7. EZRA, NEHEMIAH & ESTHER

Lesson 104: Nehemiah 1:1…

Nehemiah 1:1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah

The book of Nehemiah begins around 445 BC, about ten years after the close of the book of Ezra. It was likely written by Ezra the priest, around 430 BC. Many of the Jews had returned from exile and were living in and around Jerusalem. The temple had been rebuilt, but the city walls were still in ruins, so the people were exposed to constant danger. Nehemiah held the high position of cupbearer to the king of Persia, when he received news about the poor condition of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 1:2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem

When Nehemiah learned the city was still in disrepair, he mourned and fasted several days. Then he prayed that God would give him favor with the king of Persia, so he could return to Jerusalem and help his people. 

If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it (Nehemiah 2:5), he said. The king granted his request and provided materials for the project. Nehemiah attributed this to the gracious hand of God being upon him (Nehemiah 2:8). Whenever we need to find favor with others, we can pray for the gracious hand of God to be upon us.

Nehemiah 2:11-12 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem

Nehemiah did not want his plan to be known prematurely, because he did not want Jerusalem’s enemies to hear of it before the project began. To avoid detection, he examined the walls at night, and then brought his plan to God’s people. Let us start rebuilding (Nehemiah 2:18), they said. But they soon encountered resistance.

Nehemiah 4:7-8 [W]hen Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it

Israel’s enemies were not content to sit and watch as the city was being rebuilt. And because they had an army, they were a serious threat (Nehemiah 4:2). Just because God is involved in a project does not mean it will go unopposed. But Nehemiah was a man of faith who knew how to respond.

Nehemiah 4:9 [W]e prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat

They did not merely pray, or merely post a guard. They prayed to God and posted a guard. They also armed the laborers, who worked even harder than before. They prayed as though everything depended on God, and worked as though everything depended on them. This is the surest way to success.

Some people are willing to pray like everything depends on God, but are not willing to work very hard. Others are willing to work like everything depends on them, but are not willing to pray very hard. But when God’s people pray like everything depends on God, and work like everything depends on them, success is seldom far away.

Nehemiah 5:1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews

In addition to the external threat, there was also an internal threat. Some of God’s people were going into debt because working on the wall gave them less time to work at their jobs. And some of the rich were growing richer by charging interest for loans. This was more than oppressive; it was forbidden. Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest (Deuteronomy 23:19), wrote Moses. 

How tragic it was that even among God’s people, some were willing to exploit their neighbors. Nehemiah was angry at those who oppressed their fellow Jews, and they agreed to restore what had been wrongly taken. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10), wrote Paul. 

Nehemiah provided good and godly leadership, and the task was completed in just fifty-two days (Nehemiah 6:15). It must have seemed like a miracle, but the work was not over. Now that the city was secure, it was time to build up the people.

Nehemiah 8:1 They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel

They built a platform for the occasion, and Ezra read from God’s word for several hours, while the people listened attentively. Through hearing God’s word, they understood how badly they had sinned, and they began to weep. They agreed with God against themselves, and were beginning to be renewed.

Ezra is a good example to those who teach and preach God’s word. The preacher’s job is not to entertain God’s people, or tell them something new, but to clearly proclaim God’s word to them. He is to keep the people of God and the word of God together. It is the people’s job to listen attentively, and conform their lives to what the Bible says. This is how the church of God is constantly renewed.

Nehemiah 8:10 Nehemiah said, Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength

It was good for God’s people to grieve their sins, but Nehemiah did not want them to be overcome with grief. God had done great things for them, and they were turning back to him. This was reason to rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4), wrote Paul. 

This, in fact, is nothing less than the key to happiness. The more we rejoice in the Lord, the more we’ll enjoy everything else. All other joys are derivative; God alone is the source. The more we rejoice in him, the happier we will be. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Nehemiah 13:6-7 [I]n the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem.

After leading God’s people for twelve years, Nehemiah went back to Babylon for some time. We do not know how long he was there, but when he returned to Jerusalem, the situation had declined. The temple was being misused, the Sabbath was being broken, and God’s people were marrying pagans again. 

Nehemiah was so angry about the mixed marriages that he rebuked them and called curses down on them. [He] beat some of the men and pulled out their hair (Nehemiah 13:25). Nehemiah’s reaction was so severe that many were likely surprised. He was a forceful leader who was not afraid to hurt people’s feelings.

There is no place for physical punishment in the church, of course, but when Titus was dealing with unruly Christians, Paul wrote that he should rebuke them sharply (Titus 1:13). Ordinarily, the Lord’s servant . . . must be kind to everyone (2 Timothy 2:24). But he must also be willing to rebuke whenever necessary. 

Nehemiah reminds us of the value of strong leadership. When he was gone, the city fell into sin. When he returned, things were set right. Good and godly leaders are a gift to the church, and they ought to be highly regarded. Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account (Hebrews 13:17), says Hebrews. 

Reflection and Review
How do prayer and work contribute to success?
Why is it important to rejoice in the Lord?
Why should good and godly leaders be highly regarded?