Nehemiah – summary of book

This is a summary of the book of Nehemiah.  This book is important for the interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel.  Some propose that the decree of the king, which is recorded in Nehemiah, is the “word” of Daniel 9:25.

This book also describes an important part of Israel’s history.  Judea and its people were completely destroyed by the Babylonians.  But through Nehemiah and others God effectively gave Israel a new beginning.

THE KING’S DECREE

Hanani and some other men from Judah (1:2) told Nehemiah (1:1) that the Jews in Judea are in great distress and reproach, that the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and that its gates are consumed by fire (1:3).

When Nehemiah heard this, he “wept and mourned for days” (1:4).  He fasted and prayed (1:4) on behalf of Israel, confessing their sins (1:6).  He prayed that God would make him successful when he would appear before the king (1:11).  He was the king’s cupbearer (1:11).

In the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes (2:1) Nehemiah “took up the wine and gave it to the king” (2:1).  The king asked him, “Why are you sad?”  Nehemiah was very afraid and answered (2:2), “Let the king live forever.  Why should I not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” (2:3)

Then the king asked, “What would you request?” (2:4) Nehemiah responded, “If it pleases the king … send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it. (2:5) If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, (2:7) and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates and for the wall of the city.” (2:8)

The king granted to Nehemiah what was requested because the good hand of my God was on him (2:8).  The king also sent with Nehemiah army officers and horsemen (2:9).

OPPOSITION

The Samaritans—the Jews’ enemies (4:1-3)—were very displeased that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel (2:10).

Nehemiah did not tell anybody what God put into his mind to do for Jerusalem (2:12, 16).  He first went on an inspection tour and found the walls broken down and gates consumed by fire (2:13, 17).  The officials did not know where Nehemiah had gone; nor had he as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work (2:16).  Then he said to the Israelites: Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach (2:17).  He told them how the hand of God had been favorable to him and what the king said (2:18).  The Israelites agreed (2:18).

When Samaritans heard about these plans, they mocked the Jews (2:19), but Nehemiah 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. (2:20)

The Israelites divided the work amongst themselves.  Different teams worked on different parts of the walls and gates (3:1-32)

When the Samarians heard that the Jews were rebuilding the wall, they became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews (4:1, 2).  They said:

What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble? (4:2)  Even what they are building–if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down! (4:3)

Nehemiah prayed to God to punish the Samarians (4:4).  The Jews continued to work hard (4:6).  When the whole wall was joined together to half its height (4:6) the Samarians were very angry (4:7).  They conspired together to fight against Jerusalem (4:8).

The Jews prayed to God, and set up a guard day and night (4:9).  Nehemiah stationed men in the lowest parts of the wall; the exposed places (4:13).

Some Jews became discouraged when they heard what the Samarians planned (4:10-12).  When Nehemiah saw their fear, he spoke to them:

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 (4:14).

Then all the Jews returned to the wall (4:15).

From that day on, half of Nehemiah’s servants carried on the work while half of them held weapons (4:16).  The builders did the work with one hand and held a weapon in the other (4:17), with their swords girded at their sides (4:18).  They even took their weapons to the water (4:23).

Because the Jews were separated far from one another while working (4:19), Nehemiah, arranged that they would call one another by means of trumpets in case of an attack (4:20).

They worked from dawn until the stars appeared (4:21).

Nehemiah ordered the people to sleep within Jerusalem so that they may also serve as guards by night (4:22).

TAXATION

Now there was a great outcry of the people against their Jewish brothers who are exacted usury from their fellow Jews for use of the land.  Apparently the nobles and the rulers exacted usury from their fellow Jews (5:7) for the use of the fields and vineyards, and apparently this with by command of the king (5:4).  Nehemiah held a great assembly against them (5:1-7) and spoke sternly to them (5:8-10).

He demanded that they “give back to their fellow Jews this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses … and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” (5:11)  They agreed (5:12).  Nehemiah “took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise” (5:12).   He threatened them that God would punish them if they do not fulfill this promise (5:13).  Then the people did according to this promise (5:13).

The governors before Nehemiah taxed the people (5:15), but during the 12 years that Nehemiah was governor in the land of Judah he never demanded the people to pay tax (5:14).  Nehemiah himself and all his servants worked on this wall.  He did not buy any land (5:16).  Nehemiah had to feed 150 people on a daily basis, besides visitors from the surrounding nations (5:17).  This required a large quantity of food (5:18).  Yet Nehemiah never taxed the people (5:18).

DECEPTION

When their enemies heard that the Jews had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time the doors in the gates have not been set up (6:1), their enemies invited Nehemiah to meet on the plain of Ono.  But they Nehemiah knew they were planning to harm him (6:2) and refused (6:3).  Four times they sent messages in this manner, and Nehemiah answered them in the same way (6:4).

Then their enemies sent a letter (6:5) saying that the Jews are planning to rebel, and that this will be reported to the king (6:6-7).  They again asked Nehemiah to meet them (6:7).  Nehemiah denied the accusations (6:8).  Their enemies were trying to frighten them (6:9).

One fellow Jew advised Nehemiah to meet with him within the temple, with all the doors closed.  He said that their enemies are coming to kill him at night (6:10).  Nehemiah also refused this (6:11).  He perceived that his enemies hired this Jew (6:12) to get Nehemiah to sin, so that they could reproach him (6:13).

Nehemiah prayed to God to punish their enemies (6:14).

WALL COMPLETED

The wall was completed in fifty-two days (6:15).  When surrounding nations saw it, they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of their God (6:16).

In those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah—an influential Samarian ruler—and Tobiah’s letters came to them (6:17).  Many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he had many important connections (6:18). They also spoke about Tobiah’s good deeds in Nehemiah’s presence and reported Nehemiah’s words to him (6:19).

When the wall was rebuilt and the doors set up, the Jews appointed gatekeepers, singers and Levites (7:1).  Nehemiah appointed Hanani—his brother, and Hananiah in charge of Jerusalem (7:2).  He instructed them to appoint guards and to guard the city carefully (7:3).  At that time the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built (7:4).

Then God put it into Nehemiah’s heart to enrol the people by genealogies (7:5). He found the book of the genealogy of those who first to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city (7:6, 7).  In total there were 42,360 (7:66) and also 7337 servants, 245 singers (7:67), 736 horses, 245 mules (7:68), 435 camels and 6720 donkeys (7:69).  Some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work (7:70-72).

Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants and all Israel, lived in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in their cities. (7:73)

REVIVAL

All the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they requested Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel (8:1).  Ezra brought the law before the assembly on the first day of the seventh month (8:2).  He read from it from early morning until midday; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law (8:3). Ezra stood on a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. Beside him stood his helpers (8:4).  When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God and the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands.  Then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground (8:6).  Also Ezra’s helpers explained the law to the people (8:7).  They read from the book—the law of God—translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.  All the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law (8:9).

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra and the Levites said to the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” (8:9) Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to their Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (8:10-11).  All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them (8:12).

FEAST OF THE SEVENTH MONTH

On the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra that they might gain insight into the words of the law (8:13).  They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month (8:14).  So they issued a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying,

Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written. (8:15)

So the people went out and made booths, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim (8:16).  The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them.  The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day.  And there was great rejoicing (8:17).

They read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. They celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance (8:18).

THE OATH

On the 24th day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them (9:1).  The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers (9:2).  They read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God (9:3).

The Levites stood on a platform and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God (9:4):

They praised the LORD God who made the heavens, the earth the seas and all that is in them, and gave life to all of them (9:5-6).

They recounted Israel history referring to Abraham (9:7), the land God promised him and to his descendants (9:8), the affliction in Egypt, their cry by the Red Sea (9:9), the signs and wonders against Pharaoh (9:10), the pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire by night, the laws (9:12), good statutes and commandments received at Mount Sinai (9:13), His holy Sabbath (9:14), the manna and the water from the rock (9:15).

When God instructed the Israelites to enter the promised land (9:15) they acted arrogantly and would not listen to God (9:16), appointing a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt.  They tell about the calf of molten metal (9:18), but that God did not forsake them (9:17, 19).  God gave His good Spirit to instruct them, His manna and water for their thirst (9:20)

For forty years He provided for them in the wilderness.  They were not in want.  Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell (9:21).  God also gave them the land (9:22).  God made their sons as numerous as the stars and brought them into the Promised Land (9:23).  God subdued before them the inhabitants of the land (9:24).  But they became disobedient and rebelled against God, killed His prophets who had admonished them and committed great blasphemies (9:26).

Therefore God delivered them into the hand of their oppressors.  But when they cried to God in their distress, God delivered them from their oppressors (9:27-28) and admonished them in order to turn them back to His law.

Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen sinned against God’s ordinances (9:29).  God bore with them for many years, yet they would not listen.  Therefore God gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands (9:30).  Nevertheless, in His great compassion God did not make an end of them (9:31).

They pleaded that the mighty and awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, consider the hardship which has come upon the Israelites from the days of the kings of Assyria to this day (9:32), confessing that God is just in all that has come upon them, for they have acted wickedly (9:33-37).

Then they made an agreement in writing (9:38).  All the people (10:28) took on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of GOD their Lord (10:29):

  • that they would not intermarry with the peoples of the land (10:30);
  • that they would not buy on the sabbath or a holy day;
  • that they will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt (10:31);
  • that they would annually contribute for the service of the house of their God (10:32-33);
  • that they would supply wood to the house of their God, to burn on the altar (10:34);
  • that they would bring the first fruits to the house of the LORD (10:35);
  • that they would bring the firstborn of their sons and cattle to the house of their God (10:36);
  • that they would bring the tithe of their ground to the Levites (10:37);
  • that the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of their God (10:38);
  • that they will thus we will not neglect the house of their God (10:39);

At that time the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities (11:1).  Some volunteered to live in Jerusalem (11:2).

DEDICATION OF THE WALL

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem all the Levites and the singers were brought to Jerusalem (12:27-29).  The priests and the Levites purified themselves, the people, the gates and the wall (12:30).  Two great choirs were formed (12:31).  The choirs followed two different routes through Jerusalem (12:37,38), with the people following them with trumpets (12:32, 35) and with the musical instruments of David the man of God (12:36).  And Ezra the scribe went before them (12:36).  Eventually the two choirs took their stand in the house of God (12:40) and they sang (12:42).  On that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy. The joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar (12:43).

On that day men were appointed over the stores and contributions and tithes for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites, for they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification (12:44-45).

On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God (13:1).  So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel (13:3).

Nehemiah had to go back to Babylon for a time.  During this time Eliashib, the priest, being related to Tobiah (a Samarian), had prepared a large room for him in the courts of the house of God (13:4-7).  When Nehemiah returned he threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room (13:8) and gave an order and they cleansed the rooms (13:9).

While he was away contributions to the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field (13:10).  Nehemiah reprimanded the officials and brought the Levites back to Jerusalem (13:11).  All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses (13:12).

SABBATHS

Nehemiah saw some working and buying on the Sabbath.  So he admonished them and the nobles of Judah (13:15-16-17).  He said: “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.” 13:18

Nehemiah ordered the gates of Jerusalem to be shut closed during the Sabbath and stationed servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the Sabbath day (13:19).  From that time on the traders and merchants did not come on the Sabbath (13:20-21).

FOREIGN WOMEN

In those days the Jews had married women from other nations (13:23).  As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah (13:24).  So I contended with them and made them swear by God not to intermarry with other nations (13:25, 27).  Nehemiah said:

Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things?  There was no king like him, and he was loved by God; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin (13:26).

Nehemiah purified the priesthood from everything foreign (13:28-30).

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

It is significant that the memoirs of Nehemiah stress that the work concentrated primarily on the wall and gates of Jerusalem, rather than on the city proper.  To understand this one needs to understand that in those days a city without a wall was no city.  The wall provided protection and formed the basis for the cooperation by the inhabitants towards their joint protection—maintaining the wall and gates and guarding the city.  A wall made them a city.  Only after the wall has been completed the restoration of the city could start in all earnestness.

Further important background information is that after the Jews were taken away to Babylon, the Samaritans claimed ownership of the land.  The Jews therefore did not rebuild the city in a vacuum.  There were other people that felt that they have a right to the city and the land (2:20).  This is evidenced by the frequent mention in the book Nehemiah of the opposition the Jews experienced (4:1-3, 7).

TO: General Table of Contents

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