The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace,
That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.
 

Introduction to Nehemiah

Since Ezra and Nehemiah were once considered to be one book, and since Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries in post-exilic Jerusalem, there is much in common between the two books (see “Introduction” to Ezra). In fact, many of the ancient scribes believe Ezra actually wrote the first few chapters of Nehemiah, but the internal evidence strongly favors Nehemiah as the author.

Nehemiah was a high official in the court of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. As a Jew, however, he was greatly concerned about the reestablishment of Jerusalem and the temple back in Israel. Approximately fourteen years after Ezra received his decree from the king Artaxerxes, Nehemiah obtained another decree from the same king, giving him authority to rebuild the wall and the city as a whole. This was almost certainly the decree prophesied by Daniel as the beginning of the “seventy weeks” in Daniel’s famous prediction of the coming of the Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27).

Under Nehemiah’s dynamic leadership, the walls were quickly rebuilt, despite much opposition from the previous inhabitants of the land. Under Ezra’s spiritual leadership, and Nehemiah’s governmental leadership, the remnant nation experienced a significant religious revival, though it never again gained complete independence.

1:1 twentieth year. That is, the twentieth year of Artaxerxes’ reign (Nehemiah 2:1). This would be thirteen years after this same king sent Ezra to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:7).

1:1 Shushan. Shushan is the same as Susa, the winter capital of the great Persian empire, about 250 miles east of Babylon, well identified and confirmed archaeologically.

1:2 Hanani. Hanani was evidently Nehemiah’s brother (Nehemiah 7:2) and so would naturally report back to Nehemiah after making the thousand-mile, four-month (Ezra 7:9) journey from Jerusalem to Shushan. He arrived in the month Chisleu (Nehemiah 1:1), corresponding to our November-December.

1:3 broken down. The wall of Jerusalem had apparently been at least partially built by Zerubbabel (Ezra 4:12; 5:3,8). Many years had passed, however, and the returning exiles had encountered continuing serious opposition from the people of the land, so their wall had fallen into decay by Nehemiah’s time. Therefore, Nehemiah sought and obtained approval to rebuild and finish the wall (Nehemiah 2:8).

1:6 we have sinned. As had Ezra (Ezra 9:5-15), so Nehemiah assumes that he personally is associated with the sins of Israel as a nation.

1:8 scatter you abroad. God’s ancient prophetic warnings through Moses (Leviticus 26:33, etc.), as well as His more recent warnings through His prophets (e.g., Jeremiah 25:11), had been fulfilled. Nevertheless, as Nehemiah “reminded” God, He had also promised to restore them to their land if they would return to the Lord (e.g., Deuteronomy 30:1-5).

l:11 the king’s cup bearer. This position was one of high trust and responsibility, as well as close fellowship with the king. The cupbearer risked his life daily for the king, tasting all his beverages first to thwart any attempted assassination of the king by poison.


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