For more on the authorship and introduction, see “Introduction to Ezra.”
(Neh. 1-2) Nehemiah gets back in town. Plenty of material to cover here.
(Neh. 3-7) Nehemiah fights opponents and criticisms. Summarize (skip) chapters 3 and 7.
(Neh. 8-13). Nehemiah finishes well. Summarize (skip) chapters 10-13. Focus on chapter 9 and their prayer.
Nehemiah 1 (Nehemiah in Susa)
Nehemiah was in Susa in 445 BC (v.1). A few of his friends come back from Judah, and he questions them about what’s happening in Judah (v.2). Nehemiah heard that the city was on fire, and its walls were broken down (v.3). He’s thinking back on the promises of blessing and cursings:
(Lev. 26:27, 33) Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me… ‘You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste.
(Deut. 30:1-4) So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, 2 and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, 3 then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back.
He sat down and wept for many days over this (v.4). He prayed (v.5), and he admitted Israel’s fault (vv.7-9). He prays that God would still bless him, even though he was part of the Jewish community (v.11). This isn’t entitlement; instead, he’s banking on God’s word.
What can we learn about Nehemiah from this section? What do we learn about active faith and what it looks like to trust God during times of suffering?
This section presupposes that he has knowledge of the word.
Nehemiah 2 (Nehemiah with Artaxerxes)
He was with King Artaxerxes in 444 BC and was the cupbearer (v.1). This means that he was the wine taster. Artaxerxes was probably worried that he had been poisoned (v.2). If your cupbearer wasn’t looking good, it would make you worried!
Even though Nehemiah was afraid (v.2), he spoke up (v.3). He quickly prayed and asked God for help (v.4). He asked Artaxerxes for a command to rebuild Jerusalem (vv.5-8).
Remember, earlier in Ezra, Artaxerxes sent the message to stop building the city and the temple without his express order (Ezra 4:21). Now Nehemiah is asking for this exact order! How will Artaxerxes respond?
Artaxerxes gives him the authority (v.8).
Sanballat and Tobiah opposed this initiative (v.10). Nehemiah showed up in Jerusalem (v.11), but he kept his initiative a secret (v.12, 16). The walls were broken down and destroyed by fire (v.13). He finally spoke to the officials and called for change (v.17), and they agreed (v.18). Sanballat and Tobiah ridiculed them (v.19), but Nehemiah persevered.
Nehemiah prayed in the moment. This shows a moment-by-moment dependence on God.
This gave him strength to fight through his fear. He asked for big needs to be answered (praying before the King).
He also spoke with major authority to these guys (v.16ff). Once God comes through in front of a major king like Artaxerxes, your faith would be majorly built up.
He built his case—not on the authority of king Artaxerxes or his commands—but on God’s authority! Wouldn’t you expect him to hand over the decrees at this point instead??
God can change the hearts of kings: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Prov. 21:1). It would’ve been possible to see that this event was a coincidence, but we need to see this event through the eyes of faith, and remember that God is the one working behind the scenes.
Ezra set the foundation, but Nehemiah reaped the results.
It’s easy to see the power and confidence and courage of Nehemiah in chapter two, without remembering the quiet steps of faith in chapter one. Nehemiah’s strength didn’t come from himself, but through long years of knowing Scripture and prayer which led to this. We need to remember that many years occurred behind closed doors where his relationship with God was being built over time.
Nehemiah 3 (Rebuilding the City)
Different leaders rebuilt sections of the city.
Nehemiah 4 (Fighting off Sanballat and Tobiah’s Criticisms)
Sanballat kept trying to discourage the people (v.1). Tobiah tried too (v.3). The people prayed that God would deal with them (vv.4-5). The people worked even harder (v.6). This caused Sanballat and Tobiah to be even angrier (v.7), and they threatened to kill them (v.8). The people were starting to be discouraged (vv.10-12).
Nehemiah stationed men to guard the work (v.13), and he rallied the troops to keep working and fighting (v.14). Nehemiah worked, but he considered this God’s ability to frustrating the work (v.15).
Things were so tense that the workers had to have a trowel in one hand and a weapon in the other (v.17, 23). He got in front of the people again (v.19). He convinced them that God would fight for them (v.20).
Sometimes, when we are trying to move God’s agenda forward, we can become discouraged by our enemies. We can’t listen to them. Instead, pray that God would use these attacks for the good.
We can’t expect that following God to be without opposition (2 Tim. 3:12).
Learn to trust that God is the one who will fight for us.
One thing they have in their arsenal is that God is with them (v.20).
Nehemiah 5 (The People are Starving)
The Jewish people were worried about starving (vv.1-5). Nehemiah was angry (v.6), and he dealt the nobles for charging interest (vv.7-8). He was skilled at persuasion (v.8). He called on them to give back the money at interest (v.11). They listened (v.12). Nehemiah prays that God would remember what he did for the people (v.19).
Nehemiah wasn’t a top down leader. He was able to persuade people of influence.
It would show a lot of strength and courage not to show favoritism to the rich (cf. Jas. 2:1-10).
He also didn’t take from his people or his privilege (v.14, 18). Instead, he worked even harder on the wall (v.16).
Nehemiah worked with others—not solo (v.17).
Nehemiah 6 (Sanballat and Tobiah Try to Intimidate)
The wall is built (v.1)! Sanballat and Tobiah was trying to lure Nehemiah into a trap (v.2). Nehemiah told him that he couldn’t go (v.3). Sanballat tried four times (v.4)! Sanballat accuses Nehemiah of trying to lead a revolt (v.6). He did this to get him to meet (v.7). Nehemiah denied that this was true (v.8), and he prayed for strength to fight (v.9). Nehemiah refused to run and hide (v.11). Sanballat and Tobiah hired a false prophet to get Nehemiah to falter (vv.13-14). The wall was completed (v.15). Tobiah kept trying to intimidate Nehemiah with letters (v.19).
Nehemiah wouldn’t listen to what detractors said. He stayed on his mission—even though people were trying to distract him.
Nehemiah is pretty discerning. He even spots a false prophet (v.12)!
He wouldn’t be intimidated against false prophets (v.14).
It’s a sin for the leader to hide from the problems (v.13). This is definitely different from David who stayed back from the battle.
Nehemiah 7 (The Wall is Built! Then more lists…)
They built the wall before even their own homes (v.4). They put others first. Would they have been willing to do this, if Nehemiah wasn’t so selfless?
Nehemiah didn’t want the gates opened at night (v.3). He goes on to describe the people who had come back to the city. The entire chapter is a list of people—similar to those in Ezra 2.
Leaders set the standard for the community. They inspire people by example. If a leader doesn’t have a high standard for their own life, others won’t be inspired to a high dedication to God. Leaders are held to a higher standard.
Note that the people were worried about all of the menacing and threats of Sanballat and Tobiah (et al.). Yet nothing ever came to fruition! This is a real lesson to Christian leaders: Not allowing your fear to govern your mission.
Nehemiah 8 (Ezra Reads Law)
All of the people came out to hear Ezra read the Law (vv.1-3). The people responded well to God (v.6). Nehemiah and Ezra encouraged the people not to mourn (v.9). The purpose of this wasn’t to focus on their sin, but to focus on God (v.10). They had a celebration (v.12). They beamed with joy (v.18).
The purpose of the Law is to get us focusing on God—not ourselves. The Law ultimately leads us to Christ (Gal. 3:24).
These guys read the Law for five hours or so (v.3).
It’s important that people understand the meaning of the text—not just hearing the words (v.8).
Is it wrong to mourn during repentance? (v.9) One insight is the fact that Nehemiah tells them to stop mourning and weeping. Moreover, in verse 10, Nehemiah wants to direct them to the “joy of the LORD.”
What does it mean that the “joy of the LORD is your strength” (v.10). The reading of the word relates to this joy (vv.17-18).
Nehemiah 9 (Renewing the Covenant)
The people went through a public confession (v.2). They revisited their history of God’s role as Creator (v.6), Covenant-Maker (vv.7-8), Redeemer (vv.9-12), Law-Giver (vv.13-14), Provider (v.15, 20-21), Forgiver (v.17), Director (v.19), and Warrior (vv.22-23). They renew the covenant with God (v.38).
He basically gives a summary of Genesis to now.
God has been incredibly faithful to the people—even though they were stubborn and sinful (vv.29-30).
The people renew the covenant with God. To do this, they remember the last several hundred years. Sometimes, it’s important to remember God’s work for us in the past, so that we can confront the difficulties in the present (Ps. 77:11-12).
Why were they confessing for a quarter of a day? (v.3) Much of the time was in worshipping the LORD as well. This is a massive change from the New Covenant.
Nehemiah 10 (The People Sign the Covenant)
A number of people signed the covenant (v.1ff). All the people signed the covenant and agreed to stay pure (v.28-39).
Nehemiah 11 (The People Live in Jerusalem)
The people drew lots to see who could live in Jerusalem. Then we read of who lived where for the entire chapter.
Nehemiah 12 (Dedicate the City)
This chapter describes who dedicates the city and sanctuary to God.
Nehemiah 13 (The Sanctuary)
Ammonites and Moabites were banned because of Balaam (vv.1-2). Nehemiah cleansed the sanctuary (v.9), and he gave the portion to the Levites that they deserved (v.10). Remember, the Levites didn’t get land and depended on people’s tithes to live.
Nehemiah saw people working on the Sabbath (vv.15-16). He rebuked them (v.17). He blocked the people from bringing goods in on the Sabbath (v.19).
He saw people intermarrying (v.23). He rebuked and fought these people (v.25), and he called on them to give an oath not to do this (v.25). He concludes the book asking that God would remember his work and him (v.31).