Wednesday, June 29

Book Overview: Nehemiah

The Book of Nehemiah, written after the Babylonian exile of the Jews and within a few decades of the writing of the book of Ezra which proceeds it, conveys the account of the Jewish return to Jerusalem and subsequent attempts at rebuilding the great city. The book itself is thirteen chapters long. It relays the account of Governor Nehemiah's reconstruction of the nation's capital. Together with Ezra, which records the restoration of the Temple, it provides a record of the political and religious activities and events of the Jewish remnant which had returned from the Babylonian captivity. (Photo credit: Answers In Genesis, God's Word First)

This is the sixteenth Book Overview in a series of 66 Books. These overviews are written so that it may provide readers with details about the book, things that they may have missed, and will hopefully peak your interest so that you will read the book, the entire Bible in fact, as God wants us to do. If we do not stand on Biblical truth, our starting point for all areas of life. Now, onto the Book of Nehemiah.

One of Nehemiah's Walls. (Credit: Answers In Genesis)
Title: Book of Nehemiah (English), Nəḥemya (Standard Hebrew), Nəḥemyāh (Tiberian Hebrew). Ezra and Nehemiah were once one book, at an early stage. Since the time of Origen in the third century-BC, Ezra and Nehemiah have been divided into two books, as we see them today. Also, the Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah theory states that Chronicles contains material that was set aside from the rest of the book of Ezra, which was canonized before Chronicles. Though heavily debated, some scholars believe that Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1st/2nd Chronicles were originally part of one work. It ought to be noted, however, that this view is not held by all, and many scholars believe this is highly improbable.
Authorship/Written: (Taken from the previous entry) Ezra wrote the book of Ezra between 433-400 BC. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were both one book in the original Hebrew Bible, and as such, are really Ezra-Nehemiah. The evidence seems to indicate that Ezra the priest was the author of this book, and there is no reason to suggest otherwise. Much of Ezra (specifically Ezra 7:28-9:15) is written in first person (the "I" point of view). Also, when considering Nehemiah 1:1-7:5, we find itself quoting "the words of Nehemiah," no doubt compiled by the priest, Ezra, from the firsthand account of Nehemiah, as Ezra had access to records and documents in the library of Nehemiah, from which he could glean information and events which he was not there to witness. Ezra 1:1 connects itself with the final verse in 2nd Chronicles, which, as we illustrated in the previous book overview, was also written by Ezra. The vividness and continuity of both Ezra and Nehemiah tend to indicate the writer was Ezra. Lastly, the Jewish Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 15) credits Ezra as the author of this book. Ezra was likely the author of this book, though as with most Biblical accounts, secular scholars disagree on exactly who wrote it.

The book itself is post-exilic, indicating that it was written after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, as this is the book's focus. Ezra arrived in Jerusalem after 458 BC, in the "seventh year of the king" (Ezra 7:8), and Nehemiah in 445 BC, which was the "twentieth year" (Nehemiah 1:1). Nehemiah returned to Babylon in the "thirty-second year" (Nehemiah 13:5), which is around 433 BC, providing that this book was likely written after 433 BC. Ezra and Nehemiah were written during the reigns of Artaxerxes I (Longimanus), who lived 464-423 BC, and Darius II (the Persian). He is not to be confused with Darius the Mede (Daniel 6) or Darius I (Hytaspes), who loved from 521-486 BC. The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years, just as Jeremiah had predicted.

A common objection from skeptics regarding Nehemiah 12:11's mention of Jaddua, whom Flavius Josephus (first century historian) mentions was priest during the time of Alexander the Great, ca. 330 BC. As author Norman L. Geisler points out, "There are two possible solutions: 1) Jaddua's name in Nehemiah 12:1 may be a later addition included in order to complete the genealogical listing. 2) If Jaddua was very young, say twenty, in 400 BC, then he would have been ninety in 330 BC. This is not an impossible age span. Note also that the 'Darius' mentioned in Nehemiah 12:22 was not the Darius of Alexander's day (c.330 BC), but Darius II (432-404 BC). Likewise, the phrase 'the days of Nehemiah' (Nehemiah 12:26) is not a reference to a long past event but an allusion by Ezra to the chief contemporaries of his day (the references to Joiakim, Ezra, and Zerubbabel in Neh. 12:26 are of the same manner). We conclude, therefore, that there is no substantial reason to doubt the evidence that Ezra wrote the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah before 400 BC." (Geisler, 160-161)

Summary: "Nehemiah is the final Old Testament history book. It records the events of the third wave of Jews to return to Israel and shows how God can use one man to accomplish his purposes.." (Source: NIV)

Nehemiah 1-2 - The return of Nehemiah from Persia
Nehemiah 3-7 - The rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls
Nehemiah 8-10 - The law and covenant of the Lord
Nehemiah 11-13 - Dedication of the walls of the city 
Nehemiah 1 - The prayer of Nehemiah
Nehemiah 2 - Artaxerxes sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem (ca.445 BC)
Nehemiah 3 - The builders of the wall
Nehemiah 4 - The opposition to the rebuilding
Nehemiah 5 - Nehemiah helps out the poor
Nehemiah 6 - Continued opposition to the rebuilding
Nehemiah 7 - List of Exiles who returned
Nehemiah 8 - Ezra's reading of the Law
Nehemiah 9 - Israel's confession of sins
Nehemiah 10 - A binding agreement of the people
Nehemiah 11 - The new residents of the city of David
Nehemiah 12 - List of Priests and Levites
Nehemiah 13 - The final reforms of Nehemiah

Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries (Nehemiah 8:2, 9). Ezra was a priest, and Nehemiah was a layman, former cup bearer of King Artaxerxes, who lived in one of the Persian capitals, Susa. What do we know about Nehemiah? He had his heart in his work (Nehemiah 1:4), he was a man of prayer (Nehemiah 1), he was also careful - seeking firsthand information about what needed to be done (Nehemiah 2:11), he left his secure job at the royal palace in Persia for a harsh life in the ruined city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3, 2:5), he inspired others to work (Nehemiah 2:17-18), he was not easily distracted from the work his heart was in (Nehemiah 6:3), and was intent on giving credit to God (Nehemiah 7:5). 

King Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem. Nehemiah's brother, Hanani, had relayed the information in December 446 BC, and once word reached his ears that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken and the gates of the city had been burned, he left for Jerusalem in 445 BC. When he arrived, Nehemiah conducted a firsthand investigation, interviewing eyewitnesses and, having observed the broken and defenseless state of affairs the city was in, he proposed to the elders and rulers that the walls and gates be rebuilt. Nehemiah became Governor, and, despite opposition, finally completed the rebuilding of the walls and gates.

"At his own request Nehemiah is sent to Jerusalem as governor of Yehud, the official Persian name for Judah. Jerusalem had been conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and Nehemiah finds it still in ruins. His task is to rebuild the walls and to re-populate the city. He faces opposition from three powerful neighbors, the Samaritans, the Ammonites, and the Arabs, as well as the city of Ashdod, but manages to rebuild the walls. He then purifies the Jewish community by enforcing its segregation from its neighbors and enforces the laws of Moses."
Credit: God's Word First

Points: The book of Nehemiah is largely autobiographical in nature. According to extra-biblical sources, Ezra likely drew upon the diaries of Nehemiah when writing up this book. Between the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, about twelve years has passed. The administration of Nehemiah lasted thirty-six years. The narrative from the mouth of Nehemiah is found in chapters 1-7, and then from 12:27 on.
According to Clifford Wilson, "Sanballat was, as the Bible says, the Governor of Samaria (Nehemiah 4 and 6), though it was claimed by many writers that Sanballat was much later than Nehemiah. Several Sanballats are now known, and recovered letters even refer to Johanan (Nehemiah 12:13). Geshem the Arab (Nehemuah 6) is also known. Despite longstanding criticisms, Ezra and Nehemiah are accurate records of an actual historical situation. The letters about Sanballat clear up a dating point regarding Nehemiah. Nehemiah's time was with Artaxerxes I, who ruled from 465 to 423 BC, not Artaxerxes II. This illustrates the preciseness with which Old Testament dating is very often established by modern research." Essentially, yes, archaeological evidence does exist which gives credence to Nehemiah. In fact, part of the restored wall of Nehemiah can still be seen today, as excavations have revealed. 

Nehemiah 9:6 refers to the wonders of God, "You alone are the LORD, and made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, the multitudes of heaven worship you." Nehemiah also mentions historical events. Nehemiah 9:7, 9, 11-12 continues, "You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham... You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea... You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take." Further reference is made to the Law given at Mount Sinai, the forty years in the desert, the conquest of Canaan, among other things. The consistency found within Scripture is simply another attestation to its unity.

Though there are twenty-three books following Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible, the book of Nehemiah is the end of the historical narrative. Each book was written during one of the time frames recorded in Genesis-Nehemiah. For example, Jeremiah describes the events and prophecies leading up to the Babylonian captivity (627-585 BC), Ecclesiastes was written during the time of Solomon (ca.935 BC), Job was likely written by Moses during the forty-year wandering in the desert (1445-1405 BC), Amos and Jonah take place during the time of Jeroboam II of Israel (ca.793 BC), the like. 

Next Book Overview: Book of Esther
Previous Book Overview: Book of Ezra

Geisler, Norman L. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978. 165-170. Print. 

Various. Zondervan Handbook To The Bible. Zondervan, 1999. 3rd ed. 331-339. Print.

Wilson, Clifford and Ham, Ken. The New Answers Book 1. 12 ed. Master Books Books, 2006. 316. Print.

Lee, Robert. "The Outlined Bible." London Pickering & Inglis LTD. 1st ed. 16. Print.

Hughes, Gerald, and Stephen Travis. Introducing the Bible. 1st ed. New York: Lion Publishing, 1981. 71, 82-83. Print.