

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Historical Background

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For more Information:

See OT History Books for the position of the Exile and return to the land within the context of the OT historical periods.

See OT Historicity for Historicity of the OT History books.

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Timeline

See OT History and Monarchy Chronology for timeline of additional historical events.

The original Book of Ezra-Nehemiah spans a period of over 100 years from Cyrus’s capture of Babylon (539 BC) through Nehemiah’s reforms just prior to returning to Babylon (432 BC).  Most dates in this list can be accurately fixed within a year or so.

586 BC Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, Exile of much of the Jewish Population
539 BC Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) Captures Babylon and Establishes Persian Empire
538 BC First Return of Exiled Jews to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel
~ 516 BC Rebuilding of the Temple Completed
~ 478 BC Esther and Mordecai Foil a Plot to Exterminate Jews in Persia
458 BC Ezra and other Exiles Return to Jerusalem
445 BC Nehemiah Returns to Jerusalem, Begins Rebuilding the Walls
432 BC Nehemiah Recalled to Babylon
~400 BC Writing of the Last Books of OT - Possibly assembled by Ezra

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Themes, Purpose and Theology

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Interpretation Hints and Challenges

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Outline

The Book of Nehemiah can be divided into two sections.  The first seven chapters details challenges and events related to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  Chapters 8-13 focus on Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s ministry to the people.

1:1 - 2:10 Nehemiah’s Prayer and Journey to Jerusalem
2:11 - 3:32 Beginning of the Rebuilding of the Walls
4:1 - 5:19 Opposition and Economic Problems
6:1 - 6:19 Completion of the Walls
7:1 - 7:73 Genealogies of the Returned Exiles
8:1 - 8:18 Public Reading of the Book of the Law by Ezra; Celebration of the Feast
9:1 - 10:39 Outbreak of Revival and Establishment of a New Covenant
11:1 - 11:39 New Residents of Jerusalem
12:1 - 12:47 Dedication of the Walls
13:1 - 13:31 Nehemiah’s Final Reforms

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