Book of Nehemiah Overview with Life Applications
At one time the book of Nehemiah and Ezra were combined. Now that they are separated, some people read Nehemiah without reading Ezra. Even though they are individual books of the Bible, they still should be read and taught together. Those who read one book without reading the other miss some important information. Both short books contain valuable information. Reading one helps the reader to understand the other.
Ezra comes before Nehemiah in the Bible. That book tells about how the exiles were allowed to return home from captivity in Persia. Ezra's book focuses on the rebuilding of the Temple. Nehemiah focuses on rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
Most people are familiar with Nehemiah being in charge of rebuilding the ruined walls of Jerusalem, and some churches use Nehemiah as a theme for their building fund. The main focus of the book of Nehemiah is the project of rebuilding the walls. However, there is so much more in the book than that.
Who Was Nehemiah?
In order to understand the book, one should know something about its author and the main character. So, who was Nehemiah?
Not much is known about Nehemiah's background except that he had never been to Jerusalem. When the exiles were allowed to leave Persia and go home, Nehemiah decided to stay, but he was curious about what was happening where his relatives were. His brother Hanani had returned to Judah and kept Nehemiah up to date about what was going on there. Nehemiah was so bothered by what he heard about the walls been in ruins that he decided to do something about it.
When readers first meet Nehemiah, he is an adult working as a personal cupbearer for King Artaxerxes in Persia. That prestigious position meant that Nehemiah could be trusted to taste the wine before giving it to the king to drink. If the wine was poisoned, Nehemiah would die and the king would be spared,
The Book of Nehemiah
After that brief introduction about Nehemiah working as a cupbearer, most of the rest of the book centers on events in Jerusalem. Readers get to know what happened there from Nehemiah's perspective because most of the book is written in the first person (Nehemiah 1:11–2:1).
The walls had been in ruins for four years. Even though Nehemiah faced internal and external oppositions, the walls were rebuilt in 52 days. Israel's enemies tried to stop the project five times. Nehemiah sent word to Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem saying, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, while I leave it, and come down to you? (Nehemiah 6:1-5)
After the walls were rebuilt, Nehemiah stayed in Jerusalem 12 years to make sure the community was following the laws of Moses and was no longer upset about Persian taxes. Nehemiah negotiated peace among the people.
When he was satisfied that the people were encouraged, renewed and excited about their future, he returned to his old job in Susa. He visited Jerusalem from time to time after then, but he never became a permanent resident.
Nehemiah is an excellent example of being a leader. He used his administrative skills to get the job done by giving workers different jobs to do. He used half of the worker to build while the other half were designated to watch for outside opposition who threatened to attack (Nehemiah 4–7).
Nehemiah showed how one person can make a significant difference in a nation or even on a smaller scale. You can make a difference if God instructs you to take on a project in your community, church or workplace especially when no one else is doing anything about something that needs to be done.
Nehemiah had no idea how he was going to get the project done, but he prayed, he planned, and then he built. Once Nehemiah decided to go to Jerusalem where he had never been before, he received resources to help him along the way. The king allowed him to take leave to go and he funded his trip as well.
Nehemiah’s leadership is one of the best examples in the entire Bible. Most people would not have been interested in rebuilding walls where they had never been. Nehemiah led by example by taking time off from his respected position in a palace to do hard labor.
God uses all types of people to get His work done. Ministry is more than standing behind a pulpit telling people what to do and what not to do. Ministry is doing what God has called you to do whether it is rebuilding walls or tearing them down.
Nehemiah prayed fervent prayers to God in chapters 1 and 9. We should do the same. He didn't claim glory for himself. Instead, he was humble and always gave God the glory for the success of the walls being rebuilt.