Nehemiah

July 15, 2020

Nehemiah 7- 2020-07-15

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Commentary: Nehemiah 7

Bible Text: Nehemiah 7:4-73

4 The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.

5 Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it:

6 These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. 7 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah.

The number of the men of the people of Israel: 8 the sons of Parosh, 2,172. 9 The sons of Shephatiah, 372. 10 The sons of Arah, 652. 11 The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,818. 12 The sons of Elam, 1,254. 13 The sons of Zattu, 845.   14 The sons of Zaccai, 760. 15 The sons of Binnui, 648. 16 The sons of Bebai, 628. 17 The sons of Azgad, 2,322. 18 The sons of Adonikam, 667. 19 The sons of Bigvai, 2,067. 20 The sons of Adin, 655. 21 The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. 22 The sons of Hashum, 328. 23 The sons of Bezai, 324. 24 The sons of Hariph, 112. 25 The sons of Gibeon, 95. 26 The men of Bethlehem and Netophah, 188. 27 The men of Anathoth, 128. 28 The men of Beth-azmaveth, 42. 29 The men of Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. 30 The men of Ramah and Geba, 621. 31 The men of Michmas, 122. 32 The men of Bethel and Ai, 123. 33 The men of the other Nebo, 52. 34 The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. 35 The sons of Harim, 320. 36 The sons of Jericho, 345. 37 The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 721. 38 The sons of Senaah, 3,930.

39 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, namely the house of Jeshua, 973. 40 The sons of Immer, 1,052. 41 The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. 42 The sons of Harim, 1,017.

43 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua, namely of Kadmiel of the sons of Hodevah, 74. 44 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 148. 45 The gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, the sons of Shobai, 138.

46 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 47 the sons of Keros, the sons of Sia, the sons of Padon, 48 the sons of Lebana, the sons of Hagaba, the sons of Shalmai, 49 the sons of Hanan, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, 50 the sons of Reaiah, the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, 51 the sons of Gazzam, the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, 52 the sons of Besai, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephushesim, 53 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 54 the sons of Bazlith, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 55 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 56 the sons of Neziah, the sons of Hatipha.

57 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Sophereth, the sons of Perida, 58 the sons of Jaala, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 59 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, the sons of Amon.

60 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.

61 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 62 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. 63 Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). 64 These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 65 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food until a priest with Urim and Thummim should arise.

66 The whole assembly together was 42,360, 67 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337. And they had 245 singers, male and female. 68 Their horses were 736, their mules 245, 69 their camels 435, and their donkeys 6,720.

70 Now some of the heads of fathers’ houses gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 darics of gold, 50 basins, 30 priests’ garments and 500 minas of silver. 71 And some of the heads of fathers’ houses gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 darics of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. 72 And what the rest of the people gave was 20,000 darics of gold, 2,000 minas of silver, and 67 priests’ garments.

73 So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel, lived in their towns.

And when the seventh month had come, the people of Israel were in their towns.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 7:4-6

  • Nehemiah needed to enroll the people by genealogy, because although the walls were completed in such amazing fashion, there remained the task of populating the city in order to restore it to a functioning state. This required further sacrifices by people, because to live in a desolate city, even if it now had the protection of a strong wall and gates, was not convenient or comfortable.  Reflect on what this shows about building God’s work and about his community.

Nehemiah 7:64-65

  • Taking into account the importance of the genealogy documents, what can I conclude about these people who could not find documents of their family records?
  • In what ways do I need to steward well my spiritual genealogy?

Prayer 

July 14, 2020

Nehemiah 7- 2020-07-14

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Commentary: Nehemiah 7

7:1–4 Given their appearance in 7:45, it is most probable that the gatekeepers (7:1) mentioned by Nehemiah were normally associated with the temple and here stationed along with the other cultic guilds (singers and Levites) on a temporary watch. Perhaps more permanent is Nehemiah’s appointment of his own brother, Hanani, who having lamented Jerusalem’s ruined walls (1:2–3), now takes charge of the city around which they have been rebuilt (7:2a). Also mentioned by Nehemiah is the elevation of a certain Hananiah as commander of the citadel, though not on the basis of kinship nor even his particular military experience or expertise. Though the latter may well be presumed, Nehemiah makes a point of explaining Hananiah’s appointment first and foremost on account of his virtuous character and his “fear[ing] God more than many.” Having castigated some for lacking such a trait (5:9) and reaffirmed his own fear of God (5:15), it is perhaps understandable that Nehemiah would appoint someone who shares a quality that he himself so prizes.

Whether uttered by Hananiah or Nehemiah himself, the instructions found in 7:3 make most sense if they are understood as warning against the opening of the gates not “until” (NRSV) but rather “while” the sun is hot. That this is most probable is confirmed by ancient testimony that city gates were often vulnerable in the heat of the day, at which time potentially lethargic guards should thus be encouraged to “shut and bar the doors” (7:3). The further precaution of enlisting the general populace at particular strategic points and near their own houses—in whose defense they might be expected to be especially energetic—is a further measure of the continuing anxieties regarding the defense of the city and leads understandably to Nehemiah’s subsequent observation that the city’s people were few and its houses rather too far between (7:4).

7:5 While, as we will see, Neh 11 will deal more directly and explicitly with the repopulation of the city, the gathering of the people by Nehemiah for the purposes of a census (7:5) is not unintelligible as a preparatory step to this repopulation. Thus it may well be that the list that follows (7:6–73a) did belong properly to the Nehemiah memoir. In the present form of the book, in which the census list is immediately followed by the corporate reading of Torah (Neh 8), Nehemiah’s reflection that God had “put it into my mind” (lit., “heart,”; so also 2:12) now appears as the divine impetus to a covenantal convocation rather than the city’s repopulation. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 46-47.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 6:15-7:3

15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. 17 Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. 18 For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. 19 Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.

7 1 Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, 2 I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. 3 And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.”

 

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 6:15-16

  • The wall, which had remained rubble for 140 years, ends up being completed in 52 days. Reflect on all it took to finish the wall in such a short time, and consider the power of the people of God uniting around a God-honoring vision. What is the vision around which I have united with others?
  • What kind of impact does the wall’s completion have on others? What lesson does this teach about what the church can do when it is carrying out its mission?

Nehemiah 7:2

  • What were the qualities Nehemiah considered when deciding to appoint someone over Jerusalem? How might faithfulness and fearing God be related?

Prayer 

July 9, 2020

Nehemiah 6- 2020-07-09

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Commentary:

Nehemiah 6

 

6:1–7 […] News of Nehemiah’s virtual completion of the wall apparently prompts Sanballat and Geshem to request a meeting with Nehemiah outside Jerusalem (6:2). Whatever the full story may have been, Nehemiah is clearly of the conviction that his enemies’ strategy now includes the tactical deployment of deception and that Sanballat and Geshem’s desire for a meeting is less innocuous than it might seem (6:2). […]

The possible existence and probable effectiveness of rumors that Judah was rebuilding for the purposes of rebelling are of course suggested, as we have already seen, by the correspondence included in Ezra (4:6–24). Whether possible Davidic ancestry left Nehemiah particularly vulnerable to the more personally damaging allegations of coopting royal prophecy is unclear, but it does not seem improbable that prophets based in Jerusalem at this time may have been prophesying in much the same way that Haggai (2:20–23) and Zechariah (6:9–14) had done in the early days of the return. Indeed, whatever the historical sequence, Nehemiah’s self-presentation in dealing with the debt crisis (Neh 5) does little to dampen messianic enthusiasm.

6:8–9 […] Aware of the danger of allowing himself to be intimidated by false prophets/prophecies designed to cause his “hands to drop from the work,” Nehemiah reports yet another of his prayers, in which the request for God to “strengthen my hands” suggests a tighter integration of the prayer into the narrative horizon of the chapter than is the case with the prayer at the end of the last chapter (5:19) or the one toward the end of this one (6:14).

6:10–14 […] How Nehemiah’s observation that “the prophecy he spoke was about/concerning me” led him to the conclusion that Shemaiah had not been sent by God becomes clear when we remember that back in 6:7 the false prophecies were also “about” Nehemiah. Although this subsequent false prophecy (i.e., the governor is in mortal danger) is different in detail from the first (i.e., the governor has royal ambitions), their common focus on the person of Nehemiah evidently allowed him to perceive that God had not sent Shemaiah. […]

In facing down the false prophets and prophecies ranged against him in Neh 6, Nehemiah recognizes that the real weapon of his enemies—the real danger posed by the false prophets—is the fear that they might induce in him. Moreover, if Nehemiah were to have responded fearfully to the false prophets by either scaling down the work on the wall or fleeing to the temple, 6:13 suggests that he would have seen himself as compromised in the eyes of the people.

[…] As in 4:4, though with slightly less venom, Nehemiah prays for the divine remembrance of the community’s opponents “according to these things that they did,” yet the increasingly personal nature of their campaign here in Neh 6 appears to be reflected in the special place that Nehemiah reserves in his prayer for Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to “make me afraid.” […]

6:15–19 […] However, such considerations are of little interest to Nehemiah, who prefers to note that the news of the wall’s completion—and perhaps the speed of it—strikes the very fear in his enemies’ hearts (6:16) that they had been hoping to induce in him. Instead of his reputation being tarnished by a tactical retreat (6:13), Nehemiah reports that it is his enemies’ own self-confidence that dropped perceptibly. Interestingly, on Nehemiah’s view, this psychological setback for his opponents arose not as a result of their perception of the increased security of the community or the self-confidence derived from such an accomplishment—but rather their growing awareness that “this work had been done with the help of our God” (6:16), an appellation that serves to reinforce Nehemiah’s insistent claim on God’s identification with his community,but also his radical exclusion of his opponents in theological terms.[1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 44-46.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 6:1-14

1 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” 11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. 14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 6:1-4

  • Nehemiah refuses Sanballat’s invitation to meet by saying that “I am doing a great work.” What is the “great work” I have been called to carry out? 
  • What are some distractions or fears that cause me to be drawn away from being faithful in carrying out this great work?
  • From the fact that the invitation comes four times, what can I learn about temptations and distractions and how I need to respond to them?

Nehemiah 6:9-14

  • What enabled Nehemiah to possess such discernment to not be tricked by Sanballat’s letter (vv. 5-9) or the prophet’s suggestion?
  • Notice Nehemiah’s prayer in vs. 14. To what extent would such prayers have helped Nehemiah to stay focused on his task?  Are there some negative things I need to simply entrust to God through prayer so that I can stay unencumbered in my pursuit of my God-given mission?

Prayer 

July 8, 2020

Nehemiah 5- 2020-07-08

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Commentary:

Nehemiah 5

5:1–5 […] Nehemiah 5:2–5 appears to report separate complaints, but the increasing specificity of their presentation contributes to the cumulative rhetorical effect on the reader. Thus the articulation of the basic problem, an existential need for food for families (5:2), gives way to complaints regarding the consequent need to mortgage family holdings in order to meet the twin demands of feeding the family (5:3) and paying the crown (5:4). […] the final complaint that, having lost financial control of their land, members of the community had to resort to the still more desperate (and certainly more emotive) measure of indenturing their children (5:5) without having the means of eventually freeing them. If Pentateuchal traditions contain provisions for the transfer of land and indeed for debt servitude as a means of staving off the extinction of families (e.g., Lev 25; Deut 15:1–18, esp. 15:12), it is clear that at this crucial juncture, the prospering of some at the expense of others by means of such practices was seen to pose a credible threat to the sense of community cohesion required by Nehemiah’s project.

5:6–13 […] Nehemiah’s accusation against the nobles and officials concentrates not on the lending itself but on the charging of interest on what was being lent. […]

Yet, if Nehemiah does have particular or indeed even general legal traditions in mind, he begins instead by explaining how the abuse of the debt-servitude system is undermining the efforts of the community as a whole, not least because the community had been redeeming (cf. Lev 25) those indentured to Gentiles. […] His condemnation of the offenders in no uncertain terms (“what you are doing is not right”), his invocation of “the fear of our God,” […]

Nehemiah records not only the nobles’ and officials’ agreement to his orders in Neh 5:12, but also his efforts to ensure that these practices are not repeated. First, cultic sanction is invoked by the witnessing of the leaders’ oath by the priests, summoned for the purpose and perhaps included themselves, but Nehemiah also goes on to insist that noncompliance will be met with excommunication (5:13), much as Ezra does in response to the intermarriage crisis (Ezra 10:8). Whatever the origins of Nehemiah’s “coat-shaking” exercise, its resemblance to the object lessons of prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah suggests a general familiarity with such practices. Whether Nehemiah’s final words in Neh 5:13 indicate that the congregation literally followed his symbolic lead or simply followed through on what they had agreed (“amen”), his mention of the praise of the people affirms a happy ending to his intervention, much as it marks such moments elsewhere in Ezra-Nehemiah (Ezra 3:10–11; Neh 12:24). […]

5:14–19 […] Nehemiah’s mention of the food allowance to which he and his coterie were entitled (5:14) clearly facilitates his identification—in principle at least, if not in actual practice (5:18)—with those who have less food than they might have had (5:2). That Nehemiah has already presented his abstaining from usury as exemplary fits well with his favorable comparison here of his own personal restraint with what we are left to assume was the typically exploitative behavior of those who preceded him in his post (5:15). This personal restraint is motivated by the same “fear of God” (5:15) that Nehemiah exhorted the community’s leaders to display in abandoning their ignoble pursuit of interest (5:9), suggesting the importance (to Nehemiah and his intended readers) of presenting this reform as theologically motivated. […] [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 41-43.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 5:1-19

1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 5:1-11

  • What can I learn about Nehemiah’s character and values from how he calls a great assembly with the nobles and officials to deal with their injustice to the poor among them?

Nehemiah 5:12-13

  • What can I learn about human nature from Nehemiah summoning the priests and making the nobles “swear to do as they had promised” and then adding a curse on top of everything else?
  • Reflect on the rightness of the words: “the people did as they had promised.”

Nehemiah 5:14-16

  • What can I learn from Nehemiah, who did not insist on his new rights as governor but “persevered in the work on this wall”? What enabled him to do so?

Prayer 

July 7, 2020

Nehemiah 4- 2020-07-07

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Commentary:

NEHEMIAH 4

4:1–3[…] Sanballat’s earlier allegations of rebellion, easily dismissed by Nehemiah (2:19–20), now give way to a vitriolic questioning of the returnees’ ability to complete the job. […] Sanballat scornfully calls into question either their own unrealistic expectations or their ability to expedite matters—or both. Finally, he queries the wisdom of salvaging burnt and thereby weakened stones for the rebuilding. Tobiah’s own contemptuous contribution likewise focuses on the work on the wall itself, by suggesting that its fragility would be exposed by a scampering fox—a creature known to haunt the stones of ruined cities (Lam 5:18), but hardly sizeable enough to dislodge them in normal circumstances.

4:4–5 Unlike Neh 2, this explosion of mockery and criticism is merely reported by Nehemiah rather than addressed to him, so it is perhaps not surprising that his response is not to his enemies (as in Neh 2) but instead to his God. That his prayer lacks any introduction (e.g., “and we said”) strengthens the assumption that it has been inserted into the narrative by Nehemiah himself, but within the narrative as it stands it also contributes to the impression of both extemporaneity and spontaneity. Nehemiah’s awareness that news of their progress had caused their enemies to despise (בזה/bzh) them (2:19) leads naturally now to a plea that God would hear their prayer “for we are despised” (4:3). The plea for God to “hear” is of course common currency in psalmic prayers of petition generally (Ps 27:7; 30:10) while prayers for deliverance from an enemy (Ps 44; 74; 77) and those of an imprecatory spirit (Ps 137; 109:6–19) are also well represented among the Psalms. […]

4:6–9 Nehemiah resumes his account with a progress report on the wall, emphasizing the completion of the circuit (“all the wall”) up to half its projected height. Given that it was the community’s lack of capacity to reconstruct the wall that was the object of their enemies’ mockery, Nehemiah’s progress report here confirms that his prayer that God would turn their enemies’ taunts back on them (4:5) has been answered—thanks in no small part, he notes, to the commitment of the people who “had a mind to work” (4:6). Nehemiah furnishes further evidence that the opposition continues to mount as the wall climbs higher by once again reporting the reaction to the repair of the wall and more specifically to the progressive “closing of the gaps.” […] Here as earlier (4:1) there is great anger, but instead of mockery, Nehemiah now reports a plot to “fight/make war” in or against Jerusalem and cause confusion (4:2). […] As before (4:4–5), the response reported by Nehemiah includes an appeal to “our God” (4:9), and while the prayer itself is not included, it is—as before—offered up by the community (“we prayed”) rather than merely by the leader. Just as Nehemiah himself had combined prayer with practical action in the throne room of Artaxerxes (2:4–5) so here prayer is accompanied by the very pragmatic posting of a protective guard round the clock (4:9).

4:10–13 […] That this campaign of (mis)information threatens to further undermine the builders’ efforts is confirmed by Nehemiah’s report of the reaction of those living in the vicinity of their “enemies” and thus most susceptible to such rumors: “They said to us repeatedly [lit., ‘ten times’] from everywhere [i.e., various outlying regions]: ‘Return to us!’ ” (4:12). With Jerusalem inevitably destined to bear the brunt of any attack, it is only natural that families would want their loved ones home and out of harm’s way. Nehemiah’s response is, however, to rally the people, either in areas that were particularly vulnerable or more likely in a single space that was particularly visible, mobilizing and arming the “people” in their relevant families to literally stand in the breach (4:13).

4:14–15 Nehemiah preserves here only an excerpt from what may well have been a longer speech, clearly designed to bolster sagging spirits. […] Nehemiah does not suggest here that the God they are to remember will fight their battle for them; rather, he encourages the returnees to “fight for” each other—with the mention of brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and houses presumably offering a catalog of things most worth fighting for. […] Nehemiah heeds his own advice, remembering YHWH by attributing the frustration of the enemies’ plot to God himself—though one may doubt whether this particular interpretation of events would have been shared by Sanballat and his allies, as Nehemiah perhaps innocently suggests (4:15). While the success of Nehemiah’s tactic is signaled by the return of the people to their work on the wall (4:15b), he was evidently persuaded that sufficient threat remained to assign half of his own men to an armed security detail to provide reassurance to the workers on one hand and a visible deterrent and capacity for rapid tactical response to any attack on the other.

4:16–20 Whether the rulers of the people had ever been fully engaged in the manual labor on the wall (cf. Neh 3), they are now withdrawn from the front line and positioned “behind” the people doing the work (4:16b–17), in all likelihood to protect the fledgling community’s small corps of leaders. Given that they would form the bulk of any fighting force, even the workers themselves are armed—the basket carriers with a stone or other missile in their free hand (4:17) and the builders with swords on hips (4:18) to keep both hands free. Recognizing that “we are separated far from one another on the wall” (4:19 NRSV), Nehemiah’s plan to muster the people by means of the trumpeter at his side draws on time-honored traditions of Israel’s military history (Judg 3:27; 6:34; 7:18) as does his reassurance that “our God will fight for us” (Neh 4:20; cf. Deut 1:30; Josh 10:14).

4:21–23 […] While a system of rotating watches will have allowed a workforce restricted to Jerusalem to “labor by day” having also stood “guard for us by night” (4:22), the more pertinent purpose of the restriction may well have been to prevent the leading figures and their servants from heeding the cries to “return to us!” (4:12), which may well have continued in outlying areas despite Nehemiah’s efforts to quell them. Acknowledging the importance of setting an example, Nehemiah makes a point of noting the visible vigilance of him and his closest colleagues, with sentiments such as “never took off our clothes” and “weapon in our right hand” (4:23) being roughly equivalent to sleeping with one’s boots on and a pistol under the pillow. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 38-40.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 4:1-23

 

1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.

6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

10 In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” 11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

21 So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 4:1-6

  • What does Sanballat’s ridicule reveal about the apparent impossibility of the project to rebuild the wall?
  • Reflect on the words: “the people had a mind to work” (the NIV says “the people worked with all their heart”). What lesson does this give regarding how best to respond to scorn and ridicule directed at Christianity?

Nehemiah 4:7-23

  • What lessons can I learn from how Nehemiah responds to the overwhelming set of circumstances, including external threat and internal loss of strength?
  • The people’s view that “there is too much rubble…we will not be able to rebuild the wall” turns out to be an inaccurate reflection of reality. What is God’s message to me from this chapter regarding situations toward which I feel too weary and unable to tackle?

Prayer 

July 2, 2020

Nehemiah 3- 2020-07-02

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Commentary:

Nehemiah 3

3:1–2 Confirmation of the community’s earlier commitment to the project (2:18: “Let us arise and build”) is supplied by the report here that Eliashib the high priest and his confederates “arose and built” (3:1) the Sheep Gate. This may well have been of particular interest to the priests along with the stretch of wall between the towers of “Hananel” and “the Hundred” (cf. 12:39) because of their probable association with the temple complex (2:8) in the northeast of the city. It is possible that the dedication and purification of the walls mentioned in 12:27–30 is to be identified with the “consecration” of the building work here (3:1), though a separate process of sanctification for repairs to the sacred precincts cannot be ruled out. […]

3:3–32 The Fish Gate—built by the sons of Hassenaah (3:3)—was likely located in the northwest corner of the city and marks the point at which the focus of the work shifted from the late preexilic wall to the earlier one. While the Tekoites are represented in the work party, the list makes a point of noting the Tekoan nobles’ lack of support and loyalty “to their lord(s)” (3:5). Whether or not their lack of support for Nehemiah’s initiative reflects Tekoa’s proximity to Qedar (and an allegiance to Geshem), this incidental note confirms that not all of those who might have been expected to contribute did so. […] Among those engaged in repair work beyond the Broad Wall in the direction of the Tower of the Ovens were two responsible for the two subdistricts of Jerusalem, Rephaiah son of Hur (3:9) and Shallum son of Hallohesh (3:12). The specific mention of the latter’s daughters simultaneously discloses Shallum’s lack of sons and celebrates the commitment of his daughters to share their father’s responsibilities.

[…] Others with leadership responsibility elsewhere (Nehemiah over Beth Zur [3:16]; Hashabiah and Binnui over half districts of Keilah [3:17–18]; Ezer over Mizpah [3:19])—some of whom were apparently Levites (3:17)—also make repairs on behalf of “their district” (3:17). The proximity of the work to the house of the high priest Eliashib (3:20–21)—already involved near the temple enclosure (3:1–2)—may well explain the involvement of the priests (3:22), whose number may have included Meremoth (Ezra 8:33). Others continue the pattern of working on the wall in the vicinity of their own houses (Neh 3:23). […] Whether the Tekoans who carried out the work on the next section (3:27) were the same as those already mentioned (3:5), it is not impossible that the extra investment by the Tekoans was motivated by a desire to make up for the absence of their nobles. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 37-38.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 3:1-32

1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.

3 The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 4 And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired. 5 And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.

6 Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Gate of Yeshanah. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 7 And next to them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, the seat of the governor of the province Beyond the River. 8 Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired. 10 Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah repaired. 11 Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.

13 Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall, as far as the Dung Gate.

14 Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.

15 And Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He rebuilt it and covered it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David. 16 After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool, and as far as the house of the mighty men. 17 After him the Levites repaired: Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, repaired for his district. 18 After him their brothers repaired: Bavvai the son of Henadad, ruler of half the district of Keilah. 19 Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section opposite the ascent to the armory at the buttress. 20 After him Baruch the son of Zabbai repaired another section from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21 After him Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired another section from the door of the house of Eliashib to the end of the house of Eliashib. 22 After him the priests, the men of the surrounding area, repaired. 23 After them Benjamin and Hasshub repaired opposite their house. After them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, son of Ananiah repaired beside his own house. 24 After him Binnui the son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah to the buttress and to the corner. 25 Palal the son of Uzai repaired opposite the buttress and the tower projecting from the upper house of the king at the court of the guard. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh 26 and the temple servants living on Ophel repaired to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the projecting tower. 27 After him the Tekoites repaired another section opposite the great projecting tower as far as the wall of Ophel.

28 Above the Horse Gate the priests repaired, each one opposite his own house. 29 After them Zadok the son of Immer repaired opposite his own house. After him Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, repaired. 30 After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah repaired opposite his chamber. 31 After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired as far as the house of the temple servants and of the merchants, opposite the Muster Gate, and to the upper chamber of the corner. 32 And between the upper chamber of the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and the merchants repaired.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 3:5

  • What can we learn from the Tekoite nobles, who “would not stoop to serve their Lord” in the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem?
  • How does the nobles’ behavior contrast with the description in the rest of the chapter?

Nehemiah 3:6-12

  • Reflect upon the fact that the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall was done by men and women of all backgrounds, even goldsmiths, priests, merchants, and perfume-makers. How does this capture the essence of the local church? 
  • For all but a few, the task of rebuilding the wall was unfamiliar work, outside of their normal range of skills. What does this reveal about what it takes to build God’s kingdom?  How willing and available am I to doing whatever task is necessary to further God’s kingdom regardless of whether I feel comfortable doing such tasks, or whether it’s something I am already good at?

Prayer 

July 1, 2020

Nehemiah 2- 2020-07-01

Journal

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Commentary: Nehemiah 2

Bible Text: Nehemiah 2:11-20

11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. 13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. 15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 2:11-16

  • What can we learn about the kind of person Nehemiah was by the way he sets out at night to personally inspect the entire wall?

Nehemiah 2:17-20

  • How does Nehemiah describe the situation that the people have been used to for about 140 years? What are some troubling realities I have become accustomed to that I need to redefine as unacceptable?
  • Think about the beautiful response of the people, “Let us rise up and build,” and the words “So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” What does this passage show about the nature of “good work”? What good work has God given me to do, and what has been my response to it?

Prayer 

June 30, 2020

Nehemiah 2- 2020-06-30

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Commentary: Nehemiah 2

2:1–8 Whether Nehemiah awaits his turn to attend to the king, or perhaps awaits the return of the king himself from the royal winter residence in Babylon, some four months pass before an opportune time arises for Nehemiah to disclose his concern to the king. Such an opportunity is afforded him due to his role as “cupbearer” (1:11), a position whose duties may well have included sampling the royal cup to prevent the poisoning of the royal person, but whose influence apparently extended far beyond this. Nehemiah reports (2:1–2) that his sadness—whether heartfelt or artful—contrasted sharply with his usual demeanor, thereby piquing the curiosity of the king and prompting royal concern. Nehemiah’s anxiety at this point (“I was very much afraid”; 2:2) may relate to the dangers of displaying anything other than a cheerful disposition in the Persian court (cf. Dan 1). However, Nehemiah’s apprehension may well be prompted by the prospect of voicing a concern that is, on one hand deeply personal, yet on the other, directly related to Persian imperial interests and policy vis-à-vis Jerusalem (Ezra 4:21).

[…] Before Nehemiah makes his request, he first notes his prayer to the God of heaven—most probably itself a request and if so perhaps similar in spirit (and also brevity) to the one he had been praying in the months previous (Neh 1:11): “Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man!” (NRSV).

[…] Nehemiah’s ability to draw directly from the resources of the Persian crown (i.e., the king’s forest; Neh 2:8) may reflect his position within the court or perhaps the perceived strategic importance of the work. Nehemiah does, however, share with the book of Ezra not only the phrase the “good hand of my God” (e.g., Ezra 7:9; 8:18), but also the understanding of this divine agency as the sole motive force behind the Persian crown’s authorization of the return(s) (7:6).

2:11–16 […] Just as Ezra sees the beautification of the temple as being “put by God in the hearts” of the Persian kings (Ezra 7:27), so too Nehemiah understands his plans as those that “my God had put in my heart” (Neh 2:12). The prospect of opposition to these divinely inspired plans—a prospect that 2:19–20 shows to be a very real one—is perhaps the most obvious explanation for Nehemiah’s insistence that what God had told him “I told no one” (2:12). Indeed, one suspects that Nehemiah’s reemphasizing of the completeness of his discretion—cataloged in some detail in 2:16b and celebrated in 2:16a—reflects his awareness of the potential damage that might be done if advance notice of his plans reached the opposition before they could be fully formed and communicated within the community.

2:17–18 […] Having seen the situation for himself, Nehemiah’s articulation of both the problem and the solution in the same terms used by the visitors to Susa (2:17; cf. “trouble/bad situation,” “gates burned,” “disgrace” in 1:3) must have been intentional. In addition to confirming and identifying with the community’s own understanding of its plight (“you see the trouble we are in”; 2:17), Nehemiah reinforces his charismatic authority to lead by sharing his earlier awareness (2:8) of “the hand of God for good” upon him—manifest not only (but presumably not least) in the royal interest in and approval of Nehemiah’s plans (2:18).

Nehemiah’s report of the collective response of the people, “Come let us begin building!”—itself an enthusiastic endorsement of Nehemiah’s approach—is followed by his own summary of their commitment. Nehemiah presumably sees it as no accident that his report of “God’s good hand” upon him leads to the people’s “strengthening of their hands for good”—a turn of phrase that elsewhere has the connotation of enablement (Ezra 6:22) and determination (Neh 6:9).

2:19–20 […] Their opponents’ question, “Are you rebelling against the king?,” seems an allusion to earlier allegations of rebellion (Ezra 4) and a very thinly veiled one at that. However, Nehemiah’s reporting of their hectoring tone (“they mocked and ridiculed us”) and especially his response (Neh 2:20) suggests he has seen through their bluff—armed as he is with the knowledge of Artaxerxes’s own approval of Nehemiah’s activities in the province. That this approval has been forthcoming from the earthly king is credited by Nehemiah to “the God of heaven,” the same God who answered Nehemiah’s prayers and is the ultimate guarantor of the project’s success.[1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 34-36.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 2:1-10

1 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” 6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. 7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

9 Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 2:1-9

  • What can I learn from the fact that it is four months after Nehemiah first heard about and started fasting and praying about Jerusalem’s condition that he finally receives an opportunity to present his request to the king?
  • Nehemiah was a man of prayer and a man of practical action. Why is it that these two traits are often thought to be at odds with each other?  How can I grow to be more like Nehemiah?

Prayer 

June 25, 2020

Nehemiah 1- 2020-06-25

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Commentary: Nehemiah 1

1:1–4 […] Nehemiah’s concern for “the remnant” resonates with Ezra’s prayer (Ezra 9:8, 13, 15) without differentiating between those who had returned to the land and those who had never been exiled in the first place. While the people and the province as a whole are not forgotten, Nehemiah’s query clearly and significantly connects the fate of the people to the state of Jerusalem (Neh 1:2). Judging from their response (1:3), it seems clear that Nehemiah’s fellow Jews also closely connect the physical state of Jerusalem with the situation and reputation of the remnant: the “shame” of the latter is directly related to the shattered physical fabric of the city’s walls and gates […] Like Ezra, Nehemiah adopts a sitting posture (Neh 1:4; Ezra 9:3, 4, 15) and weeps (Neh 1:4; Ezra 10:1) in keeping with the practice of mourning (Neh 1:4; Ezra 10:6) while also embracing fasting (Neh 1:4; Ezra 8:23; 9:5; 10:6) and persistent prayer before the God of heaven (Ezra 1:2; 5:11–12; 6:9–10; 7:12, 21, 23).

1:5–11 As in Ezra 9, the description of appropriate and presumably heartfelt piety here gives way to a prayer of confession and petition (1:5–11). The prayer opens by invoking again the “God of heaven” (1:5) but now in decidedly Deuteronomic terms: “a great and terrible God” (Deut 7:21), “who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (7:9). […]

The exhortation for God to “remember” (Neh 1:8–9) the Mosaic covenant (1:5) is clearly paralleled (or indeed undergirded) by Lev 26:42, 45 and other priestly texts (e.g., Ezek 16:61–63). […] Finally and typically Deuteronomic too is the understanding of Jerusalem as the place where God chooses to make his name dwell (Neh 1:9; Deut 12:11), even if in Neh 1:10, the echoes of “redeemed” and “strong hand” also suggest an awareness of the language of the exodus tradition (Exod 13:9, 13, 15, 16). Having confessed and “reminded” God of the conditions of restoration, the petitioner finally reiterates his request for divine attentiveness (“let your ear hear”) to the supplications of God’s “servants” (who fear God’s “name”) and more specifically to Nehemiah’s request for “success” in soliciting a reversal of the previously obstructive policy (cf. Ezra 4:17–22) of the king of Persia. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 33-34.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 1:1-11

1  The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Now I was cupbearer to the king.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 1:3-5

  • What was Nehemiah’s reaction to the news he received?
  • What is my typical reaction when I am confronted with facts that cause me concern or that burden my heart?
  • What are some notable elements of Nehemiah’s prayer?
  • Nehemiah refers to God as “the great and awesome God.” How can Nehemiah view God this way given what has happened to Jerusalem?  Are there some ways in which my view of God shifts with the ups and downs of my personal life, or when some effort at serving God does not go well?

Prayer 

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