By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Prophets

  • The name Nehemiah means "the comfort of Yahweh."
  • The city walls of Jerusalem had been in disrepair for over 140 years before Nehemiah came on the scene.
  • Not having a city wall meant that the people were defenseless against enemies.
  • Nehemiah heard about the pathetic situation in Jerusalem from his brother.
  • Upon hearing the news, he mourned, fasted, and prayed.
  • He prayed for a successful mission.
  • Nehemiah was the cupbearer for the king.
  • As cupbearer, Nehemiah had great influence with the king.
  • Cupbearer means "one who gives something to drink."
  • The king would have had complete confidence and faith in Nehemiah.
  • Four months after hearing the news about Jerusalem, Nehemiah could hide his feelings no longer. (Or maybe he just bided his time, waiting for the right moment to bring up his idea before the king.)
  • Attendants to the king were expected to be cheerful at all times; Nehemiah was "gloomy" and the king wanted to know why.
  • Though the question made Nehemiah "fearful in his heart," he answered honestly (knowing full well that previous kings had stopped Jewish efforts to rebuild the wall [See Ezra 4:17-23]).
  • The king was sympathetic and asked how long he would be gone (it turned out to be 12 years).
  • The king appointed Nehemiah governor of Judah.
  • The king gave Nehemiah letters of approval for safe conduct and for timber from the King's forest to be used for reconstruction of the wall.
  • Accompanied by a court escort, Nehemiah went straight to Sanballat and Tobiah, governors of Trans-Euphrates.
  • Both individuals were "upset" by Nehemiah's arrival and the work he was about to undertake.
  • Nehemiah toured the wall late at night with a few men, no doubt to determine the extent of the damage and what would be needed for repairs.
  • The people had accepted their plight; Nehemiah's main job was to motivate and inspire them.
  • He provided the vision and the leadership to get the job done.
  • Scholars' estimate the size of the wall to have ranged from 2 ½ miles to just under 2 miles, enclosing between 90 and 220 acres.
  • Everyone pitched in to help - from the high priests to perfume makers (even women). God's people were all working together.
  • Sanballat and Tobiah taunted the Jews, hoping to discourage them.
  • Rather than take action against their insults, Nehemiah called on God to wreak vengeance on them.
  • When the wall was half done, word came that Sanballat was about to attack. Nehemiah posted guards throughout the night.
  • Knowing that he had lost the element of surprise, Sanballat's attack never materialized.
  • Workers spent the night in Jerusalem, ½ working on the wall, ½ guarding it.
  • This caused great economic hardship for the really poor Jews.
  • They had to borrow money from their wealthier counterparts, who were charging them interest, taking their properties, and selling their children into slavery.
  • When Nehemiah heard what was going on, he was furious.
  • He made the officials, priests, and nobles give everything back to the poor.
  • Just to make sure they understood the gravity of the situation, Nehemiah personally refused to assess any taxes for his own support.
  • When Sanballat tried to entice Nehemiah to a meeting that would have the effect of delaying his work, Nehemiah rebuffed him.
  • He had greater matters to attend to and did not mince his words.
  • His clear sense of purpose enabled him to avoid a trap involving the use of a prophet.
  • Because he never wavered in his goal, his leadership was not discredited.
  • The people worked for him night and day, and completed the wall in 52 days.
  • This had a remarkable effect upon their enemies who realized that God was behind the work. (The walls had been destroyed for 140 years, and rebuilt in less than 2 months, once a true leader inspired the people.)
  • Tobiah had strong connections to Jewish leaders and kept getting information from them. He tried to use it to intimidate Nehemiah.
  • Once the wall was completed, the festivities began - first a reading of the law, then fasting and praying, finally a celebration of Feasts that had not been celebrated for many years.
  • Because most people lived in the countryside, lots were cast to have 1 out of 10 families move back to the city.
  • Scholars estimate the population of Jerusalem to be between 4,800 and 8,000 people, a far cry from the 20,000 before the exile.
  • After being in Judah for 12 years, Nehemiah returned to the king for an unspecified period of time. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
  • When he returned, he discovered Tobiah had been given a chamber in the temple.
  • He threw out all of Tobiah's belongings and ordered the temple to be purified.
  • He also discovered that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them. In order to survive, many had gone back to farming and were not taking care of the temple. Needless to say, this situation was immediately rectified.
  • People were also abusing the Sabbath day of rest by continuing to do business with their neighbors. Nehemiah quickly put an end to such activity and made the people purify themselves.
  • Last but not least, he tackled the problem of mixed marriages, by attacking some of the men and pulling out their hair.
  • Then all the priests and Levites were purified and assigned specific duties.
  • Nehemiah's last word is a prayer that God would remember him with favor.


Allen, L, and T. Laniak, "Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Press. 2003.

Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. 1987.

Bechtel, Carol. "Esther." Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox Press,1989.

Fensham, F. Charles. "The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah." The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1982.

Holmgren, Fredrick Carlson. "Israel Alive Again." International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1987.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.

McConville, J.G. "Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1985.

Throntveit, Mark. "Ezra-Nehemiah." Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox Press. 1989.

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