Philippe R. Sterling
The Book of Nehemiah provides an account of the rebuilding of the wall and the restoration of the people of God in the post-exilic period.
Nehemiah is a contemporary of Ezra and cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. He leads the third return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. The captivity occurred in three stages (606, 597, and 586 BC). The return occurs in three stages with Zerubabbel in 536 BC, Ezra in 458 BC, and Nehemiah in 445/44 BC. Zerubbabel restored the temple; Ezra restored the people; Nehemiah restored the wall and the city.
Literary Structure and Content
I. Reconstructing the Wall – Memoir of Nehemiah: God calls believers to build with Him (1—6).
In ancient times a city was as secure as its walls. The returning exiles had rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem but the city walls lay in ruins.
A. Condition of the City: Believers should get involved in God’s purposes (1—2).
1. Nehemiah learns of the plight of Jerusalem (1:1-3).
2. Nehemiah prays (1:4-11).
Nehemiah notes that he was cupbearer to the king (1:11). God had providentially placed him in a position from which he could help accomplish God’s purpose. God directs the course of history.
3. Nehemiah prepares by imploring the king (2:1-8), inspecting the wall (2:9-16), and inviting other believers
to arise and build (2:17-20).
Nehemiah requests permission from Artaxerxes to go to Judah to rebuild. He goes and investigates the situation. He then challenges the people to work on the walls.
B. Construction of the Wall: Believers can join together to build with God (3).
Nehemiah divides the wall into sections and assigns individual and groups to the different portions. He assigns people wall portions where they had a vital interest.
C. Conflict over the Work: Believers may experience external opposition and internal conflicts as they build
with God (4—6).
1. Believers may encounter external opposition as they build (4).
There is the experience of mockery (4:1-6), conspiracy (4:7-9), and defeatism (4:10-23). Nehemiah’s remedy for the situation is prayer, civil defense and continuing work.
2. Believers may experience internal discord as they build (5).
Walt Kelly’s cartoon figure “Pogo” said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Sometimes we are our own enemy due to our discord. Nehemiah confronts the abuse of the poor by the wealthy and models generosity.
3. Believers can complete the work even under intensified external and internal difficulties (6).
There is intrigue (6:1-4), slander (6:5-9), treachery (6:10-14), subversion (6:15-19). In spite of opposition from without and discord from within, Nehemiah and those who arose to build complete the rebuilding of the walls in 52 days. Even the enemies of Israel must attribute the feat to God’s enabling.
Climax 1 – The Completion of the Wall (6:15)
II. Registering the Workers: God maintains a registry of those who believe and build with Him (7). See Philippians
4:3, Hebrews 12:22-23.
This is a transitional chapter which provides movement from the physical work on the wall to the spiritual work in the worshipers. The chapter describes the security measures for Jerusalem and details the register of the remnant that returned from Persia.
A. Nehemiah safeguards the city (7:1-3).
B. Register: Nehemiah surveys the citizens (7:4-73).
III. Reforming the Worshipers – Memoir of Ezra: Believers are to build up themselves in the faith (8-13).
Walls alone cannot sustain a nation. Stone walls must be reinforced with a spiritual foundation. God seeks worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth (see John 4:23). The first half of Nehemiah describes the construction of the walls; the second half details the consecration of the worshipers.
A Water Gate revival breaks out when Ezra and the Levites read and explain the Law of Moses. The teaching of God’s Word leads to confession and resolve to bring the nation’s conduct in line with the nation’s covenant relationship with God.
A. Covenant: Believers are to renew covenant with God – A Water Gate Revival (8—10).
1. The people assemble for the reading of the Law and then celebrate the Feast of Booths – “Bring the
2. The people confess their sins (9).
a. The people realize they are living with sin and mourn (9:1-3).
b. The Levites offer prayer to God tracing the nation’s history of rebellion and God’s gracious dealings
c. The Levites request God’s forgiveness and the people promise to make covenant with God (9:32-38).
3. The people covenant with God (10).
a. Signers’ Thereof – A list of the signers of the covenant is given (10:1-29).
b. Statement Therein – The provisions of the covenant are given (10:30-39).
The revival at the Water Gate was based on the Word of God, involved confession of sin to God, and resulted in commitment to God. The commitment was put in writing and signed. The elements of the commitment were: subjection to the Word of God, separation from mixed marriages, Sabbath observance, and support of the temple.
B. Census: Believers have a call to spiritual service (11:1—12:26).
Nehemiah shifts the population so that Jerusalem is properly inhabited. The rulers are to live in Jerusalem and also one-tenth of the population chosen by lot.
1. City Dwellers – A list of the residents of Jerusalem is given (11:1-24).
2. Country Dwellers – A list of the residents outside of Jerusalem is given (11:25-36).
3. Priestly Dwellers – A list of the priests and Levites is given (12:1-26).
This is a register of individuals in God’s honor roll. They were eager to be in the place of God’s appointment performing the service He called them to do. Would we qualify for listing in God’s book of remembrance (see Malachi 3:16)?
C. Consecration: Believers celebrate God’s work and consecrate themselves to its support (12:27-47).
1. Consecration of the Wall: The walls of the city of Jerusalem are dedicated (12:27-43).
a. Purification – a ritual cleansing takes place (12:27-30).
b. Procession – a singing tour of the wall is made by two great choirs one going to the right and the other to
the left (12:31-37).
c. Praise – There is praise and great joy – the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar (12:38-43).
2. Consecration of the Worshipers: Arrangement is made to ensure the proper support of the priests and the
Climax 2 – The Consecration of the Wall and Worshipers (12:27)
D. Correction: Believers need constant correction (13).
There is a gap of time here when Nehemiah goes back to Persia (13:6). When he returns to Jerusalem he finds that reforms are once again needed. God’s house had been deserted, God’s day had been desecrated, and God’s people had been defiled. God’s people had broken every point of their covenant. Nehemiah takes quick action. He cleanses the temple, restores the Levites, enforces the Sabbath, and dissolves mixed marriages.
1. Hearing and Obeying the Law – foreigners are excluded from the assembly in accordance with the Law
2. Correction of Abuses – Nehemiah reforms the city and the temple (13:4-29).
a. God’s house had been deserted (13:4-14).
Tobiah, an enemy of the people of God, had been given an apartment in the temple while Nehemiah was out of the country. Nehemiah throws him out along with his furniture and restores tithes to the Levites.
b. God’s day had been desecrated (13:15-22).
Nehemiah puts a stop to Sabbath breaking.
c. God’s people had been defiled (13:23-29).
Nehemiah dissolves mixed marriages.
Anti-Climax – The Correction of the Worshipers
God’s people are in constant need of revival.
Postscript – Nehemiah summarizes briefly his achievements of purifying the nation and organizing and supporting the service of the priests and Levites (13:30-31).
Theological Reflection and Application
The book tells of the third return under Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the ministry of Ezra and the Levites to renew the people. The post-exilic remnant returns to the covenant and rejoices over God’s faithfulness. This can encourage God’s people of all times to be faithful to God since He is faithful to them and will reward their work and to worship in spirit and truth.
Qualities in Nehemiah every believer can emulate:
·Nehemiah had a strong faith in God.
·Nehemiah had a strong sense of mission.
·Nehemiah was dedicated and uncompromising.
·Nehemiah put his position, abilities, money, and energy at the disposal of God.
·Nehemiah hoped in a future reward from God (5:19; 13:14, 22, 31).
God builds all things (Hebrews 3:4). Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Peter 2:4-5). Christians build on the foundation of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Christians build themselves up in the faith (Jude 20).
Application: Let us arise and build (2:18).