Introduction to Nehemiah
and Study of Nehemiah 1-3
May 18th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Nehemiah (Overview)

This book continues the story and some of the main themes from Ezra. We are introduced to Nehemiah, who had been the cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, which is equivalent to a role as a Secret Service agent protecting the president of the United States. Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah a leave of absence to lead the next big project in Jerusalem, which was to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah then leads a third group of exiles back to Jerusalem, 80 years after the first group. Nehemiah then remains to direct the wall rebuilding project and helps the city and nation get back on its feet.

In the Hebrew Scripture, Ezra and Nehemiah are combined into a single book. Thus, it seems reasonable to discover that Nehemiah continues the themes from Ezra regarding the intervention of God and the prayers of his people. For example, the intervention of God is evident throughout the book of Nehemiah as he employs non-believers to achieve his purposes and protects those who believe in him. For Nehemiah, prayer is an integral part of his life that precedes any action and is even conducted at the same time he conducts conversations with important people.

The chapters of the book of Nehemiah can be divided into two parts:

    Rebuilding the Wall Chapters 1-7
    Nehemiah’s Leadership Chapters 8-13

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Abegg, Martin Jr., Flint Peter, and Ulrich, Eugene; The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY, 1999

  • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984

  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993

  • Kidner, Derek, Ezra and Nehemiah, An Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester England, Downers Grove, IL, USA, 1979

  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)

  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)

  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970

  • Noroton Presbyterian Church Podcast Feed,

  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Lord, these are your servants, your own people. You rescued them by your great power and strength. 11Listen now to my prayer and to the prayers of all your other servants who want to honour you. Give me success today and make the emperor merciful to me.”

- Nehemiah 1:10-11 (GNB)

Summary of Chapters

Chapter 1 reports that Nehemiah was serving as cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes when he heard of the condition of the wall of Jerusalem and committed himself to fasting and prayer. He praised God and made specific requests for his prayer to be heard and for success in the actions he would take.

While simultaneously praying to God, he asked the king to send him to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, as noted in chapter 2. He also asked for letters to ensure protection and cooperation. Nehemiah then went to Jerusalem, investigated the wall at night and presented a plan to the people.

Chapter 3 reports that different families contributed to building different parts of the wall, often the spot where they had a house.

Reflection and Application

It's difficult to fully appreciate the importance and function of the city wall for Nehemiah and his contemporaries living hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The primary means of protection in the 21st century is more sophisticated, as we rely on technology, such as expensive military aircraft, x-ray scanning machines, and virtual firewalls that protect corporate computer networks. We also have bomb-sniffing dogs because their sense of smell and the ability to identify specific smells, as created by God, surpasses anything man is yet to invent. Aside from a few exceptions, we don't solely rely on physical walls.

There are some historical remnants of city walls that we can observe. In North America, there is one city that still has walls - Old Quebec in Canada. Other remnants include street names that persist long after the walls are gone. For example, the location of Wall Street, in New York, was once a wall that separated the populated lower portion of the island from the dangers found at the northern end. The Wall no longer exists, but the street is a symbol for the financial markets. In fact, due to the events of the last decade we now have physical barriers that are raised and lowered to allow authorized traffic down this famous street - and we have bomb-sniffing dogs. So perhaps in some respects, we can appreciate the importance of a good defensive wall.

For the people of Judah, the walls were an important physical barrier, but also an important symbolic representation of the holy city. Nehemiah was heart-broken to hear about its condition, still unrepaired 80 years after the return of the first exiles. Therefore, he went to God in prayer for help and guidance. If we go to God in praise, confession, thanksgiving, and petition before taking on a big task then God will bless us too.

Notice how Nehemiah prayed at the same time he was talking to the king:

    The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

    Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “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 2:4-5 (NIV)

We can also talk to God as we talk to people, just like Nehemiah did. Some of us are proud of our ability to multi-task and conceivably accomplish more than if we were doing one thing at a time. Sometimes we may overstretch the boundaries of what is humanly capable, but the multi-tasking performed by Nehemiah was one that engaged superhuman abilities in the form of God’s communication with us. We don’t have to type or write, we only have to have a thought in our mind – not necessarily a fully formed grammatically perfect one. The Spirit fills in the blanks and God understands.

Note that Nehemiah trusted in God, but also took prudent steps, such as requesting royal letters for protection and organizing a force of defenders at the wall. God wants our participation. If we listen, he will guide us as to how he wants us to participate, and then he will multiply our effort.

Sometimes he multiplies our efforts by sending us helpers to achieve our objectives. We can learn from Nehemiah about one of the ways to maximize the resources that God gives us: When everyone recognizes a shared goal and benefit, then they will participate with their full effort, as the people of Jerusalem did in building and defending the wall. Many hands make light work.

The Reverend Sam Schreiner began a four-part sermon series on Nehemiah in September 2011. In the first part he focused on Nehemiah 1-2 and described four building blocks of leadership embodied by Nehemiah: Heart of compassion, habit of prayer, head for making plans, and help from an important person. Schreiner pointed out that Nehemiah was 800 miles from Jerusalem but still cared about the people there. He demonstrated his compassion by asking for news and keeping informed on their progress. He prayed before taking any actions and then carefully laid out his plan. He also sought help from the King, who gave him leave and a letter of protection. You can hear the entirety of Schreiner's sermon by clicking the player below:

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. What has been your experience in building any type of wall?
    2. Have you tried talking to God and someone else at the same time?
    3. What is the effort that God is looking for from you today?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you are the one that we can ultimately trust. Please help us to pray to you as we go about our day.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Waiters and Waitresses

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Nehemiah 4-7 (Finishing the Wall)

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