Book Summaries

A historical book from the post-captivity, or restoration, period of Jewish history. In the ancient Hebrew canon the books of Ezra and Nehemiah appeared as one volume, called Ezra. In the LXX this original Ezra was divided into 2 parts entitled 2 and 3 Esdras, with an Apocryphal book of that name appearing as 1 Esdras. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, gave the separate books the titles Ezra and Nehemiah, whence the division into 2 books in English translations and their respective titles. Ezra and Nehemiah are the historical continuation of Chronicles, since they take up the thread of Jewish history with the restoration from Babylonian captivity. The style and language of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah strongly suggest a common authorship. The Talmud (Baba Bathra 15a) identifies Ezra as the chief author and Nehemiah, a contemporary of Ezra, as the one who completed the work. Nehemiah served as governor at Jerusalem, and Ezra, a priest, as a spiritual leader. For a time their co-operative efforts did much to bring both material and spiritual blessings. In view of the fact that the list of priests and Levites in Neh 12 does not contain names of any who lived after c. 400 b.c., it has been conjectured that the book must have been written at approximately that time. Although we are dependent almost exclusively upon Ezra and Nehemiah for our knowledge of postexilic Judea, these books record only the more important events of the period, and there are large gaps where little information is available. Ezra records the successive decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. He reports the building of the Temple and its dedication under Darius. Darius I, but then skips over nearly 60 years to the decree of 457 b.c., in connection with which he was sent back to Judea by Artaxerxes with far-reaching authority to reorganise the national administration in harmony with the Law of Moses. He relates experiences soon after his return to Jerusalem, but the next recorded event is the coming of Nehemiah several years later.

The decree of 457 b.c. granted the Jews virtual autonomy under Persia. Civil and judicial powers were returned to the local leadership, and the Law of Moses became once more the official law of the land. Except for the payment of taxes the Jews were free to go their own way, but generous royal grants from the treasury of the satrapy Beyond the River were made in return. Ezra's activities during the 13 years before the arrival of Nehemiah are obscure. However, it is known that he went quietly about the work of reform, one feature of which was in regard to mixed marriages (Ezr 9; 10). During this period of time Megabyzos, governor of the province known as Beyond the River, which included Judea, rebelled for a number of years against the king of Persia. The Jews remained loyal to Artaxerxes, but may have been falsely accused by their Samaritan enemies as partisans of Megabyzos. Artaxerxes gave the Samaritans permission to stop the building of the wall of Jerusalem, and they went so far as to destroy parts of the wall and to burn city gates (Ezr 4:21; Neh 1:3). Near the end of 445 b.c. Hanani, the brother of Nehemiah, and other Jews arrived at the Persian capital, apparently bringing the first news of events in Jerusalem since Megabyzos' rebellion had been quelled.

Though a faithful Jew, Nehemiah had advanced to a position of responsibility in the Persian court. He was apparently well educated and had natural skill as an administrator and organiser. Upon receiving word of the sad state of affairs in Jerusalem, some 12 years after Ezra's return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah was greatly shocked (Neh 1:1 ­3) and like Daniel (cf. Dan 9:3) fasted and prayed for many days (Neh 1:4 ­11). About 4 months later (ch 2:1; cf. ch 1:1) Nehemiah was ready with an effective plan for bringing relief to his beleaguered and suffering fellow countrymen in Jerusalem. Apparently awaiting a suitable occasion to petition the king (ch 2:1 ­6), he requested a to royal commission that would permit him to go to Jerusalem and restore the fortunes of his people there (v 5). Artaxerxes was favourable to the suggestion and granted Nehemiah letters to the governor of the satrapy Beyond the River to provide him with transportation, timber, and other necessary supplies for the rebuilding of the wall of the city (vs. 6 ­8). Thus equipped with the necessary powers for carrying out his mission, he went to Jerusalem accompanied by a detachment of horsemen and royal army officers (vs. 9, 11). After first inspecting the walls of the city by night (vs. 12 ­16), Nehemiah summoned the leaders to rise up and build the wall (vs. 17, 18). They responded heartily, and workmen were organised to repair sections of the wall that had been broken down and to rebuild some of the gates (ch 3). When the work of reconstruction became known, the traditional enemies of the Jews in lands bordering on Judea conspired to defeat Nehemiah's purpose. Among these enemies were *Sanballat, governor of Samaria, *Tobiah, a high official or nobleman of Ammon, and *Geshem, a high Arabian official (ch 2:10, 19). But Nehemiah proved himself a capable, fearless, and determined leader. He did not belittle the threat posed by his enemies, but on the other hand he was not unduly disturbed. He simply continued with his work. Throughout the time during which the rebuilding of the wall was in process, these enemies carried forward their attempts to hinder the work, and apparently gave up the idea only when the task was completed after a brief space of 52 days (Neh 6:15). A solemn and impressive ceremony marked the dedication of the wall (ch 12:27 ­43).

Following the building of the wall, Nehemiah settled down to his work as governor (Neh 5:14). He championed the cause of the oppressed (vs. 1 ­13), repopulated the city (chs 7; 11:1 ­19), and, in co-operation with Ezra, provided for the religious needs of the people (chs 8 ­10).

After an absence of unspecified duration of at Susa, the Persian capital, Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem for a 2nd term as governor (Neh 13:6, 7), during which he instituted certain further reforms (vs. 10 ­31).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.