Bible Book Number 16—Nehemiah
Place Written: Jerusalem
Writing Completed: After 443 B.C.E.
Time Covered: 456–after 443 B.C.E.
1. What position of trust did Nehemiah hold, and what was uppermost in his mind?
NEHEMIAH, whose name means “Jah Comforts,” was a Jewish servant of the Persian king Artaxerxes (Longimanus). He was cupbearer to the king. This was a position of great trust and honor, one to be desired, for it gave access to the king at times when he was in a happy frame of mind and ready to grant favors. However, Nehemiah was one of those faithful exiles who preferred Jerusalem above any personal “cause for rejoicing.” (Ps. 137:5, 6) It was not position or material wealth that was uppermost in Nehemiah’s thoughts but, rather, the restoration of Jehovah’s worship.
2. What sorry condition grieved Nehemiah, but what appointed time was drawing near?
2 In 456 B.C.E. those “left over from the captivity,” the Jewish remnant that had returned to Jerusalem, were not prospering. They were in a lamentable condition. (Neh. 1:3) The wall of the city was rubble, and the people were a reproach in the eyes of their ever-present adversaries. Nehemiah was grieved. However, it was Jehovah’s appointed time for something to be done about the wall of Jerusalem. Enemies or no enemies, Jerusalem with its protective wall must be built as a time marker in connection with a prophecy that Jehovah had given Daniel concerning the coming of Messiah. (Dan. 9:24-27) Accordingly, Jehovah directed events, using faithful and zealous Nehemiah to carry out the divine will.
3. (a) What proves Nehemiah to be the writer, and how did the book come to be called Nehemiah? (b) What interval separates this book from the book of Ezra, and what years does the book of Nehemiah cover?
3 Nehemiah is undoubtedly the writer of the book that bears his name. The opening statement, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah,” and the use of the first person in the writing clearly prove this. (Neh. 1:1) Originally the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were one book, called Ezra. Later, the Jews divided the book into First and Second Ezra, and later still Second Ezra became known as Nehemiah. An interval of about 12 years lies between the closing events of Ezra and the opening events of Nehemiah, whose history then covers the period from the end of 456 B.C.E. till after 443 B.C.E.—1:1; 5:14; 13:6.
4. How does the book of Nehemiah harmonize with the rest of the Scriptures?
4 The book of Nehemiah harmonizes with the rest of inspired Scripture, with which it rightfully belongs. It contains numerous allusions to the Law, referring to matters such as marriage alliances with foreigners (Deut. 7:3; Neh. 10:30), loans (Lev. 25:35-38; Deut. 15:7-11; Neh. 5:2-11), and the Festival of Booths (Deut. 31:10-13; Neh. 8:14-18). Further, the book marks the beginning of the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy that Jerusalem would be rebuilt but not without opposition, “in the straits of the times.”—Dan. 9:25.
5. (a) Evidence from what sources pinpoints the accession year of Artaxerxes as 475 B.C.E.? (b) What date marks his 20th year? (c) How do the books of Nehemiah and Luke tie in with the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah?
5 What about the date 455 B.C.E. for Nehemiah’s journey to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall? Reliable historical evidence from Greek, Persian, and Babylonian sources points to 475 B.C.E. as the accession year of Artaxerxes and 474 B.C.E. as his first regnal year.* This would make his 20th year 455 B.C.E. Nehemiah 2:1-8 indicates it was in the spring of that year, in the Jewish month Nisan, that Nehemiah, the royal cupbearer, received from the king permission to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, its wall, and its gates. Daniel’s prophecy stated that 69 weeks of years, or 483 years, would stretch “from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader”—a prophecy that was remarkably fulfilled at Jesus’ anointing in 29 C.E., a date that may be harmonized with both secular and Biblical history.* (Dan. 9:24-27; Luke 3:1-3, 23) Indeed, the books of Nehemiah and Luke tie in remarkably with Daniel’s prophecy in showing Jehovah God to be the Author and Fulfiller of true prophecy! Nehemiah is truly a part of the inspired Scriptures.
CONTENTS OF NEHEMIAH
6. (a) What report causes Nehemiah to pray to Jehovah, and what request does the king grant? (b) How do the Jews respond to Nehemiah’s plan?
6 Nehemiah sent to Jerusalem (1:1–2:20). Nehemiah is greatly troubled by a report from Hanani, who has returned to Shushan from Jerusalem bearing tidings of the severe plight of the Jews there and the broken-down state of the wall and gates. He fasts and prays to Jehovah as “the God of the heavens, the God great and fear-inspiring, keeping the covenant and loving-kindness toward those loving him and keeping his commandments.” (1:5) He confesses Israel’s sins and petitions Jehovah to remember His people because of His name, even as He promised Moses. (Deut. 30:1-10) When the king asks Nehemiah about the reason for his gloomy countenance, Nehemiah tells him of the condition of Jerusalem and requests permission to return and rebuild the city and its wall. His request is granted, and immediately he journeys to Jerusalem. Following a nighttime inspection of the city wall to acquaint himself with the job ahead, he reveals his plan to the Jews, emphasizing God’s hand in the matter. At this they say: “Let us get up, and we must build.” (Neh. 2:18) When the neighboring Samaritans and others hear that the work has started, they begin to deride and mock.
7. How does the work proceed, and what situation calls for reorganization?
7 The wall rebuilt (3:1–6:19). Work on the wall begins on the third day of the fifth month, with the priests, the princes, and the people sharing together in the labor. The city gates and the walls between are rapidly repaired. Sanballat the Horonite taunts: “What are the feeble Jews doing? . . . Will they finish up in a day?” To this, Tobiah the Ammonite adds his ridicule: “Even what they are building, if a fox went up against it, he would certainly break down their wall of stones.” (4:2, 3) As the wall reaches half its height, the combined adversaries grow angry and conspire to come up and fight against Jerusalem. But Nehemiah exhorts the Jews to keep in mind “Jehovah the great and the fear-inspiring One” and to fight for their families and their homes. (4:14) The work is reorganized to meet the tense situation; some stand guard with lances while others work with their swords on their hips.
8. How does Nehemiah handle problems among the Jews themselves?
8 However, there are also problems among the Jews themselves. Some of them are exacting usury from their fellow worshipers of Jehovah, contrary to his law. (Ex. 22:25) Nehemiah corrects the situation, counseling against materialism, and the people willingly comply. Nehemiah himself, during all his 12 years of governorship, from 455 B.C.E. to 443 B.C.E., never demands the bread due the governor because of the heavy service upon the people.
9. (a) How does Nehemiah meet subtle tactics to stop the building? (b) In what time is the wall completed?
9 The enemies now try more subtle tactics to stop the building. They invite Nehemiah to come down for a conference, but he replies that he cannot take time off from the great work that he is doing. Sanballat now charges Nehemiah with rebellion and planning to make himself king in Judah, and he secretly hires a Jew to frighten Nehemiah into wrongfully hiding in the temple. Nehemiah refuses to be intimidated, and he calmly and obediently goes about his God-assigned task. The wall is completed “in fifty-two days.”—Neh. 6:15.
10. (a) Where do the people live, and what enrollment is made? (b) What assembly is now called, and what is the first day’s program?
10 Instructing the people (7:1–12:26). There are but few people and houses within the city, for most of the Israelites are living outside according to their tribal inheritances. God directs Nehemiah to assemble the nobles and all the people to get them enrolled genealogically. In doing this, he consults the record of those who returned from Babylon. An eight-day assembly is next called at the public square by the Water Gate. Ezra opens the program from a wooden podium. He blesses Jehovah and then reads from the book of the Law of Moses from daybreak until midday. He is ably assisted by other Levites, who explain the Law to the people and continue ‘reading aloud from the book, from the Law of the true God, it being expounded, and there being a putting of meaning into it; and they continue giving understanding in the reading.’ (8:8) Nehemiah urges the people to feast and rejoice and to appreciate the force of the words: “The joy of Jehovah is your stronghold.”—8:10.
11. What special meeting is held on the second day, and how does the assembly proceed with rejoicing?
11 On the second day of the assembly, the heads of the people have a special meeting with Ezra to gain insight into the Law. They learn of the Festival of Booths that should be celebrated this very seventh month, and they immediately arrange to build booths for this feast to Jehovah. There is “very great rejoicing” as they dwell in booths for the seven days, hearing day by day the reading of the Law. On the eighth day, they hold a solemn assembly, “according to the rule.”—Neh. 8:17, 18; Lev. 23:33-36.
12. (a) What assembly is held later in the same month, with what theme? (b) What resolution is adopted? (c) What arrangement is made for populating Jerusalem?
12 On the 24th day of the same month, the sons of Israel again assemble and proceed to separate themselves from all the foreigners. They listen to a special reading of the Law and then a heart-searching review of God’s dealings with Israel, presented by a group of the Levites. This takes as its theme: “Rise, bless Jehovah your God from time indefinite to time indefinite. And let them bless your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” (Neh. 9:5) They proceed to confess the sins of their forefathers and humbly to petition Jehovah’s blessing. This is in the form of a resolution that is attested to by the seal of the nation’s representatives. The entire group agree to keep free from intermarriage with the peoples of the land, to observe the Sabbaths, and to provide for the temple service and workers. One person out of every ten is selected by lot to dwell permanently in Jerusalem, inside the wall.
13. What assembly program marks the dedication of the wall, and what arrangements result?
13 The wall dedicated (12:27–13:3). The dedication of the newly built wall is a time of song and happiness. It is the occasion for another assembly. Nehemiah arranges for two large thanksgiving choirs and processions to walk upon the wall in opposite directions, finally joining in sacrifices at the house of Jehovah. Arrangements are made for material contributions to support the priests and the Levites at the temple. A further Bible reading reveals that Ammonites and Moabites should not be permitted to come into the congregation, and hence they begin to separate all the mixed company from Israel.
14. Describe the vices arising during Nehemiah’s absence, and the steps he takes to eliminate them.
14 Clearing out uncleanness (13:4-31). After spending a period of time in Babylon, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and finds that new vices have crept in among the Jews. How quickly things have changed! The high priest Eliashib has even made a dining hall in the courtyard of the temple for the use of Tobiah, an Ammonite, one of the enemies of God. Nehemiah wastes no time. He throws out Tobiah’s furniture and has all the dining halls cleansed. He finds, too, that the material contributions of the Levites have been discontinued, so they are going outside Jerusalem to make a living. Commercialism runs rampant in the city. The Sabbath is not observed. Nehemiah tells them: “You are adding to the burning anger against Israel by profaning the sabbath.” (13:18) He shuts up the city gates on the Sabbath to keep out the traders, and he orders them away from the city wall. But there is an evil worse than this, something they had solemnly agreed not to do again. They have brought foreign, pagan wives into the city. Already the offspring of these unions no longer speak the Jewish language. Nehemiah reminds them that Solomon sinned because of foreign wives. On account of this sin, Nehemiah chases out the grandson of Eliashib the high priest.* Then he sets in order the priesthood and the work of the Levites.
15. What humble request does Nehemiah make?
15 Nehemiah ends his book with the simple and humble request: “Do remember me, O my God, for good.”—13:31.
16. In what ways is Nehemiah a splendid example for all lovers of right worship?
16 Nehemiah’s godly devotion should be an inspiration to all lovers of right worship. He left a favored position to become a humble overseer among Jehovah’s people. He even refused the material contribution that was his right, and he roundly condemned materialism as a snare. The zealous pursuit and upkeep of Jehovah’s worship was what Nehemiah advocated for the entire nation. (5:14, 15; 13:10-13) Nehemiah was a splendid example to us in being entirely unselfish and discreet, a man of action, fearless for righteousness in the face of danger. (4:14, 19, 20; 6:3, 15) He had the proper fear of God and was interested in building up his fellow servants in the faith. (13:14; 8:9) He vigorously applied the law of Jehovah, especially as it related to true worship and the rejection of foreign influences, such as marriages with pagans.—13:8, 23-29.
17. How is Nehemiah an example also in knowledge and in application of God’s law?
17 Throughout the book it is evident that Nehemiah had a good knowledge of Jehovah’s law, and he made good use of this. He invoked God’s blessing because of Jehovah’s promise at Deuteronomy 30:1-4, having full faith that Jehovah would act loyally on his behalf. (Neh. 1:8, 9) He arranged numerous assemblies, principally to acquaint the Jews with the things written aforetime. In their reading of the Law, Nehemiah and Ezra were diligent to make God’s Word plain to the people and to follow through by applying it.—8:8, 13-16; 13:1-3.
18. What lessons should Nehemiah’s prayerful leadership impress on all overseers?
18 Nehemiah’s complete reliance on Jehovah and his humble petitions should encourage us to develop a like attitude of prayerful dependence on God. Note how his prayers glorified God, showed recognition of the sins of his people, and petitioned that Jehovah’s name be sanctified. (1:4-11; 4:14; 6:14; 13:14, 29, 31) That this zealous overseer was a power for strength among God’s people was shown by the readiness with which they followed his wise direction and the joy that they found in doing God’s will along with him. An inspiring example indeed! However, in the absence of a wise overseer, how quickly materialism, corruption, and outright apostasy crept in! Surely this should impress on all overseers among God’s people today the need to be alive, alert, zealous for the interests of their Christian brothers, and understanding and firm in leading them in the ways of true worship.
19. (a) How did Nehemiah use God’s Word to strengthen confidence in the Kingdom promises? (b) How does Kingdom hope stimulate God’s servants today?
19 Nehemiah showed strong reliance on God’s Word. Not only was he a zealous teacher of the Scriptures but he also used them in establishing the genealogical inheritances and the service of the priests and Levites among God’s restored people. (Neh. 1:8; 11:1–12:26; Josh. 14:1–21:45) This must have been of great encouragement to the Jewish remnant. It strengthened their confidence in the grand promises previously given concerning the Seed and the greater restoration to come under His Kingdom. It is hope in the Kingdom restoration that stimulates God’s servants to fight courageously for Kingdom interests and to be busy in building true worship throughout the earth.
Some Jewish historians claim that this grandson of Eliashib was named Manasseh and that, with his father-in-law, Sanballat, he built the temple on Mount Gerizim, which became the center of Samaritan worship and at which he officiated as priest during his lifetime. Gerizim is the mountain referred to by Jesus at John 4:21.—The Second Temple in Jerusalem, 1908, W. Shaw Caldecott, pages 252-5; see The Watchtower, July 15, 1960, pages 425-6.