Today we begin the book of Nehemiah. The events in this book take place shortly after those in the book of Ezra. It begins with a visit by returned exiles to Nehemiah in Persia (1:2). They report to Nehemiah the conditions in Jerusalem, which are not good (v. 3). So Nehemiah seeks God in prayer (v. 4). His prayer is similar to Ezra’s prayer from Ezra 9. Nehemiah confesses the guilt of the people (vv. 6-7) and asks that God would keep His promise to return them to the land if they repent (v. 9 – see Deut 30:2-3). He then asks for favor with the king, Artaxerxes (v. 11).
In chapter 2, we see Nehemiah’s conversation with the king. This is the same king that was favorable to Ezra upon his return to Judah (see Ezra 7 – likely Artaxerxes II). We see once again that the hand of God was upon this situation (2:8 – see Ezra 7:6). Once again, the king decrees that the surrounding territories help Nehemiah (v. 7-8 – see Ezra 7:21-22). But we see that not everyone was happy with what the king was allowing (v. 10).
When Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, he inspects the condition of the city walls (vv. 13-15) before he tells anyone of his intentions (v. 12, 16). Once he tells the people (v. 17), he tells them how God was leading him to do this and had given him favor with the king (v. 18). Once the building begins, those surrounding people express their displeasure and accuse the Jews of rebellion (v. 19). Nehemiah tells them, in essence, to mind their own business (v. 20).
Chapter 3 records details of the building of the wall. We are told who exactly built each gate and section of the wall. The work begins with the Sheep Gate (3:1) at the northeast corner of the city, and the work moves around the city counter-clockwise. Note that not all of the Jews helped with the rebuild (v. 5). In verse 9, we see that Jerusalem was split into two districts, each governed by a different man (see also v. 12). In verse 16 we have mention of the site of the kings’ tombs and the place where David’s “Mighty Men” lived (see 2 Sam 23). The court of the guard (v. 25) is where Jeremiah was imprisoned by king Zedekiah (see Jer 32:2).
In chapter 4, we see the opposition the people faced while rebuilding. We see that the surrounding people were happy that Jerusalem had fallen (4:2). They mock the Jews as if unable to properly rebuild (vv. 2-3). Nehemiah records his prayer against these men (vv. 4-5). The work progresses quickly, and the wall is halfway done in no time (v. 6). But the surrounding peoples, inducing Ammonites and Ashdodites (Philistine descendants!), plot against the Jews (vv. 7-8). All Nehemiah and the people of Judah can do is rely on God for protection (v. 9).
But the Jews start to get discouraged. There is too much work to be done (v. 10) and now they are facing opposition (v. 11). The relatives of the workers tell them to give up (v. 12). But Nehemiah is not giving up. He places armed guards at the weakest points of the walls (v. 13). In verse 14, Nehemiah encourages faith. We see that the work is slowed considerably because half of the people needed to stand guard (v. 16), some building while staying ready for battle (vv. 17-18, 23). In verses 19-20, Nehemiah makes a defense plan, and encourages faith once again.