Historical Setting. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are very closely linked. They constitute a historical unit and in the Hebrew Bible were one book – as found in the Septuagint, for example. The Latin Vulgate version of the Bible was the first to divide the book, calling the two parts “The First Book of Esdras" and “The Book of Nehemias" (or, “The Second Book of Esdras"). Thus in our English Bibles we have the two separate books. Since the 16th century Hebrew Bibles have also marked that division, either as a cross-reference), Xerxes (Ahasueras) and Artaxerxes.
As far as the Jews are concerned, these books mark the end of 70 years Babylonian captivity, as prophesied by Jeremiah, and see a small percentage of the captives resettled in their own land. The temple in Jerusalem, desecrated and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, was rebuilt, though not with the same splendour and glory associated with the original (Solomon’s). In this period, too, the city walls were reconstructed and its gates renewed. Finally, the temple worship, and at least part of the legal and moral order of things, were restored.
The book of Nehemiah records the position of the Jews which they were to hold until the coming of the Messiah–separate from the nations and dutiful in law-keeping, but deprived of the privileges which had belonged to them as the people of God. The “times of the Gentiles” having already commenced with Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews continued under Gentile oppression–deprived of God’s presence in their midst (manifested by the ark and God’s glory) and forced to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s".
Outline of the Book.
ch. 1: Nehemiah’s concern and cry. ch.2:Royal audience, journey to Jerusalem and survey of walls.
chs. 3-6:Walls rebuilt, ch. 7:General census, chs. 8-11: Revival.. ch. 12: Identification of Priests and Levites, dedication of wall, temple worship restored.
ch. 13: Legal and moral order restored.
Chapter 1, Nehemiah’s Concern and Cry. Although some 90 years had passed since the first remnant of the people had returned from the Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem, and about 70 years since the temple had been rebuilt, overran the country and pillaged it, and
If the temple speaks to us of the corporate activity of the people of God in the assembly, both in worship and witness, then the walls and gates suggest a need to safeguard and regulate the indi-
Previous generations of Nehemiah’s family had opted to settle down in Baby-of heaven. In spite of the fact that many pagan darkness under gentile domina-Ezra. We do well to pray “for kings, and
Nehemiah’s Cry. His concern was neither casual nor fleeting, but exhibited itself in prolonged, godly sorrow, curtailment of normal eating habits, and believing prayer (one of the possible meanings of his name is “repentance of the Lord"). In a heart exercise of day and night he cried to the Lord on behalf of the people. Notice his acknowledgement of God’s covenant-keeping character and his personal association with the sins of the people. Through his knowledge of the Scriptures, he was able to remind God of His promises, and
We might well reflect on the extent of our concern for the Lord’s people. Have we “sat down and wept, and mourned certain days"? Has the normal pattern of our lives been disturbed because of it? Have we associated ourselves in confession with the sins and failures of the saints? Do we know the Scriptures well enough to remind God of His promises, and is the quality of our faith such that we ask anything in His Name?, John 14. 14.
Chapter 2, Royal Audience, Journey to Jerusalem and Survey of Walls. In this chapter we see Nehemiah’s dejection finding expression evidenced.
Dejection. Normally a happy man in the king’s service, Nehemiah could not disguise his sorrowful feelings on this occasion. His deep concern for the state speech ready to make, so how could he express the need effectively?
Desire. Such was his communion with God that he was able to ‘telegraph’ a prayer to the throne above, even before answering the king. As a result, he made known his desire in a courteous, concise and clear-cut manner. May we wonder, though, whether even Nehemiah anticipated such an immediate, positive response?
Demands. Encouraged by that response, he went on to make bold, specific requests of the king – the one who possessed the resources he required. Nehemiah had obviously assessed the need, identified the resource, and went straight to the point in asking for what was necessary!
We need not be ashamed to have a sad face occasionally – particularly if the Lord’s interests are at risk – but surely Nehemiah’s example is a worthy one to emulate! May the Lord give us a clear vision of the need for the moment and then, without being vague or ambiguous, may we “in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”, Phil. 4. 6, for “God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”, v. 19.
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring,
For His grace and power are such. None can ever ask too much.
Determination. All that Nehemiah did was characterized by purposeful persev-Nevertheless, he approached his initial personal knowledge of the need and an
Have we taken time discreetly to survey the state of the Lord’s work and the needs of His people? Men of vision and purpose are needed as much as ever in the church of God. May our hearts be burdened, our minds enlightened, our wills motivated and our bodies presented, Rom. 12. 1, so that we may see clearly the present need, identify the resource, and determine to fulfil the task, with the Lord’s enabling!