(Ne·he·miʹah) [Jah Comforts].
2. Son of Azbuk and prince over half the district of Beth-zur. Since the town of Beth-zur was located in the mountainous region of Judah (Jos 15:21, 48, 58), Nehemiah may have been a Judean. In 455 B.C.E., he shared in repairing the wall of Jerusalem.—Ne 3:16.
3. Son of Hacaliah and brother of Hanani; cupbearer to Persian King Artaxerxes (Longimanus) and, later, governor of the Jews, rebuilder of Jerusalem’s wall, and writer of the Bible book bearing his name.—Ne 1:1, 2, 11; 2:1; 5:14, 16.
During the 20th year of King Artaxerxes, in the month Chislev (November-December), Nehemiah, while in Shushan the castle, received visitors, his brother Hanani and other men from Judah. Upon his inquiry, they told him about the bad plight of the Jews and that the wall and gates of Jerusalem were still in ruins. Nehemiah was moved to tears. For days thereafter he mourned, continually fasting and praying. He confessed Israel’s sin and, on the basis of God’s words to Moses (De 30:1-4), petitioned Jehovah to “make him an object of pity” before King Artaxerxes so that his plan to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall might be successful.—Ne 1.
Later, in the month of Nisan (March-April), Nehemiah’s prayers were answered. The king noticed that Nehemiah’s face was gloomy and asked why. Nehemiah then informed him about the sorry state of affairs in Jerusalem. When asked what he was seeking to secure, Nehemiah, immediately praying to God, requested permission from the king to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The request was granted. Additionally, Nehemiah received letters from the king, entitling him to freedom of passage through the areas under the jurisdiction of governors W of the Euphrates River and also granting timber supplies for the project. With chiefs of the military force and horsemen, he departed for Jerusalem.—Ne 2:1-9.
Jerusalem’s Wall Rebuilt. After being in Jerusalem for three days, Nehemiah, unknown to anyone except a few men who were with him, made a nighttime inspection of the city. While the rest were on foot, Nehemiah rode an animal, probably a horse or an ass. The ruins became so extensive as to obstruct passage, but Nehemiah was able to finish his inspection.—Ne 2:11-16.
Following the completion of his survey, Nehemiah revealed his plan to the Jews, drawing to their attention Jehovah’s hand in the matter. Encouraged thereby, they responded: “Let us get up, and we must build.” Despite the derisive words of Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, repair work began on about the fourth of Ab (July-August).—Ne 2:17-20; compare Ne 6:15.
As the work progressed, Sanballat and Tobiah continued to deride and mock the efforts of the Jews to repair the wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah made this a subject of prayer, “and the people continued to have a heart for working.” When the wall reached half its height, Sanballat, Tobiah, and neighboring peoples intensified their opposition to the point of conspiring to fight against Jerusalem. Nehemiah repeatedly received reports to that effect from Jews living near the city. Again Nehemiah manifested prayerful reliance on Jehovah. To meet the tense situation, he armed the workmen, arranged for others to stand guard, and outlined an alarm system. Nehemiah did not even take off his clothes at night, evidently to be ready to fight in the event of an alarm signal from the watch.—Ne 4.
Urgent as the situation was, Nehemiah was not too busy to give due consideration to the outcry of the Jews. Hearing their complaints that they were being oppressed by having to pay interest, he censured the nobles and deputy rulers, arranged a great assembly, and, after exposing this evil, instructed that the situation be rectified.—Ne 5:1-13.
It was after this that the enemies made attempts to stop the rebuilding work. Four times they tried to allure Nehemiah away from his project, but he informed them that he was unable to take time off from the great work that he was doing. Thereafter Sanballat sent an open letter that contained false charges and suggested that they meet for counsel. Nehemiah replied: “Things such as you are saying have not been brought about, but it is out of your own heart that you are inventing them.” Trying still another trick, Tobiah and Sanballat hired a Jew to frighten Nehemiah into wrongfully hiding in the temple. Nehemiah, however, did not give way to fear, and the repair work came to a successful completion on the 25th day of Elul (August-September), just 52 days after construction work began. Nevertheless, Tobiah continued to send intimidating letters to Nehemiah.—Ne 6.
With the wall completed, Nehemiah directed his attention to the work of organizing the temple servants. Next he placed two men in command of the city, one of these being his brother Hanani. Nehemiah also gave instructions regarding the opening and the closing of the city gates and the guarding of them.—Ne 7:1-3.
Genealogical Enrollment. At this time Jerusalem’s population was quite small. This seemingly was why God put it into Nehemiah’s heart to assemble the nobles, deputy rulers, and people to get them enrolled genealogically, for the information procured thereby could have served as a basis for taking steps to increase the population of Jerusalem. Apparently while Nehemiah was giving consideration to this genealogical enrollment, he found the record of those who had returned from Babylonian exile with Zerubbabel.—Ne 7:4-7.
Law Observance Restored. It was probably at Nehemiah’s direction that an assembly was held in the public square near the Water Gate. Although Ezra the priest evidently took the lead in giving instruction in the Law, Nehemiah also shared therein. (Ne 8:1-12) Next, the eight-day Festival of Booths was held. Two days later the Israelites convened again. During this assembly a general confession of Israel’s sin was made. Thereafter a written confession contract was drawn up. This confession contract or “trustworthy arrangement” was attested by the princes, Levites, and priests. Nehemiah, “the Tirshatha [governor],” was the first to attest it by seal. (Ne 8:13–10:1) All the people agreed to refrain from intermarriage with foreigners, to observe the Sabbaths, and to support the temple service. Next, one person out of every ten was selected by lot to dwell permanently in Jerusalem.—Ne 10:28–11:1.
It was after this that the wall of Jerusalem was inaugurated. For the occasion Nehemiah appointed two large thanksgiving choirs and processions to make a tour of the wall in opposite directions. This was done, and all met at the temple to offer sacrifices. Additionally, men were appointed to be in charge of the contributions for the priests and Levites.—Ne 12:27-47.
About 12 years later, in the 32nd year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah left Jerusalem. Upon his return, he found deplorable conditions among the Jews. Eliashib the high priest had made a dining hall in the courtyard of the temple for the use of Tobiah, the very man who earlier had viciously opposed the work of Nehemiah. Immediately Nehemiah took action. He threw all of Tobiah’s furniture outside the dining hall and instructed that the dining hall be cleansed.
Additionally, Nehemiah took measures to ensure the contributions for the Levites and enforced strict Sabbath observance. He also administered discipline against those who had taken foreign wives, whose sons by these women were not even able to speak the Jewish tongue: “And I began to find fault with them and call down evil upon them and strike some men of them and pull out their hair and make them swear by God: ‘You should not give your daughters to their sons, and you should not accept any of their daughters for your sons or yourselves.’”
Nehemiah’s ‘finding fault’ with these men doubtless was his reproving and rebuking them by means of God’s law, exposing their wrong action. These men were bringing the restored nation into disfavor with God, after God had kindly repatriated them from Babylon to restore true worship at Jerusalem. Nehemiah ‘called down evil upon them,’ meaning that he recited the judgments of God’s law against such violators. He ‘struck’ them, probably not personally, but ordered them flogged as an official judicial action. He ‘pulled out (a portion of) their hair.’ This was a symbol of moral indignation and ignominy before the people. (Compare Ezr 9:3.) Nehemiah then chased away the grandson of High Priest Eliashib, who had become a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite.—Ne 13:1-28.
Nehemiah, an Outstanding Example. Nehemiah stands out as a sterling example of faithfulness and devotion. He was unselfish, leaving behind a prominent position as cupbearer in the courtyard of Artaxerxes to undertake the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. As there were many enemies, Nehemiah willingly exposed himself to danger in behalf of his people and true worship. Not only did he direct the work of repairing the wall of Jerusalem but he also had an active, personal share in the task. He wasted no time, was courageous and fearless, relied fully on Jehovah, and was discreet in what he did. Zealous for true worship, Nehemiah knew God’s law and applied it. He was concerned about building up the faith of his fellow Israelites. He showed himself to be a man who manifested a proper fear of Jehovah God. Though enforcing God’s law zealously, he did not domineer over others for selfish benefit but showed concern for the oppressed. Never did he demand the bread due the governor. Instead, he provided food for a considerable number of persons at his own expense. (Ne 5:14-19) Appropriately Nehemiah could pray: “Do remember me, O my God, for good.”—Ne 13:31.