After 70 years in exile, the Jews had returned home and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. They were able to worship God in their own land, but the city still lay in ruins. The once-great capital of the promised land was a depressing rubble heap exposed to her enemies.
When Nehemiah hears this, he sets out to restore the city walls. The book of Nehemiah is his story in his own words.
The book of Nehemiah is about reestablishing God’s people both physically and spiritually:
- In the first part of the book, Nehemiah restores Jerusalem in a physical sense. When Nehemiah hears that “the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire,” (Neh 1:3), he gets permission from Persian King Artaxerxes to rebuild the city. The governors of surrounding territories viciously oppose Nehemiah’s efforts, but the wall is finished in just 52 days (Neh 7:15). Nehemiah also restores economic justice in the land, admonishing the wealthy for taking advantage of their less fortunate brothers (Neh 5).
- In the second section, Nehemiah and Ezra bring spiritual revival to Jerusalem. Ezra reads the law of Moses aloud to the people, and the nation rededicates to obeying God. Later on, Nehemiah works diligently to point people back to the law of Moses (Neh 13).
Nehemiah writes in first person. His story is peppered with personal commentary—sometimes it reads like a historical account, and sometimes it reads like Nehemiah’s journal. We know when he is afraid (Neh 2:2). We know when he is angry (Neh 5:6). We even see him break his own narrative with prayers to God (Neh 13:14). This book gives us a look into the mind of an Old Testament man of God, giving us examples of how to lead, pray, and deal with discouragement.
Theme verse of Nehemiah
“Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” (Neh 5:19)
Nehemiah’s role in the Bible
Like the books of Ezra and Esther, Nehemiah tells us what happened after the Jewish exile to Babylon. Israel has been disciplined, and is now being restored to her land and her God. Nehemiah chronicles God’s covenant relationship with Israel, and even provides a sweeping overview of the relationship in Nehemiah chapter 9.
Ezra and Nehemiah were originally considered parts one and two of the same work, and for a good reason: together, they tell the story of God restoring His people—keeping His promise to them in Deuteronomy 30.
Quick outline of Nehemiah
- Rebuilding the wall (Neh 1–7)
- Nehemiah gets permission to rebuild Jerusalem. (Neh 1–2)
- City wall construction begins (Neh 3)
- Enemies threaten construction (Neh 4)
- Nehemiah alleviates pressure on the poor (Neh 5)
- The wall is completed despite the enemies’ plots (Neh 6)
- Nehemiah numbers the people (Neh 7)
- Remembering the law (Neh 8–13)
- Ezra reads the law to the people (Neh 8:1–12)
Israel reinstates the Feast of Booths (Neh 8:13–18)
- Israel confesses sin and rededicates to God (Neh 9–10)
Census of the Jews in the land (Neh 11–12:26)
- The people worship on the wall (Neh 12:27–47)
Nehemiah keeps aligning the people to God’s law (Neh 13)
- Esther (next book of the Bible)
- Ezra (previous)
- 1 & 2 Chronicles
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