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Bible Commentaries

James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary

Nehemiah 1

 

 

Verses 1-19

BUILDING THE WALLS

PRAYER AND ITS ANSWER (Nehemiah 1-2:8)

In this book it is to be kept in mind that the previous commissions to Zembbabel and Ezra concerned only the repair of the temple at Jerusalem, and certain internal arrangements for the moral and material well-being of the people in their home towns. The walls and gates of the city, however, were still in the ruined condition in which they were left by Nebuchadnezzar after the siege. The consequences were detrimental to the people’s peace, for such protection was practically their only defense against assaulting enemies.

Chislev was an early winter month. Shushan was the winter, as Ecbatana was the summer palace, of the Persian monarchs. Hanani may have been simply a relative, as we have seen how loosely these kinships are referred to (Nehemiah 1:1-2).

Nehemiah, though nothing more is stated of him, is likely to have been, like Zerubbabel, of the royal family of David, and certainly he was a great patriot. Study his prayer carefully (Nehemiah 1:4-11). Notice its deep earnestness (Nehemiah 1:4), unselfishness (Nehemiah 1:6), humility (Nehemiah 1:6-7), faith (Nehemiah 1:8-9) and definiteness (Nehemiah 1:11). A cup-bearer to an oriental potentate (Neh. 1:12) held a confidential and influential office, affording him frequent access to his presence. At the meal he presented the cup of wine to the king, and since the likelihood of its being poisoned was ever present, he must be one in whom the greatest trust was reposed. Not infrequently, as a precautionary measure, the cup-bearer must first taste the wine in the king’s presence before presenting it.

Four months elapsed between chapters one and two, though the cause is unknown. Nisan (2:1) was in the Spring. It awakened suspicion to appear before majesty with a sad countenance (Nehemiah 2:2), but in this case it gave Nehemiah his opportunity (Nehemiah 2:3-8). The queen may have been Esther, though it is uncertain. God receives the glory (Nehemiah 2:8).

PROGRESS OF THE WORK (Nehemiah 2:9; Nehemiah 3:32)

“Beyond the river” means east of the Euphrates. “Governors” were in charge of the Persian dependencies in proximity to Judah (Nehemiah 2:9). “Horonite” seems to refer to a Moabitish town of that name. The Ammonite “Tobiah the servant” may mean that he was a freed slave elevated to official dignity. Nehemiah enters on his task by a night survey of the ruins (Nehemiah 2:12-16).

Then he addresses the leaders, stirring them by his example and information about the king’s commission (Nehemiah 2:17-18). The opponents (Nehemiah 2:19) were doubtless supporters or leaders of the Samaritans, met with in Ezra.

The priests take the lead in the work (Nehemiah 3:1). The residents of Jericho have a section assigned them (Nehemiah 3:2), and other great families follow to the end of the chapter. Their names are recorded because the work was one not only of patriotism, but godly devotion, calling for faith, courage, and self- sacrifice.

HINDRANCES (Nehemiah 4-6)

Ridicule was the first form the hindrances took (Nehemiah 4:1-6), but Nehemiah made his appeal to God and continued the work until the wall was built “half the height” (RV). If his language in prayer seems harsh, recall what we have learned about Israel’s position as God’s witness and instrument in blessing the world. To frustrate her is to frustrate God, and work the sorest injury to human kind. These enemies are not personal to Nehemiah, but the enemies of God and of all the earth. Moreover, Nehemiah himself is not undertaking to visit punishment upon them, but committing them to God who doeth righteously.

Physical force was the next form of hindrance (Nehemiah 4:7-23), but Nehemiah provided against it by day and night watches (Nehemiah 4:9), by arming the workmen (Nehemiah 4:13), and by detaining them all in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:22).

The hindrance of chapter five was not the same as the others, and did not arise from the outside, but it was a hindrance, nevertheless, that must have greatly weakened their hands (Nehemiah 5:1-5). Nehemiah’s action was bold and efficient. An assembly was called (Nehemiah 5:7), his own example cited (Nehemiah 5:8-10), an appeal made (Nehemiah 5:11), a solemn agreement effected (Nehemiah 5:12-13). The verses following testify to the wealth of Nehemiah as well as his unselfish patriotism. Not only declining the emoluments of his office, he maintained an expensive establishment for the public good, and this for twelve years (Nehemiah 5:14). He appears self-righteous (Nehemiah 5:19), but he was not living in the Gospel dispensation.

In chapter six the external enemies once more come into view, whose policy has changed from ridicule and force to crafty diplomacy (Nehemiah 6:1-4) with threats superadded (Nehemiah 6:5-9). Nor are there wanting traitors within his own camp who seek Nehemiah’s ruin, but in vain (Nehemiah 6:10-15). Notice the intended disrespect in the “open” letter, which, in the case of so distinguished an official as Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:5), should have been sealed, after the Persian custom. These were indeed “troublous times” (Daniel 9:25), but the man for the times had arrived.

QUESTIONS

1. What material feature distinguishes the periods of the two books, Ezra and Nehemiah?

2. What is the meaning of “cup-bearer”?

3. What outstanding features mark the character of Nehemiah?

4. What is the geographical designation of the enemies of Judah?

5. Name the three classes of hindrances emanating from them.

6. What were the hindrances of an internal character?

7. How long was the work in progress?

 


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Bibliography Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1:4". The James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jgc/nehemiah-1.html. 1897-1910.

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