The book of Nehemiah provides an account of Nehemiah, a leader of the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem. Under his direction, the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. However, “Nehemiah was not satisfied with simply building physical structures; he wanted his people to be edified spiritually as well,” and he helped the Jews “take control of their lives, land, and destiny as the people of God” (Modesto M. Amistad Jr., “Wanted: Modern Nehemiahs,” Ensign, Dec. 2002, 45, 46). He also exemplified many righteous qualities. “He was humble, self-motivated, confident in the will of God, willing to take the lead, full of faith, fearless, an organizer, obedient, and just” (“Wanted: Modern Nehemiahs,” 46). By studying the book of Nehemiah, students can both see an example of righteous leadership and learn the value of building themselves spiritually.
The author of the book of Nehemiah is unknown. However, the book has an autobiographical style. Nehemiah 1:1 mentions that these are “the words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah,” and the rest of the narrative is written primarily in the first person. This may suggest that at least portions of the book were written by Nehemiah himself.
The date and location of the writing of the book of Nehemiah are unknown. However, Nehemiah 1:1 mentions that the record was started at Shushan, in Persia, in “the twentieth year,” which refers to the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, who ruled from 465 B.C. to 424 B.C.
The book of Nehemiah is the continuation of the account that begins in the book of Ezra. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah originally made up one book in the Hebrew scriptural canon. The book was divided into two books in the third century A.D.
The book of Nehemiah records an important time period in Jewish history, which included the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem as well as the rebuilding of the spiritual lives of the Jews who had returned from captivity. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem after their long captivity in Babylon, they found their city in ruins. The protective wall around the city of Jerusalem had been reduced to rubble, which left the Israelites vulnerable to attacks by their enemies. Under the direction of Nehemiah, the Israelites began to rebuild the wall.
During the reconstruction of the wall, the Israelites faced opposition. When Nehemiah’s enemies tried to lure him away from the site, he responded, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). In so doing, Nehemiah demonstrated his commitment to fulfill the pledge he had made to the Lord to rebuild Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 1:11; 2:4–5). Nehemiah can serve as an example to us of the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord even in the midst of opposition.
Nehemiah 1–6 Nehemiah, a Jew serving as the cupbearer of the king of Persia, fasts and prays when he learns that the Jews in Jerusalem are suffering and that the walls surrounding Jerusalem have been broken down. King Artaxerxes grants Nehemiah’s request to return and rebuild the walls and gates of the city. Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem and directs the Jews in rebuilding the walls of the city despite opposition.
Nehemiah 7 To protect the Jews living in Jerusalem, Nehemiah orders that the gates of the city be opened only during the heat of the day and shut and barred at all other times. He also appoints guards to watch over the gates and the homes of the Jews. He reviews the genealogical record of the Jews living in Jerusalem; those who cannot prove through genealogical records that they are Levites are denied the priesthood.
Nehemiah 8–10 Ezra reads aloud and interprets the law of Moses to the Jews. The people weep when they hear the scriptures read aloud. They fast and confess their sins before the Lord. Some of the Jews recount the history of the Israelites and some of God’s blessings to them from Abraham to their own day. The people covenant to marry only within the house of Israel, honor the Sabbath, pay tithing, and keep the Lord’s commandments.
Nehemiah 11–12 The walls of Jerusalem are completed and dedicated. The people give thanks to God.
Nehemiah 13 Nehemiah leaves Jerusalem for several years, and during his absence, the Jews in Jerusalem begin to break their covenants and neglect the law of Moses. Nehemiah returns and helps the people keep their covenants by cleansing the temple, reinstituting Sabbath observance, and teaching the people about marriage within the covenant.