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The book of Nehemiah is closely linked with the story of Ezra, the priest who had earlier gone to Jerusalem. Ezra was used by God to help build up the people. He read to them from the early books of the Bible (Ch. 8) and confessed their sin before God (Ch. 9). Nehemiah, too, by example and wise leadership, helped to reform the people and bring them closer to God.

Nehemiah was a Jewish exile that served as cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes; he was the king's butler and wine taster at the court.

Following the decree of Cyrus in 536BC some of the Jews returned to the land of Israel but work on rebuilding Jerusalem had been hindered by opposition from local settlers as well as through lack of effort on the part of the Jews. Some 90 years after the decree the walls of Jerusalem were in a state of disrepair and Nehemiah, upset at the situation, prayed to God about it.

Nehemiah's distress was evident to the king who asked him for the reason behind his crestfallen visage. A quick prayer to God by Nehemiah was immediately answered. Nehemiah requested the king to let him go to Jerusalem, to help rebuild the city, and Artaxerxes not only gave him permission to go but also made him the governor of Judah.

When Nehemiah reached Jerusalem he soon began to organise the re-building of the walls and repair of the gates. Nehemiah encouraged the builders, who worked with their weapons at the ready and despite further opposition from "Arabians, Ammonites and Ashdodites" and others, the wall of the city was completed in just 52 days.

Ezra the Scribe had returned to Jerusalem some 11 years earlier and for a while had been able to instruct and encourage the Jews in the ways of God. Now, with Nehemiah as Governor of the land, opposition was kept at bay thought the Jews themselves needed further reform. Many saw the need to change their ways, including some of the religious leaders who were among the worst offenders. Ezra and his assistant priests read daily to the people from God's word when they assembled with their families in the streets of Jerusalem, so helping them turn back to the ways of God.


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