This book continues the story from Ezra. The Jews made their homes in Judah. It is hard to know exact dates. But there are probable dates. First, there was Zerubbabel. He returned in 536 BC (Before Christ). Ezra returned in 458 BC. Then there was Nehemiah's journey. He travelled to Jerusalem. This was probably 12 years later (445 BC).

One group rebuilt the Temple. Zerubbabel's group did this. And they finished the work. There were two prophets who helped them. They were Haggai and Zechariah. Nehemiah had a special job. His job was to rebuild the city's walls. The city was in constant danger. Its neighbours did not know God. And they often attacked Jerusalem.

We can divide the book into three main sections.

Rebuilding the Walls (Chapters 1-7)

God chose a leader. It was a very important time. So, it was vital to have the right man for the job. And God's choice was Nehemiah. Chapter 2 describes Nehemiah's helpers. Chapters 4-7 explain their problems. And we learn about Nehemiah's work.

Preparing for the work (1-2). Nehemiah had:

  • sympathy (1:3-4)
  • faith in God (1:5)
  • repentance (1:6-9)
  • hope in God (1:11-2:4). He was relying on God completely
  • confidence (2:5-8)
  • wisdom (2:9-18)
  • discipline (2:19-20).

People who helped with the work (3). This chapter tells us about people who worked on different parts of the wall. At first, it seems to be just a list of names. But, if you study it, you will notice something. This chapter can teach you. It is exciting too. Here are some things about the list:

God's work started near home (10, 23, 28). Often, it is hard to get important people to work (5)! But it is not always like this. Here, a ruler built a part of the wall. And his daughters helped too (12). They would have been wealthy, but they still worked.

People might be eager to do God's work (20). Or they might just do it because they must. We should not serve God for selfish reasons. Here, some people worked even though they did not live in Jerusalem (2, 7, 13). So they would not gain anything for themselves. Some people did more than their share of the work. And they did it gladly. A man called Meremoth repaired one section of the wall (4). Then he worked on another section (21). The people from Tekoa city did the same (5, 27).

People who opposed the work (4-5). When anyone starts God's work, troubles will come. They can come from all sides too! In the book of Ezra, difficulties came first from his own people. Then they came from enemies who lived in the area (Ezra 3:12; 4:1-5). It was the opposite in the book of Nehemiah. First, enemies who lived in the area opposed the work (4). Then, serious problems came from Nehemiah's own people (5).

Chapter 4 is about foreign enemies. They tried to stop the work.

Chapter 5 is about bad people who were Jews. They stole from other Jews.

These bad people were rich and cruel (5:1-5). They lent money to poor Jews. Then they charged extra for doing this. And this made things worse. The poor people could not earn enough money. So, the rich Jews made them pay another way. They took the poor Jews’ property. They even made them become slaves.

Nehemiah was different. He was a ruler. But he never took food from other people. And he never took money. He was a good example. He showed how people could live in a simple way (5:14-18).

Equipment for the work (6-7). The enemies’ attack did not succeed. Now, they tried something else. They pretended to be friendly. However, Nehemiah:

  • had determination (6:3-4)
  • had understanding (6:5-13)
  • prayed much (6:9,14)
  • had patience (6:17-19)
  • listened to God and obeyed God (7:5).

Restoring Their Faith (Chapters 8-12)

Ezra appears again (8:1). He was the teacher. He wanted to help his own people to change too.

Explanation (8). Ezra had excellent listeners. They:

  • were united (8:1)
  • listened well (8:3)
  • respected God's word (8:5)
  • agreed and replied (8:6 ‘Amen’)
  • were humble and ready to obey (8:6)
  • understood (8:8).

When people hear God's word, they should want to act on it.

God's people had the Feast of Tabernacles again. [Note: To learn the meaning of this Feast, read Exodus 23:14-16 and 2 Chronicles 8:13]. The special Feast had three parts. First, the people gave thanks to God. (God had brought them safely out of Egypt. It was the land where they had been slaves.). Second, they remembered. (They had been wandering in the desert.) Third, they were witnesses. (They told their foreign neighbours what God had done for them.)

Agreement (9). They agreed with God about their sins. And they confessed their sins to God (9:2-3). Then, they told the people what God had done. They spoke about God's goodness and God's mercy. They did this as they prayed (9:5-37).

Dedication (10-12). This word means a special act. It means to give to God. The people first gave themselves to God (9:38; 10:1-12:26). Then, they gave the wall to God. They had a special ceremony to do this (12:27-47).

Again, there are lists of names. And, again, they can teach us. Some of the people were living in Jerusalem city.

These people were:

  • willing (11:2)
  • brave (11:6)
  • able to organize themselves (11:7-16)
  • grateful (11:17)
  • humble. The gatekeepers were not ashamed of their job (11:19). All jobs are important. And it is the same for us.
  • happy (11:22-23).

Improving Their Behaviour (Chapter 13)

Nehemiah went away for a time. And things got worse (13:6, 7). The people became careless in their spiritual lives. There was a prophet at that time. His name was Malachi.

When Nehemiah returned, he corrected three things. He made sure that:

God's house was holy again (13:1-14). Tobiah had returned (13:4. Read 2:10, 19; 4:3, 7; 6:1, 14, 17). God's enemy was living in God's Temple. And this sort of thing still happens. (Read 2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8 and 2 John 7.) Notice something. When Satan comes in, the song goes out (13:10).

God's day had honour again (13:15-22). The Sabbath had become a day when people bought and sold things. Nehemiah was a man of prayer. But he was also a man of action. And he gave an order. The men in charge of Jerusalem city gates must shut them at sunset. This was so that people could not trade (13:19). But this did not stop them. They set out their goods for sale outside the gates. So, anyone who wanted to buy could do so. But they only did this once or twice (13:20). They could not cheat Nehemiah. He soon stopped them.

The Jews obeyed God's law again (13:23-31). A wrong marriage has always caused trouble. This is when one partner loves and serves God and the other does not. (Read Deuteronomy 7:3-4.)

Notice a difference between Ezra and Nehemiah. They both had the same problem. But their reactions were not the same. Ezra pulled his own beard (Ezra 9:3). This showed that he was sad and upset. Nehemiah pulled other people's beards (13:25)!

Each section ends with some words. They are: ‘Remember…my God’ (13:14, 22, 29). The whole book ends with these words. They show something about Nehemiah. It is this. He had personal faith. He had absolute trust in God.