NEHEMIAH, BOOK OF
A book of the Hebrew Scriptures that primarily relates events occurring shortly before and during Nehemiah’s governorship in Judah. (Neh. 5:14; 13:6, 7) The opening words of this inspired account identify the writer as “Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah” (Neh. 1:1), and much of it is written in the first person.
TIME COVERED AND TIME OF WRITING
The month of Chislev (November-December) of a certain twentieth year is the reference point with which the historical narrative begins. (Neh. 1:1) As evident from Nehemiah 2:1, this twentieth year must be that of Artaxerxes’ reign. Obviously, the twentieth year in this case is not reckoned as starting in Nisan (March-April), for Chislev of the twentieth year could not then precede Nisan (mentioned at Nehemiah 2:1) of the same twentieth year. So it may be that Nehemiah used his own count of time, reckoning the lunar year as beginning with Tishri (September-October), which month Jews today recognize as the beginning of their civil year. Another possibility is that the Persians, unlike the Babylonians, may have reckoned the reigns of their kings as starting in the fall or on the actual date that the monarch ascended the throne. This could be so even though the Babylonian scribes continued to reckon the years of the Persian king’s reign on their customary basis of a Nisan-to-Nisan count, as their cuneiform tablets show they did.
Reliable historical evidence and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy (see ARTAXERXES No. 3) point to 455 B.C.E. as the year in which Nisan of the twentieth year of Artaxerxes’ reign fell. Accordingly, the Chislev preceding Nisan of that twentieth year would fall in 456 B.C.E. and the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes’ reign (the last date mentioned in Nehemiah [13:6]) would include part of 443 B.C.E. Therefore, the book of Nehemiah covers a period from Chislev of 456 B.C.E. until sometime after 443 B.C.E.
It was in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes’ reign that Nehemiah left Jerusalem. Upon his return, he found that the Jews were not supporting the priests and Levites, the sabbath law was being violated, many had married foreign women, and the offspring of the mixed marriages did not even know how to speak the language of the Jews. (Neh. 13:10-27) For conditions to have deteriorated to this point indicates that Nehemiah’s absence entailed a considerable period. But there is no way to determine just how long after 443 B.C.E. Nehemiah completed the book bearing his name.
AGREEMENT WITH OTHER BIBLE BOOKS
The book of Nehemiah exalts Jehovah God. It reveals him to be the Creator (Neh. 9:6; compare Genesis 1:1; Psalm 146:6; Revelation 4:11), a God who answers the sincere prayers of his servants (Neh. 1:11–2:8; 4:4, 5, 15, 16; 6:16; compare Psalm 86:6, 7) and is the Defender of his people. (Neh. 4:14, 20; compare Exodus 14:14, 25.) He is a “God of acts of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness” (Neh. 9:17; compare Numbers 14:18), “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.”—Neh. 1:5; compare Deuteronomy 7:9, 10, 21.
Numerous allusions to the Law are found in the book of Nehemiah. These involve the calamities to result from disobedience and the blessings to come from repentance (Lev. 26:33; Deut. 30:4; Neh. 1:7-9), loans (Lev. 25:35-38; Deut. 15:7-11; Neh. 5:2-11), marriage alliances with foreigners (Deut. 7:3; Neh. 10:30), sabbaths, the release from debts (Ex. 20:8; Lev. 25:4; Deut. 15:1, 2; Neh. 10:31), the altar fire (Lev. 6:13; Neh. 10:34), the festival of booths (Deut. 31:10-13; Neh. 8:14-18), the entry of Moabites and Ammonites into the congregation of Israel (Deut. 23:3-6; Neh. 13:1-3), and tithes, firstfruits and contributions.—Ex. 30:16; Num. 18:12-30; Neh. 10:32-39.
There is also historical information in this book that is found elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Neh. 9:7-35; 13:26; compare Nehemiah 13:17, 18 with Jeremiah 17:21-27.) And contemporary history in the account illustrates other Biblical passages. Psalms 123 and 129 find a historical parallel in what was experienced by Nehemiah and the other Jews in connection with their rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. (Neh. 4:1-5, 9; 6:1-14) Jehovah’s causing Artaxerxes to do his will by granting Nehemiah’s request to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem historically illustrates Proverbs 21:1: “A king’s heart is as streams of water in the hand of Jehovah. Everywhere that he delights to, he turns it.”—Neh. 2:4-8.
Both the book of Ezra (2:1-67) and the book of Nehemiah (7:6-69) list the number of persons from various families or houses who returned from Babylonian exile with Zerubbabel. The accounts harmonize in giving 42,360 as the total number of returned exiles, apart from slaves and singers. (Ezra 2:64; Neh. 7:66) However, there are differences between the numbers given for each family or house, and in both listings the individual figures yield a total of far less than 42,360. Many scholars would attribute these variations to scribal errors. While this aspect cannot be completely ignored, there are other possible explanations for the differences.
It may be that Ezra and Nehemiah based their listings on different sources. For example, Ezra could have used a document listing those who enrolled to return to their homeland, whereas Nehemiah might have copied from a record listing those who actually did return. Since there were priests who were unable to establish their genealogy (Ezra 2:61-63; Neh. 7:63-65), it is not unreasonable to conclude that many of the other Israelites faced the same problem. Consequently, the 42,360 persons could be the combined total of the number from each family plus many others who were unable to establish their ancestry. Later, however, some may have been able to establish their correct genealogy. This could explain how a fluctuation in numbers might still give the same total.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Nehemiah’s reaction to report concerning conditions at Jerusalem (1:1-11)
A. Visit to Shushan of Nehemiah’s brother Hanani and other Jews; their answer to Nehemiah’s inquiry about the Jews in the jurisdictional district of Judah (1:1-3)
B. Nehemiah is moved to mourn, fast and pray (1:4-11)
II. Nehemiah’s request to go to Jerusalem; his subsequent restoration of Jerusalem’s wall attended by opposition (2:1–4:23)
A. Nehemiah granted royal authorization to go to Judah; his departure with chiefs of the military force and horsemen (2:1-10)
B. Restoration of wall of Jerusalem in the face of opposition (2:11–4:23)
1. Nehemiah inspects wall at night (2:11-20)
2. Those sharing in making repairs on various sections of the wall (3:1-32)
3. Opposition intensifies; Nehemiah arms workmen to counter enemy threat (4:1-23)
III. Nehemiah urges wealthy Jews to make restoration for wrongly having charged fellow Israelites interest on loans; his unselfishness as governor (5:1-19)
IV. Enemies unsuccessful in plots against Nehemiah, but, even after wall is rebuilt in fifty-two days, Tobiah continues to threaten him (6:1-19)
V. Events immediately following completion of wall (7:1–12:47)
A. Nehemiah makes appointments of gatekeepers, places Hanani and Hananiah in command of Jerusalem and gives instructions on opening and closing gates of sparsely populated city (7:1-4)
B. Finds book of genealogical enrollment (7:5-73)
C. People assembled at public square near Water Gate hear reading of Law and explanations (8:1-15)
D. Festival of booths follows (8:16-18)
E. On Tishri (Ethanim) 24, about two days after festival of booths, another assembly is held (9:1–10:39)
1. During assembly Israelites make confession of sins and hear review of God’s dealings from the time he chose Abram (9:1-37)
2. A trustworthy arrangement is contracted and attested by seal; people obligate themselves to refrain from marriage alliances with foreigners, to keep the sabbaths and to support temple services (9:38–10:39)
F. One out of every ten is designated by lot to dwell in Jerusalem; listing of those dwelling in Jerusalem and other places; genealogical information about priests and Levites (11:1–12:26)
G. Events associated with the inauguration of Jerusalem’s wall (12:27-47)
VI. Activities following Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem after his being away for some time (13:1-31)
A. Law read to people; they respond by separating themselves from mixed company (13:1-3)
B. Nehemiah has dining halls in temple courtyards cleansed, sees to it that material support is given to the Levites and the temple; enforces sabbath observance, chastises those involved in mixed marriages; purifies and gives assignments to priests and Levites (13:4-31)