In the earliest Hebrew manuscripts the book of Nehemiah was a continuation of the book of Ezra. Its autobiographical style indicates Nehemiah may have been the author. It covers the history of the Jews from approximately 446 to 405 B.C.—the latest period of any of the historical books in the Old Testament.
Nehemiah was a Jew who held the trusted position of “cupbearer” to Artaxerxes, king of Persia, which meant he protected the king’s food and drink from poisoning (see Nehemiah 1). Artaxerxes allowed him to go to Jerusalem and help rebuild the city wall (see Nehemiah 2:1–6:15). He served as governor in Jerusalem for twelve years, then returned to Babylon, where he remained for some time before returning to Jerusalem a second time (see Nehemiah 5:14–15; 13:6; 13:7–31).
Nehemiah demonstrated the highest level of dedication and courage in the practical matter of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and in the spiritual matter of rebuilding the religious life of the people (see also Bible Dictionary, “Nehemiah,” p. 738).
Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For
Studying the scriptures helps us develop faith, courage, and inner peace (see Nehemiah 8–10).
We defile the Sabbath when we buy or sell on that holy day (see Nehemiah 13:15–18).
Suggestions for Teaching
2 Chronicles 36; Ezra 1–10; Nehemiah 1–13. The Lord blesses all who repent and come unto Him. (30–40 minutes)
Bring to class something that is broken and ask students how they decide which broken items to repair and which to throw away. Have them read Nehemiah 1:1–3 and look for what Nehemiah learned was broken. Ask:
Why were Jerusalem’s walls worth fixing?
How were the walls a symbol of the Jewish nation at that time?
How are the walls symbolic of conditions now for people who do not have the teachings of Jesus Christ?
Review with students the reason for the Babylonian captivity of Judah (see 2 Chronicles 36:14–21). People today sometimes find themselves spiritually in a situation similar to that of the Jews—in danger of captivity because of unrighteousness. Because the Lord is merciful, He gives His children opportunities to return to Him. Ask how the ancient Jews were given both the physical and spiritual opportunity to return (see Ezra 1).
Ezra and Nehemiah led groups of Jews back to Jerusalem when the Lord made it possible for them to return. Their experience provided a pattern for everyone who seeks to return to the Lord.
You could read and discuss the following sections of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah to show what the Jews did to rebuild, not only the temple and the walls of Jerusalem, but their spiritual lives:
Ezra 3:1–7. Before they finished the temple, the people rebuilt the altar and began offering animal sacrifices. Ask: What role did such sacrifice play in pointing to Christ? After the Atonement, what sacrifices were required? (see 3 Nephi 9:19–20).
Ezra 4; Nehemiah 2:19; 4; 6. Notice the different ways enemies tried to stop the work (see especially Ezra 4:4–6; Nehemiah 2:19; 4:1–3, 7–12; 6:1–13). Ask: How are these ancient examples of opposition like the ways people try to discourage those who are coming unto Christ today?
Ezra 5:1–2; Nehemiah 1; 2:17–20; 4; 6; 8–10. Read the following verses, looking for what helped the Jews succeed: Ezra 5:1–2; Nehemiah 1:4–11; 2:18; 4:4–5, 9, 14, 19–23; 6:3, 9, 12. Remember that when the people finished restoring the temple and the walls, they experienced further spiritual growth by humbly listening to Ezra teach them from the scriptures (see Ezra 8) and then changing their lives (see Ezra 9–10).
Help students understand that, although it may be hard, it is possible to return to the Lord and repair a broken relationship with Him. Share the following story by President Boyd K. Packer:
“For a number of years I found relaxation in carving and painting songbirds, at times spending a full year on a single carving. … Once, I had a newly finished carving on the back seat of a car driven by Elder A. Theodore Tuttle. He hit the brakes suddenly and the carving was thrown to the floor and damaged.
“Elder Tuttle felt terrible, supposing he had ruined a year’s work. When I waved aside his apologies, he said, ‘You sure don’t seem to be upset about it.’ “To reassure him, I said, ‘Don’t worry. I made it; I can fix it.’ Actually it had been broken and fixed many times while I was working on it.
“Later, Brother Tuttle likened that experience to people with lives broken or badly damaged—supposedly ruined with no hope of repair—who do not know that there is a Maker, a Creator, who can fix any of his creations no matter how hopelessly broken they seem to be” (The Play and the Plan, 6–7).
Nehemiah 8–13. Studying the scriptures helps us develop faith, courage, and inner peace. (25–35 minutes)
Ask students what some of the negative consequences might be if they were not able to read the scriptures for a month, three months, or for ten years. Have them imagine that they have never seen a set of scriptures, then read Nehemiah 8:1–2 to them. Ask: How excited might you be to hear the scriptures for the first time? Have them read verses 3–8 and look for how the people responded to the scriptures. Read verse 9 and ask them why they think the people wept. Share your testimony of the importance of the scriptures.
Ask students to finish the following sentence: The scriptures give me strength because. …
Have students quickly read Nehemiah 9 and look for how the Jews might have finished that sentence after what Nehemiah read to them.
How would understanding God’s mercy have been a blessing to those early Jews?
How can it be a blessing to us?
Read Nehemiah 9:1–3, 36–38 and discuss how the message of the scriptures helped the Jews covenant to follow God. Explain that many of the people soon began to break the commandments again (see Nehemiah 13:15–22). Ask students why they think the people began to fall away again. Read 1 Nephi 8:30 and share your testimony of how scripture study must be not only a one day or one week event but a lifelong pattern.