Our reading today begins in the midst of famine and rampant sin. We see that there was an accusation made by Jews against Jews (5:1). Because of a famine (v. 3) and the taxes owed to the king of Persia (v. 4), some Jews were taking advantage of their countrymen by forcing them into slave labor or into mortgaging their property at high interest rates (v. 5). Forcing fellow Israelites into slavery was forbidden (see Lev 25:39), as was charging interest (see Lev 25:36). So Nehemiah indicts the wealthy and powerful (v. 7). The Babylonians took Jewish land and forced the Jews into slavery – and now the Jews were doing it to each other (v. 8)! He demands that the interest and the slavery end (vv. 9-10). He demands that all land and interest be returned (v. 11). And everyone agrees (vv. 12-13).
From that time, Nehemiah becomes the governor of Judah (v. 14). We see that the previous governors were given a food allowance by the people and over-taxed the people (v. 15). Not only did Nehemiah not do this, but he provided for others out of his own possessions (v. 18) for God’s sake (v. 19).
In chapter 6, the walls of Jerusalem are completed, though the gates are not yet put up (6:1). The enemies around Judah plot against Nehemiah. They want to set up a meeting, where they will presumably kill him (vv. 2-4). When that fails, they fabricate a story about Nehemiah sending false prophets to declare him king (vv. 6-7). They threaten to tell Artaxerxes. But Nehemiah calls them out as liars and continues to rely on God (vv. 8-9). Then Nehemiah is told that assassins are coming to kill him (v. 10), but he is undeterred (v. 11), and realizes that this, too, is a plot against him (vv. 12-13).
When the wall is finally completed (with gates), Judah’s surrounding enemies are discouraged and afraid (vv. 15-16). We see that within Judah are those loyal to Tobiah who through political marriage bound some men to himself (vv. 17-18). These Tobaih-loyalists tried to get Nehemiah to trust him, even as they reported back to Tobiah all that Nehemiah said (v. 19). There is opposition within and without.
In chapter 7, Nehemiah appoints guards and ministers (7:1). He hands power over to the faithful Hanani (see 1:2) and Hananiah who ran the Tower of Hananel (see 3:1). He gives a standing order that the gates of the city should be open only by day, and should never be left unguarded (v. 3). Nehemiah then wants to take an enrollment of those who had returned (v. 5). There were those who claimed to be priests whose genealogy could not be verified (vv. 63-64). Thus, they were excluded from the priesthood. In verse 66, we see the relative few who had returned from exile. It was now time to start over as a nation.