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Nehemiah 1-4 Listen
The Book of Nehemiah: it's not just history!
What's the big deal about Nehemiah? Well, here's the significance of these events. The Book of Ezra records the decree from the Persian King Cyrus and the resulting completion of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. However, the city at this point has not been restored; the walls around the city are a mess. The Book of Daniel contains a prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 (see notes) which covers a number of issues, but the one we are most interested in here is the decree to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Daniel 9:25 says, "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times." That term "weeks" is translated from a Hebrew word (shaw-boo´-ah) which means a group of seven. So, here's where we are: Daniel 9:25 says that the time that lapses between the decree that actually results in the rebuilding of Jerusalem until the Messiah's coming will be (7x7)+(60x7)+(2x7)=483. "483 what?" you ask. Well, the decree went out in Ezra 7:7-28 (see notes) in 457 B.C. to rebuild the city. However, twelve years later the project had stalled; the walls had not been rebuilt - worked on, yes, but not completed. Nehemiah gets the project back on track, and by the time we finish reading Nehemiah, the task is complete. That being the case, according to Daniel 9:25, 483 units of something will pass from the issuing of the decree until the coming of the Messiah. It just so happens that 483 years passed between that decree in Ezra 7 and the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus Christ. Here's the really astounding part: Daniel's prophecy was issued over 100 years before these events in Ezra and Nehemiah even begin to take place. How's that for useful prophecy? Click here to see a fuller explanation of Daniel 9:24-27 .
So, as you read Nehemiah, keep this in mind: Satan respects prophecy; he believes prophecy; he does not want the countdown to the Messiah to begin. Satan's mission in Nehemiah is to STOP THAT WALL FROM BEING BUILT. Satan knows what a fully-rebuilt wall means, so obviously he's bent on stopping it's completion. And that's what Nehemiah is all about.
So, how do the events of Nehemiah fit into the whole chronology with the Book of Ezra and Esther? Click here to see the chronology of events. The temple dedication (Ezra 6:15-18, see notes) had taken place back in 516 B.C. The events in Nehemiah take place beginning in 445 B.C.
Nehemiah - the cup bearer (Nehemiah 1)
1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace,
2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.
7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.
Nehemiah gets word from a fellow Jew about the condition of the broken-down walls in Jerusalem. Something must be done! First step: Pray about it. That prayer begins in verse 4 and continues to verse 11 where we see Nehemiah's request to God for an opportunity to discuss the subject with the king. We are told in verse 11 how Nehemiah gains regular access to the King; he was King Artaxerxes' cupbearer - a daily attendant to the king of Persia - his bartender. It's going to be difficult to be cheerful in the king's presence after hearing that the people in his hometown are so miserable
1 And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.
2 Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid,
3 And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?
4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven.
5 And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it.
6 And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
7 Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah;
8 And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.
The date is 445 B.C. ("twentieth year of Artaxerxes"). The temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt 71 years ago (516 B.C.), but the wall around Jerusalem was still a mess. Equipped with prayer, Nehemiah delivers the cup of wine to the Persian King.
"Why the long face, Nehemiah?" asks King Artaxerxes.
"Just depressed about my hometown," replies Nehemiah.
So, King Art authorizes Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem to fix the wall. We see in verses 7-8 that Nehemiah even gets letters of authorization to rebuild the wall from the king himself to take to Jerusalem with him.
Nehemiah looks over the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:9-20)
9 Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.
10 When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.
11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.
12 And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.
13 And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire.
14 Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass.
15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned.
16 And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work.
17 Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.
18 Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?
20 Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.
The term, "Beyond the River" in verse 9 is a reference to everything west of the Euphrates River. Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem with a military escort and looks over the situation. He has his letters of authorization from the king in hand and presents them to those charged with the governing of the area; it's not clear to them at this point what Nehemiah intends to do.
After Nehemiah spends some time looking over the broken-down wall around Jerusalem, he then meets with the Jewish leadership there and unveils the plan; the folks are excited about the decree to rebuild the wall; they are ready to build. Not everyone is happy though. Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab are going to be problems here - guaranteed! These men are not Jews, and have some type of leadership positions among the people in that region. They waste no time in their resistance to the plan as we observe in verse 19, "But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?" That was a suggestion that the only reason a city needs a wall is for the purpose of resisting the Persian kingdom.
All right, who repairs what? (Nehemiah 3)
1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel.
2 And next unto him builded the men of Jericho. And next to them builded Zaccur the son of Imri.
3 But the fish gate did the sons of Hassenaah build, who also laid the beams thereof, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars thereof.
4 And next unto them repaired Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz. And next unto them repaired Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabeel. And next unto them repaired Zadok the son of Baana.
5 And next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.
6 Moreover the old gate repaired Jehoiada the son of Paseah, and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah; they laid the beams thereof, and set up the doors thereof, and the locks thereof, and the bars thereof.
7 And next unto them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite, and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon, and of Mizpah, unto the throne of the governor on this side the river.
8 Next unto him repaired Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, of the goldsmiths. Next unto him also repaired Hananiah the son of one of the apothecaries, and they fortified Jerusalem unto the broad wall.
9 And next unto them repaired Rephaiah the son of Hur, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem.
10 And next unto them repaired Jedaiah the son of Harumaph, even over against his house. And next unto him repaired Hattush the son of Hashabniah.
11 Malchijah the son of Harim, and Hashub the son of Pahathmoab, repaired the other piece, and the tower of the furnaces.
12 And next unto him repaired Shallum the son of Halohesh, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, he and his daughters.
13 The valley gate repaired Hanun, and the inhabitants of Zanoah; they built it, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars thereof, and a thousand cubits on the wall unto the dung gate.
14 But the dung gate repaired Malchiah the son of Rechab, the ruler of part of Bethhaccerem; he built it, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars thereof.
15 But the gate of the fountain repaired Shallun the son of Colhozeh, the ruler of part of Mizpah; he built it, and covered it, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars thereof, and the wall of the pool of Siloah by the king’s garden, and unto the stairs that go down from the city of David.
16 After him repaired Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, the ruler of the half part of Bethzur, unto the place over against the sepulchres of David, and to the pool that was made, and unto the house of the mighty.
17 After him repaired the Levites, Rehum the son of Bani. Next unto him repaired Hashabiah, the ruler of the half part of Keilah, in his part.
18 After him repaired their brethren, Bavai the son of Henadad, the ruler of the half part of Keilah.
19 And next to him repaired Ezer the son of Jeshua, the ruler of Mizpah, another piece over against the going up to the armoury at the turning of the wall.
20 After him Baruch the son of Zabbai earnestly repaired the other piece, from the turning of the wall unto the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest.
21 After him repaired Meremoth the son of Urijah the son of Koz another piece, from the door of the house of Eliashib even to the end of the house of Eliashib.
22 And after him repaired the priests, the men of the plain.
23 After him repaired Benjamin and Hashub over against their house. After him repaired Azariah the son of Maaseiah the son of Ananiah by his house.
24 After him repaired Binnui the son of Henadad another piece, from the house of Azariah unto the turning of the wall, even unto the corner.
25 Palal the son of Uzai, over against the turning of the wall, and the tower which lieth out from the king’s high house, that was by the court of the prison. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh.
26 Moreover the Nethinims dwelt in Ophel, unto the place over against the water gate toward the east, and the tower that lieth out.
27 After them the Tekoites repaired another piece, over against the great tower that lieth out, even unto the wall of Ophel.
28 From above the horse gate repaired the priests, every one over against his house.
29 After them repaired Zadok the son of Immer over against his house. After him repaired also Shemaiah the son of Shechaniah, the keeper of the east gate.
30 After him repaired Hananiah the son of Shelemiah, and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph, another piece. After him repaired Meshullam the son of Berechiah over against his chamber.
31 After him repaired Malchiah the goldsmith’s son unto the place of the Nethinims, and of the merchants, over against the gate Miphkad, and to the going up of the corner.
32 And between the going up of the corner unto the sheep gate repaired the goldsmiths and the merchants.
Let's divide up the task by sections and get to it. All 32 verses of chapter 3 tells us what group was assigned what task. It was a very well-organized venture. Sections of the wall are assigned to different groups for completion in these verses. Barring any problems, this should be an easy task. Remember though, Satan knows that we're not simply talking about repairing a wall here. If this task succeeds, start the countdown to the Messiah's coming. For more details on this, see the introduction above. The next chapters should be interesting.
Because Satan knows that the successful completion of the wall begins the countdown to the Messiah, Satan wants to use every available means to stop this rebuilding. His tactics here are very Satan-like. As a matter of fact, he still uses tactics like these today against Believers. That fact gives us a whole new interesting perspective to the Book of Nehemiah. Let's give a nickname to the Book of Nehemiah, "Satan, and His Bag of Tricks."
Intimidation through ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1-5)
1 But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.
2 And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?
3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.
4 Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity:
5 And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.
Sanballat and his buddies come to poke fun maliciously at the efforts of the Jews to rebuild the wall. Verse 1 says they "took great indignation, and mocked the Jews." Well...that didn't stop them; the Jews continue to rebuild despite the taunting from the enemy. Ever been discouraged? Does Satan use other people to get you down? They just work right on through it. Oh...they did pray AGAINST Sanballat and Tobiah.
Threat of physical safety (Nehemiah 4:6-23)
6 So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
7 But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth,
8 And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.
9 Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.
10 And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.
11 And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.
12 And it came to pass, that when the Jews which dwelt by them came, they said unto us ten times, From all places whence ye shall return unto us they will be upon you.
13 Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows.
14 And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.
15 And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work.
16 And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah.
17 They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.
18 For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.
19 And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another.
20 In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us.
21 So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.
22 Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labour on the day.
23 So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.
"They won't work if they feel that their lives are at risk!" Satan must have conjectured. But he was wrong! Sanballat and Tobiah declare war on these construction workers; look at Nehemiah 4:8, "And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it." Well...that's going to slow us down, especially considering that they intend to "slay" (verse 11) these Jewish workers if that's what it takes to halt the work on the wall. However, those scrappy Jews strapped their weapons to their sides, posted guards around the work areas and kept working on that wall. They worked from sun up to nightfall every day and slept in Jerusalem at night to guard their work. Another Satanic tactic...FAILED! However, Satan won't be giving up quite this easily - too much at stake!