Nehemiah was written near the end of the Babylonian captivity by a man who was the cupbearer to the king of Persia (who overthrew Babylon). Nehemiah wasn't always a stand alone book. Initially, it was combined with
- Authorship and Date
- Purpose and Themes
- Elephantine Papyri
- Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
- Important People
- Lessons Learned: The Gates of Jerusalem
- The Wall
- Other Posts on Nehemiah
- References & Footnotes
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. This would place the authorship of the book during his lifetime 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.
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 to 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. Not only are these enemies of great significance to the theme of the book, but also to 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 (or were supposed to be) 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. Although 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 false 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 models the devil's desire to be God. Like Nehemiah, we have to stand guard, because these forces often align themselves together.
The Elephantine Papyri, is a document found on an 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, for 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).
Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
Lessons Learned: The Gates of Jerusalem
Nehemiah is mostly about the reconstruction of the wall with a little genealogy thrown in. This is one of those books where it is easy to lose the value of the text. The wall in Jerusalem doesn't seem important initially, particularly from a Christian point of view, and neither does the genealogy. Sometimes you have to sit and think a while on what you've read. Eventually the Holy Spirit will reveal why God left this information for us.
The Jews were meticulous at keeping genealogy. As a descendant of African slaves, I wish there was a book that kept track of my ancestors so meticulously, and I can admire the effort taken to keep track of this information. However, it's not just about knowing your ancestors for self satisfaction. This is all setting us up for the New Testament, for the Messiah.
Several prophecies tell us the Messiah will be from the line of David and of the tribe of Judah (e.g., Jeremiah 23:5-6), which means we can only validate Jesus as the Messiah if He is from the line of David. Imagine if Jesus' lineage was the only lineage given in the Bible. Would it seem credible? How would someone during Jesus' day record the lineage of Jesus back to David if it wasn't already preserved? Throughout the Bible, God commanded His people to record these lineages so that when the Messiah appeared, there would be no question of His legitimacy.
The genealogy of the Levites was important for Temple duty, as well as, for the priesthood. Although, we don't need this information today it is easy to see why it was included.
The Wall is the main focus, which is why we know there has to be some significance. Sure, we can excise sermons on leadership and working together, but surely there has to be more significance to the wall than that. I think there are two ways to look at the meaning of the wall: spiritually and prophetically.
We know the Temple is significant because it was the house of God. The New Testament tells us that our bodies are the new Temple (1 Corinthians 6:19), which means we should treat our bodies with the same respect the as the Temple of God. We can easily see the link between the Israelites' defilement of the Temple and their fall; we can translate that to spiritual meaning for defiling our bodies. Similarly, we can do the same thing with the wall.
The wall's purpose was to protect God's city, which included His Temple. This wall was created by the hands of God's people. Each family contributed to a section, and as they worked, the enemies of Israel constantly attacked. Similarly, we need a wall to protect ourselves from the devil's constant attack. This spiritual wall, is created by the body of Christ. Each of us must act together to protect each other from the influence of the world, which is controlled by Satan.
The wall also has prophetic significance. It is mentioned in a prophecy in both
Confusion about this gate has led to what is currently called the Golden Gate. The Golden Gate is considered to be the east gate that Jesus entered, however, it is actually a reconstruction built many years after Jesus' era. Nonetheless, the Ottomans read this prophecy and decided to do what they could to prevent the Messiah from entering. Not only did they brick over the gate, they placed a cemetery in front of the gate to defile the land. Their logic was that the Messiah would not be able to walk over the uncleanness of a cemetery. The Ottomans were neither Christian nor Jew, but they were clearly skeptical enough to that they believed the Messiah might come and overthrow their empire. That says something.
I find it funny that the Ottomans thought their actions would stop the prophecy from coming true. God doesn't lie; He tells us continually that the way to tell a true prophet is by the fulfillment of their prophecies. If man could block the entry and prevent the Messiah from coming, God's prophecies wouldn't come true. That would discredit the Bible all together. Rest assured, whatever Ezekiel's prophecy means, the Messiah will enter the gate just as He said.
Also, Revelation 21:12-13 tells us that there will be a gate in the New Jerusalem. This gate doesn't match the description of the gate built in Nehemiah, though. Why do the descriptions differ? My guess is, because the New Jerusalem will be perfect and everlasting, whereas the Jerusalem of today, exists in a world filled with sin. The old wall needed to accommodate all the problems such a world, whereas the new wall won't.
Other Posts on Nehemiah
References & Footnotes
- William MacDonald. Believer's Bible Commentary, pg. 481-482. 1995
- "Elephantine Papyri". Wikipedia; visited April 2017
- "What is the significance of the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem?". GotQuestions.org; visited April 2017