Nehemiah 1


Nehemiah’s Work to Rebuild the Walls of Jerusalem (1:1 – 7:73a)

Report from Jerusalem

– These are the words of Hakaliah’s son Nehemiah:

– During the month of Kislev, in the 20th year, I was in the citadel of Susa. Hanani, one of my relatives, came from Judah with some other men and I questioned them about Jerusalem and about the Jews who had escaped and survived the exile.

– On the date, an NLT Illustrated Study Bible footnote indicates, “A number of dates in the book of Nehemiah can be cross-checked with dates in surviving Persian records and related accurately to our modern calendar. This month of the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar occurred within the months of November and December 446 BC.”

– ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “These are the memoirs or history (cf Jer 1:1; Amos 1:1) of Nehemiah, whose name means ‘Yahweh has comforted.’…The twentieth year was 445 BC, in the reign of Artaxerxes I, 13 years after Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem. Susa the citadel- In contrast to Ecbatana, the royal summer palace, Susa was a royal winter residence, formerly the capital of Elam. It has been extensively but intermittently excavated by the French since 1884…”

– ESV Study Bible notes, “It is not known whether these men were residents of Jerusalem or of Persia, nor is the nature of their mission known. This, [the Jews who had escaped and survived the exile], along with the remnant refers to the returned exiles living in Jerusalem and Judah…”

– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds this historical context, “In 460 a revolt broke out in Egypt that took five years to put down. A satrap of Mesopotamia named Megabyzus also rebelled in 488 BC. Because of the turbulence of the times, the Persians may have been willing to ally themselves with minority groups such as the Jews, which may explain the high position held by Nehemiah.”

– They told me, “The remnant that remains from the exile there in the province are experiencing considerable adversity and reproach. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down and its gates have been burned down.

– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “The wall of Jerusalem that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, despite abortive attempts to rebuild them, remained in ruins for almost a century and a half. Such a lamentable situation obviously made Jerusalem vulnerable to numerous enemies. Yet, from a mixture of apathy and fear, the Jews failed to rectify this glaring deficiency. The narrative is describing a recent failed attempt to rebuild the wall…not the original destruction of the city and its wall over a century prior.”

Nehemiah’s Prayer

– As soon as I heard this, I sat down and cried. For days I mourned, fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:

– “O Yahweh, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps His covenant of steadfast love with those who love Him and obey His commandments. Let Your eyes be open and Your ears be listening to hear the prayer that Your servant is praying before You day and night on behalf of Your servants, the Israelites. I confess the sins we have committed against You. Even I myself and my family have sinned. We have acted very corruptly toward You and have not obeyed the commands, statutes, and ordinances that You gave Your servant Moses. Recall the instruction You gave Your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you come back to Me and obey My commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place that I have chosen for My name to reside.’ They are Your servants and Your people. You have redeemed them by Your great power and strong hand. Please, Lord, let Your ear hear my prayer and the prayer of Your servants who take pleasure in revering Your name. Grant me success today and have compassion on me in the presence of the king.”

– ESV Study Bible offers the following clarifying notes:

– On the “covenant of steadfast love,” “Cf Deut 7:9. Steadfast love is the quality of God’s faithfulness to Israel in his covenant with them. Such covenant faithfulness requires Israel’s love in return (see also Deut 6:5). This love also includes faithfulness, and is made evident in keeping God’s law as given to Moses; obedience is the proper response to God’s love, not the precondition of it.”

– “Nehemiah’s prayer begins with a confession recalling all the past sins of Israel, as well as Nehemiah himself and of his family. Such confession is generally the right beginning in prayer, but Nehemiah especially acknowledges that Israel’s sin has led to this deplorable situation in Jerusalem. Israel has not responded to God’s gracious covenant in the way outlined in v. 5. Nehemiah’s prayer also recalls Solomon’s when he dedicated the first temple (1 Kings 8:28-30). His use of the term ‘servant’ for himself…and Israel…is significant since he is also a servant of King Artaxerxes. Ezra used a form of the same word (Hb ‘ebed) to speak of ‘slavery’ to Persia (Ezra 9:9)…”

– On Nehemiah’s call to remember the instructions He gave Moses, “Moses also called on God to remember his promises when Israel was suffering his judgment because of sin (Ex 32:13; Deut 9:27). Nehemiah now recalls God’s words about the essential choice placed before Israel in the covenant, in which disobedience would lead to scattering, or exile, among the peoples (Lev 26:27-33; Deut 4:25-27; 28:64), while obedience would bring blessing (Lev 26:3-13; Deut 28:1-14). In Nehemiah’s perspective, however, the threatened exile did indeed happen; so he now appeals to God’s old promise that even then, if Israel repented, he would restore them to the land and prosperity (Lev 26:40-42; Deut 4:29-31; 30:1-6). The restoration has happened in one sense, for many of God’s people have returned from exile, but it remains incomplete because the land is not yet secure. Again, the reference is to the old promise to bring Israel into its land (Deut 12:5). The ‘place’ in question was primarily the city where the Lord’s sanctuary would be, which was finally Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:4). The dwelling of the ‘name’ meant the Lord’s claiming of the place as his own, in contrast to the claims of other gods or rulers.”

– On Nehemiah’s mention of God’s prior redemption, “The reference, both here and in Deut 4:34, is to (1) the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, (2) the miraculous signs of the afflictions of Egypt, and (3) the defeat of Egypt in the Red Sea (Ex 7-15).”

– On Nehemiah’s asking for God to grant him mercy in the king’s presence (Artaxerxes I), “Nehemiah knows that God can move powerful people to act in ways that accord with his own plans, and in favor of his people (see Ezra 6:22). But he may also know that Artaxerxes has already decreed that work on rebuilding Jerusalem should stop (…see Ezra 4:23). Therefore, Nehehiah’s petition may bring danger to him…”

– HCSB adds, “Some scholars believe that the Pentateuch (Gn-Dt) was not written until the post-exilic period. The numerous references in the book of Nehemiah to Mosaic authorship of authoritative passages found in the Pentateuch and the intense reverence the people felt toward many of these passage to argue for Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

– Now, I was the king’s cupbearer.

– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “An important official with ready access to the king. Since he also came in contact with the harem, he was often a eunuch, but there is no evidence that this was the case with Nehemiah. The cupbearer was the chief financial officer and bearer of the signet ring…and in later sources is said to be the wine taster, whose job it was to sample royal beverages to test for poison.”

“Ashurnasirpal court scene depicts a eunuch offering the king the royal cup, Nimrud, 865-860 BC”

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