Jehovah’s Word Is Alive
Highlights From the Book of Nehemiah
TWELVE years have passed since the closing events recorded in the Bible book of Ezra took place. The time is now near for “the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem”—the occurrence that marks the beginning of the 70 weeks of years leading up to the Messiah. (Daniel 9:24-27) The book of Nehemiah is a history of God’s people involving the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. It covers a crucial period of over 12 years, from 456 B.C.E. to some time after 443 B.C.E.
Written by Governor Nehemiah, the book is an exciting account of how true worship is exalted when resolute action is combined with total reliance on Jehovah God. It clearly shows how Jehovah maneuvers matters to have his will accomplished. It is also the story of a strong and courageous leader. The message of the book of Nehemiah provides valuable lessons for all true worshippers today, “for the word of God is alive and exerts power.”—Hebrews 4:12.
“AT LENGTH THE WALL CAME TO COMPLETION”
Nehemiah is in Shushan the castle, serving King Artaxerxes Longimanus in a trusted position. Upon hearing the news that his people “are in a very bad plight and in reproach; and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its very gates have been burned with fire,” Nehemiah is deeply disturbed. He fervently prays to God for direction. (Nehemiah 1:3, 4) In time, the king notices Nehemiah’s sadness, and the way opens up for him to go to Jerusalem.
After arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah inspects the wall under the cover of darkness, and he reveals to the Jews his plan to rebuild the wall. Construction begins. So does opposition to the work. Under the courageous leadership of Nehemiah, however, “at length the wall [comes] to completion.”—Nehemiah 6:15.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
1:1; 2:1—Is “the twentieth year” mentioned in these two verses counted from the same reference point? Yes, the 20th year is that of the reign of Artaxerxes the king. However, the method of counting used in these verses is different. Historical evidence points to 475 B.C.E. as the year of Artaxerxes’ ascension to the throne. Since the Babylonian scribes customarily counted the years of the Persian kings’ reign from Nisan (March/April) to Nisan, Artaxerxes’ first regnal year began in Nisan of 474 B.C.E. Hence, the 20th year of rulership mentioned at Nehemiah 2:1 began in Nisan of 455 B.C.E. The month of Chislev (November/December) mentioned at Nehemiah 1:1 logically was the Chislev of the preceding year—456 B.C.E. Nehemiah refers to that month as also falling in the 20th year of Artaxerxes’ reign. Perhaps in this case, he was counting the years from the accession date of the monarch. It could also be that Nehemiah was counting time by what the Jews today call a civil year, which begins in the month of Tishri, corresponding to September/October. In any case, the year in which the word went out to restore Jerusalem was 455 B.C.E.
4:17, 18—How could a man do the work of rebuilding with just one hand? For burden bearers this would not be a problem. Once the load was placed on their head or shoulders, they could easily balance it with one hand “while the other hand was holding the missile.” The builders who needed both hands to do their work “were girded, each one with his sword upon his hip, while building.” They were ready to go into action in case of an enemy attack.
5:7—In what sense did Nehemiah begin “finding fault with the nobles and the deputy rulers”? These men were exacting usury from their fellow Jews in violation of the Mosaic Law. (Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19) Moreover, the interest the lenders were demanding was high. If demanded monthly, “the hundredth” would be equivalent to 12 percent a year. (Nehemiah 5:11) It was cruel to impose this on people already heavily burdened with taxes and a food shortage. Nehemiah found fault with the rich in that, using God’s Law, he reproved and rebuked them and thus exposed their wrongdoing.
6:5—Since confidential letters were usually placed in a sealed bag, why did Sanballat send “an open letter” to Nehemiah? Sanballat may have intended to make public the false charges brought forth by sending them in an open letter. Perhaps he hoped that this would anger Nehemiah so much that he would leave the building work and come to defend himself. Or Sanballat may have thought that the contents of the letter would cause such alarm among the Jews that they would stop their work altogether. Nehemiah refused to be intimidated and calmly continued in his God-assigned work.
Lessons for Us:
1:11–2:3. Nehemiah’s main source of joy was not his prestigious position as a cupbearer. It was the advancement of true worship. Should not Jehovah’s worship and all that promotes it be our main concern and chief source of joy?
2:4-8. Jehovah caused Artaxerxes to grant Nehemiah permission to go and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. “A king’s heart is as streams of water in the hand of Jehovah,” says Proverbs 21:1. “Everywhere that he delights to, he turns it.”
3:5, 27. We should not consider manual work done in the interests of true worship beneath our dignity, as did the “majestic ones” of the Tekoites. Rather, we can imitate the common Tekoites who willingly expended themselves.
3:10, 23, 28-30. While some are able to move where the need for Kingdom proclaimers is greater, many of us support true worship close to our home. We can do so by participating in Kingdom Hall construction work and disaster relief efforts but primarily by sharing in the Kingdom-preaching work.
4:14. When faced with opposition, we too can overcome fear by keeping in our mind “the great and the fear-inspiring One.”
5:14-19. For Christian overseers, Governor Nehemiah is a splendid example of humility, unselfishness, and discretion. Though zealous in enforcing God’s Law, he did not domineer over others for selfish gain. Rather, he showed concern for the oppressed and the poor. In displaying generosity, Nehemiah set an outstanding example for all of God’s servants.
“DO REMEMBER ME, O MY GOD, FOR GOOD”
As soon as Jerusalem’s wall is completed, Nehemiah sets up the gates and makes arrangements to secure the city. He proceeds to make a genealogical record of the people. As all the people assemble “at the public square that was before the Water Gate,” Ezra the priest reads the book of the Law of Moses, and Nehemiah and the Levites explain the Law to the people. (Nehemiah 8:1) Learning about the Festival of Booths leads to their holding an observance of it with rejoicing.
Another gathering follows, during which “the seed of Israel” make confession of national sins, the Levites review God’s dealings with Israel, and the people take an oath “to walk in the law of the true God.” (Nehemiah 9:1, 2; 10:29) Since Jerusalem is still underpopulated, lots are cast to have 1 of every 10 men living outside the city move into the city. Next, the wall is inaugurated with such spirit that “the rejoicing of Jerusalem [can] be heard far away.” (Nehemiah 12:43) Twelve years after his arrival, Nehemiah leaves Jerusalem to return to his duties with Artaxerxes. Uncleanness soon creeps in among the Jews. Upon his return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah takes decisive action to correct the situation. For himself, he makes a humble request: “Do remember me, O my God, for good.”—Nehemiah 13:31.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
7:6-67—Why does Nehemiah’s list of the remnant who returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel differ from Ezra’s in individual figures for each household? (Ezra 2:1-65) The reason for these variations may be that Ezra and Nehemiah used different source material. For example, the number of those who registered to return may have been different from the number who actually did return. The two records may also have differed because some Jews who were unable to establish their genealogy at the outset did so in time. Both accounts, however, agree on one point: The number of initial returnees was 42,360, apart from slaves and singers.
10:34—Why were the people required to supply wood? The wood offering was not commanded in the Mosaic Law. This requirement stemmed strictly from the need. Large quantities of wood were needed in order to burn the sacrifices on the altar. Apparently, there were not enough Nethinim, who served as non-Israelite temple slaves. Hence, lots were cast to ensure a continuous supply of wood.
13:6, footnote—How long was Nehemiah absent from Jerusalem? The Bible says only that “sometime later,” or “at the end of days,” Nehemiah asked for a leave of absence from the king to return to Jerusalem. Therefore, it is impossible to determine the length of his absence. Upon his return to Jerusalem, though, Nehemiah found that the priesthood was not being supported, nor was the Sabbath law being observed. Many had taken foreign wives, and their offspring did not even speak the language of the Jews. For conditions to deteriorate so much, Nehemiah must have been gone for a long time.
13:25, 28—In addition to ‘finding fault’ with the backsliding Jews, what other corrective measures did Nehemiah take? Nehemiah ‘called down evil upon them’ in that he recited against them the judgments found in God’s Law. He ‘struck some of them,’ perhaps by ordering judicial action against them. As a symbol of his moral indignation, he ‘pulled out some of their hair.’ He also chased away the grandson of High Priest Eliashib, who had married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite.
Lessons for Us:
8:8. As teachers of God’s Word, we ‘put meaning into it’ by using good enunciation and oral emphasis and by expounding on the Scriptures correctly, making clear their application.
8:10. “The joy of Jehovah” comes from being conscious of and satisfying one’s spiritual need and from following theocratic direction. How vital that we diligently study the Bible, regularly attend Christian meetings, and zealously share in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work!
11:2. Leaving one’s hereditary possession and moving into Jerusalem involved personal expense and some disadvantages. Those who volunteered to do this showed a self-sacrificing spirit. We too can show such a spirit when opportunities arise to volunteer our services in behalf of others at conventions and on other occasions.
13:4-31. We must be on guard against allowing materialism, corruption, and apostasy to make inroads into our lives.
13:22. Nehemiah was well-aware that he was accountable to God. We too need to be aware of our accountability to Jehovah.
Jehovah’s Blessing a Must!
“Unless Jehovah himself builds the house,” sang the psalmist, “it is to no avail that its builders have worked hard on it.” (Psalm 127:1) How beautifully the book of Nehemiah illustrates the truth of those words!
The lesson for us is clear. If we want to succeed in whatever endeavors we undertake, we must have Jehovah’s blessing. Can we really expect Jehovah to bless us unless we give true worship the first place in our lives? Like Nehemiah, then, let us make Jehovah’s worship and its advancement our prime concern.
[Picture on page 8]
“A king’s heart is as streams of water in the hand of Jehovah”
[Picture on page 9]
Nehemiah—a man of action and tender feelings—comes to Jerusalem
[Pictures on page 10, 11]
Do you know how to ‘put meaning into’ God’s Word?