This material looks at the general overview of the book of Nehemiah. By so doing, the general features that include the major characters, key words and division of the book. It is anticipated that this background study will enable us get a balance perspective.
The book of Nehemiah covers a period of about 12 years from 445 – 433 BC (1:1 and 13:6). The key words and important emphasis are political and spiritual restoration. Nehemiah 1:4 – 11, 2:17, 5:14, and 6:15 constitute key verses of the book. Key characters are Nehemiah, Artaxerxes, and Ezra. Chapter 6 is the key chapter. It is about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
Divisions of Nehemiah
A basic outline divides the book of Nehemiah in 2 parts. First is the reconstruction of the walls, chapters 1 – 7. Second is the Nehemiah chapters 8 – 13. These chapters have to do with the restoration of the people.
The walls of Jerusalem were almost rebuilt after 464 BC when Artaxerxes the 1st began his rule in Persia. Then, Nehemiah heard that opposition led to their 2nd destruction and he felt intense sorrow (1:3 – 4). Hearing the situation, Nehemiah spent 4 months in prayer. Since no one was to be sad in the king’s presence, Nehemiah was afraid when the king noted his sadness (2:1 – 2). However, this provided an opportunity to request a leave of absence from the king’s service in order to go to Jerusalem. Nehemiah was given permission to go and was given access to building materials for the project.
The people at Jerusalem shared Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls. In chapters 4 – 6, opposition arose from the enemies on the outside and from certain Jews on the inside. Being a man of prayer and wisdom, Nehemiah led the people through the difficult days. In only 52 days of work, the walls of Jerusalem were completed (6:15). There was still much work necessary in strengthening the walls and in rebuilding the city itself. Nehemiah organized the city and a militia to defend it.
It is a mistake to think that Nehemiah was only interested in a physical restoration of the nation. In Nehemiah 8:1 – 18, we see that he was deeply committed to teaching the nation to live according to the Law of God. Ezra read from the Law (the Scriptures) and explained its meaning to the thousands who gathered. Genuine revival occurred based on the Word of God. Genuine revival brings about changed behavior. These chapters record not only the confession of sin (9:2 – 3) but also a change in living (10:30 – 39).
When Nehemiah left Jerusalem, much of his influence also left. During his absence, certain sins were tolerated in national life. Nehemiah returned 12 years later (13:7 – 11, 23 – 25) and he dealt with the offenders. With the reforms of Nehemiah, the Old Testament closes. After this, there is no inspired record for over 400 years. The next Word from God will be the angel Gabriel announcing the coming birth of John the Baptist. The book of Nehemiah closes the history of the nation of Israel.
In many ways, the time of Ezra and Nehemiah could be related to ours. God’s people had been in disobedience, which led to the Babylonian captivity. For some leaders had begun the work of restoring the people to God’s service. However, there were still many problems and the people continued to fall into sin. The ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah were to provide transformational leadership to continue the restoration and to challenge the people to spiritual faithfulness.