Seekers Sunday Schoool
Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church
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Nehemiah's First Visit: Restoration of Jerusalem
Nehemiah's Prayer
Artaxerxes Sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem
Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem's Walls
Builders of the Wall
Opposition to the Rebuilding
Nehemiah Helps The Poor
Further Opposition to the Rebuilding
The Completion of the Wall
The List of the Exiles Who Returned
Ezra Reads the Law
The Israelites Confess Their Sins
The Agreement of the People
The New Residents of Jerusalem
Priests and Levites
Dedication of the Wall of Jerusalem
Nehemiah's Second Visit: Reformation of Jerusalem

Nehemiah's First Visit: Restoration of Jerusalem
Nehemiah 1:1-12:47

Nehemiah's Prayer

Nehemiah 1:1-11

  • Nehemiah sets the time as being about 445 BC - the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I's reign. (v. 1)
  • Nehemiah was in the citadel of Susa. Susa was the winter capital of the Persian empire, located about 150 miles north of the Pursian Gulf on today's border between Iran and Iraq. Susa was southeast of Baghdad and nearly 1000 miles from Jerusalem.
  • Nehemiah is preparing to lead the third group of exiles to return to Jerusalem. The first group was led by Zerubbabel in 538 BC (more than 90 years earlier). This group was responsible for rebuilding the Temple. The second group was led by Ezra in 458 BC (about 7 years earlier) and was responsible for reestablishing the religious law. Nehemiah will be leading a group of exiles back to help strengthen the political structure of the returned exiles.
  • Nehemiah questions his brother about the state of the remnant in Jerusalem. (v. 2)
  • Nehemiah's brother delivers a dire report on the state of the exiles: the wall of Jerusalem is in disrepair and the people are in great trouble and disgrace. (v. 3)
  • Upon hearing of the sorry state of affairs in Jerusalem, Nehemiah weeps, fasts, and prays. (v. 4)
  • Nehemiah's passion for Jerusalem was rooted in his commitment to the God of Israel. Nehemiah was concerned that the people might lose their God-given identity, purpose, and hope, especially since the city lacked the protection of the walls and the people lacked commitment to God's laws.
  • Nehemiah's prayer is recorded in verses 5-11.
  • Nehemiah starts his prayer worshiping God. (v. 5)
  • Nehemiah asks God to listen and confesses the sins of the Israelites. (v. 6-7)
  • Nehemiah reviews God's promises and warnings. (v. 8-9)
  • Nehemiah asks God to grant him success. (v. 10-11)
  • Nehemiah's prayer is another example of a good prayer that we can use to model our own prayers: Nehemiah begins with praise for God's goodness and power; moves to confession of and repentance from sin, and only then offers his specific request that he find favor with the king. (TouchPoint Bible)
  • See the class handout "Prayer" for an explanation of the "ACTS" (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) method of prayer.
  • Note that Nehemiah's action did not end with his prayer: God did answer his prayer - King Artaxerxes allowed Nehemiah the time and materials needed. But Nehemiah backed up his prayer with a courageous personal commitment to go and rebuild the wall. We would do well to follow Nehemiah's model whenever we pray: adoration, confession, request, and commitment. (TouchPoint Bible)
  • Nehemiah was deeply grieved by the situation in Jerusalem, but note that he did not just sit and brood - his concern was followed by prayer and action.
  • Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king.
  • What did a cupbearer do? The cupbearer to the king was a position somewhat parallel to the U.S. Secret Service, which protects the President. Assassination plots were a constant concern to the king. It was Nehemiah's job to taste-test the food and drink served to the king, a position that required the greatest trust. Quite possible, Nehemiah doubled as a confidant and adviser to the king. Thanks in part to Nehemiah's good work, Artaxerxes I reigned 40 years and died of natural causes - a rarity in the dynasty to which he belonged. (Quest Study Bible)

Artaxerxes Sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem

Nehemiah 2:1-10

  • Nehemiah was so concerned about the plight in Jerusalem that the king noticed that something was bothering him and asked Nehemiah about it. (v. 1-2)
  • Because as cupbearer, Nehemiah was responsible for the safety of the king's food, it would cause concern if he was sick in any way. Remember that Nehemiah has been mourning, fasting, and praying. He probably is a little worn down.
  • Nehemiah was afraid. (v. 2) Why would he be afraid? Perhaps Nehemiah feared that the display of his personal feelings would jeopardize his position. Kings were not to be bothered with the concerns of their subjects. But more likely, he was afraid because he planned to make two bold requests: (1) He would ask permission to be released from his duties as cupbearer to become governor of Jerusalem. (2) He would also ask for the king's help to restore a city which, in the king's view, would have had a reputation for being troublesome. (Quest Study Bible)
  • Note that Nehemiah wasn't ashamed of his fear and didn't allow it to stop him from doing what God had called him to do.
  • Nehemiah told the king about the plight of the Jews. (v. 3)
  • The king asked Nehemiah what he could do. (v. 4)
  • Before answering the king, Nehemiah prayed. (v. 4)
  • After praying, Nehemiah asked the king's permission to go to Jerusalem and help the people. (v. 5)
  • Note that this is in the course of a conversation, so Nehemiah probably only had time for a quick, silent prayer. We should be in constant communication with God, not simply reserving our prayers for meal time or before bed. Also note that Nehemiah's prayers aren't limited to short "emergency prayers," either - remember the longer prayer in chapter 1? If we are to expect God to listen to our "emergency prayers," we need to be faithful in all areas of our prayer life by not neglecting times of in-depth prayer.
  • The king indicated his approval for Nehemiah's request by asking how long it would take. (v. 6)
  • The Bible doesn't record Nehemiah's answer to the king's question, but he ended up staying in Jerusalem for 12 years.
  • Nehemiah asked the king for various letters of protection and supplies for the journey, which the king provided. (v. 7-9)
  • Note that Nehemiah was not afraid to ask the king for additional needs. Sometimes God answers our prayers as a result of our asking others.
  • Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite heard about Nehemiah's plan, they were disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. (v. 10)
  • Who were Sanballat and Tobiah and why were they opposed to rebuilding Jerusalem? Sanballat was probably the governor of Samaria, the region immediately to the north of Jerusalem. Tobiah, probably the governor of Ammon, the region just to the east of Jerusalem across the Jordan River, was most likely Sanballat's friend and business partner. Although under the thumb of the Persians, these men had become rich and powerful, exercising control over Jerusalem and its inhabitants. Most likely they didn't appreciate someone else moving in on their territory.

Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem's Walls

Nehemiah 2:11-20

  • Nehemiah stayed in Jerusalem for three days before embarking on his mission. (v. 11)
  • Nehemiah set out at night with just a small party to inspect the walls. (v. 12)
  • Nehemiah inspects the walls at night in order to attract as little attention as possible and to keep his plans secret.
  • Why had Nehemiah kept his mission secret? Two factors may explain Nehemiah's secrecy: (1) Jerusalem, without its protecting walls, was populated with many non-Jews and was a hotbed of political intrigue. Spies would be willing to sell secrets to enemies of the Jews. (2) Any attempt to rally the demoralized Jews to rebuild the walls without a clear plan would breed skepticism among those he needed to inspire. (Quest Study Bible)
  • Nehemiah inspects the walls and notes that they are broken down and that the gates had been destroyed by fire. (v. 13-15)
  • Nehemiah did not make a complete circuit of the walls, but only of the southern area. Jerusalem was always attacked from the north because it was most vulnerable there, so the walls had probably been completely destroyed in that part of the city.
  • Nehemiah had not told anyone what he was doing. (v. 16)
  • Nehemiah then tells the people that Jerusalem is in trouble and implores them to join together to rebuild the wall. (v. 17)
  • The leaders of Jerusalem had probably become content with the decayed state of Jerusalem's walls. It took an outsider (Nehemiah) to come in and point out the sorry state of the walls in order to motivate the people to act.
  • Nehemiah tells the people that God's had is upon him and the people start to work. (v. 18)
  • Several people mocked and ridiculed Nehemiah and asked if he was rebelling against the king. (v. 19)
  • Nehemiah answers by saying that God will give them success. (v. 20)
  • Nehemiah presents a good example for problem solving. He gathered firsthand information and carefully considered the situation. Then, he presented a realistic strategy.
  • Nehemiah is an example of one person, being led by God, and making a difference. God works in many different ways. Sometimes, He works by inspiring a movement among a group of people. Sometimes, he works by raising up one person to serve as a leader. What are some examples in recent history when God works within a group of people? By raising up a single person as a leader?

Builders of the Wall

Nehemiah 3:1-32

  • The repairs to the wall are detailed in Nehemiah 3:1-32
  • What was involved in rebuilding the wall? (v. 1-32) Apparently the northern and western portions of the wall needed only to be renovated. The eastern wall, however, may have required completely new construction since it was located further up the mountainside from its earlier position. The wall, about eight feet thick at its base, was crudely constructed from uncut stone and rubble - explaining why it was mocked. It may have been 20 to 30 feet high and nearly two miles long, enclosing about 90 acres. (Quest Study Bible)
  • Notice that people from all walks of life participate in the rebuilding effort. Similarily, people in the Church are called to participate in the work of the Church. In many cases, people are able to use their unique gifts to the glory of God. But in cases like this, all people are able to come together and do the same task. Not everyone can be in the choir. Not everyone can be a Sunday School teacher. But almost everyone can help with Urban Ministries. Almost everyone can contribute money to church projects. We all have time, talent, and money we can contribute (prayers, gifts, presence, service) Are you doing your part?
  • The high priest is the first person mentioned who helped with the work. Note that spiritual leaders are called to participate in the physical work in addition to their call to teach and lead. (v. 1)
  • The Sheep Gate is the first gate listed. This is the gate that Jesus entered the city in. (John 5:2) It is the gate that is used to bring in the animals that are to be sacrificed.
  • Notice that some people are listed as not helping. Instead of making a big deal about them not helping, Nehemiah simply mentions their names and moves on. The people may have thought they were getting away with something by not helping, but their unwillingness to help was noted and remembered by those who were hard workers. (v. 5)
  • Note that women were involved with the rebuilding effort as well. (v. 12)
  • The details of this chapter may seem insignificant or boring. Are there lessons for us in the story of the rebuilding of the wall? Yes, there are.
  • Note the repeated phrase "next to them." This shows that Nehemiah reconized that the work could be better accomplished with people working togheter. A high level of cooperation was needed for a job this big.
  • Nehemiah knew how to motivate people. He assigned workers to build near their homes. By doing this, he knew that the people would more likely have more pride in the work that they did because they would see the results in action. This also kept people from having to travel to farther parts of the city to do their work. By blending self-interest with group effort, Nehemiah was able to ensure that everyone felt that the wall project was important to them. When doing a big project, it's important that the people involved feel that they are contributing important parts to the project.
  • Another way Nehemiah motivated people was by associating their names with the area they were working on. Everybody knew who was responsible for each section of the wall, so people would be encouraged to do good work to keep from being embarrassed.
  • Does attaching a person's name to a particular job have relevance in today's church where the peopple often don't do the physical job, but instead contribute money to the budget? Perhaps. I have heard about how some churches do something similar to attaching a person's name to the section of the city wall. Instead of attaching names to particular objects, the pledges and record of contributions of members is published. Apparently, in the churches that do this, pledges are up and giving is up. Are you more motivated to do a good job if your name is attached to the specific piece of work? Probably so. Nehemiah knew this and used it to lead.
  • Nehemiah also shows signs of a good leader by recognizing the individuals. He notes the achievements individuals made. Instead of treating the workers as a single resource to be managed, Nehemiah looks at each individual worker and sees how they can contribute.

Opposition to the Rebuilding

Nehemiah 4:1-23

  • When Sanballat heard of the rebuilding, he became angry. (v. 1)
  • Sanballat ridiculed the Jews. (v. 1-2)
  • Basically, the taunts that Sanballat threw at the Jews were equivilant to saying "How do they expect to build a wall of protection with their completely inadequate tools and experience?" These questions were pertinent questions. They would be questions that the Israelites would be asking themselves. Upon hearing other people asking the same questions, the Israelites might become discouraged. Sanballat was attempting to ridicule the Jews into giving up.
  • Tobiah joined in with ridiculing the Jews, saying that the walls were so feeble that a fox could penetrate them. (v. 3)
  • Nehemiah prayed a vendictive prayer asking God to turn the insults back on the insulters, turn them into exiles, and that God not forgive their sins. (v. 4-5)
  • Why did Nehemiah pray such vindictive prayers? Nehemiah had a keen sense that the enemies were not simply personal enemies, but that the were enemies of God. The psychological attacks they were making are the same kinds of attacks they succussfully made 15 or 20 years prior (see Ezra 4:12-23), and Nehemiah was determined not to let that happen again. It is important to note that Nehemiah did not take matters into his own hands, but instead asked God for intervention and judgement.
  • Compare Nehemiah's prayer with Psalm 7:1-6, a psalm of David. Note that Nehemiah is not praying for revenge, but for God's justice to be carried out. Not that the New Testament commands us to love our enemies and not extract vengance. (see Ephesians 4:32 and Romans 12:19-21, e.g.)
  • They rebuilt the wall to half its height. (v. 6)
  • Notice that even in the face of opposition, the people set their minds to the work of rebuilding the wall and progress was made.
  • When the enemies of Jerusalem heard that the repairs were going well, the became angry and secretly plotted to stir up trouble against Jerusalem. (v. 7-8)
  • Their plotting had to be in secret because Nehemiah and the Jews had permission from King Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem.
  • Nehemiah and the Jews prayed and posted a gard to meet the threat. (v. 9)
  • Notice once again that Nehemiah faces a difficult situation with prayer. Also notice once again that Nehemiah's prayer is coupled with action. Nehemiah prayed to God, listened for God's will, and acted. Serving God does not stop with prayer, but must be accompanied with action in order to be effective. It's not just enough to say "let us pray about it" and not act.
  • At this time, the Jews began to get weary of the rebuilding and were unable to work well because of the rubble. (v. 10)
  • The enemies came up with a plan to infiltrate the workers, kill them, and put an end to their work. (v. 11)
  • Why were the builders losing their strength? The work was very difficult - the rocks were heavy, the were working long hours (see v. 21), and they were under psychological attack (see v. 5).
  • The Jews came to Nehemiah and warned him that they would be attacked. (v. 12)
  • Nehemiah responded by posting guards at the exposed places. (v. 13)
  • Note that Nehemiah positioned the people near their families. By being near their families, the workers would know that the were safe and would not be distracted by thinking about their families.
  • Nehemiah encouraged the officials and the rest of the people with a reminder that God is great and awesome. (v. 14)
  • When the enemies realized that the Jews knew about their plan and that God had thwarted it, the Jews resumed their work. (v. 15)
  • From that day on, half of the men did the work while the other half protected the workers. (v. 16)
  • This is an example of the people "looking out for each other." Christians need to do the same thing. When we are faced with troubles, we should be willing to lean on our fellow Christians for support, just as the Jews who were working on the wall needed to lean on the Jews who were protecting the city.
  • Even the workers carried a weapon with them. (v. 17-18)
  • Nehemiah noted that the work was extensive and spread out. (v. 19)
  • Nehemiah said that when people heard the trumpet sound, they should rush to the sound of the trumpet prepared to fight. (v. 20)
  • The people continued working by day and guarding the city by night. (v. 21-23)
  • Nehemiah has the workers who live in outlying villages stay in Jerusalem while they are rebuilding the wall. This saves time on travelling to and from the city and helps keep the city better protected.
  • Nehemiah and the workers didn't even change clothes while guarding against surprise attacks. (v. 23) This might have been as long as two months, as it took 52 days to complete the wall rebuilding.
  • Nehemiah's overall strategy in completing the rebuilding of the wall was to pray, watch, and work. Pray for God's help and protection. Watch for attacks from the enemy. And work on the solution. This is a good general pattern for us to follow in our every day life as well.

Nehemiah Helps The Poor

Nehemiah 5:1-19

  • There was a great outcry from the people concerning the debt, mortage, and bondage. (v. 1-5)
  • It is interesting that the people are experiencing this internal bickering. Remember that the people have been united in their rebuilding of the wall to protect themselves against external threats. These are the same people who had been working side by side in harmony and community in rebuilding the wall. Once the wall had been rebuilt and the external threat had been minimized, the internal strife that existed began to surface. This internal strife happened either in the the midst of the rebuilding project or shortly after the wall had been completed.
  • Part of the reason that this internal strife came to the service is that because the entire population of Judah was involved in rebuilding the wall, normal business activity was virtually suspended during the fifty-two days of rebuilding.
  • Why would the people cry for relief from their debt? See Leviticus 25:35-36 and Deuteronomy 15:7-8- God commands the Israelites to care for their fellow countrymen and not charge usurius interest from them. (v. 1)
  • In verses 1-5, the stage for this section of Nehemiah is set. These verses give the background. The background is that the people of Judah are suffering. They are economically oppressed. In this state, they cry out to Nehemiah for help. As Christians, how should we respond when the poor cry out for help? As we examine Nehemiah's response to this situation, we see that he has a deep concern for the people's situation and used his resources to help them.
  • Who were the wealthy Jews who were able to exploit the exiles? They were probably either Jews who became wealthy during the exile and brought their wealth with them, or were Jews who were decendants of those who had returned over a century prior with Zerubbabel and were able to build up their wealth with successful businesses.
  • The Jews are fatigued from hard labor. As returned exiles, most of them are poor - they have not had the opportunity to build wealth in their new homeland. When returning, they probably had exciting dreams of the new life they would lead when they returned to the Promised Land, but now have found themselves facing the harsh reality that it is difficult work for them to make lives for themselves. The bright future they had planned for themselves was not immediately coming to pass. This reality would certainly be trying on their faith and patience.
  • The circumstances of the return created an environment where the rich were exploiting the poor and were taking usurious exactions while the poor struggled for their necessities. The poor have had to mortgage their lands and houses and even sell their children to slavery in order to pay the Persian taxes that were being charged to them.
  • Nehemiah was angry when he heard about the people's prediciment. (v. 6)
  • Nehemiah expressed his outrage against the officials and held an assembly against them. (v. 7)
  • Nehemiah condems the rich for their practice of usary. (v. 8-10)
  • Nehemiah's condemnation was not a call to completely forgive the debt - it was only a call to eliminate the illegal and oppressive interest. The principal would still be owed.
  • The practice of usuury was illegal (see Exodus 22:25) and oppressive. Nehemiah asks the officials to return their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses. (v. 11)
  • God does not intend for people to profit from other's misfortune. This is the reason that so many of the laws we have examined in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deutoronomy deal with the illegality of excessive interest. Notice how the Jerusalem church is praised in Acts 4:34-35 for their dedication to working together to eliminate poverty.
  • The rich say they will return it. Nehemiah required the people to take an oath regarding the matter. (Remember that Ezra also had the priests administer an oath regarding the putting away off the foreign wives and children - see Ezra 10:5) The verbal agreement was thus backed up by a solemn oath. (v. 12)
  • Nehemiah shakes his garmet as a demonstration of how he wants God to treat anyone who does not keep their promise. (v. 13)
  • From that day, Nehemiah was appointed to be Governor of Judah (by the king of Persia), where he served for twelve years. (v. 14)
  • Nehemiah did not accept the salary that was lawfully due to teh governor. Even without keeping that salary, Nehemiah was able to maintain the style of princely hospitility that was appropriate to his position. He did this from his own resources, which indicates that the position of cupbearer to the king of Persia was a well-paid position.
  • Former governors received their compensation in a combination of money and produce, but Nehemiah did not. (v. 15)
  • Nehemiah also participated in the work of the wall. Once again, we see a quality of good leadership in Nehemiah - he leads by example, participating in the labor. (v. 16)
  • Nehemiah did not require the customary governor's allowance from the people because of the heavy burden they were suffering. (v. 17-19)
  • Nehemiah offered daily sacrifices or one ox and six sheep. Compare with 1 Kings 4:22-23 where we see that Soloman offered thirty oxen and one hundred sheep as a daily sacrifice. Times have changed for Judah since the heyday of Soloman's united kingdom.
  • Nehemiah prays that God remember him for good because of what he has done for the people of Judah. (v. 19)
  • This chapter of Nehemiah can be sumarized by four "R"s: Ruthlessness of the wealthy (v. 1-5), Reprimand from Nehemiah (v. 6-11), Repentance of the wealthy (v. 12-13), and the Role model of Nehemiah (v. 14-19).
  • In money matters, do you deal with Christians differently than you deal with non-Christians? Why or why not?
  • As a role model, Nehemiah shows us that loving God and others sometimes requires personal sacrifice. What privileges and rights are you ready to give up so that God's work may prosper? When have your beliefs really cost you something?

Further Opposition to the Rebuilding

Nehemiah 6:1-14

  • When Sanballat, Tobiah, and the other enemies of Israel discovered that Nehemiah had rebuilt the wall, they tried once again to harm Nehemiah. (v. 1-2)
  • The enemies of Nehemiah attempted to lure him into a trap by inviting him to a meeting. (v. 2)
  • Nehmiah knew it was a trap and did not take the bait, instead claiming (rightly) that his continued presense was required to oversee the work that was going on in Jerusalem. (v. 3)
  • Nehemiah is apprehensive about the trap, knowing that if he were to be captured or killed, the work that he was leading in Jerusalem would probably come to a stop and possibly be reversed. As Christians, it's important that we work together - we all have important work in Christ's Church. However, at the same time, it is important to know that some Christians carry a high profile. For these Christians, it is important that they guard their behavior so as not to be comprimised. What can we do to help those in leadership positions? Make it a practice to pray for those in authroity (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2, e.g.). Request God to give them strength to stand agains personal attacks and temptation. They need God-given courage to overcome fear.
  • Nehemiah and his enemies went back and forth like this a four times, and finally Sanballat sent a messenger to Nehemiah a fifth time with an open letter. (v. 4-5)
  • What is an "open (unsealed) letter" (v. 5)? In Western Asia, letters, after being rolled up like a map, are flattened to the breadth of an inch; and instead of being sealed, they are pasted at the ends. In Eastern Asia, the Persians make up their letters in the form of a roll about six inches long, and a bit of paper is fastened round it with gum, and sealed with an impression of ink, which resembles our printers' ink, but it is not so thick. Letters were, and are still, sent to persons of distinction in a bag or purse, and even to equals they are enclosed -- the tie being made with a colored ribbon. But to inferiors, or persons who are to be treated contemptuously, the letters were sent open -- that is, not enclosed in a bag. Nehemiah, accustomed to the punctillious ceremonial of the Persian court, would at once notice the want of the usual formality and know that it was from designed disrespect. The strain of the letter was equally insolent. It was to this effect: The fortifications with which he was so busy were intended to strengthen his position in the view of a meditated revolt: he had engaged prophets to incite the people to enter into his design and support his claim to be their native king; and, to stop the circulation of such reports, which would soon reach the court, he was earnestly besought to come to the wished-for conference. Nehemiah, strong in the consciousness of his own integrity, and penetrating the purpose of this shallow artifice, replied that there were no rumors of the kind described, that the idea of a revolt and the stimulating addresses of hired demagogues were stories of the writer's own invention, and that he declined now, as formerly, to leave his work. (Critical and Explanatory Commentary on the Whole Bible (1871), Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Public Domain)
  • What is an "unsealed (open) letter" (v. 5)? Official coorespondence of the day was conducted on papyrus or leather parchment that was sealed with clay. Because this letter was "unsealed" (or "open"), it shows that it was intended to be an insult, by not giving Nehemiah the respect that an official letter would carry. It also shows that Sanballat intended the letter to be public knowledge, and that he hoped that the lies he was spreading about Nehemiah would take root and discourage the Jews.
  • The letter contained lies about what Nehemiah was doing in Jerusalem: it claimed that he was planning a rebellion and would apoint himself king of Judah. (v. 6-7)
  • Nehemiah responded with a message claiming that Sanballat was making up the false accusations. (v. 8)
  • It is a common tactic for enemies to spread lies in an attempt to discourage and/or discredit you. Christian beliefs are constantly being misrepresented in the world at large. Like Nehemiah, we should be alert to find the times when our beliefs are misrepresented and we should stand up for the truth.
  • Nehemiah remarks that Sanballat and the other enemies are attempting to frighten the Jews and discourage them from completing their work. Nehemiah responds to this threat by going to God with a prayer for strength. (v. 9)
  • Once again, we see Nehemiah acting as a good role model for our prayer life. When confronted with difficulty, he turns to God and asks for strength. It is often tempting to pray that God deliver you from these situations, but we would all do well to remember that our strength comes from God and that we can - and should - turn to God for strength in difficult situations.
  • After this incident, Nehemiah reports an incident with Shemiah, who encourages Nehemiah to hide out in the Temple because his enemies are attempting to kill him. (v. 10)
  • Nehemiah responds by refusing to go along with the plan and by declaring that Shemiah was hired by Sanballat to frighten Nehemiah into sinning so that Nehemiah's enemies would be able to use Nehemiah's sin against him. (v. 11-13)
  • What was the sin that Nehemiah would have committed if he went along with Shemiah? Possibly Shemiah was tempting Nehemiah to enter an area of the Temple that was reserved for the priests (see Numbers 1:51 and Numbers 18:7, e.g.). However, the alter has historically been known as a place of refuge for those threatened with execution (see Exodus 21:14, 1 Kings 1:50-51, 1 Kings 2:28, and 2 Kings 11:15, e.g.). More likely, the sin would have been in Nehemiah living in fear of threats, rather than by trusting God. Additionally, Nehemiah would have lost the respect of the people who looked to him for leadership had he followed Shemiah in fear.
  • Nehemiah's behavior in this situation provides a model for how we should act when whe know that people are hoping that we fail in some endeavor. We see that Nehemiah turns to God in prayer. We also see that Nehemiah held true to his faith and never wavered.
  • Nehemiah prays to God again. (v. 14)

The Completion of the Wall

Nehemiah 6:15-7:3

  • The wall was completed after 52 days of work. (6:15)
  • When we set our minds to it, even a difficult task may be completed quickly.
  • When the enemies of Judah heard about the wall's completion, they were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that the wall-building was done with the help of God. (6:17)
  • Even if we consider that some of the wall was not rebuilt, but was able to be refurbished, the massive work that would have been required to complete the wall in such a short amount of time was overwhelming. It is obvious that God had a large part in making this a successful endeavor.
  • Jerusalem's enemies realized that if they were to attack Jerusalem, they would not only have the walls of Jerusalem to deal with, but they would also have the God of Jerusalem to deal with.
  • See Exodus 14:25 for another example of where enemies of Israel commented on God's obvious help and protection for the Jews. This verse demonstrates where the Egyptians witnessed God's divine intervention with the Jews crossing the Red Sea.
  • Lesson: When God is involved in your work, His involvement is obvious to others.
  • Can you point to a time in your life where it was obviously the work of God to see a task to completion?
  • Many letters were going back and forth between Tobiah and the nobles of Judah. (6:18-19)
  • These nobles of Judah were allied with Tobiah through marriage. They were responsible for delivering some of Tobiah threatening letters.
  • After the wall had been rebuild, the gatekeepers and singers and Levites were appointed. (7:1)
  • Since the wall is completed, Nehemiah would naturally be preparing to return to Persia, as he had promised Artaxeres he would do after completing the restoration of Jerusalem. This is why Nehemiah is delegating responsibility to others at this time.
  • Hanani and Hananiah were put in charge of the citadel because they were men of integrity. (7:2)
  • Nehemiah gave instructions to Hanani and Hananiah regarding the guarding of the gate. (7:3)
  • Why would Nehemiah instruct the people not to open the gate until the middle of the day? It was customary for cities to open their gates at sunrise and bar them at sunset. Nehemiah took the precaution of delaying the opening of the city gate until later in the day in order to allow the inhabitants an opportunity to get up and begin going about their daily business. This way, if the enemy were making any plans to attack, they would be forced to operate in an environment where the city inhabitants were more alert and able to monitor their activities more closely. This reduced the chance of a surprise attack on Jerusalem.
  • Again, Nehemiah instructs people to serve close to their homes. (7:3)
  • Where is "close to home" where we can serve?

The List of the Exiles Who Returned

Nehemiah 7:4-73

  • This city was large, but there were not yet many people living in it. (v. 4)
  • God put it in Nehemiah's heart to gather a genealogy of the people who were living in Jerusalem. (v. 5)
  • The rest of chapter 7 is a transcription of Ezra 2:1-61. There are differences in the lists, probably attributed to copyist errors and/or the theory that Ezra's list is a list of those who planned to return, while Nehemiah's list is a list of those who actually did return.
  • Notice in 7:64, we once again read the account of how the priests who could not prove their genealogy were excluded from the priesthood. For the Jews, it was very important to be able to trace ancestory to Abraham to prove that you were part of the Chosen people. For priests, it was important to be able to trace your ancestory to Levi to prove you were part of the priesthood. Compare to today's Christian belief that we are all children of God. We are all able to claim God's promises by believing in Jesus as God's son and our Savior.

Ezra Reads the Law

Nehemiah 8:1-18

  • Four or five days after completing the wall, everyone assembled in the square before the Water Gate and told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law. (v. 1)
  • This is the first mention of Ezra in the book of Nehemiah. Remember, he had returned to Jerusalem approximately 13 years before Nehemiah did.
  • Notice that the people called Ezra to read the Law. After completing the work on the wall in an obvious miraclous way, the people probably felt a strong sense of belonging to God and wanted to prolong and explore that feeling by re-energizing their commitment to the Word of God.
  • Ezra brought out the Book of the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. (v. 2)
  • Ezra read from the Book of the Law from daybreak (approx 6am) until noon. (v. 3)
  • Did Ezra read the entire Law of Moses? I think so. The six hours during which time he read was not enough time to read the Law (the first five books of the Bible) out loud. However, we are told at the end of this chapter that Ezra read from the Book of the Law every day for seven or eight days. This would have been enough time to read the Law in its entirety. Other theories include that Ezra only read Deuteronomy, Moses' own summary of the Law or that he read selected passages from the Law that he felt that the people most needed to hear at that time.
  • Ezra stood on a wooden platform that was built for this occasion and everyone could see him since he was raised above them. (v. 4-5)
  • When Ezra opened the book to read, all the people stood up. (v. 5)
  • Ezra praised the Lord and the people worshiped. (v. 6)
  • The Levites were there and read and taught from the Book of the Law, making it plain to the people so that they could understand. (v. 7-8)
  • Perhaps Ezra read in the original Hebrew and the Levites translated into Aramaic. Perhaps they expounded on the verses after Ezra read them. Perhaps they repeated what Ezra said, but louder, so the people could hear.
  • The people had been weeping. Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites told the people not to weep. (v. 9)
  • Nehemiah told the people to go have a nice meal, and to bring food to people who were unprepared to have a meal. (v. 10)
  • The Levites again told the people not to grieve. (v. 11)
  • Why were the people weeping? They probably realized how far they had strayed from God's Law and were embarrassed and disappointed. Notice the grace that the priests bestowed upon the people - they reminded the people that the joy of the Lord is their strength and that the need not grieve.
  • The people went away to eat and drink and sent portions to those who did not have any. They celebrated with great joy because they now understood the word that had been made known to them. (v. 12)
  • On the second day of the month, the Levites, priests, and heads of families gathered with Ezra to study the Law some more. (v. 13)
  • They discovered that they were in the time of year that was dedicated to the Feast of Booths. (v. 14-15)
  • How often, in our reading and studying of the Scripture, do we find portions that are either new to us or are things that we had forgotten?
  • For the first time since Joshua son of Nun, the Israelites celebrated the Feast of Booths. (v. 16-17)
  • Why had the Feast of Booths been neglected for so long? The purpose of the Feast of Booths was to remind those in the promised land what it was like to live in the desert. When the people were in captivity, they did not have the joy of living in the promised land and the Feast probably lost much of its signifigance. Now that they had returned from the exile, they had reason to rejoice again.
  • Throughout the Feast of Booths, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. (v. 18)

The Israelites Confess Their Sins

Nehemiah 9:1-37

  • The Israelites gathered together on the 24th day of the same month. (v. 1)
  • They confessed the sins of their fathers. (v. 2)
  • They read from the Book of the Law for a quarter of the day and spent a quarter of the day confessing their sins. (v. 3)
  • The Levites led the congregation in a group prayer. (v. 4-5)
  • The rest of chapter 9 (v. 5b-37) is devoted to the prayer. This is one of the longest prayers recorded in the Bible. Notice the many things that the people pray to God about. Are the same things applicable to us?
  • This prayer follows the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) model.
  • General adoration of God's work is described. (v. 5-6)
  • The history of the Jews is retold. (v. 7-15)
  • The Israelites confess the sins of their fathers. (v. 16-18)
  • Recognition and thanksgiving for God's mercy is recalled. (v. 19-25)
  • More cycles of sin and grace are recounted. (v. 26-31)
  • The people conclude the prayer by recognizing how the sins of their fathers have caused them to be a people newly returned from exile and under bondage to another king. It is not a complaint - they explicitly state in verse 33 that they are being treated justly. They tell God that they are in great distress.
  • Notice that most of the prayer deals with a recollection of the history of the Jews. This is the history that can be found in Genesis and Exodus, which the people had just recently heard read to them by Ezra. They had time to consider what they had heard and recognize that they were in great need of a rededication of their lives to God.

The Agreement of the People

Nehemiah 9:38-10:39

  • After the prayer, the people made a binding agreement of rededication to the Lord. (9:38)
  • A list of the people who sealed the agreement is provided. (10:1-10:27)
  • The rest of the people joined in the agreement. (10:28-10:29)
  • The people make a covenant to obey not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law.
  • The people promise to refrain from foreign intermarriage. Even though the law explicitly prohibited intermarriage with specific groups of people (many of whom no longer existed), the Israelites covenanted to refrain from all foreign intermarriage. (10:30)
  • The people promise to respect the Sabboth. Even though the Israelites may have been able to justify purchasing goods from foreigners on the Sabboth as not working because, technically, it was the foreigner doing the work, the Israelites realized that would be against the spirit of the law. (10:31)
  • The people promise to resume the responsibilities associated with upkeep of the Temple and resume the sacrificial system. (10:32-10:39)
  • Note the final phrase of this chapter: "We will not neglect the house of our God." (10:39) The Israelites place a great value on the Temple because it is the house of God.
  • What sort of coevenants have you made with God?

The New Residents of Jerusalem

Nehemiah 11:1-36

  • The leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. (v. 1)
  • The rest of the people cast lots to determine who would move to Jerusalem. Ten percent of the people moved to Jerusalem. (v. 1)
  • Because the city was so underpopulated, it was necessary to forciby transfer residents from rural areas to the urban centers.
  • According to Josephus (Antiquities, 11.5.8), Nehemiah provided many of the houses for the priests and Levites at his own expense.
  • Not all of Jerusalem's residents were forced, some volunteered.The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem. (v. 2)
  • Verses 3-19 list the leaders of the people who moved to Jerusalem.
  • The rest of the Israelites settled throughout Judah in their ancestral lands. (v. 20)

Priests and Levites

Nehemiah 12:1-26

  • The priests and Levites are listed.

Dedication of the Wall of Jerusalem

Nehemiah 12:27-47

  • When the wall was dedicated, Levites were saught out from throughout the country to lead the celbraton. (v. 27)
  • The rest of chapter twelve details the celbration of the dedication of the wall.

Last update: July 6, 2003

© 2002-2003 Greg Cohoon

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