The book could well be called “Nehemiah’s Memoirs.” The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was his great burden.
The Period of Time
The years of history the book covers are 445-431 B.C. or perhaps a few years after that. In 445 B.C. (the twentieth year of Artaxerxes’ reign, Neh 1:1), Nehemiah learned of the conditions in Jerusalem that led him to request permission to return to Judah (2:5). He arrived in Jerusalem in 444 B.C. and within 52 days had completed the rebuilding of the city walls (6:15). In 432 B.C. Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes (13:6). He came back to Jerusalem after that, probably in a year or so. The record of his reforms following that return is in the last chapter of this book. Apparently, Nehemiah completed all of them in just a few weeks or months. Even though the book spans about 15 years, most of the activity Nehemiah recorded took place in 445-444 B.C. (chs.1-12) and in 432-431 B.C. (ch.13). Together, Ezra and Nehemiah record about 110 years of Israel’s history (538-430 B.C.). Perhaps 12 years have elapsed since the close of Ezra.
Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah; the governor of the land
The narrative begins in Shushan the palace. Anything he was going to do for the people of God would mean a sacrifice for him; luxury, comfort and security all were his in the palace. Any and every man who is going to be of help to the people of God will know sacrifice.
The Plight Discovered
He asked concerning the people and the place – the testimony and the welfare of the people who were there. Nehemiah is about rebuilding the wall to maintain separation, and the restoration of the people to maintain sanctification.
- The tears that he shed
- The titles he employed – the God of heaven; the great and terrible God
- The testimony of their failure
- The tenacity of his prayer – night and day
- Trace Nehemiah’s prayers throughout the book
The Providence of God
He was the king’s cupbearer. Circumstances had brought him to a place of responsibility but also of potential usefulness. He would use his privileges for the good of others. Combining Nehemiah’s times with his character, we get the message of this book.
Nehemiah proves the value of prayer and hard work, the importance of visionary leadership, and the results when people determine to trust and obey God and when they put His interests first.
Nehemiah reminded God of His promise to restore His people to their land if they repented. “Remember” (1:8) is a key word in this book (4:14; 5:19; 6:14; 13:14,22,29,31).
Take special note of chapter 8, which is a remarkable chapter of a Bible conference and the results of the audience’s bowing to the Word of God.
Primer on Leadership
Surveying His Virtues
- Interest in the People and Work of God – Genuine interest; motivated by the fact that they were God’s people (1:6,10); willing to sacrifice for them (1:4); not appreciated or welcomed by them (2:10-20)
- Intimacy with God – Knew God in Prayer: “My God” (11x); in the Problems; in the Pathway
- Integrity of Character – Humility (note “we” in 1:6,7,10; 2:17; 4:6,9,15,18,21-23). Endures hardship with people of God (4:22,23); does not live off them (5:14-18). Not self-prominent but brings others to maximal usefulness (ch.7); Ezra (ch.8); priests (ch.9); priests and others (ch.10)
- Intensity of Convictions – Not easily discouraged (2:20), dissuaded (4:10), deceived (6:1-4) nor deterred. Convictions regarding treatment of others based on Scripture (5:6-13). Convictions on separation and how to build for God (chs.4-6). Convictions concerning the Levites, Sabbath, etc. (ch.13)
- Intelligence – Man with foresight – planned ahead (2:5,7,8). Man with insight – into character. Man with hindsight – learned from the past. Man with oversight – see 2:12-15.
Conveying His Vision
- He had goals for the people of God and the work of God
- He had ability to inspire others with his visions
- He could organize and delegate
Relaying His Values
- Work of God was a burden to his heart (ch.1)
- Word of God was the standard for his life
- Worship of God was the exercise of his soul
- Welfare of saints was the blessing he sought
Displaying His Vigilance
- Was not easily intimidated (ch.6)
- Was not moved by their insolence (ch.4)
- Could detect and deal with infiltration (13:4,23)
- Noted the inconsistency of leaders
Portraying His Vigor
- Inherited problems did not deter him
- Condition of the city – the ruins that another generation had left – not an excuse
- Circumstances of his own – not free; captive, cupbearer
- Impatience – not marked by it
- Indifference of the people (2:11)
- Immensity of the work (2:12-15)
- Indolence of some (ch.5)
- Inconsistency of many (5:1-13), taking advantage of brethren
- Incessant problems – enemies of chapter 6 reappear in chapter 13
Plan of the Book
- Rebuilding the Wall (chs.1-6)
- Restoring the People (chs.7-13)