Nehemiah, meaning comforted by Jehovah, was the son of Hachaliah of Judah. He was among the Jews of the exile to Babylon. After the Babylonian empire (see Ancient Empires - Babylon) fell to the Persians (see Ancient Empires - Persia), Nehemiah found himself as the royal cup-bearer in the palace of the Persian king Artaxerxes. That trusted and responsible position made possible Nehemiah's role in Bible History - being made the civil governor of Jerusalem, along with Ezra the priest, at the time of the return.
The News Arrives
While serving at the palace in Susa, Nehemiah became greatly distressed when he got word that Jerusalem remained in ruins:
"Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, that Hanani, one of my brethren, came with certain men out of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that survived, who had escaped exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, "The survivors there in the province who escaped exile are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire." When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days; and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven." (Nehemiah 1:1-4 RSV)
Nehemiah's sadness did not go unnoticed before the king:
"And the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing else but sadness of the heart." Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, "Let the king live for ever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?" Then the king said to me, "For what do you make request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may rebuild it." (Nehemiah 2:2-5 RSV)
Nehemiah In Jerusalem
The king's permission was granted, and accompanied by Persian cavalry (Nehemiah 2:9), Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem where he would serve as the governor. This occurred approximately 446 B.C., about 11 years after Ezra (see Ezra) got there.
When Nehemiah arrived, he quickly made a survey of the fallen city, and organized the people to make the restoration (Nehemiah 2:11-20). Despite opposition from people such as Tobiah the Ammonite, Sanballat the Horonite and Geshem the Arab (Nehemiah 2:19), the wall was rebuilt in 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15), with the rest of the work completed in about 6 months. Nehemiah worked closely with Ezra (Nehemiah 8:1) in restoring not only the city, but the people's obedience to God.
After much of his mission was completed, Nehemiah went back to Persia (Nehemiah 13:6), but returned to Jerusalem later to again enforce the Law of God after the people reverted to their disobedient ways, including defiling the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-22), and involvement with idolatrous people (Nehemiah 13:23-29) - the very same reasons that caused the destruction of the city in the first place (see Why Babylon?). It was during this period that the prophet Malachi (see Malachi) was also active in the city.
Nehemiah's final days are not recorded, however he was a courageous and obedient servant of God who almost certainly remained so for the remainder of his life. The book of Nehemiah is named after him.
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