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NEHEMIAH STUDY NOTES Frank Lay
Nehemiah  1: 1 - 31
STUDY NOTES: THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH
BY
Dr. Frank Lay
© 2005



INTRODUCTION

The book of Nehemiah is named for its principal character. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were one book in the Hebrew Bible until the 15th century AD. Our English version follows the tradition of the Greek Church fathers and the Latin Old Testament by separating them. In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra-Nehemiah follows in the section known as the Writings, and actually precedes Chronicles. The English Bible places the books in their historical order.

AUTHORSHIP: The Talmud names Ezra as the author of Chronicles and names Ezra and Nehemiah as joint authors of Ezra-Nehemiah. The majority of the book of Nehemiah is written in the form of first-person memoirs (1:1-7:73; 12:27-13:31). Ezra’s ministry (8:1-12:30) is reported in the third person. Other sources are genealogical records (7:6-73), a covenant document, 9:38-10:39), and a residency list (11:4-36). Nehemiah actually served had two terms of administration (1) 12 years from 445 – 433 BC or about 12 years. He returned for a second term about 430 BC (13:6).

PURPOSE: Nehemiah continues the story of the restoration that was begun in Ezra. Ezra focuses on the religious restoration while Nehemiah describes its political restoration. The rebuilding of the walls restored political stability and reduced the threats from Israel’s adversaries. However, more spiritual restoration was needed to provide the real security for the nation. The book of Nehemiah records a period of revival and renewal led by both Ezra and Nehemiah.

PART 1

THE REBUILDING OF THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM 1:1-7:73

I. NEHEMIAH’S INQUIREY REGARDING JERUSALEM (1:1-3)

Nehemiah’s brother, Hacaliah, made a trip from Jerusalem to Suza the winter capitol of the Persian Empire. We are not told how long it had been since Nehemiah had seen his brother. Nehemiah inquired of him about the condition of the people who had returned to Jerusalem following the exile. After the exile, many of the Jews chose to stay in Babylon. When Nehemiah asked his brother about conditions in Jerusalem, Hacaliah informed him of the great distress and reproach that the Jewish people were experiencing. Moreover, the city walls were torn down and the gates of the city had been burned with fire.

II. NEHEMIAH’S REACTION TO THE NEWS (1:4)

A. He grieved for his people (1:4). Nehemiah was grieved at the plight of the Jews in Jerusalem and by the condition of the walls. He sat down and wept. He mourned for days over the plight of the people of Judah. His deep grief led him to begin fasting and praying for his people.

B. He interceded for his people (1:5-11): Nehemiah was a man of piety and prayer. A number of his prayers are recorded in this book. The prayer in 1:5-11 is his longest recorded prayer. Note the elements of his prayer.

• Nehemiah worshiped God for who He is and for what He had done (1:5): He focused his attention on the greatness of God prior to making his requests to God. (1) He praised God for who He is. Note the name “LORD God of heaven.” “LORD” is the personal name of God transliterated from “Jehovah or Yahweh.” The name probably means “The One who causes to be.” The phrase “LORD God of heaven” speaks of the sovereignty of God. God is not one god among a plurality of gods. He is the unique God – the only God. (2) He praised God for what He had done. God is “the great and awesome God.” He inspires reverential awe and trust in keeping His covenant. He is the God who keeps covenant.

• Nehemiah confessed the sins of his people (1:6b-7): Nehemiah knew that sin was the reason for the exile in the first place. Note how he identified with the sin of Israel in verse 6. “I and my father’s house have sinned.” He identifies with the sins of the people. He confesses, “We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments…..” (1:7).

• Nehemiah interceded for his people (1:8-10): First, he asked God to remember His promise to restore His exiled people. Next, he asked God to remember that the destitute Jews in Jerusalem were His own people whom God had redeemed out of Egypt. Finally, he asked God to restore His people who were living in Judah.

C. Nehemiah asked God to make him successful as he attempted to deliver his people (1:11b). Nehemiah prayed for himself. He prayed, “Make Your servant successful today….” Nehemiah was a man of prayer and of compassion. However, true compassion for people must lead to action on their behalf. Such action often begins with intercession. Nehemiah asked God to “grant him compassion before this man.” What man was Nehemiah praying about in verse 11? The last part of verse 11 identifies Nehemiah’s position in the court of King Artaxerxes. “Now I was the cupbearer to the king.” Nehemiah knew that he would have to secure the king’s favor if he were to be able to return to Jerusalem to help in the reconstruction of the walls. So before approaching his earthly king, he sought the favor of his Eternal King.

III. NEHEMIAH’S ENCOUNTER WITH THE KING (2:1-8)

For four months, Nehemiah carried a heaven burden. Yet, in the month of Nisan (March-April), Nehemiah was given the opportunity he had been praying for. He had brought wine to the king who noticed that Nehemiah’s countenance was sad. As an absolute monarch, the king could have ordered the death of Nehemiah. However, Nehemiah was his trusted cupbearer. The king asked, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.”

Nehemiah shared the reason for his sadness in verse 3. “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my father’s tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” King Artaxerxes then asked Nehemiah, “What would you request?” Being a man of prayer, Nehemiah said, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” His prayer must have been silent and brief. It may have been something like this, “Lord, help me,” or “Lord, give me wisdom.” Nehemiah then made three specific request of the king in verses 5-8.

A. First, he requested King Artaxerxes to send him to Judah so he might rebuild it. Nehemiah had already been praying and planning for four months, so he was prepared to answer the king’s questions in verse 6. He gave the king a definite time frame.

B. Second, Nehemiah also requested letters from the king that would permit him to pass through the provinces in safety (2:7).

C. Third, Nehemiah requested a letter to Asaph who was the keeper of the forest. He would need timber for the repair work (2:8).

God heard Nehemiah’s prayer, and King Artaxerxes granted his requests. Nehemiah said, “And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.” We have already noted that Nehemiah was a man of prayer. First, he prayed for four months prior to his interview with king Artaxerxes (1:11ff). Second, he prayed during his interview with the king (2:4). Finally, he gave God all the glory for his success with the king (2:8b). Nehemiah knew that all this had come about by the sovereign action of God.

IV. THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM (2:9-10)

One can certainly see the evidence of God’s hand in verse 9. By means of the king’s letters, Nehemiah was able to pass safely through the provinces. Moreover, King Artaxerxes provided troops to escort Nehemiah to Jerusalem.

In verse 10, we learn that not everyone would be happy with Nehemiah’s arrival. “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.” Nehemiah was about to embark on a great work, but there would be opposition. Whenever God’s people go to work, Satan goes to work as well. We will meet these characters again.

V. ARRIVAL IN JERUSALEM AND ORGANIZING THE WORK (2:11-20)

When Nehemiah entered Jerusalem, he probably used the first three days to rest and to plan for the work. In verses 11-20, Nehemiah took his first steps in the process of rebuilding the walls.

A. Investigation (2:11-16): The first thing Nehemiah did was to make a secret night inspection of the walls. His inspection of the walls was to determine just what needed to be done to repair the walls with it’s burned out gates. Nehemiah did not inform the city leaders of what he was doing until after he had completed his investigative tour and had formulated a plan for rebuilding.

B. Cooperation (2:17-18): After determining what needed to be done, Nehemiah assembled the leaders and the people and challenged them to join in the work that God had sent him to do. He challenged the people, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” The word “reproach” or “disgrace” describes a person or thing considered to be of little worth. Only by rebuilding the walls could the reproach be removed.

Nehemiah shared how the hand of God had been with him and how the king was supporting of the needed reconstruction. The people of Jerusalem quickly caught the vision, to “arise and build.” They joined in and “put their hands to the good work.”

C. Determination (2:19-20): Immediately those who opposed the work began to mock and criticize the Jews for even thinking of rebuilding the walls. Nehemiah names three of the leading opponents, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab. They mocked and despised the Jews for what they were about to do. They accused the Jews of rebellion against the king. Such opposition had earlier proven successful in Ezra 4:3-6.

However, Nehemiah was determined to let nothing hinder the work that God had placed on his heart. “So I answered them and said to them, ‘The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

VI. THE WORK BEGINS (3:1-32)

Under Nehemiah’s capable leadership, the Jewish people began the task of rebuilding the wall. The work was divided into approximately 40 sections. The assignments moved counterclockwise around the wall beginning and ending with the Sheep Gate (3:1, 32).

A casual reading of this chapter may seem rather boring at first. However, a more careful reading reveals several leadership principles that enabled the rebuilding of the walls to be completed in a period of 52 days.

A. PRINCIPLE OF DELEGATION: Certain expressions used over and over by Nehemiah indicate how well the work was organized. Phrases such as, “next to him,” “beyond him,” “beyond them,” and “beside him” are used over twenty times. Every person was assigned to a definite place of work.

Another set of recurring phrases are “in front of their house,” “each in front of his own house,” “opposite his house,” “opposite his living quarters”, and “beside his house.” The builders did not waste valuable time going from one part of the wall to another part of the wall. They were responsible for working near their own homes.

Nehemiah was skillful in the principle of delegation. He designated supervisors who were responsible for the oversight in the rebuilding of the walls. These men solved day by day problems.

B. PRINCIPLE OF CO-OPERATION: There was co-operation between people from all walks of life. The priests and rulers were very much involved in the work. Stan K. Evers wrote, “Neither group thought it was beneath their dignity to dirty their hands alongside the working people to erect the wall of Jerusalem.” (Evers, Stan K., Doing a Great Work: Ezra and Nehemiah simply explained, Evangelical Press, Durham, England, 1996, p. 120). The priests, rulers, and workers all cooperated to complete the difficult task.

Likewise, people from different communities participated in the work. Workers from Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, etc., were willing to work beside the citizens of Jerusalem. The majority of the workers labored diligently in the task. However, Nehemiah singled out a certain group who refused to participate in the efforts. The nobles of Tekoa “did not support the work of their masters.” (3:5).

C. PRINCIPLE OF COMMENDATION: Chapter 3 is more than a list of names. These were people whom Nehemiah knew by name. Nehemiah highly valued each individual. However, certain ones were singled out for special commendation. When certain individuals completed their assigned tasks, they quickly joined in to help others complete their tasks as well. (See 3:11, 13, 20, 21, 24, 27, and 30). It is interesting that the men of Tekoa made up for the arrogance of their nobles. After completing their work, they pressed themselves to repair another section of the wall (3:37).

Nehemiah was careful to show appreciation. An expression of appreciation tends to encourage the workers and helps to prevent discouragement.

Note that Nehemiah did not call attention to his own part in the rebuilding of the wall. He was willing to put others in the spotlight and remain in the background. Perhaps he was following the teaching of Solomon when he wrote, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2).

AN OUTLINE OF RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS
CHAPTER 3:1-32

A. The Sheep Gate (3:1-2)
B. The Fish Gate (3:3-5)
C. The Old City Gate (3:6-12)
D. The Valley Gate (3:13)
E. The Dung Gate (3:14)
F. The Fountain Gate (3:15-25)
G. The Water Gate (3:25-27)
H. The Horse Gate (3:28)
I. The East Gate (3:29-30)
J. The Inspection Gate (3:31-32)

VII. EXTERNAL OPPOSITION (4:1-23)

Tremendous progress was being made on the reconstruction of the walls in chapter three. However, whenever progress is being made, one can expect Satan to begin working against that progress. Sanballat and Tobiah had already opposed Nehemiah and his work in 2:10. Others soon joined in the opposition. In chapter 4, the opponents were determined to block the work and used various means to accomplish their diabolical purposes.

A. OPPOSITION BY RIDICULE AND MOCKERY (4:1-6): Sanballat mocked the Jews as being too feeble to accomplish the work (4:1-2). On the other hand, Tobiah predicted that the rebuild wall would be so flimsy that the weight of a fox would break it down (4:3).

Just who were these men who were opposed to the rebuilding of the walls? Sanballet was the governor of Samaria. His name means “Sin (the moon god) has healed.” Tobiah was the leader of the Ammonites. His name means “Yah is good.” He certainly did not live up to his name. Both men professed allegiance to the God of Israel but in actuality they proved to be God’s enemies by opposing Nehemiah and the builders. How many professing Christians have you known that have hindered the work of God through the Church? Both, Sanballet and Tobiah were fearful that the restoration of the walls would weaken their influence over the Jews and lead to Jewish domination in the area.

Nehemiah’s Response to mockery: Note how Nehemiah responded to the ridicule of the enemies who sought to discourage the Jews in their mission.

• First, he prayed (4:4-5): Prayer was the instinctive reaction of Nehemiah in the face of a crisis. We have already seen that Nehemiah was a man of prayer. Some people are disturbed because Nehemiah’s prayer against his enemies was so harsh. The language of his prayer is much like the imprecatory prayers of David in the Psalms when he calls on God to punish the wicked. Nehemiah prayed, “Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.” Nehemiah prayed such a harsh prayer because Sanballet and Tobiah were opposing God. In mocking Nehemiah and the builders, they were mocking God. Even in the New Testament, there are times when we are told not to pray for people. In 1 John 4:16-17, the Apostle John spoke of a “sin leading to death.” Then he added, “I do not say that he should make request for this.” The sin leading to death seems to be the denial of the deity of Jesus Christ. Other New Testament examples of this kind of praying includes Acts 1:20, 5:1-11; 13:10-11; Rom. 11:9-10; and 2 Tim. 4:14-15.

• Second, he encouraged the people to continued the work (4:6): “So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind ( heart or will) to work.” They refused to let their critics prevent them from accomplishing the work of God.

B. OPPOSITION BY MILITARY CONSPIRACY (4:7-9): When constant ridicule did not stop the work, Sanballat and Tobiah gathered their allies and plotted together to secretly attack Jerusalem. They would surround Jerusalem and attack from four directions. Sanballat would lead the Samaritan army and attach from the north. Tobiah would lead the Ammonites to attack from the east. Geshem would lead the Arabs to attack from the south. The Philistines from Ashdod would attack from the west.

However, Nehemiah and the Jews got word of the military threat and immediately prayed. Probably, Nehemiah led in the prayer time. “We prayed to our God….” (v. 9a). Prayer ought to always be our first priority, not our last resort. Next they posted sentinels at strategic places on the city wall. The sentinels would stand guard day and night.

C. OPPOSITION BY DISCOURAGEMENT (4:10-23): One of Satan’s most successful strategies is to discourage God’s people. Though the attack never occurred, the threat of such an attack discouraged the workers.

Causes of discouragement: A careful reading of verses 7-12 reveals three reasons for their discouragement.

• First, they were surrounded by the enemy (4:7-8): The enemy had surrounded Jerusalem on every side.

• Second, they were exhausted (4:10): They had rebuilt the walls half way but there was much more work to be done before the task could be completed.

• Third, some of the Jews living outside the city near their enemies were alarmists (4:11-12): They kept seeing the enemy everywhere. Ten times they entered the city and reported, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn.”

Cure for discouragement: Note what Nehemiah did to help the people to overcome discouragement and to prepare them for the possibility of attack (4:13-23): Nehemiah took steps to prepare for the possibility of a military attack. Remember, he had already led the people to pray in verse 9. He also stationed sentinels on the walls to watch for the enemy. Beginning with verse 13, Nehemiah took additional steps to prepare for battle.

• First, he armed the people with swords, spears, and bows and placed them strategically on the walls:

• Second, he organized the people by families: He knew this would provide the greatest degree of motivation. People would be more apt to fight for their families. Remember, the builders were not professional soldiers. Men, who might flee from prospective battle, would fight to the death for their families.

• Third, he encouraged the people to stop being afraid and to trust God for protection (4:14): He reminded them to remember who God is. Nehemiah said, “When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: ‘Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.’” Every good leader needs to be an encourager.

• Fourth, Nehemiah assigned his personal servants to help (4:16): Half worked on the rebuilding of the wall while the other half stood armed and ready to defend against enemy attack.

• Fifth, all the workers carried weapons (14:17-18a): Because the builders needed both hands to work, they kept their swords on their sides. The burden bearers who carried baskets of debris on their heads, held weapons in one hand and supported their loads with the other.

• Sixth, Nehemiah developed an alarm system (18b-20): If an emergency occurred, the alarm would sound and the people would gather at the danger spot. Moreover they would count on God to fight for them.

• Seventh, nighttime security was strengthened (4:22): Out of town workers were asked to remain in the city rather than returning to their homes. This would be a greater defense against a night attack.

• Eighth, Nehemiah, his brothers, servants, and guards exercised constant vigilance (4:23): The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about this, “He himself (Nehemiah) made the rounds of the city by night, never tiring either through work or lack of food and sleep, neither of which he took for pleasure but as a necessity.”

VIII. INTERNAL CRISIS (5:1-13)

If Satan cannot get at believers by means of external opposition, he will attempt to use internal strife. It is often easier to face opposition from unbelievers that it is to face discontentment and discouragement that comes from our fellow believers. Internal strife can deplete our strength and interfere with the work of the church. Stan K. Evers (“Doing a Great work: Ezra and Nehemiah simply explained”) wrote, “Internal conflicts sap us of strength and impede our endeavors to reach the unconverted.”

A. NEHEMIAH’S CRISIS (5:1-5): In the midst of rebuilding the walls and confronting external enemies, Nehemiah faced a severe economic crisis. The workers and their wives began complaining against their Jewish brothers. The rebuilding of the walls had taken the people away from raising crops. This led to a shortage of food. This problem was provoked by three things.

• The large families of the laborers (5:2)
• A wide spread famine (5:3)
• Heavy taxation imposed by the Persian king (5:4)

The people felt powerless, “because our fields and vineyards belong to others.” The landowners were forced to sell everything to raise money for food (5:3). Some had to pay loans with exorbitant rates of interest (5:4, 11). Their inability to pay their loans caused the money-lenders to sell the children of their debtors into slavery. The charging of interest to Jewish brethren was a violation of the Covenant. Exodus 22:25 says, “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.” This problem occurred because wealthy Jews were exploiting those who were giving their time to the rebuilding of the walls.

B. NEHEMIAH’S COURAGE (5:6-9): Nehemiah had the courage to confront the unjust money lenders head on. Notice how Nehemiah reacted when he heard how the workers were being exploited by their wealthy countrymen.

He reacted with anger (5:6): “Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.” It is not always sinful for a Christian to express anger. Even Jesus expressed anger on occasion. We have to be careful that our righteous indignation does not turn into sinful anger or rage. Nehemiah was angry upon learning that the rich Jews were oppressing the poorer people. His anger was a measure of his love for his people. Even though he was “very angry” he kept his anger under control. There are times when it is sinful not to be angry. Righteous anger, however, is controlled anger.

He reacted with action (5:7-11): We are not given the identity of the guilty nobles and officials. They should have been helping in the situation, rather than hindering the work of God. They were already wealthy because of their high position in the community. God had blessed them materially, but instead of helping they were exploiting their brethren for personal gain.

Nehemiah had the courage to take action against the nobles and rulers who were exploiting the people. He called an assembly and confronted the nobles and rulers in front of the entire community.

C. NEHEMIAH’S CHARGES: Nehemiah charged the nobles and officials with two sins.

First, they had violated God’s law by charging interest (“usury”) to their brethren. Under the law, Jews could charge interest on loans made to Gentiles. However, the law forbade their charging interest to a fellow Jew (Deut 23:19-20).

Second, they had taken away the livelihood of their brethren. The moneylenders had robed the poor of the means to support their families or paying back their loans. Nehemiah and his associates had already redeemed fellow Jews who had been sold as slaves to foreigners. He did not want to have to redeem Jews from their fellow Jews. The action of the Jewish nobles had brought reproach on the community by creating division. Nehemiah appealed to “the fear of our God” as the heart of confrontation with the Jewish nobles. Nehemiah even exposed members of his own family who were among the guilty nobles (5:10).

D. NEHEMIAH’S CURE (5:10-13): It is not enough, however, to expose the problem. A good leader will provide solutions. He ordered the nobles to do two things.

• First, he ordered the nobles to cease lending money for personal profit (5:10). “Please, let us leave off this usury.”

• Second, he ordered the nobles to give back the lands and houses on which they had foreclosed as well as the interest they had collected (5:11).

The nobles reluctantly agreed to Nehemiah’s demands (5:12). To make certain, Nehemiah had the priests to administer solemn oaths to the nobles. Nehemiah then shook out the front of his garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied” (5:13). Nehemiah’s action placed a curse on the man who violated his solemn oath. When the crisis was resolved, the people all sanctioned the proposal with an “amen,” which means “so be it.” The entire assembly then entered into a time of praise to the LORD.

IX. NEHEMIAH’S CHARACTER (5:14-19)

In these verses we learn something of the character of the man Nehemiah.

A. HE HAD A GENEROUS SPIRIT (5:14-15). He refused to place a heavy burden on the people so he provided for his own expenses.

B. HE WAS A GODLY MAN: He refused to lord it over the people. Other governors made tremendous demands on the people. Nehemiah had the right to place those demands on the people but he refused to do so (5:15).

C. HE WAS A SINGLE MINDED MAN: Nehemiah devoted himself to the work to which he was called to do (5:16). He was determined to complete the task before him.

D. HE WAS A MAN OF PRAYER: (5:19). In this verse we discover another example of Nehemiah’s praying. He knew that the people would soon forget so he asked God to remember him.

X. FURTHER OPPOSITION FROM THE ENEMIES (6:1-14)

As the walls of Jerusalem neared completion, Nehemiah’s enemies attempted further strategies to bring the work to a standstill.

A. PRETENSE OF FRIENDSHIP (6:1-4): The walls of Jerusalem were nearing completion. No breaches remained in the wall. All that was needed was to set up the doors in the gates. As Nehemiah’s enemies recognize that the walls are nearing completion, they invited Nehemiah to have a meeting with them on the plain of Ono. This invitation was a pretense of friendship, but Nehemiah discerned their sinister plot and knew that they were planning to harm him, and refused to attend the meeting. Good leaders need to be discerning. Nehemiah sent this message to them. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Four times they sent messages to Nehemiah and each time he answered them in the same way. Believers must be on constant guard against friendship with the world.


B. FALSE ACCUSATIONS (6:5-9): When Nehemiah refused the charade of the world’s friendship, Sanballat sent a fifth letter accusing the Jews of planning a coup against the Persian Empire. (Read vv 5-7). He even charged Nehemiah with planning to have himself declared King. Once again, Sanballat invites Nehemiah to come and discuss these matters. Again Nehemiah recognized the enemies plot to have him killed or harmed in some way.

Nehemiah sent a message back to Sanballat, saying, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” Many of God’s finest have been accused falsely. Even Jesus was falsely accused.

The purpose of the rumors was to intimidate Nehemiah. The word “intimidate” means “to make afraid.” It is difficult to be falsely accused but Nehemiah knew that this was a plot to discourage him and prevent him from completing the work.

Once again, Nehemiah turned to God in prayer. He prayed for strength to continue and complete the work in spite of the opposition. He asked for God’s strength. “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” The idea of “weak hands” is a picture of discouragement. Nehemiah knew that the Lord was the source of his strength. He wanted to be encouraged in the Lord.

C. THREATS OF INTRIGUE (5:11-14): Somehow, Nehemiah’s enemies had gotten through to a Jewish religious leader who was confined at home. The leader, Shemiaiah, said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.” In other words, “Nehemiah, your work is dangerous, you need to run and hide.”

Nehemiah again discerned the strategy of his enemies. He said emphatically, “Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” Nehemiah realized that Tobiah and Sanballat had hired Shemaiah to participate in this strategy against him. They had been trying to discourage Nehemiah by spreading rumors and were now sending vicious threats.

Such rumors and threats can be rather unsettling. Once my family and I were on an airplane and were ready to fly back to the USA from Costa Rica. All of the passengers were in their places and the plane was ready to depart. Suddenly we were instructed to disembark and return to the waiting area. Someone had called in a false bomb report. After a lengthy delay to thoroughly search the plane we were able to reload and to continue our flight.

Apparently Shemiaiah must have been a priest. Nehemiah may have thought him to be a true prophet. He may have been but he had sold out to the enemy. Had Nehemiah entered into the temple he would have showed a cowardly lack of trust in God and would have broken God’s law forbidding anyone except priests to enter the temple.

How did Nehemiah know that Shemiaiah was speaking falsely? Primarily he spoke to turn Nehemiah from God rather than turn him to God. Shemiaiah’s message contradicted God’s word. The Apostle John admonishes believers are to “test the spirits to determine if they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Isaiah 8:20 says, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.” “This word” is the “Word of God.” We are to judge every spirit and every message by the Word of God. If a so called message contradicts Scripture, the message is not from God. The Word of God is our standard for guidance.

What can we do when the enemy seeks to discourage us by causing us to be afraid? Is that not what this current wave of terrorism is all about? We can do what Nehemiah did in verse fourteen. Once again, he prayed, “Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the (false) prophetess and the rest of the (false) prophets who were trying to frighten me.” Notice that this time he prayed against his enemies. He didn’t tell God what do with his enemies. He simply placed his enemies in God’s hands.

{NOTE: Nehemiah spoke of Shemaiah as a prophet (v. 12). If Delaiah, Shemaiah’s father, is the same “Delaiah” listed in 1 Chronicles 24:18 as one of Aaron’s sons, them Shemaiah also was a priest. This would mean that he had access to the temple. Nehemiah apparently went to Shemaiah’s house at his invitation, believing Shemaiah to be a true prophet.” (SERVING GOD WITH DETERMINED FAITH: Expository Notes and Leader Helps, pp. 46-47}

XI. THE COMPLETION OF THE WALL (6:17-7:3)

The completion of such an enormous task in fifty-two days seems impossible. Remember that the walls were in absolute ruins. Moreover, there was tremendous opposition to the task. However, this just shows what God people can accomplishes when their hearts are in one accord. The month of Elul corresponds to out August-September.

The finishing of the task of rebuilding had an impact on their enemies and the surrounding nations. They had opposed the work and had sought to intimidate Nehemiah and the workers. Now their enemies had lost confidence and recognized the hand of God in the project.

In spite of the fact that the enemies of the rebuilding were defeated, Tobiah the Ammonite continued to cause trouble. We’ll meet him again in a later chapter. In verses 17-19, we discover that Tobiah was related to some of the nobles of Judah, especially those who had conspired with him against Nehemiah. His relatives kept boasting of Tobiah’s “good deeds.” His name means “Jah is good.” He was no doubt a nominal believer in God. A nominal Christian can be very harmful in a church because they bring their unspiritual reasoning and worldly point of view with them. Some of the nobles tried to get Nehemiah to embrace Tobiah. Nehemiah wisely refused.

XII. THE CENSUS (7:1-73)

Almost 100 years and passed since Zerubbabel led the first group of returnees back to the Promised Land. However, though Jerusalem was a large and spacious city, the population remained small (7:4). To encourage the people to populate Jerusalem, Nehemiah felt led to register the people (7:4). The long list of names given in chapter 7 may seem monotonous to us, it was important to the people of that day. This list is similar to the list found in Ezra 2 and establishes continuity with the past. The tedious details proved that God’s blessings had extended across the centuries.

PART 2

A TIME OF REFORMATION AND REVIVAL

Part I of the book of Nehemiah was concerned with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Part II deals with a time of spiritual awakening in Jerusalem. .

We can safely say that there has never been a genuine revival without the Word of God having a large part in it. This was true in the Old Testament revivals that occurred during the time of Josiah and Hezekiah. The reading of Scripture brought about a time of revival during Nehemiah’s day as well. It was the recovery of Scripture that brought about the Protestant Reformation of 16th century.

I. REVIVAL AT THE WATER GATE (8:1-12):

True believers today are a people of the Book. It was also true in the time of Nehemiah. The problem then was that there were very few copies of Scripture available. To hear the Word of God, the people had to attend public assemblies for that purpose. Sadly, such assemblies were few and far between. As chapter 8 begins, the people all assembled together as one man at a public square which was in front of the Water Gate.

A. THE READING OF THE WORD OF GOD (8:1-6): The purpose for this gathering was to hear the Word of God. The people themselves took the initiative and asked Ezra the Scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Ezra had led the people in a time of reformation recorded in Ezra 9-10. For a time Ezra seemed to have disappeared from the scene. Some speculate that he had been recalled to Persia and had returned to Jerusalem following the rebuilding of the walls. His reappearance encouraged the people to ask their former spiritual leader to read the Scriptures to them.

When Ezra heard the people cry, “Bring the Book!” he responded immediately. He brought out the scroll of the Law, probably the entire Pentateuch and mounted a special podium that had been erected for that purpose. Entire families had gathered for that momentous occasion. The service lasted from sunrise till noon. Ezra read from the scroll until he was exhausted, then another on the platform would relieve him.

“All the people were attentive to the book of the law” (v. 3). Many of them had not heard Scripture read for years. Some of them had never heard Scripture read at all. It was a spiritual feast for souls who were hungry to hear from God. They willingly stood for hours in rapt attention to the reading of God’s Word.

When “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people”, the people stood up in reverence for the Word (v. 5). Ezra began his reading by blessing the LORD (v. 6). The people responded, “Amen, Amen!” They “lifted up their hands” which indicated their participation with Ezra in this time of praise and worship. They “bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” This showed their willing submission to the Yahweh and to the authority of the Word of God.

The public reading of Scripture must be restored in our Baptist Churches today. Most Baptist churches place very little emphasis on the public reading of Scripture. I was discussing this issue with one pastor who told me, “We have so much special music in our services today that we need to drop some things.” Though he strongly believed in the inspiration of the Bible, he abandoned the public reading of Scripture. This writer is not against “special music” though I prefer calling it “the message in music.” However, the public reading of God’s Word must take priority over special music. Special music is never commanded in Scripture. The reading of God’s word is commanded. Paul commanded Timothy, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).

B. THE EXPOSITION OF THE WORD OF GOD (8:7-8): The Levites once again fulfilled their calling and explained the Law to the people. As they did, the people remained in their place. Verse eight gives us a picture of the true nature of expository preaching. “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating (explaining, expounding) to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”

A well known Bible teacher and expositor was standing in the foyer of Moody Church in Chicago following his morning message. He overheard a well dressed lady say to a friend, “Well, I don’t think he is such a great preacher. Why, all he did was explain the Bible.”

Ezra and his associates were the first in a long line of expository preachers who explained the Bible. Expository preaching remains an effective instrument for helping Christians come to spiritual maturity. The benefits of topical preaching do not come close to the benefits of a faithful exposition of God’s Word. The revival meeting at the Water Gate gives us the pattern for the reading and exposition of God’s Word that continues to this day.

Some years ago, I heard a well known preacher, I believe it was Dr. Stephen Olford, teach about expository preaching from this passage. Here is his three point outline that I wrote down in the margin of my Bible. In expository preaching there must be:

• The reading of the text of God’s Word,
• The revealing of the truth of God’s Word, and
• The relating of the thrust of God’s Word.

That is a wonderful description of expository preaching. I also heard Dr. Olford say that there are three things needed for great preaching, “Exposition, exposition, exposition.”

C. REMORSE FOR SIN (8:9): The reading, exposition, and application of the Scripture spoke to the hearts of the Jews. As they heard God speaking to them through the Scripture, they were convicted of their disobedience and expressed their contrition by mourning and weeping. When King Josiah heard the words of the “book of the Law, he rent his clothes” ((2 Kings 22:11).

The writer of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

D. REJOICING IN GOD (8:10-12): The path to revival brings deep conviction and contrition over sin. However, in true repentance, the believer is able to rejoice in the Lord. Nehemiah said, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” Then in verse 12 he said, “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” With sins forgiven, the Jews were able to rejoice in fellowship with one another and with the LORD. The reason that they were joyful is that “they understood the words which had been made known to them.” There is pain in revival, but with revival comes a return to joy.

E. OBEDIENCE TO THE WORD OF GOD (8:13-18). Revival was followed by a desire to obey the law of God. As the people listened to the Word of God, they were reminded of the observance of Feast of Tabernacles by dwelling in booths (8:14-15). Revival was followed by a time of joyful celebration such as had not been seen in Israel since the days of Joshua. That celebration was followed by a solemn assembly as we shall see in the next chapter.

II. SOLEMN ASSEMBLY (9:1-38):

The Feast of Tabernacles lasted for seven days from 15 to 21 of Tisri (September/October). It was concluded by a solemn assembly on the eighth day. Ezra and the Levites taught the Word of God for three hours. Then they led the people in a time of confession of sin and prayer for three hours. This solemn assembly continued throughout the day.

A. CONTRITION: THE PREPARATION OF THE PEOPLE (9:1-3): The Feast of Tabernacles was a time of rejoicing, but the solemn assembly was for repentance and confession of sin. The “fasting” was an act of self-denial that placed spiritual concerns over physical needs. The wearing of “sackcloth” was a sign of their profound sorrow for sin. The “dust on their heads” was a symbol of their deep distress and contrition. Moreover they “separated themselves from all foreigners,” that is, from those who worshipped false gods rather than the true God.

For a fourth part of the day, the people stood while the Levites “read from the book of the law of the LORD their God.” Then for another fourth part of the day, “they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.” The conviction and contrition they felt was produced by the Word of God.

B. CONFESSION: THE PRAYER OF PENITENCE (9:4-31): Who actually prayed this prayer? Some translations have “and Ezra said….” Other translations mention the Levites. The NIV states that the Levites stood on the stairs and “called with loud voices to the Lord their God.” Probably one of them, most likely Ezra, actually voiced the prayer as the representative of the assembly.

The prayer began with a time of praise. “Arise, bless the LORD your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise! You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them, and the heavenly host bows down before You” (9:5-6). All prayer should begin with worship and praise. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name….”

The heart of the prayer focuses on God’s dealings with His people Israel. Note that the purpose of the prayer is not to remind God of His past dealings, it is to remind themselves of God’s past activity. God had not forgotten his past activities but they had forgotten God.

After expressing adoration to God, the prayer next give a review of the history of God’s covenant dealings with His people. The prayer fluctuates between the goodness of God and the rebellion of Israel throughout their history.

• Abraham to Moses (9:7-8): God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans, made a covenant with him, and promised to give him the land of Canaan.

• Moses to Joshua (9-23): Again the focus of the prayer is on God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness. God faithfully delivered Israel out of Egypt (9:9-11), and led them in the wilderness (9:12, 19). God taught the people His laws at Mt. Sinai (9:13-14). He provided all that they needed for survival in the wilderness (15, 20, 21). God gave them victory over their enemies (9:22-23). Israel, however, proved to be unfaithful to God. They refused to obey God and were not allowed to enter the Promised Land (9:16-17). They even violated the Law of God by making and worshipping a golden calf (9:19).

• Joshua to the Judges (9:24-26): God subdued all Israel’s enemies during the time of the conquest (9:24-25). However, Israel consistently disobeyed God by killing his prophets and by idolatry.

• Judges to Ezra and Nehemiah (9:27-31): God permitted Israel’s enemies to overcome them because of their persistent rebellion. .

• Ezra and Nehemiah (9:32-38): The Levites plead for God’s mercy to be given to Israel. The leaders of the people made a solemn declaration to obey God. The focus of the prayer is changed from past history to the present situation. Ezra lamented the present condition and confessed the sins of the people.

In this review of history, we discover a marvelous view of God. God is presented as the:

 God of creation (v. 6),
 God of grace (vv. 7-8),
 God who answers prayer (v. 9),
 God of deliverance (vv. 10-13),
 God of revelation (vv. 13-14),
 God who supplies needs (v. 15)
 God of mercy, vv. 17, 19, 27-28, 31).

III. THE SIGNING OF THE DECLARATION (9:38-10:39):

A document was written up and signed by Nehemiah, the priests, the Levites, the political leaders, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and others. The names of the signers are recorded in Nehemiah 10:1-29. The document records six promises that the people made to God.

• They will not intermarry with the people of the land (10:30).

• They will obey the Sabbath laws (10:31).

• They will care for the Temple (10:32, 34, 39)

• They will observe all the sacred festivals (10:33)

• They will dedicate the firstborn of their sons and animals (10:36).

• They will pay their tithes (10:33, 37-38).

IV. THE RESETTELING OF JERUSALEM (11-12:26)

In Nehemiah 7:4, it is noted that “the city was large and spacious,but the people in it were few and the houses were not built.” The first verse of chapter 11 tells us that the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the majority of the people lived in other cities. Nehemiah wanted more people to move into the city of Jerusalem to help in the defense of the city, to provide adequate personnel for the temple, and to help make Jerusalem a strong and beautiful capital. He saw Jerusalem as a symbol of national unity. One way for increasing the population was the casting of lots. One out of ten (probably family unities) would move into the city. Others volunteered to move into the city. Chapter 11:3-12:26 is a register of Jewish citizens who relocated to Jerusalem.

V. THE DEDICATION OF THE WALL (12:27-47):

Among the Jewish people, dedication ceremonies were considered the final act of building (see Deut. 20:5). Probably this ceremony took place shortly after the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. The walls were completed in the sixth month (6:15). The solemn assembly was held in the seventh month (7:73b). It is probable that the solemn assembly concluded with the dedication of the walls (12:27-47).

A. ASSEMBLING OF WORSHIP LEADERS (12:27-29): The dedication began with Nehemiah organizing the Levites and musicians to lead in the dedication of the walls. The Levites assisted in the religious observances. The “sons of the singers” may have been a group of singers. Music played an important role in the dedication of the walls. The musicians brought their musical instruments, cymbals, psalteries, and harps.

B. PURIFICATION (12:30): Before the dedication service actually began there was a time of ritual purification. The priests and Levites purified themselves, probably by fasting, washing their clothes, and bringing sacrifices. After purifying themselves, they purified the people, as well as the gates and walls. The gates and walls were probably sprinkled with blood (see 2 Chron. 29:20-24). Such purification was necessary because of man’s defilement.

C. PROCESSIONAL (12:31-39): Nehemiah divided the people into two groups. Ezra went with one group and Nehemiah went with the other. Each group had a choir, a civic official, priests, and Levites. One group went counterclockwise around the wall. The other group went clockwise. Probably the walk around the walls was accompanied by instrumental music and songs of thanksgiving and praise. Both groups met in the temple court where the dedication service would take place. As they walked around the walls they could see what had been accomplished.

D. DEDICATION OF THE WALLS (12:40-43): As the people gathered in the temple courts, the dedication service began with singing led by the choir and joined by the people. What did they sing? Most likely they sang appropriate psalms such as Psalm 122.
1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the LORD.”
2 Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
3 Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
4 Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of the LORD,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of the LORD.
5 For thrones are set there for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
8 For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your good.
(NKJV)
Music was an important part of worship in the day of dedication and should be a vital part of worship today. King David sang the following psalm of praise when he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.

8 Oh, give thanks to the LORD!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!
9 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!
10 Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD!
11 Seek the LORD and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
(1 Chronicles 16:8-11 NKJV)

Another part of the dedication was the offering of sacrifices. The sacrifices probably were not the burnt offerings but the peace offerings. The people would then share in a meal together. The entire service was a time of great rejoicing. Note the number of times the word joy is used in one form or another in verse 43.

Provision (12:44-47): Nehemiah selected certain men to be in charge of the provision for the priests, Levites, singers, and even the gatekeepers. The people pledged to provide for their spiritual leaders.

VI. THE ROAD TO SPIRITUAL DECLINE (13:1-31):

Chapter 12 ends on a note of victory. The walls had been completed. Revival had come to the nation, and the people celebrated because of that which God had done for them and through them. After this, Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes, king of Babylon. His first term as governor covered a period of twelve years from approximately 445-443 BC. After an absence of three years he sought permission to return for a second term in 430 BC. When Nehemiah left Jerusalem, things were going well. Upon returning, he found that a period of decline had begun. It is a fact of history that revivals generally are short lived. A careful reading of chapter 13 reveals several steps that led to spiritual decline. We can see a parallel today.

A. COMPROMISE WITH THE WORLD (13:4-9): This is a perennial problem with the people of God. The Jews allowed foreign influences to pull them away from their faith in God. Moreover, Eliashib the priest was related to Tobiah. Remember Tobiah? He was one of the opponents to the rebuilding of the walls. Yet, this wicked man was given a residence in the temple compound. Moreover, his place of residence was in a room that had another purpose (vv. 4-5).

When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and learned about this evil, he was very disturbed. He responded to this in three ways. First, he personally threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room (13:8). Second, He ordered that the room be cleansed (13:8a). Third, he ordered that the utensils of the house of God, the grain offering and the frankincense be restored to its rightful place. One is reminded of another cleansing of the temple by Jesus.

B. NEGLECT OF THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES (13:10-14): Before Nehemiah left Jerusalem after his first term as governor the people had promised to provide for the spiritual leaders (see. 12:44-47). However, in 13:10, Nehemiah “discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them.” The result was that they had to neglect the temple services in order to provide a living for themselves.

Nehemiah castigated the bureaucrats who were in the wrong and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” He restored the Levites to their position and reinstated the tithes of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouse. Moreover, he appointed reliable men and placed them in charge of the storehouse (13:11-13).

Nehemiah closes this section with a prayer. “Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services” (13:14).

C. NEGLECT OF THE SABBATH (13:15-22): The Sabbath had become just another day in which to do business and make money (13:15-16). Apparently, the nobles had led in this because Nehemiah rebuked them and accused them of profaning the Sabbath day (13:17). “What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the
Sabbath day? “Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath” (13:17b-18). The people had forgotten their history and were in process of repeating the errors of the past.

Even after Nehemiah closed the gates of Jerusalem on those who sold their wares on the Sabbath, the merchants spent the night outside the walls in order to carry on their business. Nehemiah had to threaten to use force against them if they continued (13:19-21). He ordered the Levites to purify themselves and to become as gatekeepers in order to sanctify the Sabbath (13:22a). Once again, Nehemiah turns to God in prayer. “For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness.”

D. MARRIAGE WITH NON-BELIEVERS (13:23-31). Those who believed in YAHWEH married women who believed in other gods and practiced other forms of worship. Many of the Jews had married women from “Ashdod, Amon and Moab.” In verse 24, we see the tragic affect this had on the children of mixed marriages. “As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and note of them was able to speak the language of Judah….” If the children of these mixed marriages could not speak Hebrew, how could they be instructed in the Law at home or in the synagogue?

The marriage of Believers with non-believers was condemned in the Law of Moses (Ex. 34:15-16; Deut 7:1-4). Moreover, Ezra had dealt with this issue some thirty years earlier (Ezra 9:1-4). Just a few years earlier the people pledged that they would not intermarry with the heathen. Nehemiah knew that when the family breaks down, the nation will break down as well. Nehemiah reminded them of Solomon. Solomon was one of the greatest kings, yet he married many foreign women. The result of Solomon’s sin led to the introduction of idolatry and to the division of the land. The resultant idolatry ultimately led to the Captivity.

Even one of the grandsons of Eliashib the high priest compromised in this area by marrying the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite. Remember Sanballat? He was one of those who opposed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The result was that the grandson of Eliashib, himself in the priestly line, caused the priesthood to be defiled. Nehemiah prayed, “Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites” (13:29). Nehemiah restored the priesthood (30-31a).

Nehemiah was indeed a man of prayer. At least three of his prayers are recorded in chapter 13. His final recorded words are a brief prayer recorded in verse 31b. “Remember me, O my God, for good.” One way God remembered Nehemiah was to record his story in the Bible. Nehemiah is a model of godly leadership. He was willing and determined to serve God and his people. Nehemiah was not a priest or Levite. In reality, he would be classified as a layman. Yet his life is an illustration that you and I can accomplish by God’s hand what he puts in our heart to do. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”



 
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