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.