Bible Highlights Nehemiah 1:1–13:31
True Worship Triumphs
True worship triumphs through decisive action and unwavering reliance on Jehovah. That is the essence of the book of Nehemiah. It is a vivid account of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall under the courageous leadership of Nehemiah.
The book covers a crucial period, one during which the 70 weeks of years leading to the appearance of Messiah were due to begin. (Daniel 9:24-27) The opening verse Ne 1:1 and the first-person account clearly identify Nehemiah as the writer. This book is a sequel to Ezra, picking up the thread of narrative about 12 years after the events recorded by Ezra.
As we read this account, we see how marvelously Jehovah maneuvers events so that his will comes to pass. We also note how he strengthens and comforts his loyal servants.
Please read Nehemiah 1:1–2:20. Nehemiah, cupbearer to Persia’s king, learns that Jerusalem’s walls are still in ruins and that the people there are “in a very bad plight.” Deeply anguished, Nehemiah pours out his heart to Jehovah in fervent prayer. His sorrow is noticed by the king, thereby opening the way for Nehemiah to travel to Jerusalem to see about rebuilding the city wall.
◆ 1:1—What year was this?
This was the 20th year of King Artaxerxes (Longimanus). (2:1) Since Chislev (November-December) is placed before Nisan (March-April) in this narrative, apparently Persian kings counted each year of their reign from fall to fall, or from the time they actually ascended the throne. Reliable historical evidence and fulfilled Bible prophecies point to 455 B.C.E. as the year in which Nisan of the 20th year of Artaxerxes falls. Thus, Nehemiah’s account begins in the fall of 456 B.C.E., and the decree to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was issued in the spring of 455 B.C.E.
◆ 2:4—Was this a last-minute prayer of desperation?
No, for Jerusalem’s devastated condition had been the subject of Nehemiah’s prayers “day and night” for quite some time. (1:4, 6) When afforded the opportunity to tell King Artaxerxes about his desire to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, Nehemiah again prayed, thus doing what he already had done repeatedly. Jehovah’s favorable answer resulted in a commission to rebuild the city’s walls.
Lesson for Us: Nehemiah looked to Jehovah for direction. When faced with weighty decisions, we, too, should “persevere in prayer” and act in harmony with Jehovah’s guidance.—Romans 12:12.
Wall Built Despite Plot
Read 3:1–6:19. As wall building begins, the adversaries taunt and jeer. Later, they threaten to attack. Undaunted, Nehemiah exhorts the workers: “Jehovah the great and the fear-inspiring One keep in your mind.” Half of them stand guard with lances and bows, and the others work with weapons ready. In spite of the threat and other plots, the Jews finish the wall in 52 days!
◆ 3:5—Who were these “majestic ones”?
They were prominent Jews among the inhabitants or former residents of Tekoa, a town some ten miles (16 km) south of Jerusalem. These “majestic ones” apparently were too proud to humble themselves and work under the yoke of overseers appointed by Nehemiah.—Compare Jeremiah 27:11.
◆ 4:17—How did they work with one hand?
The masons would have to use both hands for their work. These had their weapons at their hip. (4:18) The burden-bearers could easily hold a weapon in one hand and balance loads of dirt or rubble on their shoulders or heads.—Genesis 24:15, 45.
◆ 5:7—Why was usury wrong?
This was in direct violation of Jehovah’s law. (Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19) “The hundredth,” if exacted monthly, would amount to 12 percent per year. (5:11) The people already were in dire straits due to famine and heavy Persian taxation. (5:3, 4) Yet the rich heartlessly imposed high interest upon their poor brothers.
◆ 6:5—Why an “open letter”?
Confidential letters were often placed in carefully sealed bags. Thus Sanballat’s sending an “open letter” may have been intended as an insult. Or, since the accusation in an “open letter” could be read by others, he may have hoped that Nehemiah would become so upset that he would leave Jerusalem to come and clear himself of the charges. Sanballat may also have hoped that the letter would create such alarm that the Jews would stop their work.
Lesson for Us: We should not view hard work as beneath our dignity and hold back like the “majestic ones” of the Tekoites. Rather, we should expend ourselves like the common Tekoites who performed a double duty.—Nehemiah 3:5, 27.
True Worship Revitalized
Read 7:1–10:39. All the work is done for one purpose: to restore true worship. After a census is taken, the people assemble to hear Ezra and the Levites read and expound the Law. After thus ‘gaining insight,’ they joyously observe the Festival of Booths. The people fast and confess their sins, and steps are taken to rectify these errors.
◆ 7:6—Why does this list differ from Ezra’s?
Both accounts agree that, apart from slaves and singers, a total of 42,360 returned. (Ezra 2:64, 65; Nehemiah 7:66, 67) But there are differences in the number of returnees in particular households. Most likely, Ezra and Nehemiah used different methods of compiling their lists. For example, one may have listed those who registered to return, while the other named those who actually returned. Some priests, and possibly others, were unable to establish their ancestry. (7:64) This may explain why the sum of the individual listings does not add up to the stated total of 42,360.
◆ 8:8—How was ‘meaning put into’ the Law?
Apparently, aside from using good enunciation and oral emphasis, Ezra and his assistants expounded the Law and applied the principles of the Law so that the people could better grasp it. Bible-based publications and meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses also serve to ‘put meaning into’ God’s Word.
◆ 9:1—Why did the Israelites put on sackcloth and dirt?
Putting on sackcloth—a dark-colored garment woven from goat’s hair—was a sign of sorrow. Similarly, putting earth or ashes on the head or body signified deep mourning or humiliation. (1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 13:19) The Jews did it to express their sad and humble realization of their sins. This was followed by the making of a confession ‘contract,’ “a trustworthy arrangement.” (9:38) Likewise, we must humbly recognize and confess our sins if we are to safeguard our relationship with God.—1 John 1:6-9.
◆ 10:34—Were offerings of wood commanded in the Law?
No, but much wood was needed for the fire on the altar. Apparently, not enough Nethinim—non-Israelite temple slaves who were “gatherers of wood”—were among the returnees. (Joshua 9:23, 27) So to ensure a constant wood supply, lots were cast to determine which tribal division should provide it at a particular time.
Lesson for Us: “The joy of Jehovah” resulted from gaining insight into God’s Word, making personal application, and responding to theocratic direction. (8:10) Likewise, Jehovah’s Witnesses appreciate the importance of personal study, regular meeting attendance, and field ministry in maintaining joy.
Read 11:1–12:47. For Jerusalem to continue as the center of true worship, it needs a greater population. Besides volunteers, lots are cast for one in every ten people living outside to move into the city. Then the city wall is inaugurated with a joyous procession. Great sacrifices are offered, and the rejoicing of the people can be heard far away.
◆ 11:2—Why were volunteers “blessed”?
Leaving hereditary possessions and moving to Jerusalem would have resulted in some expense and certain disadvantages. Those living in that city may also have been exposed to various dangers. Under such circumstances, others viewed the volunteers as praiseworthy and doubtless prayed that Jehovah would bless them.
◆ 12:27—When was the wall inaugurated?
The wall was finished on the 25th day of the sixth month, Elul, in 455 B.C.E., and notable gatherings took place in the next month. (6:15; 8:2; 9:1) The inauguration probably followed immediately as the climax of the joyous occasion.
Lesson for Us: The volunteer spirit and expression of gratitude to Jehovah in song and music were heartwarming. Today, at conventions and on other occasions, Jehovah’s Witnesses volunteer their services to benefit others and wholeheartedly sing praises to God.
Read 13:1-31. Upon returning from a trip to the Persian court, Nehemiah is alarmed by what has taken place during his absence. He takes immediate action to correct the problems.
◆ 13:3—Who made up this “mixed company”?
The “mixed company” apparently included such foreigners as Moabites, Ammonites, and the half-Israelite sons of foreigners. (13:1, 2) This is suggested by the fact that earlier the Jews dismissed both their foreign wives and their sons. (Ezra 10:44) Again the Jews had taken foreign wives, and this necessitated exclusion of these women and their offspring from the community, the land itself, and thus from privileges of worship with Jehovah’s people.—Nehemiah 13:23-31.
Lesson for Us: The backsliding Jews are a warning example to us. We need to be ever vigilant in guarding against the encroachment of materialism, corruption, and apostasy.
Time and again, the book of Nehemiah emphasizes the principle that “unless Jehovah himself builds the house, it is to no avail that its builders have worked hard on it.” (Psalm 127:1) The basic lesson for us is that in all our undertakings, we will succeed only if we have Jehovah’s blessing. And that blessing depends on our keeping true worship in the first place in our lives.