The Bitesized Bible
7 February 2021
The book of Nehemiah is a continuation of what we have previously described as Old Testament Narrative History. The usual argument is that Nehemiah himself wrote the book in about 430 B.C. With Nehemiah, Ezra, Sanballat, and Tobiah as the main characters, the book records events surrounding the people of Israel’s return to Jerusalem, with the subsequent rebuilding of the city’s protective walls – said to have took place around 445 B.C.
To give the book a basic outline, Jerusalem had a temple with no protection from further attacks. Nehemiah travelled to Jerusalem and commissioned a city-based redevelopment – meaning that Nehemiah established a local family-based builder’s firm, awarding them a major contract! They must have been good, because within a short time the walls were complete, and the enemies of Jerusalem had second thoughts about attacking again.
Whoever was the author, they use the first 7 chapters to record events appertaining to Nehemiah’s temporary return to Jerusalem from Persia, as a form of local governor. Overseeing the project, Nehemiah encourages family units to build the sections of the wall that were linked to their personal dwellings, a job they did in double quick time:
“So, the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:15-16).
What follows in the remaining 6 Chapters of Nehemiah, is how Israel re-established itself as a nation - after the exile in Babylon. Ezra comes into play, as he leads a renewal ceremony – which included public teaching of the Law. Also, the Sabbath was reinstated. The people seemed to understand that their survival depended upon remembering and obeying God’s Laws. As a book, Nehemiah could be viewed as the political and legal underpinning to Ezra’s spiritual renewal document. Particularly as Nehemiah seeks to establish polices on issues such as mixed marriage – seen as prohibitive to the teaching of “the language of Judah” (Hebrew). So where in all this might the message for Christianity be?
The clue is in the previously mentioned month of Elul. The word was born out of the Babylonian exile – what is called an Akkadian word. A word that translates as HARVEST. Nehemiah’s ministry – along with the people’s wall building response, joins forces with Ezra’s spiritual rebuilding process and highlights that from the remnant of Israel, a new harvest of faithful and obedient people could take place. Meaning that, in essence, this re-establishing of Israel serves as the model for what it means to be a resurrection people. For the Christian however, the development of all this is embraced and embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In other words, all humanity can be harvested to a new life in Christ. For “In Christ alone, our hope is found”.
© 2020 David Hollingsworth
Last Updated: 8 February 2021