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Nehemiah

March 24, 2010

I. Nehemiah’s Troubled Heart      Nehemiah 1:1-2:10

II. Nehemiah Rebuilds Jerusalem’s Wall      Nehemiah 2:11-4:23

III. Internal Oppression      Nehemiah 5:1-19

IV. Opposition      Nehemiah 6:1-14

V. The Wall is Completed      Nehemiah 6:15-7:73

VI. Ezra Reads God’s Word      Nehemiah 8:1-10:39

VII. Governing and Dedicating      Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

VIII. Disciplining and Re-Purifying      Nehemiah 13:1-31

Commentary

Introduction

Please see the Forward/Introduction for Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther placed with the first book, Ezra.

Nehemiah’s Troubled Heart      Nehemiah 1:1-2:10

Nehemiah has a meeting with his brother who has just returned from Judah. They meet in Susa which is the capital city of the Persian Empire [see Esther 1:2] so perhaps Hanani, his brother, was on official business for the King as a member of Persia’s military. There was a large population of Israelites living in the area and this could be the area where Ezekiel lived and prophesied. Nehemiah asks his brother about the condition of Jerusalem and its’ people. Hanani reports that the conditions are not good. Jerusalem is still unprotected and the people are struggling and disheartened even though the Temple has been rebuilt. Nehemiah is saddened by this report and begins to fast and pray to the Lord God. Note that Nehemiah’s prayer contains these key elements:

1. Acknowledges the greatness and goodness of God.

2. Requests God hear his continuous prayer.

3. Acknowledges the sin of Israel, his family, and himself.

4. Recalls God’s promises acknowledging God is faithful.

5. Israel is still God’s chosen and redeemed people.

6. Hear my prayer and all prayers of those who worship the Lord God Almighty.

7. Grant me favor today before the King.

We then learn that Nehemiah is a servant of the King, his official cupbearer, verifying that all was well with what the King consumed. Today we would say he was the head chef. The King and Nehemiah knew each other well and the King immediately notices Nehemiah’s sad emotional temperament. Nehemiah shares his feelings for the status of Jerusalem as learned from his brother. The King asks what he wants, taking a personal interest and concern for Nehemiah, his trusted servant. Nehemiah prays for wisdom [a prime example of Paul’s instruction to pray continuously in I Thess. 5:16-18] and asks the King to send him to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall and the city. The King and Nehemiah agree on a timetable and Nehemiah is granted protection for his journey and funds for the work. Word of Nehemiah’s journey and purpose reaches the pagan officials in Jerusalem and they become troubled. They are in control and they fear control by the Israelites.

Follow your heart for it is the voice of God for all who believe and revere His Name. What may seem as a great risk is really no risk because God is sovereign.

Refer to my Prayer Model in this Commentary. Note the similarity of the ACTS approach to Nehemiah’s prayer. Also note the concluding statement which reads:

The answer/follow-up to our prayers is not “do-nothing” but

“do-something” in line with God’s sovereign timing.

That is exactly what is happening in this portion of Scripture.

Nehemiah Rebuilds Jerusalem’s Wall      Nehemiah 2:11-4:23

Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and takes a low-key approach. He does not announce his intent to the officials living in Jerusalem and he rests for three days before inspecting the condition of the wall at night so as not to alarm anyone prematurely. Nehemiah meets with the officials after his inspection is complete, explains his intent, and solicits their support and labor. He explains how the Lord had touched his heart and the heart of King Artazerxes and shares with them the funds and authorization the King has given toward the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. Nehemiah presents his project and his plan, not just an idea. He will lead but he needs their help. When God touches our hearts with a need, proceed in the very same way. Take it slow and easy, define the project, plan the project, and ask for the needed support. God will bless the effort and provide others with the desire to help.

Verbal opposition and taunting begins immediately by the leaders of the non-Israelite community living in Jerusalem. Nehemiah answers that “Jerusalem’s walls will be rebuilt with the help of God”. Their help is not needed nor is it wanted because Jerusalem is the city of Israel. Nehemiah’s answer is straight and to the point; no tact here. Interestingly, this same conflict is still happening today. Both Jews and Arabs claim Jerusalem. Israel is building it and the Arabs want them to stop. The battle Nehemiah is facing is still being fought today.

Chapter 3 describes the organization and plan Nehemiah implemented to rebuild the wall. The priests worked near the Sheep Gate, the men from Jericho worked next to the priests, the family of Hassennah rebuilds the Fish Gate, etc. Each family or city was assigned a section of the wall to rebuild. These assignments are all described in detail. It did not matter what their skill was, they participated because they wanted to secure Jerusalem and return it to its’ former status as their capital and the city where God dwells among His people.

The work begins and progress is seen immediately. Verbal opposition from the non-Israelite leaders also increased. The Israelites combat the ridicule aimed at the quality of their work with prayer, asking God to deal with them [Neh. 4:4-5]. They even resorted to posting guards and praying all night when they were not working [Neh. 4:9]. The Israelites are working hard, praying hard, and becoming tired because they lack sleep and rest. The non-Israelite enemies see their weakened condition and plot to kill the workers. The Israelites become aware of the plots against them so Nehemiah implements a plan whereby the exposed workers are guarded. Then Nehemiah reminds them of God’s awesome power and the fact that He will fight their enemies on their behalf. Indeed, their enemies were frustrated and the work of rebuilding the wall continued. Half the people worked and half the people guarded the workers. If a warning trumpet was sounded, they all assembled at the place of attack and fought. All the workers remained inside Jerusalem and did not go home for fear they would be killed.

God does protect His people, those who are dedicated to building His Kingdom. Opposition comes but God will be with us every step of the way in the fulfillment of His Sovereign Plan. God’s arms are like the Wall of Jerusalem, protecting us from harm. See Psalms 18:2; 31:2; 59:16; and 71:3. Read the Psalms, pray these Psalms [and there are many others] when you sense an enemy attack coming. Find strength, encouragement, and hope in God’s Promises and persevere in faith to do His Will.

Internal Oppression      Nehemiah 5:1-19

Chapter 5 records the oppression of the wealthy Israelites over the poor Israelites. Verse 14 gives us the impression that this complaint surfaced shortly after Nehemiah’s arrival and when he was organizing workers to rebuild the wall. Food is in short supply due to either nature or neglect. Whatever the cause, those families who were running out of food were having to buy food by mortgaging their land, their homes, and even selling their children as slaves. Even the King’s imposed tax was a burden. Now they have no means of income and no food.

After hearing their story and discovering these people are being charged interest on their loans, Nehemiah becomes angry and calls all the wealthy Israelites to a meeting where he chastises them for disobeying God’s law by enslaving their fellow man and charging them interest on loans [see Deut. 15:1-18; Ex. 22:25-27]. They are to care for one another, not covet one another’s possessions. Perhaps the Israelites were not observing the Sabbath Year or the Year of Jubilee either. Nehemiah commands them to give the possessed fields back to their rightful owners and to stop charging interest on their loans immediately. They all agree and the priests are summoned to make their oath and agreement official and binding.

Nehemiah, as governor for 12 years, never ate the food allotted to his office nor did he tax the people. Nehemiah’s devotion was to the rebuilding of the wall and governing justly. A total of 150 officials ate at Nehemiah’s table but they ate as normal people and not according to the extravagance that the office of governor could have demanded. Nehemiah was a humble man who served the Lord and the people. What Nehemiah required of the people he also required of himself and his office. He was governor but he was also one of them. This is a good example for anyone to follow who is in a position of authority or leadership. Humility wins loyalty and respect. We may have different positions and responsibilities but one person is never better than another. Treat all people with love, compassion, kindness, and mercy. God does. Nehemiah did. And so we should too.

Opposition      Nehemiah 6:1-14

Opposition to rebuilding the wall began immediately as we learned in Chapter 4. The wall is now near completion. There are no more gaps but the gates have yet to be installed. This progress gave reason for the non-Israelite leaders to ask for a meeting with Nehemiah at a nearby village. The Israelites had thwarted all the attempts to stop building the wall, even the attempts of violence. Now they begin to employ a political strategy. Nehemiah refuses to meet with them four times. The fifth invitation is a sample letter to be sent to King Artazerxes saying Nehemiah is planning a revolt and is about to make himself King. Nehemiah refutes their claim and prays to the Lord.

Nehemiah next receives an invitation to meet at the Temple for protection from those who are intent to kill him. Nehemiah is not a Levite or a priest so their meeting place is off-limits for him and for whoever would meet with him. Fear for his life was the motive used to tempt Nehemiah into disgrace and to lose the respect and loyalty of the Israelites. Nehemiah refuses the bait, asks God to deal with those who want to intimidate him, and goes on to complete the rebuilding of the Jerusalem’s Wall. The intimidation did not stop but neither did the rebuilding of the wall.

Opposition to the Lord’s work takes place in many forms. It can be outright opposition, fear tactics, threats, false or mis-information, questioning our motives, and even temptation. There is only one solution when opposition comes and that is prayer. We must rely on God, we must listen to God, and we must take our direction from God. Obeying God is not always easy and it may even cost us our lives at times, but it is always rewarding. Obey God and receive His reward of “well done, thou good and faithful servant”. There is no greater reward than hearing those words from the Lord. Let the example of Nehemiah encourage all of us every day.

The Wall is Completed      Nehemiah 6:15-7:73

Here we learn that a wall that has been broken for over 100 years is repaired in just 52 days. This quick work, in spite of the opposition and intimidation taking place, is the result of:

1. Nehemiah’s organizational and motivational skills.

2. The hard work and dedication of the Israelites.

3. The power of the Lord working through the people.

No wonder Israel’s enemies were afraid. God was at work in their midst. His Name was being glorified. Verses 17-19 gives further information concerning the opposition’s activity and further evidence of the power of God and His sovereignty over this project.

Once the wall was built and the gates installed, Nehemiah appoints his brother Hanani to be in charge of Jerusalem and instructs him not to open the gates until the sun is hot and close the gates before the guards go off-duty. My guess is the hours were about 10AM to 6PM, one shift. so that the gates were shut before the next day began and all could observe the Sabbath. Guards were also placed along the wall near some of the homes, most likely where the wall was the weakest and the lowest.

Now Nehemiah’s biggest problem was to find people who had returned to Jerusalem and who had previously owned property in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was in need of being inhabited and the majority of those who had returned lived outside the city. Nehemiah finds the old records of the initial returnees who accompanied Zerubbabel and confirms their registration and verifies that those who claimed to be Israelites were indeed Israelites. With these records were also the records documenting the gifts these families made toward the rebuilding of the Temple, a record of their sacrificial offerings.

There is one important lesson here and that is great and wonderful things are done when His children are obedient and willing to yield to the Spirit of the Lord God Almighty.

Ezra Reads God’s Word      Nehemiah 8:1-10:39

Seven months have passed since Nehemiah had asked the King to go to Jerusalem and about 2 months after the completion of Jerusalem’s Wall. Israel is about to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. The people had worked hard to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and are now settled back in their towns but they have assembled in Jerusalem before the Water Gate to hear God’s Word read by Ezra. My guess is that the Water Gate is on the east side of the Temple by the Kidron valley where people would go to get water. None of the Commentaries in my library offer any locations to confirm or refute my guess.

Ezra comes before the people to read the Book of the Law of Moses. This could be the Pentateuch/Torah are it could just be Deuteronomy which records Moses’ final instructions to Israel. Everyone who could understand Hebrew listened; men, women, and children. Ezra read facing the Water Gate from a special platform. A city square was located there, perhaps behind the Water Gate. The people probably sat on the hillside with Ezra on a platform below. That would make the setting like an amphitheater with everyone able to hear. Thirteen other priests stood with Ezra and they probably took turns reading. The fact that they read all day for days leads one to believe they read the Pentateuch. However, teaching was also involved so perhaps only Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy were used. Regardless, serious reading, teaching, and preaching was taking place and the people responded saying “Amen” and wept, worshiping the Lord God Almighty. Nehemiah instructs them to eat and to make sure they share with those who had nothing. Their worship turns from weeping to pure joy because they heard the Word, understood the Word, and began to obey the Word, rejoicing in its message. They learned that this was the time to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles so they went home, informed their friends, and returned to continue rejoicing in the Lord in sacred assembly. All this time Ezra is continuing to read God’s Word to the people.

On the 24th day or 10 days after the Feast of Tabernacles, the Day of Atonement is observed. Again Ezra reads God’s Word to the people for 6 hours and they are led in worship by the 13 Levites for another 6 hours. Their worship experience is one of confessing their sin and praising God. They acknowledge God as the only true God, the creator God, the God who chose their father Abraham, the faithful God who covenanted with them, the righteous God, a God of miracles, a God who has instructed them in righteousness, a forgiving God, a gracious and compassionate God, a loving and merciful God, a God who desires to lead them and fellowship with them, a God who sustains them and offers hope, a great mighty and awesome God, a just God, etc. Verses 5-37 of Chapter 9 offer the most complete record of God’s attributes and characteristics in all of Scripture. Among the phrases praising God for who He is are many other phrases confessing their sin and the sin of their descendants. They acknowledge God’s goodness and justness toward them.

As a result of their confession and praise to God, they each write a covenant sealed by the priests committing to follow all God’s Laws. Their descendants did this before Moses died and also before Joshua died. Their commitment included to :

• Not marry outside of Israel, remaining a separate and pure people unto God. [vs. 30]

• Honor the Sabbath. [vs. 31]

• Support the Temple worship. [vs. 32-34]

• Bring in and dedicate their first-fruits to God. [vs. 35-36]

• Worship the Lord with tithes and offerings. [vs. 37-39]

God’s Word is powerful [Heb. 4:12] and does return empty/void [Isaiah 55:11]. It is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness [II Timothy 3:16]. Now familiarize yourself with the work of the Gideon’s. Is there any question in your mind concerning the attributes and power of God’s Word? All that is recorded in Nehemiah 8-10 confirms what is said about God’s Word elsewhere in Scripture. The results seen in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s time are the same as is seen today in the work of the Gideon’s. Personally, read God’s Word, study God’s Word, obey God’s Word, confess your sin, worship the Lord, and rejoice in God’s blessings here on earth and in heaven above.

These comments are general in nature. Spend some personal time looking at this section in detail. God’s Word will grip you and convict you too just as it did with the Israelites. Don’t leave this passage without worshiping God and praising His Name.

Governing and Dedicating      Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

Jerusalem is under inhabited but its’ wall is rebuilt so Nehemiah goes about populating Israel’s capital city by casting lots and giving every 10th family an opportunity to live in Jerusalem. Those who chose to move were commended. Verses 5-36 of Chapter 11 detail all the families chosen to live in Jerusalem. They were descendants of Judah, Benjamin, Priests, other Levites including the gatekeepers. Those not chosen continued living in the cities of Judah and Benjamin.

Chapter 12 begins with another accounting of the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel. All this was necessary for maintaining property records, heritage records, and for determining which of the Levitical families had the proper lineage to fulfill specific Temple jobs/responsibilities. In today’s world we would say Nehemiah conducted a census for the purpose of defining who returned and who was qualified to do certain duties.

The wall had been completed 2 months earlier and a census taken. Now plans are made to dedicate Jerusalem’s wall. The Levites were sought out from all of Judah to prepare and perform the music. The dedication begins with the purification of the priests and Levites, then the Israelites, and finally the gates and the wall. There were two choirs placed on top of the wall. One choir sang and marched on top of the wall in one direction. The second choir did likewise but in the opposite direction. Ezra led the first procession and Nehemiah followed the second along with the people. The two choirs met at the Temple singing thanksgiving and praise to God. It was a great time of worship, sacrificing to God, and praising God. The worship of the people was heard for miles. The people brought their first-fruits and tithes into the temple storeroom so that all the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers were supported. Thus, Nehemiah’s purpose for going to Jerusalem has been completed but he remained there as governor for another 11 years.

Never forget to worship the Lord and celebrate the success of His Work. Worship unifies us before God and celebration unifies us among each other. Both are needed to experience and have peace.

Disciplining and Re-Purifying      Nehemiah 13:1-31

Nehemiah was governor over Jerusalem for 12 years before being recalled by King Artaxerxes [vs. 6]. Most historians believe Nehemiah’s absence was short. It is difficult to discern if Nehemiah 13:1-3 was part of the dedication celebration or just the continuation of what began in Chapter 8. Verses 1-2 give credence that Ezra was reading the Pentateuch because the story of Balaam is found in Numbers 22. My sense is that Nehemiah was not present at the beginning of Chapter 13 [see vs. 4] in that Eliashib had been put in charge of the storerooms by Nehemiah prior to his being recalled [Neh. 12:44]. During Nehemiah’s absence, the Israelites learned that the Ammonites were to be excluded from their fellowship. They were not to be trusted. Some Ammonites probably worshipped God but it would be difficult to determine if they were genuine based on their culture. God certainly questioned the genuineness and said to exclude them.

One Ammonite, Tobiah, was not excluded even though he was a leader of the opposition in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s Wall. He and Eliashib, the priest, were close friends and so Eliashib even let him live in the temple storerooms after Israel had decided to exclude all foreigners. Perhaps they were related through intermarriage [Neh. 13:28]. Nehemiah returns, discovers the evil, tosses Tobiah out, and goes about purifying the store rooms. While restoring the temple store rooms to their original purpose, Nehemiah discovers that the Israelites had neglected their commitment recorded in Nehemiah 10 [see my comments] to bring in their first-fruits, tithes, and offerings. Consequently, the Levites assigned to the Temple had to return to their homes to support their families. This brings rebuke from Nehemiah toward the officials Nehemiah had appointed before he was recalled. To resolve all these mistakes, Nehemiah replaces the priest, scribe, and Levite in charge with other men known to be trustworthy. Basically, Nehemiah cleaned house and appointed new people to restore Israel’s system of government. Scripture seem to indicate that the Israelites were more than willing to bring in their tithes and offerings once they knew the people in charge were trustworthy [vs. 12-13].

Verse 14 states a prayer of Nehemiah asking God’s forgiveness for the wrong that has happened and to remember the right that has been accomplished. This prayer, with varying themes, is repeated in verse 22, 29, and 31. In the verses between these prayers, we learn that the other commitments Israel made in Chapter 10 were not kept either. In verses 15-21 they had failed to honor the Sabbath. In verse 23-28 they had failed to prevent intermarriage with foreigners. Even the family of the high priest, Eliashib’s family, was guilty.

Thus, we learn that Nehemiah had to start over with the priests and Levites, re-purifying them and retraining them to be trustworthy in carrying out their responsibilities. These Israelites were God’s remnant but they were weak and easily influenced to tolerate behavior contrary to God’s Word. Nehemiah led Israel in the right way and concludes by asking God to favor him, to bless his work. He has done his best and now gives his work to God.

This last chapter has many lessons. Among them are:

1. It is important to follow-up with those who have been given special responsibilities so as to assure they are trustworthy and doing right.

2. Failure to perform in a responsible manner according to what is right and proper requires removal in order to right the wrongs and restore confidence and trust.

3. Be discerning. Even those who should know best what is right are subject to being tempted by Satan to tolerate evil and to do evil.

4. Humility before God, asking forgiveness, is absolutely necessary if we are to faithfully obey God’s Word.

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