The history, origins, and contents of Nehemiah are examined.


Nehemiah wasn't always a stand alone book. Initially, it was combined with Ezra. The tradition of separating the book was popularized with Jerome used this method for organizing the Latin Vulgate. Since jointing points of the books (the end of Ezra and beginning of Nehemiah) are very abrupt, some scholars believe the books were seen individually before being placed together.[1]

Authorship and Date

Nehemiah, the titular figure from the book, is usually ascribed authorship. Unlike most books of the Bible, which are anonymous, Nehemiah 1:1 tells us we are reading the words of Nehemiah. He would have written the book not long after the events occurred, during his lifetime. This would place the authorship of the book in mid to late 5th century bc.

Scholars who reject the idea of Nehemiah as the author, do so based upon their dating of the book. Jewish historian Josephus lists Jaddua as the high priest during the time of Alexander the Great's conquest. Nehemiah 12:22 refers to Jaddua the Levite, leading scholars to believe Nehemiah was written later than the Nehemiah's lifetime. What should be considered, however, is the fact that Jaddua could have been in training when mentioned in Nehemiah. Jaddua's name is third in the sequence, implying he wasn't the high priest yet. Further, it is possible that there were two priests with the same name. It is also possible that Josephus was mistaken.[1]

Purpose and Themes

Nehemiah showcases Godly leadership. Committed to the work of God, Nehemiah takes charge and oversees the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah orchestrates permission to begin repairs as well as takes on the responsibility of protecting the Jews from attacks during the process. Nehemiah's leadership is what enables the success of the mission. It is important for us to see how true leadership works under the guidance of God so become more effective leaders and to realize which leaders are actually called by God.

Nehemiah navigates rebuilding the wall despite interference from 3 enemies: Geshem, Tobiah, and Sanballat. These enemies are also of great significance to the theme of the book and our lives today.

Geshem the Arabian was probably a descendant of Ishmael. However, he isn't the "major" enemy. In fact he is only mentioned 3 times, and each time is in connection with the other enemies. Geshem, is merely an ally on the wrong side of the war. Tobiah is described as an Ammonite and a servant. Tobiah comes from the pagan tribes and seems to be the servant of Sanballat. Tobiah has a much bigger role in the conflict than Geshem. Finally, there was Sanballat, a Samaritan. Sanballat appears to be the mastermind of the whole situation.

Think of these people as symbols. Tobiah and Geshem are different forms of paganism. Both descend from people who had been removed by the Israelites after the exodus. Sanballat, on the other hand, represents the false church. Remember the Samaritan population had been created by Assyria; they attempted to follow God through the guidance of an Israelite from the northern kingdom. All though they claimed to worship the God of Abraham, they were constantly at odds with the Jews. All three of these forces come against us today. There are obvious attacks from the devil, but there are also false Christians and churches seeking to destroy the credibility of God and attacking true believers. Like the Israelites, who were God's chosen people, true believers are not perfect. This makes it a little more difficult when we are confronted to know if a true believer is bringing us to truth or a false prophet is luring us from truth. This is the major warning left for us by Jesus. The player in the battle for God's people has always been the false prophets claiming to be of God when they are not. This model's the devil's desire to be God. Like Nehemiah, we have to stand guard, because these forces often align themselves together.

Elephantine Papyri

The Elephantine Papyri, is a document found on a Island north of Egypt. The document consists of writing from Jews living in the Elephantine, an Egyptian city, during the 5th century bc, which is roughly the same time period as the book of Nehemiah. Therefore, fore a believer, it isn't surprising that the document mentions two people from the book of Nehemiah: Sanballat and Johanan ben Eliashib. In the future, I will create a post on the importance of this document and link it here. In general, the document shows the Jews of that colony were living exactly the way the Bible described (note, that doesn't mean they were following the word of God, but that their actions were accurately portrayed).[2]

Chapters in the Book of Numbers


  1. William MacDonald. Believer's Bible Commentary, pg. 481-482. 1995
  2. "Elephantine Papyri". Wikipedia; visited April 2017

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