(See EZRA; MALACHI.)
1. Son of Hachaliah, seemingly of Judah, as his kinsman Hanani was so (Nehemiah 1:2); and Jerusalem was "the place of his fathers' sepulchres" (Nehemiah 2:3). Probably he was of David's lineage, as his name varied appears in it, "Naum" (Luke 3:25), and his kinsman's name too, Hananiah, son of Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 3:19); his "fathers' sepulchres" would be those of David's royal line. Cupbearer of Artaxerxes (Longimanus) according to his own autobiography, at Susa or Shushan, the principal Persian palace; Ecbatana was the royal summer residence, Babylon the spring, Persepolis the autumn, and Susa the winter. In Artaxerxes' 20th year Hanani with other Jews came from Jerusalem, reporting that the remnant there were in great affliction, the wall broken down, and the gates burned. Sorrow at the news drove him to fasting in expression of sadness, and prayer before the God of heaven, who alone could remedy the evil.
His prayer (Nehemiah 1:4-11) was marked by importunate continuity, "day and night" (compare Isaiah 62:6-7; Luke 18:7), intercession for Israel, confession of individual and national sin, pleading that God should remember His promises of mercy upon their turning to Him, however far cast out for transgression; also that He should remember they are His people redeemed by His strong hand, therefore His honour is at stake in their persons; and that Nehemiah and they who pray with him desire to fear God's name (Isaiah 26:8; contrast Psalm 66:18; compare Daniel 9, Leviticus 26:33-39; Deuteronomy 4:25-31); lastly he asks God to dispose Artaxerxes' heart to "mercy" (Proverbs 21:1). "Let Thine ear ... Thine eyes be open ... hear the prayer," is an allusion to Solomon's prayer (1 Kings 8:28-29). After four months (Nehemiah 1:1; Nehemiah 2:1), from Chisleu to Nisan, of praying and waiting, in Artaxerxes' 20th year Nehemiah with sad countenance ministered as his cupbearer.
The king noticed his melancholy (Proverbs 15:13) and asked its cause. Nehemiah was "sore afraid," but replied it was for the desolation of the city "the place of his fathers' sepulchres." Artaxerxes said, "for what dost thou ... request?" Nehemiah ejaculated his request to God first, then to the earthly king. There seemed no interval between the king's question and Nehemiah's answer, yet a momentous transaction had passed between earth and heaven that decided the issue in behalf of Nehemiah (Isaiah 65:24). Artaxerxes, "according to the good hand of Nehemiah's God upon him," granted him leave to go to Jerusalem for a time, and letters to the provincial governors beyond the Euphrates to convey him forward, and to Asaph to supply timber for the palace gates, etc. As "governor" (pechah, also tirshatha') he had an escort of cavalry, and so reached Jerusalem, where he stayed inactive three days, probably the usual term for purification after a journey.
Notwithstanding Ezra's commission in Artaxerxes' seventh year (457 B.C.), after the dead period from the sixth of Darius to that year, a period in which there is no history of the returned Jews (Ezra 6:15-7;Ezra 6:1, etc.) and only the history of the foreign Jews in Esther, and notwithstanding the additional numbers and resources which Ezra had brought, Nehemiah now, in Artaxerxes' 20th year, in his secret ride of observation by night found Jerusalem in deplorable plight (Nehemiah 2:12-16; compare Isaiah 64:9-12). (See EZRA.) The account is given in the first person, which often recurs; he forms his secret resolution to none but God in whose strength he moved. How the greatest movements for good often originate with one individual! He next enlisted in the restoration the nobles, priests, and rulers. But his continual dependence was "the hand of his God good upon him" (Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 2:18), a phrase common to Ezra also (Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:9; Ezra 7:28; compare Ezra 5:5), and marking their joint fellowship in God.
Where a good work is there will be opposition; so Sanballat the Horonite, and the slave Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian mocked the work, and alleged it was rebellion against the king; Nehemiah told them he would persevere in reliance upon "the God of heaven," but "ye have no right in Jerusalem." Psalm 123 was eventually written at this time in reference to their "scorn" while "at ease themselves"; Nehemiah's "hear, O our God, for we are despised" (Nehemiah 4:3-4) answers to Israel's "unto Thee lift I up mine eyes, our soul is filled with the contempt," etc. His great work was the restoration of the city walls as the first step toward civil government, the revival of the national spirit, and the bringing back of the priests and Levites to reside with a feeling of security for their persons and for the tithes and offerings.
Messiah's advent was associated by Daniel (Daniel 9:25-27) with the command to "restore and build Jerusalem"; and Jeremiah too had foretold "the city shall be built to the Lord from the tower of Hananeel unto the gate of the corner, and the measuring line shall go forth over against it upon the hill Gareb ... to Gath" (Jeremiah 31:39). Each repaired over against his house (Nehemiah 3), teaching that in the spiritual building we must each begin with our own home and neighbourhood and circle; then charity beginning at home will not end there. "Shallum repaired, he and his daughters" (Nehemiah 3:12; compare Romans 16:1; Romans 16:3-5; Romans 16:6; Romans 16:12). Even Eliashib the half hearted high priest repaired. The Tekoite "nobles (alone) put not their necks to the work of their Lord" (compare Judges 5:23); but generally "the people had a mind to work" (Nehemiah 4:6), so that soon "all the wall was joined." The 42 stations of restoration (chapter 3) answer to the 42 stations of Israel's pilgrim march in the desert (Numbers 33).
Sanballat's party then "conspired to fight against Jerusalem and hinder it." Nehemiah used means, "setting a watch day and night," at the same time "praying unto our God" to bless the means. He had not only to contend with adversaries plotting to attack when the Jews should "not know nor see," but with his own men complaining "the strength of the bearers is decayed, and there is much rubbish, so that we are not able to build" (Nehemiah 4:8-11). Moreover, the Jews dwelling among the adversaries again and again kept him in alarm with warnings, "from all places (from whence) ye shall return unto us (i.e. from whence ye can come out to us) they will set upon you." L. De Dieu takes asher not "from whence" but "truly" (as in 1 Samuel 15:20): "yea, from all places, truly (yea) return to us," leaving off your work, for the foes are too many for you; counsel of pretended friends (compare Nehemiah 4:12 with Nehemiah 6:17-19).
But Nehemiah, by setting the people by families with weapons in the lower as well as the higher places of the wall, and encouraging them to "remember the Lord," baffled the enemy; thenceforward half wrought and half held the weapons, the builders and the bearers of burdens wrought with one hand and with the other held a weapon. Nehemiah had the trumpeter next him to give alarm, so as to gather the people against the foe wherever he should approach; none put off their clothes all the time (Nehemiah 4:23). Nehemiah also remedied the state of debt and bondage of many Jews by forbidding usury and bond service, and set an example by not being chargeable all the twelve years that he was governor, as former governors had been, on the Jews; "so did not I," says he, "because of the fear of God" (Nehemiah 5). Nay, more, he daily entertained 150 Jews, besides those that came from among the pagan. His prayer often repeated is "think upon me, my God, for good according to all that I have done for this people" (Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 13:14; compare Hebrews 6:10; Acts 10:4; Matthew 10:42).
While he pleads his efforts, not feigning a mock humility, he closes with "remember me, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of Thy mercy" (Nehemiah 13:22-31), the publican's and the dying thief's prayer. Sanballat in vain tried to decoy him to a conference (Nehemiah 6). Nehemiah replied, "I am doing a great work, I cannot come down" (Luke 9:62). Then Shemaiah, suborned by Sanballat, tried to frighten him to flee into the temple, where he was detained by a vow (1 Samuel 21:7), in order to delay the work and give an appearance of conscious guilt on the part of Nehemiah; but neither he nor the prophetess Noadiah could put him in fear, "should such a man as I (the governor who ought to animate others) flee!" Fearing God (Nehemiah 6:9; Nehemiah 6:14; Nehemiah 5:15) I have none else to fear (Isaiah 28:16). His safeguard was prayer; "strengthen my hands, my God, think Thou upon" my enemies (Nehemiah 6:9; Nehemiah 6:14). So David repelled the false friends' counsel to "flee" (Psalm 11:1).
Nehemiah's foes were "much cast down when they perceived that this work was wrought of our God." Psalm 126:2 is Israel's song at the time: "then said they among the pagan, the Lord hark done great things Jot them ... turn again our captivity (reverse our depression by bringing prosperity again) as the streams of the S. (as the rain streams in the Negeb or dry S. of Canaan return, filling the wadies and gladdening the parched country); they that sow in tears shall reap in joy." The Jews kept the Passover "with joy" on the dedication of God's house, the foundation of which had been laid amidst "loud weeping" mingled with shouts of joy (Ezra 3:11-13; Ezra 6:22). Psalm 125 belongs to the same period, encouraging the godly to persevere, "for they that trust in Jehovah shall be as Mount Zion which cannot be removed," for they have "Jehovah round about" them "as the mountains are round about Jerusalem," and "the sceptre (rod) of the wicked (Persia, the world power then) shall not (always) remain upon the lot of righteous" Israel, lest, patient faith giving way (Psalm 73:13), God's people should relieve themselves by unlawful means (Isaiah 57:16); "putting forth the hands" is said of presumptuous acts, as in Genesis 3:22.
"Turners aside unto their own crooked ways" were those who held correspondence with Tobiah, as Shemaiah and the nobles of Judah (Nehemiah 6:10-14; Nehemiah 6:17-19; Nehemiah 13:4, Eliashib). The wall having been built and the doors set up (Nehemiah 7), Nehemiah gave charge of Jerusalem to Hanani and Hananiah, "a faithful man who feared God above many," and set "every one in his watch over against his house." Next he found a register of the genealogy of those who first returned from Babylon, 42,360, and took the census; see Ezra 2, which is drawn from the same document. Nehemiah took the register in a later form than that given by Ezra, for the number of those who could not prove their pedigree is reduced by subsequent searches from 652 in Ezra 2:60 to 642 in Nehemiah 7:62. The tirshatha in Ezra 2:63 is Zerubbabel 90 years before, in Nehemiah Nehemiah himself. The items vary, the sum total 42,360 is the same, Ezra 2:64; Nehemiah 7:66; Ezra has 200, Nehemiah 245, singers, the number being augmented by his time.
In offerings, the drams of gold in sum are 61,000 in Ezra, but in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:70-72) Nehemiah 7:20; Nehemiah 7:000 from the chief fathers, 20,000 from the people, and 1,000 from the tirshatha. Only 100 priests' garments were needed in "setting up the house of God" at its foundation (Ezra 2:68-69); but at its dedication after complete renovation 530 were given by the tirshatha and 67 by the people (Nehemiah 7:70; Nehemiah 7:72). The occasions of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 are palpably distinct, though each embodied from a common document sanctioned by Haggai and Zechariah (Zerubbabel's helpers) as much as suited their distinct purposes.
Ezra's reading of the law to the assembled people followed: Nehemiah 8 (he had just returned from Persia with Nehemiah), 445 B.C. Nehemiah comforted them when weeping at the words of the law: "weep not, for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Isaiah 61:3; Matthew 5:4; Psalm 51:12-13); "send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared" (Luke 14:13); and the keeping of the feast of tabernacles more formally according to the law than the earlier one in Ezra 3:4 at the setting up of the altar, indeed with greater enthusiasm of all as one man (not excepting 1 Kings 8:2; 1 Kings 8:65) than had been since Joshua's days, reading the law not merely the first and eighth days (as enjoined in Leviticus 23:35-36), but every day of the feast (Nehemiah 8:18). The 119th Psalm doubtless was written (probably by Ezra) at this time, expressing such burning love to the law throughout. A fast followed.
The law awakened a sense of sin (Nehemiah 9); so first they put away strangers, as Israel must be a separate people, and read the law a fourth of the day, and another fourth confessed sin and worshipped, the Levites leading; then they made a covenant to walk in God's law, not to intermarry with pagan, to keep the sabbath, and to pay a third of a shekel each for the service of God's temple, to bring the firstfruits and firstborn, and not to "forsake the house of our God," (Nehemiah 10) the princes, Levites, and priests sealing it. The reason for taking the census in Nehemiah 7:4-5, etc., now appears, namely, to arrange for so disposing the people who were "few" in the "large" but scantily built city as to secure its safety and future growth in houses (Nehemiah 11). Of the census the heads of Judah and Benjamin dwelling at Jerusalem are given, also of priests and Levites there; but merely the names of the villages and towns through the country (Nehemiah 11, compare 1 Chronicles 9).
Then the heads of the courses of priests, and the corresponding names at the time of the return from Babylon, with a few particulars of the priests' and Levites' genealogy (Nehemiah 12:1-26). The rulers were to dwell at Jerusalem; of the people one of ten by lot were to dwell there and nine in other cities (Nehemiah 11). In Nehemiah 12 the high priests are given from the national archives down to Jaddua, and the Levites down to his contemporary Darius the Persian, Codomanus. (See JADDUA; DARIUS.) The dedication of the walls by Nehemiah, the princes, priests, and Levite singers in two companies, followed (Nehemiah 12:27-47); Nehemiah 12:2 Maccabees alleges that the temple too was now dedicated after its repair by funds gathered from the people. This will explain Nehemiah's contributions including "priests' garments" (Nehemiah 7:70) after the census, besides other gifts.
Finally, in Artaxerxes' 32nd year (434 B.C.) Nehemiah severed from Israel all the mixed multitude (Nehemiah 13), Ammonites and Moabites, and boldly cast out Tobiah from the chamber in the temple which Eliashib his connection had assigned him, and restored to it, after its cleansing, the temple vessels, meat offerings, and frankincense which had been previously kept there. Firmly he reproved the rulers for breaking their covenant (Nehemiah 10:39 ff), saying "why is the house of God forsaken?" and insisting that the Levites' portions should be given them, for the neglect of this duty had driven the Levites to their country fields. Nehemiah caused Judah to bring the tithes to the temple treasuries (in which Malachi supported him, Malachi 3:8), and appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and the Levite Pedaiah, as "faithful" treasurers, to distribute unto their brethren. (See MALACHI.)
Also he "testified against" those selling victuals and treading winepresses, and contended with the nobles for trafficking with Tyrian and other waresmen on the sabbath, one great cause of God's past judgment on the nation (2 Chronicles 36:21; Leviticus 26:34-35; Leviticus 26:43). So, he closed the gates from sabbath eve to the end of the sabbath, and drove away the merchants lodging outside the wall. His last recorded act is his contending with, cursing, smiting, and plucking the hair off, some of those who formed intermarriages with pagans, the source of Solomon's apostasy, and his chasing away Joiada's son, Eliashib's grandson, for marrying the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite. Zeal for the purity of God's worship, priesthood, and people, makes the act praiseworthy as one of faith, whatever exception may be taken to the manner. The Antitype combined holy firmness and rigor of act with calm dignity of manner (John 2:13-17; Psalm 59:9; Matthew 21:12-13).
The language of Malachi (Malachi 2:4-5; Malachi 2:10-12), Nehemiah's supporter, is in undesigned harmony with Nehemiah 13:27; Nehemiah 13:29, "transgress against our God in marrying strange wives," "defiled ... the covenant of the priesthood." After Artaxerxes' 32nd year we know no more of Nehemiah. Like Moses, he left a splendid court, to identify himself with his countrymen in their depression. Disinterestedly, patriotic, he "came to seek the welfare of the children of Israel" (Nehemiah 2:10). Courageous and prompt as a soldier in a crisis requiring no ordinary boldness, at the same time prudent as a statesman in dealing alike with his adversaries and with the Persian autocrat, rallying about him and organizing his countrymen, he governed without fear or partiality, correcting abuses in high places, and himself setting a bright example of unselfishness and princely liberality, above all walking in continual prayerfulness, with eyes ever turned toward God, and summing up all his work and all his hope in the humble prayer at the close, "remember me, O my God, for good."
2. A chief who returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2).
3. Son of Azbuk, ruler of half Bethzur, repaired the wall (Nehemiah 3:16)