The *Jews build Jerusalem’s city wall again
An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on the Book of Nehemiah
Robert Bryce and Robert Betts
This commentary has been through Advanced Checking.
Words in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
There are many dates in this *introduction. These dates are the number of years before the time when Jesus Christ was born. Each date has the letters ‘BC’, which mean ‘before Christ’, after it. This *introduction also refers to places in the Bible where you can read about these things.
These are the events that happened in *Israel before the time of Nehemiah. This account will help us to understand the Book of Nehemiah better. We can read about these events in Nehemiah 9:5-37.
God chose the nation called *Israel to be his special people (Leviticus 20:26). He wanted the people to love him and to *worship him. And he wanted them to obey him. In the city called Jerusalem, which was their capital, they built a great *temple. The people *worshipped God and gave *sacrifices to him in this *temple. *Israel became a powerful nation.
But the people in *Israel did not obey God (Nehemiah 9:16-18, 26). They *worshipped the gods of the other nations. So God caused the people in *Israel to suffer trouble and difficulties.
The *Israelites continued to *sin against God (Nehemiah 9:28). God sent many *prophets to warn them about this. But the *Israelites did not listen to these men. Instead, the *Israelites continued to do bad things (Nehemiah 9:29-30). So God allowed them to suffer terrible difficulties. God loved the *Israelites because they were his people. He only allowed them to suffer like this so that they would remember him. He wanted them to obey him. Then he could do good things for them again.
The nation divided into two parts. The northern part was called *Israel and people called the inhabitants *Israelites. The name of the southern part was *Judah and people called the inhabitants *Jews. Jerusalem was in the southern part. The book of Nehemiah is about the people in *Judah. However, sometimes Nehemiah calls them the people of *Israel. God gave Jacob the name *Israel when he promised to make Jacob’s *descendants God’s special people. By the time of Nehemiah, only the people in *Judah remained, but they were still God’s special people.
In 722 BC, God allowed a powerful nation, the *Assyrians, to overcome *Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23). The *Assyrians forced many *Israelites to live in other countries (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:10-11). And they brought other people to live in *Israel (2 Kings 17:24). These other people *worshipped false gods. They also tried to *worship the real God, but they did not *worship him in the right manner (2 Kings 17:25-41). People called them Samaritans because their chief city was called Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). Samaria was only about two days walk from Jerusalem. The Samaritans became Nehemiah’s enemies. One of their leaders was Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s chief enemy.
Many of the kings of *Judah did not obey God. But some of them loved God and they encouraged the people to obey him. But the *Jews usually refused to obey God (Nehemiah 9:28-30), as the *Israelites had done. So after many years, God had to punish them too.
In 701 BC, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, overcame some cities in *Judah (2 Kings 18:13). But he did not overcome Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:32-36). God saved the city on that occasion.
Many years later, the *Assyrians became weak and the *Babylonians took control of their country, Assyria. The *Babylonians were the *Jews’ enemies, as the *Assyrians had been. The king of the *Babylonians was Nebuchadnezzar. The *Babylonian army overcame *Judah. The soldiers took most of the *Jews to Babylonia and forced them to live there. This is called ‘the *Babylonian *exile’. It lasted for about 70 years.
God used a foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar, to punish the *Jews. Nebuchadnezzar took them away from the land that God had given to them. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar did not give honour to the real God. Instead, Nebuchadnezzar was serving false gods. But God still used Nebuchadnezzar to punish the *Jews. In Jeremiah 25:9, God said that Nebuchadnezzar was his servant. But Nebuchadnezzar did not know that. In Jeremiah 25:12, God also said that he would punish the *Babylonians 70 years later. God would punish them because they were wicked too (see Daniel chapter 5). God is in control. He can even use people who do not know him.
The *Babylonians overcame *Judah in three phases:
1. In 605 BC they took king Jehoiakim’s family and the people who served the king (2 Chronicles 36:5-7; Daniel 1:1-7). They forced them to go to Babylonia and to live there. Daniel was one of these people and he became a very important official in Babylonia (Daniel 1:17-21; 5:29-6.3; 6:28). He wrote the Book of Daniel.
2. Then, 8 years later, the *Babylonians took Jehoiachin, the next king of *Judah, to Babylonia. And they appointed his uncle, Zedekiah, to be king of *Judah. They also took all the leaders, soldiers and skilful workmen. The *Babylonians also stole the beautiful and valuable things in the *temple and they took them to Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-17).
3. Later, in 586 BC, the *Babylonians came. They destroyed the *temple and the city of Jerusalem. They took king Zedekiah, and most of the people who remained in *Judah, to Babylonia. They allowed only the poorest people to live in *Judah (2 Kings 25:1-12).
God had warned his people before these things happened. He would allow these events to happen if the people refused to obey him (Leviticus 26:27-39; Deuteronomy 28:15 and 28:64-68; 2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Isaiah 39:6-7 and Micah 4:10). God gave his people a long time to ask him to forgive them. He gave them the opportunity to obey him. But the people did not listen to him. They did more and more evil things and they gave honour to false gods.
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are two parts of the same story. They tell us about the time when the *Jews returned from Babylonia to their own country called *Judah. Babylonia was about 4 months’ walk east from *Judah. The *Babylonians had defeated the people in *Judah. The *Babylonians had forced most of the *Jews to go to Babylonia and to live there. After many years, the *Persians defeated the *Babylonians. Then Cyrus, the king of Persia, allowed the *Jews to return to *Judah.
The Book of Ezra is the first part. It tells us about the first two groups of *Jews who returned to *Judah. The first group returned about 70 years after the *Babylonians had taken the *Jews into *exile. The book also explains how the *Jews built their *temple again. Then, many years later, a man called Ezra helped the *Jews. He helped them to know God’s commands and to obey them.
The book of Nehemiah is the second part. It tells the story of a man whose name was Nehemiah. He was a very important official who worked for the king of Persia. God sent Nehemiah to *Judah in order to do a special task. Nehemiah would help the *Jews to build the walls round Jerusalem again. He arrived in *Judah about 13 years after Ezra went there. The king appointed Nehemiah to be the ruler of *Judah. Nehemiah, like Ezra, helped the *Jews to obey God’s commands.
In ancient times, most cities had city walls. The wall was an important defence that surrounded the city.
The wall would be strong and high. Many such walls were several metres thick. And they would make the city like a large castle.
The top of the wall would be flat. The city's guards would walk on top of the wall. From there, they could watch for any criminals who were inside the city. Also, the guards would be able to see if an enemy army approached the city.
There would be some *towers along the wall. These were tall, strong buildings that the guards could use. And they would be very useful if there was a war.
The wall would have large gates. During the day, these gates were open. Traders and travellers could enter the city. And they could go to the market. But by night, the guards closed the gates. Then, nobody could enter. And the city would be safe.
Because the wall was so strong, people would use it for other purposes too. For example, people might build their houses against it. In some cities, these houses actually became part of the city wall. So, the wall became a row of houses.
Nehemiah was a *Jew. He was an important servant of the king of Persia (Nehemiah 1:11). Many years earlier the *Persians had defeated the *Babylonians. Then the *Persian king had allowed the *Jews to return to *Judah from the *Babylonian *exile. Some of the *Jews had gone, but many of them still lived in Persia. Nehemiah was probably born in Persia. The book starts when Nehemiah was in Shushan. The *Persian kings had a palace there, which they used during the winter. The story of Esther in the Bible happened in Shushan (Esther 1:1-2).
Nehemiah’s brother and some other men came from *Judah to visit Nehemiah. He asked them for news about Jerusalem, which was the capital of *Judah.
Nehemiah was probably born in Persia. Probably he had never been to *Judah. But he cared about *Judah. It was the country that God had given to his people, called the *Jews. Nehemiah knew that the *Jews had not obeyed God. So God had punished them. God had made them live far away from *Judah in Babylon. But after 70 years, God had allowed them to return.
Nehemiah probably hoped to hear good news. God’s people were living back in the country that God had given to them. Nehemiah wanted to hear that they were happy there. He wanted to hear that they were serving God. But his brother gave him bad news. The people were not happy. Moreover, the walls of the city were just heaps of stones. We can read more about this in the book of Ezra. The people from other nations that lived near Jerusalem opposed the *Jews. They did not want the *Jews to build the city again (Ezra 4:7-23).
This news made Nehemiah very sad. He was sad for many days and he did not eat.
Sometimes people do not eat for a short time if they are very sad. They may do this so that they have more time to pray to God.
Nehemiah prayed every night and every day. He prayed for 4 months. From the month called Kislev (Nehemiah 1:1) to the month called Nisan (Nehemiah 2:1) was 4 months.
We read about several of Nehemiah’s prayers in this book. Some of his prayers were very short. But this one helps us to understand what Nehemiah’s prayers were like. When Nehemiah started his prayer, he *worshipped God. This is how Daniel started his prayers (Daniel 9:4). This is also how Jesus taught us to start our prayers (Luke 11:2).
Nehemiah was far away from *Judah. So he could not easily help the people there. But he knew that the God of heaven could do anything.
Nehemiah knew about God’s agreement with the *Jews. God promised to be kind to them if they obeyed him. He gave them the country called *Judah (which is part of *Israel) as their home. And this was a good place to live. But Nehemiah also knew that God had told Moses to warn the people. God would punish them if they did not obey him (Deuteronomy 28:62-67). And the people had not obeyed God. That was the reason for the *exile. And that was why most *Jews were still living as foreigners at the time of Nehemiah.
So now, Nehemiah prayed to God on behalf of all the *Jews. He confessed the *sins of all the people. Daniel and Ezra had done this too (Daniel 9:4-15; Ezra 9:6-7; Ezra 9:10).
Nehemiah also remembered God’s promises. If the people trusted God again, God would bring them back from *exile. If they obeyed God, he would bring them back to live in *Judah (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).
Nehemiah added that the *Jews were God’s special people. They had been slaves in a country called Egypt. But God is powerful. And God is kind. God had rescued them from Egypt. And Nehemiah was praying that God would rescue them again.
Nehemiah prayed to God for help. But he also wanted to do something himself, although he was far away from *Judah. He was working in the palace of the king of Persia. That king was very powerful. He ruled many countries, including *Judah. So, Nehemiah’s job gave him an opportunity to speak to this great king. Nehemiah was very careful and he was very wise. He asked God to help him so that he could say the right thing to the king. But Nehemiah had to wait for 4 months before he got his opportunity. There are 4 months between the month called Kislev (Nehemiah 1:1) and the month called Nisan (Nehemiah 2:1).
When Nehemiah heard the bad news from *Judah, he prayed. He asked God to help him so that he could say the right thing to the king. 4 months later he had his opportunity. He did not waste the 4 months. He continued to pray. In the end, he felt confident about what God wanted him to say.
Nehemiah’s face was sad when he served the wine to the king. He had not been sad before when he was with the king. In those days servants had to be happy when they were with the king (Esther 4:2). They must not make the king sad or angry. The king could kill servants who made him angry.
But Nehemiah was sad that day. And the king could see that Nehemiah was sad. The king might have been very angry and Nehemiah was afraid. But God was in control and so the king was kind to Nehemiah. The king asked Nehemiah why he was sad. So Nehemiah told the king the bad news about Jerusalem.
Nehemiah chose his words carefully. It seems that he did not actually name Jerusalem. In the past, the king had been worried about Jerusalem (Ezra 4:19). At that time, the king did not want the *Jews to rebuild the city. So Nehemiah simply spoke about the city where his *ancestors’ graves were. He mentioned the graves for another reason too. Often, people believe that they should take great care of graves, because of their religion. Nehemiah hoped that the king would feel sympathy for him.
The king asked Nehemiah what he wanted. This was Nehemiah’s opportunity, so he prayed. But he only had a moment to pray this prayer. Then Nehemiah told the king what he (Nehemiah) wanted to do. He asked the king to send him to *Judah so that he could build the city again. Nehemiah was very bold to say this. But he believed that God had heard his prayers. So he was confident.
Nehemiah was an important servant to the king. Now Nehemiah was asking the king to send him to *Judah. *Judah was 4 months’ walk from Persia. So he would be away from the king for a long time.
He also was asking the king to change the king’s decision about Jerusalem. Earlier the king had stopped the people who wanted to build the city again (Ezra 4:21).
He was also asking the king to send him away from his comfortable life in Persia. He would have to make a long hard journey. Then he would have to work hard to build Jerusalem again. So he asked the king to send him there.
The king knew that Nehemiah was a good and loyal servant. The king and queen would have liked Nehemiah to remain in the palace. But God wanted Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:8; 2:18). So the king asked Nehemiah how long he would be away from the palace. Nehemiah worked out how long the journey would take. And the king agreed to send Nehemiah to *Judah.
Nehemiah was confident that God was arranging for him to go to *Judah. So Nehemiah became even bolder. He asked the king for more help. He wanted the king to protect him as he travelled to *Judah. He asked the king for wood for the city gates. Nehemiah already knew what he needed to do. So he was able to explain all the details to the king.
God was looking after Nehemiah. So the king gave to Nehemiah what he asked for.
Now Nehemiah had letters from the king. This would show people that the king had changed his decision about Jerusalem. People would also see the soldiers that the king sent to protect Nehemiah. Then they would know that the king was helping Nehemiah. But some of the people who lived near *Judah heard about all this. They were angry. Because they were the *Jews’ enemies, they did not want anyone to help the people in *Israel.
Nehemiah wanted to build the city walls as quickly as possible. But there was much to do. He would have to work hard. So he rested for three days after his long journey. God had given him the desire to build Jerusalem again. So Nehemiah wanted to do a good job.
Nehemiah needed to find out the size of the task. But he did not want his enemies to know his plans. So, after three days, he went out at night. He took only a few people with him. Perhaps they were men who had come from Shushan with him. Or maybe they were men who knew Jerusalem well. Nehemiah did not tell anyone else what he was doing.
Nehemiah went all round the city. He saw that the city was a *ruin. He saw that fire had burned the gates. At one place there was so much rubbish that there was no room for his horse to pass. Now he knew that the task, to build the city again, was a big task.
Nehemiah saw that the whole city was in a bad state. And the people’s relationship with God was also in a bad state:
· The most important building in Jerusalem was the *temple. The *Jews had rebuilt the *temple about 70 years before Nehemiah arrived. The first *temple, which Solomon built, was a splendid building. But this later *temple was much poorer.
· Some priests were living in the area. But they were neglecting their special work for God. The people did not know God’s law. And the people were doing many things that the Bible told them not to do.
· There were not many other buildings in the city. Most *Jews who returned to *Judah were living in the villages. Jerusalem was a dangerous place to live. The *Jews had many enemies and there was no security in the city. It had no defences.
· Many *Jews had tried to make agreements with their enemies. Some *Jews had even allowed their children to marry people from other nations. The people from these nations were evil people, and they served false gods. But God wanted the *Jews to be his special people. He had chosen them, and he wanted them to remain separate from the other nations.
Nehemiah saw that the city needed strong walls. And this was the most important task. The walls would make the city a safe place to live. When the walls were complete, people would be able to move into the city. There, the *Jews could live in a place that was separate from the other nations. The priests could start their special work for God in the *temple again. And the people would learn God’s law.
But, without walls, the *Jews would become even weaker. Their enemies would become stronger. The priests would be unable to work for God. And nobody would maintain the *temple.
Jerusalem had been a very great city. Nehemiah realised that he could not rebuild the whole city. Instead, he selected an area to surround with walls. It was a smaller area than the city used to be. But it was the most important part of the city. It included the *temple and the most ancient parts of the city. The area included enough land for everyone who would live there. There were fountains and everything else that people needed. And soon there would be an important market in the city.
Then Nehemiah told the people in the city about his plan. First, he reminded them of the sad truth. Their city was a *ruin. And they could not be a strong nation while Jerusalem was in such a bad state. So he encouraged them to help him to rebuild the walls. Then he told them some good news. He told them that God wanted them to rebuild the city walls. This was not merely Nehemiah’s plan. Nehemiah was confident that God had sent him (Nehemiah) to lead the people in this task. Already, God was looking after Nehemiah. And even the king had sent him to do this task. This was really good news. So the people agreed that they should start to build the walls.
The people prepared to build the walls. But then their enemies heard about their plans. These enemies could not easily attack the *Jews because the king had sent Nehemiah. The king was very powerful. If Nehemiah’s enemies fought Nehemiah, the king would oppose them. So instead, the enemies laughed at the *Jews. They pretended that they would tell lies to the king about the *Jews. They would say that the *Jews were the enemies of the king.
But Nehemiah was confident. He knew that it was God’s plan to rebuild Jerusalem. So God would help them. The real God of heaven was on their side. God would not let their enemies stop the work. The *Jews would build Jerusalem again. Again, it would be a city for God’s people.
In this chapter, there are many names. The Bible does not mention most of these people elsewhere. Many of them were the leaders of families, but only a few were important in the local region. They were not builders and they had no special skills to do the work. But they realised that Nehemiah was right. And they were willing to work hard. They lived many centuries ago, but they did an important job for God. God cares about all sorts of people. And he is pleased when they serve him well.
Nehemiah was a good leader, but he could not build the walls alone. He needed many people to help him. He was pleased with their work. So he recorded their names and the jobs that they did.
These people deserved honour. Their families had returned to *Judah from *exile. They were God’s own people. And they worked hard to do God’s work. Nehemiah organised the work carefully. He gave each person responsibility for one section of the wall. And Nehemiah chose the sections carefully. For example, often the men repaired the section of wall that was nearest to their own houses.
The first people that Nehemiah wrote about were the chief priest and the other priests. They did not think that they were too important to help. They were good models to the rest of the people. The Sheep Gate was probably near the *temple. Some people from other cities, like Jericho, also helped to build the walls.
When Nehemiah records some of the names, he also mentions their families. He also does this often in the rest of his book. Families were very important to the *Jews. We can read about Meremoth in Ezra (Ezra 8:33).
Each person had his own special job to do.
The leaders from Tekoa were not like the priests. The leaders from Tekoa thought that they were too important. So they refused to do God’s work. But the other men from Tekoa did help to build the walls. In fact they did extra work (Nehemiah 3:27). Meshullam also did extra work (Nehemiah 3:30).
Most of the people who built the wall were not skilled builders. They were normal people who had other jobs. Men who usually made *perfume or things of gold helped to build the walls.
Some people worked on the walls near their own houses. This was a good idea. They did not have far to travel and they could have their meals easily. They could also protect their families. Afterwards, they would see their work every day. This fact would encourage them to do good work.
Important men who ruled over some of the districts helped also. They did not think that they were too important to help. So they behaved as the priests did. They were not like the leaders from Tekoa, who refused to help.
Malkijah, the son of Harim, had married a foreign wife (Ezra 10:31), but God had told the *Jews not to marry foreigners. So Ezra was very angry with Malkijah. But now Malkijah helped to build the walls of Jerusalem.
Some women helped too. Shallum was another one of the leaders of the people. But he worked on the walls too and his daughters helped him.
Hanun and the residents of Zanoah worked hard. They repaired a gate and a very long section of the wall.
Malkijah, Shallum and Nehemiah helped to build the walls. They also were rulers of the districts. This is not the Malkijah who married a foreign wife (Nehemiah 3:11). Also this Nehemiah is not the same as the man who wrote the book.
The *Levites also helped to build the wall. They and some priests worked on the wall near to the house of the chief priest.
Men from Keilah and their rulers worked together on part of the wall. And Ezer was another ruler who helped.
Clearly, all the people worked hard. They finished the work in 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). But Nehemiah recorded that Baruch worked very hard. Meremoth probably worked very hard too, because he worked on two parts of the wall (Nehemiah 3:4).
In this part of the wall, some more people repaired the wall near their own houses. Also Binnui repaired a second section of the wall (Nehemiah 3:18).
The *temple servants also helped to build the wall.
The men from Tekoa repaired another part of the wall (Nehemiah 3:5).
Some more priests worked on this part of the wall.
Meshullam repaired a second part of the wall (Nehemiah 3:4).
More of the skilled workmen who made things out of gold helped to build the wall. Some merchants also helped.
Nehemiah started his report at the Sheep Gate (Nehemiah 3:1). He divided the work between many people and each had their own part to repair. Nehemiah’s report goes all round the wall and back to the Sheep Gate.
Sanballat and Tobiah were enemies of the *Jews. They did not want the *Jews to build the walls of Jerusalem again. They probably knew that Jerusalem would become an important city for trade again. So then, they would lose some of their trade. They knew that it was a big task to build the walls of the city again. But they saw that Nehemiah and the *Jews would work hard to build the walls.
These men were not just opposing the *Jews. In fact, these men were opposing God’s work. It was God’s plan that the *Jews should live in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was in the country that God promised to give to the *descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The *Jews had to leave that country because of *sin. But God promised by the *prophets that some *Jews would return. So it was God’s plan that the *Jews would rebuild Jerusalem.
But God’s plan did not only benefit the *Jews. God had decided, by means of the *Jews, to help people from every nation. He would send Jesus to be born a *Jew. God had promised this by the *prophets. And Jesus would die for the *sins of people from every nation. God will forgive all people who invite Jesus into their lives.
So we can see that Nehemiah was doing God’s work. And it was not just men who were opposing the work. In fact, the devil was using these men because the devil wanted to oppose God’s work.
Sanballat had the army from the country called Samaria with him. Perhaps the *Jews near Jerusalem could see this army close to the city. This might make them afraid. But Sanballat and Tobiah did not attack the *Jews. They could not do that because the king had allowed Nehemiah to build the walls. So Sanballat and Tobiah laughed at the *Jews and they insulted the *Jews. Sanballat and Tobiah hoped that they could upset the *Jews. Then, the *Jews might stop the construction of the wall. Sanballat and Tobiah said that the task was too great. They said that the builders were too weak. Tobiah said that the wall would fall down again easily. Clearly, Sanballat and Tobiah did not think that God would help the *Jews. But God did help them. When the *Jews finished the work, the walls were very strong. In fact, the people marched on top of the walls (Nehemiah 12:31-39).
So Nehemiah prayed. That is what we would expect him to do. Perhaps he called the people together to pray. (He says ‘us’ in his prayer.)
He knew that his enemies were not just insulting the *Jews. They were insulting God himself. So he knew that God was angry.
So the *Jews did not take notice of the insults of their enemies and they continued to build. They worked as hard as they could and the wall reached half of its final height.
Today, we do not pray that our enemies will suffer. Jesus taught us to forgive our enemies (Matthew 5:44). And we should pray that they will trust Jesus. But Nehemiah was in a different situation. Previously, God had told the *Jews to oppose their enemies (Deuteronomy 7:1-2). At that time, God was using the *Jews for his purposes. These enemies had become so evil that they could not avoid a terrible punishment (Genesis 15:16). And God gave their land to the *Jews.
Nehemiah lived long after these events. And his enemies were not the same enemies that God was punishing in the past. So Nehemiah did not actually try to fight his enemies. Instead, he trusted God. Nehemiah was confident that he was doing God’s work. So Nehemiah asked God to defend his (God’s) own work. And so Nehemiah asked God to oppose these enemies.
The enemies of the *Jews heard that their insults had not succeeded. The *Jews had not stopped the work, but, instead, they had worked very hard. And the wall had reached half of its final height.
So Sanballat and his friends were very angry. They needed another plan. These enemies lived all round Jerusalem. So they plotted to fight against the city. The city’s defences were not yet complete. So, Sanballat and his friends decided to carry out a sudden attack. Such an attack would frighten the *Jews. And it would confuse them. So they would be unable to continue the task.
Nehemiah and his people did the sensible thing again. They prayed to God. And they also guarded the city.
Now some of the *Jews were feeling tired. The work was hard and their enemies were all round them. These problems upset them. So they began to complain.
The enemies of the *Jews still tried to stop the work. They plotted to surprise the *Jews with a sudden attack. Some of the *Jews heard about their plan. The *Jews who lived outside the city were anxious about their families. So these *Jews reported this news back to the people in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah made plans to protect the men as they worked. He placed men to guard the lowest parts of the walls. These were the most likely places where an attack might happen. And Nehemiah made sure that the people had *weapons to defend themselves and their families. He made sure that the families were together. He knew that the men would fight hard in order to protect their families.
Then Nehemiah reminded the leaders of the people that God was with them. God is much more powerful than any enemies can be. God wanted them to build the wall. So he would protect them and help them. They did not need to worry.
The enemies of the *Jews heard that Nehemiah and the people knew about their plan. So their plan could not succeed. They failed because God was helping the *Jews. He had stopped the plans of Sanballat and his friends.
The *Jews were able to continue with the work. But they still needed to be ready. Their enemies might come to attack them at any time.
Nehemiah decided to change the arrangements for the work. He wanted to make sure that everybody was ready for an attack.
Now, even the men who worked on the wall had their own *weapons. But only half of the men worked on the wall. The other men were ready to fight. They had many *weapons. Their job was to protect the builders.
Nehemiah would walk round the city in order to check the progress of the work. But now, a man with a *trumpet walked with Nehemiah. So, if the enemies came to attack them, the man would blow his *trumpet. If the people heard the sound of the *trumpet, they would all stop work immediately. They would rush to come together. Then they would be able to protect each other.
Nehemiah reminded the people again that God was supporting them. They were doing God’s work, and God would fight for them.
So the people continued to work. Some repaired the walls and the rest protected them. They all worked even harder from dawn until nightfall. Even the people who lived outside Jerusalem stayed in the city at night.
Nehemiah was a good model for the people. He was the ruler. But he did not think that he was too important to work. In fact, he was very busy. He organised the workmen. He made sure that the quality of the work was satisfactory. He was watching in case the enemies tried to attack. And he was ready to fight. He kept his clothes on. He kept his *weapon ready.
Nehemiah had organised the work well. He had selected guards to protect the people from their enemies. But there were other problems too. The wealthy *Jews thought that they saw an opportunity to make a good profit. But they were doing this in a way that was unfair to the poorer *Jews. In fact, the effect was often rather cruel.
So the poor people began to complain. There was a *famine in the country and some of the people were hungry. They could not afford to buy the food that they needed for their families. They could not afford to pay their taxes either. Also, because they were building the city wall, they were not able to do other work. So probably, they were not able to grow their own food. And they had no money to buy food. They had to ask the richer people to lend them money.
Some of the poor people even had to sell their property. If they still did not have enough money, they would have to sell their sons and daughters as slaves. They did not think that this was right. And they could see that the rich people were making profits from this situation. So the poor people became angry and they complained.
This was an opportunity for the rich people to become even richer. They knew that the poor people were desperate. So the rich people were forcing the poor people to pay too much money for their loans.
When Nehemiah heard about these troubles, he was very angry. He did not want to stop the work on the walls, but he did feel sorry for the poor people. He was very careful. He stopped and he thought about what to do. Then he arranged a big meeting to deal with the problem.
The rich people were the chief men and the officials. Nehemiah told them that they were doing the wrong thing. And the result was that their own people were suffering. So Nehemiah reminded the rich people that some *Jews had been slaves before. When Nehemiah had returned to *Judah, he and his companions had tried to buy these slaves back. Now their own people were making them slaves again. Nehemiah told the rich people that they had not obeyed God’s commands (Deuteronomy 23:19-20; 24:10-13; Leviticus 25:35-46). God had sent the *Jews into *exile because they did not obey his commands like this. If the rich leaders respected God, they would not do these things. But otherwise, the *Jews would be ashamed. And their enemies would laugh at them.
The rich people could not answer Nehemiah. They knew that their actions were wrong. They knew that they had no excuse.
This passage shows us an important fact about Nehemiah’s character. Nehemiah was a very sincere man. And he did the right things whether or not anyone noticed. He used his own money to free *Jews who had been slaves. But he has not mentioned this matter previously in this book. Nehemiah did not care whether he impressed other people. But he always wanted to please God.
Nehemiah and his companions had also lent money and grain to the poor people. But Nehemiah and his companions had not charged the people money for the loans. Nehemiah had obeyed God’s command and he was a good model to the other leaders of the people.
Nehemiah ordered the rich leaders to give back to the poor people their property. He also told the leaders to give back the money that they had charged the poor people for the loans. The leaders agreed to do what Nehemiah had ordered. They promised to give all the property and money back to the poor people.
Nehemiah called the priests. He wanted them to hear the leaders’ promise. Then the leaders would realise that God knew about these promises. And they would be afraid not to do the things that they promised.
But the leaders did do what they had promised to do. And all the people were happy with what their leaders had done.
Here we find out more about Nehemiah. He was a good leader and a good model to the people in different ways.
Nehemiah became the ruler, so he was an important man. But he still had a humble attitude. And he really cared about the people.
The king allowed the ruler to have special food. This probably means that the ruler could tax the people. But Nehemiah did not want to do this, because he respected God. Nehemiah knew that many of the people were poor. They had to pay tax to the king also. Nehemiah was probably already rich because the king had appointed him as the ruler. The previous rulers of *Judah had not been such good leaders. They had taken silver as well as food and wine from the people.
Nehemiah did not even want to obtain his own property. His job was to lead the people and to build the city walls. Also Nehemiah invited many people to eat with him every day. He paid for this food himself. He was ruler for 12 years and all that time he invited other people to eat his food. He did not ask the people to give him food.
Nehemiah wanted God to be pleased. And because Nehemiah respected God, Nehemiah was a good leader. He was generous to the people that he ruled.
Nehemiah had solved the problem that caused the poor people to complain. The people had built the wall, but they had not finished the gates. But the enemies of the people did not give up. They still tried to stop the work.
Sanballat and his friends sent messages to Nehemiah. They invited him to meet them. They pretended that they wanted to make peace with the *Jews. If that had been the truth, then it would have been good news for the *Jews. But Sanballat and his friends did not really want to make peace with the *Jews. Instead, they wanted to attack Nehemiah. Perhaps if they hurt him, he would be unable to continue to lead the people. Although the people had built the wall, they still needed Nehemiah to lead them. He would help them to become a proper nation again.
Nehemiah knew that his enemies were telling lies. He found out that they wanted to hurt him. He also knew that it was not wise for him to go to the meeting with his enemies. Ono was near to the land of his enemies, so it was a dangerous place. He would have to walk for a day to get there. After the meeting, he would have to walk for another day to get back to Jerusalem. While he travelled, he would not be able to lead the people. And the work was too important to permit any delay. Nehemiah knew that it was essential to finish the work on the gates of the city. So Nehemiah told his enemies that he was too busy to meet them. They sent the same message 4 times and he gave them the same answer.
Sanballat sent another message to Nehemiah. It was a letter, but Sanballat did not close it. It was open so that anyone could read it. Sanballat did not want this letter to be secret. He wanted all the people to know what he had written. In the letter, he pretended to be the friend of Nehemiah, but again Sanballat told lies. He said that some people had accused Nehemiah. They had said that the *Jews were plotting a revolution against the king. Sanballat probably invented this story. Nehemiah was always very loyal to the king. Nobody thought that Nehemiah would stop obeying the king. But Sanballat wanted the *Jews to be afraid. Perhaps Nehemiah himself might worry about the king’s reaction to such a report. The *Jews might delay in order to work out what to do. If there was a pause, Nehemiah’s workmen might have to return home. The wall was almost complete. But without gates, there would still be no security for the people who lived in the city.
Of course, Nehemiah knew that Sanballat’s words were lies. Nehemiah had no such plans. He knew that Sanballat was trying to frighten the people and to stop the work. Again Nehemiah prayed and he asked God to make him strong.
One day Nehemiah went to visit Shemaiah. Shemaiah may have been a priest (Ezra 2:60; Nehemiah 10:8). We do not know why Nehemiah visited him. Perhaps Nehemiah wanted Shemaiah to pray with him. Nehemiah thought that he could trust Shemaiah.
It seems that Shemaiah was a *prophet (see verses 12 and 14). Perhaps Nehemiah was hoping that Shemaiah would give him (Nehemiah) a message from God. And Shemaiah did pretend that he had a message from God. But in fact, this message really came from Nehemiah’s enemies.
Shemaiah would not go out of his house, but he offered to go to the *temple with Nehemiah. Shemaiah pretended that he wanted to protect Nehemiah. Shemaiah told Nehemiah that men were coming to kill Nehemiah. But the *temple was a strong building. If they closed the *temple doors, Nehemiah would be safe inside.
Nehemiah realised that Shemaiah had given him bad advice. God’s law said that only priests could enter the inner *temple. Nehemiah was not a priest, so he could not go there. Such an action would be a *sin.
Nehemiah realised that Shemaiah had received money from Tobiah and Sanballat. They wanted Nehemiah not to obey God’s commands. Then they would be able to accuse Nehemiah. And the people would not continue to respect him.
Nehemiah refused to do what Shemaiah advised. But Shemaiah was not the only *prophet who tried to frighten Nehemiah. The *prophets should have supported God’s work. But instead, like Balaam (Numbers chapter 22), they accepted money to oppose God’s work.
Again, Nehemiah prayed to God for help. We can see from his prayer that he had other enemies as well as Tobiah and Sanballat. Some of the *prophets were trying to frighten him also. But Nehemiah trusted God. Nehemiah could not stop what his enemies were doing. But God could stop them. Nehemiah’s enemies were also God’s enemies and the enemies of the *Jews. So Nehemiah asked God to deal with all the enemies.
Although their enemies tried to stop the work, the people built the walls of Jerusalem in just 52 days. The people had worked very hard.
Nehemiah always knew that the *Jews were doing God’s work. Now even the enemies of the *Jews knew that God had helped the people to build the walls. So the nations round *Judah became afraid of the *Jews. The God of the *Jews is the only real God. But the other nations served false gods. False gods are not real gods, so they have no power. But God is powerful.
The *Jews had many enemies while they were building the wall. But even some of the chief men in *Judah were helping their enemies. Some of these chief men had promised to be loyal to Tobiah.
Tobiah and his son had both married women from *Judah. Tobiah was also a relative of Eliashib the priest (Nehemiah 13:4). God had told the *Jews not to marry foreigners, but many *Jews did not obey him.
In the past, when *Jews married foreign wives, these wives tempted them to *worship false gods. This even happened to King Solomon although he was a very wise man (1 Kings 11:1-8). God had sent the *Jews into *exile because they *worshipped false gods. Now God had brought the *Jews back from *exile to *Judah, but many *Jews were still not obeying his commands. When Ezra returned to *Judah, many leaders of the *Jews married foreign women (Ezra chapters 9 and 10). This made Ezra very sad and angry.
Now, while Nehemiah was the ruler, the leaders of the *Jews were again marrying foreign wives. Also, they were allowing their daughters to marry foreign men. These leaders were not loyal to Nehemiah and their own people. Instead, they were loyal to Tobiah, because of their foreign wives. They believed Tobiah’s lies. And they told Nehemiah about the good things that Tobiah did. They also told Tobiah what Nehemiah said to them. This probably helped Tobiah as he tried to frighten Nehemiah.
The devil always opposes God’s work. But God wanted the *Jews to become a nation again. He had a plan to save the world by means of a *Jew. That *Jew was Jesus Christ.
People were willing to work with the devil in order to oppose God’s work. That is very sad. The devil sent enemies like Sanballat and Tobiah to the *Jews from the nations near them. The devil also caused trouble among the *Jews themselves. And the devil used the *Jews who had become Tobiah’s relatives. Then those *Jews believed Tobiah’s lies. And they told him what Nehemiah was saying. But God helped Nehemiah and the *Jews who worked with him. And so they finished the construction of the wall.
The people had built the walls of Jerusalem and they had put the doors in place. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem had security at last. But Nehemiah had not finished his work. For 52 days, the people had been anxious about the work on the walls. They had to protect themselves while they built the walls. But now the people needed leaders in the city to direct them. First, Nehemiah appointed singers and *Levites. They would lead the people when they *worshipped God.
Then Nehemiah appointed Hanani his brother and Hananiah to rule over the city. Nehemiah chose men whom people could trust. These men were responsible for local government. So they did not lead the people when they *worshipped God. But Nehemiah still chose men who respected God. He knew that this was important. Men like these would rule the people well and fairly. They would be good models for the people. Some of the other leaders had not been good models (Nehemiah 5:7; 6:17).
Nehemiah realised that it was still important to protect the city. He ordered the guards to shut the gates early and to lock the gates. The guards must not open the gates too early in the morning. They had to wait until the sun was hot. And they would remain on duty while the gates were open. They had to shut and to lock the gates again in the evening.
More people became guards. They protected important points along the wall of the city. Some of the people guarded the walls near their own houses. This was a good idea. They did not have far to travel and they could protect their families.
Although the people had built the walls, they had not repaired many of the houses. So not many people lived in the city, although it was a big city. Nehemiah knew that a city could not be successful without inhabitants.
Nehemiah had to ask people to come and live in the city. This was a harder job for Nehemiah than when he asked them to build the walls. Many of the people had homes and farms outside the city. They had come to Jerusalem so that they could help to build the walls. But now they wanted to return to their homes and to their families.
It seems that Nehemiah prayed about this problem. And God showed him what to do. Nehemiah recorded all the people in a list of their families. Then he found the list of the first people who returned from *exile. Nehemiah could remind the people about their brave *ancestors who returned from *exile. These *ancestors had left their homes in Persia. Then they had walked for many weeks to come back to *Judah. When they arrived in *Judah, they had to build new houses and to farm the land again. The people of Nehemiah’s time had houses and farms because of the work of their *ancestors. Now these people could help to make Jerusalem a great city again.
Nehemiah copied the register of the people who returned from *exile in Babylonia. These people came back to *Judah about 90 years before the time of Nehemiah. Zerubbabel and Jeshua led this group of people. Jeshua was the chief priest. The people went back to the towns that God had given to their *ancestors.
We can read about the return of the *Jews from *exile in Ezra chapter 2. Ezra also recorded the list of the people who returned. Ezra’s list is nearly the same as Nehemiah’s list. Perhaps some people did not actually return, although they planned to do so. Perhaps Nehemiah spelt some names in a different way. This might explain why the lists are slightly different.
Most families that went into *exile never returned to *Judah. But those *Jews who returned were part of God’s plan. God had promised by the *prophets that the *Jews would live again in *Judah after the *exile. God would use their *descendants to bless (show his kindness to) every nation. And Jesus, who would save people from the punishment for their *sins, would be among their *descendants. So it was important for *Jews to know about their *ancestors. Then they would know that they really were *Jews.
The people who returned to *Judah had different jobs to do. Some were priests and *Levites and some were singers. They led the people when they *worshipped God. Some of the people guarded the *temple and the gates and some were servants in the *temple.
Some of the people could not prove who their *ancestors were. Some of these people were priests. God appointed the *descendants of Aaron (who was the brother of Moses) to be priests. So the priests had to prove that they were *descendants of Aaron. Otherwise, they could not serve as priests.
God gave some priests the Urim and Thummim. (Urim and Thummim means ‘perfect lights’. These objects were probably precious stones.) Somehow, these priests used these objects to know what God was telling the people to do. The priest would wear these objects in his jacket, over his heart (Leviticus 8:8).
But at that time there was no priest who could use the Urim and Thummim to make a decision.
So the men who had no family records needed such a priest. That priest would use the Urim and Thummim in order to ask God for direction. Then God would show that priest what to do about these men. These men could not prove their *ancestors. But perhaps God would allow them to serve as priests in the end. But until that happened, these men could not work as priests. The work of the priests was sacred and important. So the chief officer would not allow anyone who might not be a priest to work in the *temple.
The *Babylonians had destroyed the *temple when they took the *Jews into *exile.
When the people had returned to *Judah at the time of Zerubbabel, they started to build the *temple. They started the work on the *temple as soon as they could.
Some of the people had become rich when they lived in Babylon and Persia. They were able to give generous gifts for the work of the *temple. The chief officer was a good model for the people, because he was generous also.
Donkeys are animals like small horses. They have long ears. Mules are also like small horses. They are born after male donkeys mate with female horses. The *Jews brought these animals back with them. And they brought their servants too. The *Jews wanted to make their permanent homes in *Judah.
In the past, God had promised to give the country called *Judah to the *Jews. God gave some land to each family (Numbers 34:13-15). When the *Jews returned from *exile, they lived in their own towns. These were the same towns that God had given to their *ancestors.
This register calls the people ‘the people of *Israel’ instead of ‘the people of *Judah’. God gave Jacob the name *Israel when he promised to make Jacob’s *descendants God’s special people. Many years later, the nation divided into two parts. The name of the northern part was *Israel, and people called the inhabitants *Israelites. The name of the southern part was *Judah, and people called the inhabitants *Jews. God allowed the *Assyrians to defeat the *Israelites and to take them into *exile. The *Israelites never returned from their *exile. (In the end, only a small number of their families would return to join the people in Judah.) So, at the time of this register, only the people in *Judah remained, but they were still God’s special people. And sometimes they called themselves ‘the people of *Israel’.
In Nehemiah 7:6-73, Nehemiah copied the register of the first people who returned from *exile. This happened about 90 years before Nehemiah became the ruler of *Judah.
In chapter 8, Nehemiah continues to explain the events while he ruled *Judah. He had arranged a special meeting for all the *Jews (Nehemiah 8:1-4). In fact, there were several meetings. They happened on the sacred holidays that were in the 7th month of the year.
At the end of these meetings, the people would decide which *Jews would live in Jerusalem (chapter 11). But first, Nehemiah wanted the people to learn about God. They did not yet know about God’s law. And they did not know how to serve God.
So, Ezra and the *Levites taught the people. The people confessed their *sins. Then they made an important agreement (chapters 9 and 10). They promised that they would serve God. And they promised to provide everything that the priests needed for the *temple.
The people had finished the work on the walls of Jerusalem in the 6th month of the year (Nehemiah 6:15). The people had worked hard for 52 days. But Nehemiah had not finished his work. His next task would take much more than 52 days. Nehemiah had to make the people into a proper nation of God’s people again. They needed to learn again about God’s commands. And the people wanted to hear God’s law and to understand it.
So on the first day of the 7th month they asked Ezra the priest to read God’s law to them. They even built a high wooden platform for Ezra. He stood on the platform while he read the law. Ezra read the law to all the men and women. The children who were old enough to understand were also present. He read for about 5 or 6 hours and the people listened.
Ezra had 13 companions with him on the high platform. Perhaps they also read the law so that Ezra did not have to read for the whole time.
When Ezra started to read the law, all the people stood up. They wanted to give honour to God. Then Ezra praised God and the people agreed with him. Then they turned their faces to the ground. This was to show how much they wanted to give honour to God.
Some of the *Levites also helped Ezra. They moved among the people and they read the law to smaller groups. They explained the law. And they helped the people to understand its meaning. Some of the people probably did not understand the language of the book of the law. So the *Levites had to translate into the language of the people.
The people had not heard God’s law for a long time. Ezra read the law. Then the people realised that they had *sinned. God had sent his people into *exile because they had *sinned. This made the people cry. They were sorry because they had *sinned.
But Nehemiah, Ezra and the *Levites told them not to cry. Nobody had read God’s law for a long time. But now the people were hearing God’s word again. So it was a special holy day for God.
Soon the people would confess their *sins. At that time, it would be right for them to be sad. But that was the wrong attitude on this special day. Instead, the people should be happy. God loved them and he chose them to be his own people. He had brought their families back from *exile as he promised. And he had spoken to them by his law. God was very kind to them, so they should be happy.
Nehemiah told the people to be happy and not sad. He told them to go home and to enjoy good food. He told them to share food with those who did not have any. So the people did what Nehemiah told them to do.
The people wanted to hear God’s law again the next day. This time the leaders of the families came to hear what was in the book of the law. Ezra and the priests and the *Levites helped the people to study God’s law. When they all studied God’s law, they found out about a special holiday. The holiday was in the 7th month of the year. It was called the holiday of the shelters.
Actually there should have been three special holidays during the 7th month of the year.
1. The first holiday was the special day of the *trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25). God told his people to have a special day of rest on the first day of the month. He told them not to work. He told them to meet together when they heard the sound of the *trumpets.
2. The second special day was on the 10th day of the month (Leviticus 23:26-32). That was a day for the people to be sad because they had *sinned. They should be humble and they should confess their *sins to God. Then God would forgive their *sins.
3. The third special holiday was the holiday of the shelters (Leviticus 23:33-36). It started on the 15th day of the month and it lasted for 7 days. God wanted to remind the people about the time when he rescued their *ancestors from the country called Egypt. When the people left Egypt, they lived in shelters. God had looked after them until he led them into the country called *Israel. *Judah was the south part of the land that God had promised to give to his people. So, afterwards, God said that his people should make shelters during the 7th month of the year. The people must make the shelters from branches and they must live in the shelters for 7 days. On the 8th day, the people had to meet together. This 8th day was an extra holiday. On that day, people remembered how God gave them his law. God told the people to be happy during this whole holiday (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).
When the leaders of the people studied God’s law, they discovered about the holiday of the shelters. This was a good holiday for them to hear about. God had rescued their *ancestors from Egypt many centuries earlier. Now he had rescued them from *exile in Babylon.
When the people learned about the holiday of the shelters they wanted to obey God. So they collected branches, which they used to build shelters. And they lived in the shelters as God had told them to do. All the people who had returned from *exile did this. They did all that God had ordered about the holiday of the shelters.
They were very happy because God had brought his people back to *Judah. God had helped them to build Jerusalem again. Now God’s people were obeying him again. And the people listened to Ezra as he read from the book of God’s law every day of the holiday.
Nehemiah still had not finished his work for God. He could have returned to Persia. He had a successful career there. But he remained in *Judah for 12 years. He wanted to make the *Jews into a holy nation of God’s people again.
So the people had the special holiday of the shelters in the 7th month of the year. It lasted from the 15th day of the month until the 22nd day (Nehemiah 8:14-18). It was a happy holiday.
Two days later, they gathered together again. This time they were sad. They did not eat any food. The people also wore rough clothes and they put dust on their heads. This was to show that they were sad and sorry for their *sins. They were ready to pray and to confess their *sins to God.
The people wanted to serve and to obey the real God. They said that they were sorry for their *sins. They even confessed the *sins that their *ancestors had done. They listened to the book of the law of God for another three hours. Then they *worshipped God and they confessed their *sins for another three hours.
The people also separated themselves from all foreigners. Most foreigners served other gods, which were not real gods. God had warned the *Jews that they must not follow the ways of the foreigners. And God’s people must not serve other gods instead of the real God. So God warned them to separate themselves from all foreigners. God had sent their *ancestors into *exile because they had served other gods.
At other times, some foreigners wanted to *worship the real God. God allowed them to join with his special people the *Jews. For example, Ruth was from Moab, but she became an *ancestor of Jesus (Ruth 1:16, 22; 4:13-17; Luke 3:23-32).
Some *Levites led the people to pray to God. Other *Levites led the people to *worship and to praise God.
They remembered that God has always lived. He was not born and he will not die. He made everything. He is the real God. He is not like the false gods that the foreigners served. They were not real gods. They did not make anything, but people made them.
In their prayers to God, the people remembered all the things that he had done for them and for their *ancestors.
The people remembered that God had chosen Abram. God had given him a new name, Abraham, and a new place to live. God had promised that Abraham would have many *descendants. God promised to give a special country to the *descendants of Abraham. God always does what is right. He always does what he promises to do. These people were Abraham’s *descendants. And they were now living in the country called *Judah. It was part of the land that God had promised to give to Abraham’s *descendants.
In their prayers to God, the people remembered that their *ancestors had lived in the country called Egypt. The king of Egypt and his people had made the *Jews suffer. So the *Jews called to God to help them. God heard their cries and he rescued them from the people of Egypt. The king of Egypt did not want the *Jews to leave his country, because they were slaves to his people. But God performed wonderful acts to prove that he was the powerful real God. He made the king and the people of Egypt suffer until they agreed to free the *Jews.
When the *Jews escaped from Egypt, God led his people through the desert. He used a cloud to lead them during the day. And at night, he used a column of fire to show them the way that they should go. When they reached the Red Sea, God made a special path. Then they could cross the sea. The army of Egypt tried to follow the *Jews. But God drowned the army of Egypt in the sea.
We can read all about this in Exodus chapters 3 to 14.
While they were in the desert, God called Moses up to Sinai Mountain. On Sinai Mountain, God gave Moses good and fair laws for his people. God told the people to rest on the 7th day of the week. That was a special holy day for God. Then the people knew how to obey God. They knew how God wanted them to live.
Also while the people were in the desert, God fed them. He sent them special bread from heaven. He even brought water for them out of a rock. He showed them that he cared about them. He showed them that he was the powerful real God. God reminded the people that he had promised to give to them their own special country. Other nations already lived in that country. But God told the *Jews to go into the country. He told them to take possession of it.
We can read all about this in Exodus chapters 16 to 20.
Although God looked after his people, they did not obey his law. He gave them food and water in the desert. But they did not remember all the good and wonderful things that God had done for them. Although God led them with the cloud and the fire, they asked Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make them another god. Aaron made a gold image of a young cow and the people *worshipped the image instead of the real God (Exodus 32:1-35).
This made God very angry. But he still loved his people. So he continued to look after them. He continued to lead them by the cloud and the fire. He continued to give them food and water. And he continued to teach them what they should do to please him.
Because the people would not believe God, they had to live in the desert for 40 years. They often did not obey God and they often made him angry. But he continued to look after them all the time (Exodus chapter 16; Numbers 9:15-23).
The *Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years. During this time, almost all the adults who left Egypt died. Although the people often did not obey God, God was still looking after their families. He led them into the country that he had promised to give to them. And he made them into a great nation. God allowed the *Jews to defeat all the nations who lived in the country.
So the people entered the country to live in it. The people found that the land was good to produce crops. There were already good cities and houses in the country, which the *Jews did not have to build themselves. They did not have to dig wells because the previous people had already dug wells. The people enjoyed many good things for which they did not have to work. God gave all these good things to his people in their new country (Deuteronomy 6:10-12; Joshua 21:43-45).
God was good to his people the *Jews. He looked after them and he gave them a good country to live in. But they did not obey him. God sent *prophets to warn them, but they killed the *prophets. So God punished the people. He allowed their enemies to defeat them. Then the people called out to God for help. God continued to love his people. So he heard their cries and he rescued them. But then they forgot God again and they did not obey his Law. So, again, God punished them. He allowed their enemies to defeat them and to rule over them again. Again, the people called out to God and he heard their cries. He rescued them and he warned them to obey his Law.
This happened many times during the history of the *Jews. The people did not obey God, so he punished them. He allowed their enemies to defeat them. Then the people were sorry and they asked God to rescue them. God did rescue them and he warned them to obey him. But the people soon forgot how good God was. Then they did wicked things again.
Although the people often forgot God’s kindness, God still loved them. They did not deserve his kindness. But he was still good to them and he did not destroy the nation.
So the people in Nehemiah’s time remembered their history. They remembered that God had been kind to their *ancestors. So they praised God. God always does everything that he has promised to do. They realised this fact. So they thanked God. And they asked God to help them in their present troubles. They knew that God was right and fair to punish his people. They knew that they too had behaved like their *ancestors. They and their leaders had not obeyed God’s laws. Although the people were living in *Judah again, they still had to serve the king of Persia. They felt like slaves in their own country because they had to give much of their harvest to a foreign king. So the people appealed to God to help them.
So the people decided to make promises to God. They wrote down their agreement with God and their leaders signed it. Then everybody would know what they had promised to do.
We can read about this agreement in the next chapter.
The people had listened to the law of God (Nehemiah chapter 8) and they had remembered their history (Nehemiah chapter 9). Then they made an agreement with God.
Nehemiah recorded this list of the men who signed the agreement with God. Nehemiah was the ruler of *Judah, so he signed the agreement. Zedekiah probably helped Nehemiah to rule, so he signed the agreement also. Some of the priests also signed the agreement. These priests were probably the heads of the families. Some of the *Levites also signed the agreement. The *Levites and the priests led the people when they *worshipped God.
The leaders of the people also signed the agreement.
After all the leaders of the people had signed the agreement, all the rest of the people agreed. They also made a serious promise to God. Even the children who were old enough to understand made promises to God. They all promised to obey all the laws of God.
The people in the nations near Jerusalem served other gods, which were not real gods. So the *Jews separated themselves from these other nations because they wanted to be loyal to the real God.
The people promised God that *Jews would not marry people from other nations. Most foreigners served other gods, which were not real gods. God knew that the *Jews would follow the ways of the foreigners. They would serve other gods and they would not serve him. So he warned them not to marry these foreigners (Nehemiah 13:1-3; 13:24-27). God had sent their *ancestors into *exile because they had served other gods.
The people also promised to keep the 7th day of the week special and holy for God. God had told them to rest on the 7th day. He told them to allow their animals and their foreign servants to rest also (Exodus 23:12). God himself had rested on the 7th day after he had made the world. So he made it a special day (Genesis 2:1-3).
It was a special day when the people *worshipped God. He told them not to work on that day. He also told them not to farm their land each 7th year. Then they would not be able to grow crops, because God wanted them to depend on him.
If the people rested on the 7th day, then the nations near them would notice. Then the other nations would know that the *Jews loved the real God.
Just before the people went into *exile, God warned them by his *prophet Jeremiah. God made a promise if the people obeyed his command about the 7th day. He promised that the people would be a great nation (Jeremiah 17:24-25). But they did not obey his command. So God sent them into *exile and he allowed enemies to destroy Jerusalem.
The people also promised to pay money each year. Each person would pay the same amount, as tax. They paid 4 grams (1/8 ounce) of silver. This money was to pay for all the work of the *temple. Then the people also promised to provide wood for the fire for the *sacrifices.
They also promised to bring the best of their crops, their fruit and their animals to God. They even promised to bring the first of their sons. But God’s law allowed them to pay a price instead (Exodus 13:11-16).
Also, the people promised to give one tenth (1/10th) of their crops. They gave all these things to the *Levites. Then the *Levites could serve God and take care of the *temple all the time. So they did not have to work in the fields. The *Levites also gave one 10th to the priests. Then the priests could serve God and they could lead the people to *worship God. So the priests also did not have to work in the fields.
The people promised that they would not neglect the house of God, in other words, the *temple.
The people had built the city called Jerusalem again. Then they returned to the smaller towns and villages where they lived. Not many people lived in the city called Jerusalem. It was important for people to live in the city. Then it would become a great city again and the people could protect the *temple in the city.
The leaders of the people lived in the city. They would help Hanani and Hananiah to rule the people (Nehemiah 7:2). But a city can only be a great city if many people live there. The people who lived in the other towns and villages already had houses and land. If they moved to live in Jerusalem, they would have to build new houses and to find new work. The people used *lots to decide who would live in the city. They used *lots in order to find out what God wanted them to do (Proverbs 16:33). So they chose one tenth (1/10th) of the people to live in Jerusalem. All the people were grateful for those people who were willing to live in Jerusalem.
Many of the people lived on their own land in the other towns and villages. Some of the rulers of the districts lived in Jerusalem. Nehemiah recorded their names.
Some of them were *descendants of Judah. Judah’s sons were Perez and Shelah. Perez was born after Judah *sinned with Tamar. Tamar was the widow of *Judah’s other son called Er (Genesis 38:11-30). Jesus was also one of the *descendants of Perez. Judah’s wrong action could not prevent God’s good plan.
Nehemiah recorded the names of the priests and the *Levites who lived in Jerusalem. The priests led the people when they *worshipped God. The *Levites helped the priests and they looked after the *sacrifices. Some of these men looked after the work of the *temple. Other men led the people in prayer and when they gave thanks to God. Nehemiah also recorded the names of the men of Jerusalem who guarded the gates. They also guarded the *temple and the rooms for the *tithes and *temple equipment (1 Chronicles 9:17-27).
God had given the country called *Judah to his special people the *Jews. He gave each family a share in the land. So when the people returned from the *exile, they returned to the country of their *ancestors.
Asaph was a leader of the singers at the time of King David (1 Chronicles 6:39). He also wrote some of the Psalms in the Bible. His *descendants were the singers in the *temple.
Although the king lived far away in Persia, he wanted to know about the people in *Judah. He had a special interest in the work of the *temple. The king had given royal authority to Ezra about the *worship in the *temple (Ezra 7:11-26).
Nehemiah also recorded the names of the towns and villages of *Judah.
We do not know much about the people in this chapter. They lived many years ago, but they did an important job for Nehemiah and for God. God cares about all sorts of people. And he is pleased when they serve him well.
Often Nehemiah also recorded the names of the families and the *ancestors of the people. The people in *Judah were part of God’s plan to save the world by Jesus Christ. (Jesus was a *Jew.) So it was important for *Jews to know about their *ancestors. Then they would know that they really were *Jews. The priests and *Levites could only do their special work if they were genuine *descendants of Levi (Nehemiah 7:63-65). (The priests were *descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Aaron was a *descendant of Levi.)
Nehemiah recorded the names of the first priests and *Levites to return from *exile. Zerubbabel led these people back to *Judah about 93 years before the time when Nehemiah and his companions returned. Jeshua was the name of the chief priest at the time of Zerubbabel.
Nehemiah then recorded the family of the chief priest. It was important for *Jews to know about their *ancestors. But it was especially important for the priests to know about their *ancestors. They could only do their special work if they were genuine *descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. The chief priests came from one family. When the people had had a king, they had counted their dates by the years of the king’s rule. But now they did not have a king, so they counted their dates by the names of the chief priests (1 Chronicles 6:3-15; Nehemiah 12:12).
Then Nehemiah recorded the names of the most important priests at his own time. These men were the heads of the families of the priests when he was the ruler of *Judah. Joiakim was the chief priest. Most of the family names are the same as those of Zerubbabel’s time when Jeshua was the chief priest (Nehemiah 12:1-7). The priests clearly used the same family names. It was important for them to know to which family they belonged.
The people kept records for many years of the families of the priests and the *Levites. (Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua were the chief priests during these years.) These records were very important. Only the *descendants of Levi, the son of Jacob, could serve as *Levites. Only the *descendants of Aaron, who was a *Levite and the brother of Moses, could serve as priests (Nehemiah 7:63-65).
Some of the *Levites praised and thanked God. This was their special task at the *temple. Centuries before, King David had made rules about the *worship at the *temple. David also wrote many of the Psalms (songs) that these *Levites used to praise God.
Other *Levites took care of the *temple and the equipment for the *temple.
The people were happy because they had built the walls of Jerusalem again. They knew that God had helped them. And they wanted to thank God for his help. The job of the *Levites was to lead the people when they praised God. So the people gathered the *Levites and the singers from all the other towns. And the *Levites sang and they thanked God with musical instruments. The priests carried out a special ceremony. Probably they made *sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the other people. By means of these *sacrifices, they asked God to forgive their *sins. Then they would be ready to serve God.
Verses 31-37 Then Nehemiah took the leaders of the people onto the top of the wall. He divided them into two groups. One group marched one way round the walls. As they marched, they thanked God. And the priests played *trumpets and other musical instruments. Ezra was with this group.
Before the people had started to build, their enemies had laughed at them. The enemies of the *Jews did not want the people to build the walls again. Tobiah had even said that a fox would be able to knock the walls down. Now the walls were so wide and strong that the people could march on them.
The other group also thanked God as they marched the other way round the walls. Nehemiah was with this group.
The two groups met again at the *temple, which was the house of God. There they praised and they thanked God. The priests led with their *trumpets. But all the people praised and thanked God. They were all happy because God had helped them to build the walls. They made such a noise that people far away could hear the sound of happiness. Now the other people round *Judah would know that the *Jews served the real God. Everyone would know that God had helped his people to build the walls of Jerusalem again.
Only the *descendants of Aaron could serve as priests. So the phrase ‘the *descendants of Aaron’ means the priests.
Although the people were having a happy time they had to think about the future of the nation. They had promised to give one tenth (1/10th) of their crops for the priests and the *Levites. Then the priests and the *Levites could serve God and they could take care of the *temple all the time. The people had promised that they would not neglect the house of God (Nehemiah 10:32-39).
Now the people made arrangements for the *tithes. They appointed people to collect the *tithes and to put them in special rooms in the *temple. These men would look after these special rooms. The people gave their *tithes because God’s law ordered them to do so. But they also gave these gifts to the priests and to the *Levites. They did this because they were pleased with the work of the priests and the *Levites. They also gave gifts to the other men who served. They gave gifts to the singers and to those who guarded the gates of the city and the *temple.
Twelve years after the people rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah returned to Persia. Some time later, he asked the king to allow him to return to *Judah (Nehemiah 13:6). There, Nehemiah discovered that the people were doing many wrong things. In this chapter, we can read what Nehemiah did about these serious problems.
This seems to mean a particular day after Nehemiah returned to *Judah. It seems that, until then, the people had neglected to read the law of God. But on that particular day, they heard the law. Then they knew that they had not obeyed God’s commands. God’s law said that they must never allow the *Ammonite and *Moabite people to join the people of God. The *Ammonites and *Moabites were *descendants of Moab and Benammi, the sons of Lot. Moab and Benammi were born after Lot’s daughters made him *sin (Genesis 19:10-38). The *Ammonites and *Moabites were always the enemies of the *Jews. The *Moabites encouraged the *Jews to serve false gods at the time of Moses (Numbers 25:1-5).
So the people obeyed God and they separated themselves from all foreigners.
(God did not want the *Israelites to marry people from other nations. This was because the *Israelites were God’s special people. But God still cared about the people from other nations. In fact, God’s plan was to use the *Israelites so that he could do good things for people from every nation (Genesis 12:3). So people from other nations could still serve the real God. For example, Ruth was from Moab, but she became an *ancestor of Jesus. So God even allowed *Moabites to join his special people, the *Jews, if they really *worshipped him. See Ruth 1:16-22; 4:13-17; Luke 3:23-32.)
When Nehemiah was away in Persia, the priest Eliashib allowed Tobiah to use a large room in the *temple. Tobiah was one of the enemies of the *Jews. He had tried to stop the people building the walls of Jerusalem again (Nehemiah 2:10; 2:19; 4:3). Also he was an *Ammonite. God’s law said that the *Jews must not allow *Ammonites to join them (Nehemiah 13:1). Tobiah was also a relative of Eliashib the priest. It seems that someone from Eliashib’s family had married Tobiah or someone from his family. The *Jews had promised not to marry foreigners (Nehemiah 10:30). So they had done something that they promised not to do. And this was a very important matter, because they made this promise to God.
The room that Tobiah used was a special room. The people stored the equipment for the *temple there. They also stored their *tithes and gifts for the priests in this room. So, when Tobiah used the room, they did not have anywhere to store the *tithes. Also some *Levites and *temple servants lived outside Jerusalem. They probably stayed in this room when they came to Jerusalem to serve. So when it was their time to serve in Jerusalem they did not have anywhere to stay.
Eliashib was the chief priest (Nehemiah 13:28). He was responsible for the entire *temple. And he was very important. But he was allowing Tobiah to use this room. And Eliashib had also allowed members of his family to marry foreigners. Eliashib was the leader of the priests. But even he was not obeying God’s law. So even the chief priest was not doing the things that the *Israelites promised to do (chapter 10).
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he discovered what Eliashib had done. So Nehemiah was very angry. This does not mean that Nehemiah could not control his temper. It means that he acted in a strict way. He wanted to show that he was very unhappy about the situation. Jesus showed a similar reaction in a similar situation (John 2:12-17).
Nehemiah said that Eliashib had done something evil. So Nehemiah threw all Tobiah’s property out of the room. The room was a special holy room. But it was not still holy because Tobiah the *Ammonite had used it. So Nehemiah ordered people to clean the rooms. Then the priests carried out a ceremony to make the rooms holy again. They probably carried out special *sacrifices to do this. Then Nehemiah put the equipment and the gifts of grain back into the room.
Nehemiah also discovered that the people had not given their *tithes and gifts to the *Levites. They had promised to give one tenth (1/10th) of their crops for the priests and the *Levites (Nehemiah 10:35-39). Then the priests and the *Levites could serve God and they could take care of the *temple all the time. But this was another promise that the people had failed to do. Instead the *Levites and the singers had gone back to their own fields. They had to produce their own food so they were not doing their work in the *temple.
Perhaps the people did not bring the *tithes and gifts because there was nowhere to store them in the *temple. Tobiah was using the special room. But perhaps the room was already empty even before Tobiah began to use it. Perhaps it was empty because the people were not still bringing their gifts to put into the room.
Nehemiah blamed the officials who were the leaders of the people. The people had promised not to neglect the house of God (Nehemiah 10:39). But Nehemiah said that they had neglected the house of God. And he made the *Levites and the singers return to their work in the *temple.
The *prophet Malachi lived about that time. God spoke to the people by Malachi. He said that the people were cheating God. They did not bring their gifts and their *tithes to his house (Malachi 3:8-10).
So the people again started to bring their *tithes and gifts to the house of God. Nehemiah was wise and he appointed a team of good men to look after this work. The men whom Nehemiah chose were honest men. Everybody knew this. These men looked after the special holy rooms. These rooms were special because these rooms stored the *tithes and gifts only. The men that Nehemiah chose shared these things with the priests and the *Levites.
Nehemiah was a man who prayed often. He always wanted to do the right thing for God and for God’s work. So he prayed that the gifts for the *temple would continue.
Nehemiah also discovered something else when he returned to *Judah. He saw that some of the people were working on the 7th day of the week. They were also loading grain on horses. Maybe some of this was grain that they should have given to the *Levites (Nehemiah 13:10). The *Jews were also buying goods from the people of other nations on the 7th day of the week.
God had ordered the people to rest on the 7th day. He told them to allow their animals and their foreign servants to rest also (Exodus 23:12). But they were working and they were making their horses work too. The 7th day was a special day when the people *worshipped God. The people had promised that the 7th day of the week would be special and holy for God (Nehemiah 10:31). Again, they had failed to do something that they promised. And this was an important matter, because they made this promise to God.
Again, Nehemiah blamed the important men of *Judah. He said that their behaviour was wicked. He reminded them about their history. God had punished their *ancestors because they did not rest on the 7th day of the week. That was why God had allowed foreign nations to destroy Jerusalem. Now the people were making God angry again. Nehemiah probably remembered the words of the *prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah had warned the people just before God had sent them into *exile. He told them not to carry loads on the 7th day of the week (Jeremiah 17:19-27).
Nehemiah gave orders that people must not trade on the 7th day of the week. He ordered the guards in Jerusalem to shut the gates of the city during the 7th day. He also spoke to the people from other nations who brought goods to sell. He warned them not to come on the 7th day of the week. He told the *Levites to make themselves clean and holy and to guard the gates of the city. Nehemiah believed that Jerusalem was a holy city (Nehemiah 11:1, 18). He wanted Jerusalem to remain a holy city that pleased God.
Nehemiah prayed again. He remembered God’s great love. And Nehemiah asked God to show his (God’s) kindness.
Nehemiah discovered something else when he returned to *Judah. Some of the men had married women from the nations called Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. God had ordered the people not to marry foreigners. He had also ordered the *Jews not to allow the *Ammonites and *Moabites to join them (Nehemiah 13:1-2). The people had promised God that they would not marry foreigners (Nehemiah 10:30). This was another promise to God that the people had failed to perform.
Although these people lived in *Judah, half of their children did not know the *Jews’ own language. They spoke the languages of other nations. They would not be able to read or to understand God’s law. It would be very easy for them to start to *worship the false gods of other nations.
Perhaps these men had married foreign women in order to make friends with people from other nations. Then these men could trade and they could make more money. But perhaps these men married the foreign women because these men had followed their emotions. Or perhaps there were not enough *Jewish women for all the men to marry. But whatever their reasons were, these men were not obeying God’s law.
Nehemiah was very angry. Again, his anger was not a mere emotion. He had full control over his behaviour. But he showed his disgust at what these men had done. He even pulled out their hair. Hair was very important to Jewish men. To lose their hair would cause them to be ashamed. Nehemiah was very strict with these men. But they respected his authority. And they accepted the punishment. Then Nehemiah forced these men to make a serious promise to God. Nehemiah ordered them not to marry foreign women. Also they must not allow their sons and daughters to marry foreigners.
Nehemiah reminded the people again about their history. God made King Solomon to be very wise. But even Solomon was not wise when he married foreign women. And they tempted him to *worship other false gods (1 Kings 11:1-13).
It seems that Nehemiah did not tell these men to send their foreign women away. That was how Ezra dealt with a similar problem many years earlier.
The *prophet Malachi lived about that time. God spoke to the people by Malachi about this matter too. He said that the people were not obeying God. When they married foreign women, they were not obeying God (Malachi 2:10-16).
Even the grandson of Eliashib the chief priest had married a daughter of Sanballat. Sanballat was one of the enemies of the *Jews. He had tried to stop the *Jews building the walls of Jerusalem again (Nehemiah 2:10; 2:19; 4:1-2). Nehemiah was very angry because Sanballat was now a relative of the chief priest. And Nehemiah showed complete disgust against Eliashib’s grandson. Nehemiah refused even to allow that man (Eliashib’s grandson) to remain in the same room. Nehemiah forced the man to go away.
Nehemiah prayed again. He knew that the priests had not obeyed God. They had not been good models for the people. Nehemiah tried to make the priests and the *Levites do the right things again. He removed everything foreign from them. He arranged for each of them to do his own proper tasks. He made sure that good people would collect the *tithes and the gifts at the right time.
Nehemiah recorded another of his prayers to end his book. He had always tried to do what was right. He only wanted to please God. And he asked God to show his kindness.
Ammonite ~ someone from the country called Ammon, or anything that has a relationship to the country called Ammon.
Arab ~ a member of a nation that opposed Nehemiah’s plans.
Assyrians ~ people from the country called Assyria.
ancestors ~ people from the same family in previous centuries.
Babylonian ~ a person from the country called Babylonia, or anything with a relationship to Babylonia. The capital city of Babylonia was called Babylon.
descendant ~ a future member of a family.
exile ~ a period when people cannot live in their own country. This period may be for many years.
famine ~ a time when there is not enough food, so people become hungry.
introduction ~ the first section of a book. The introduction contains information that explains the contents of the book.
Israel ~ the entire nation that belonged to the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After the death of King Solomon, the nation split into two. The northern part became a separate country, called Israel. Then, the inhabitants were called *Israelites.
Israelites ~ the people from the country called *Israel. But the word is sometimes used to mean the people who came from the country called *Judah too.
Jehovah ~ a special name for God. This name means that God is always God. And it reminds us about the special relationship between God and his people.
Jews ~ all the people from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Or, just the people from the country called *Judah.
Judah ~ the south part of the nation that belonged to the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After the death of King Solomon, the nation split into two, and Judah became a separate country. Then, the inhabitants were called *Jews. Judah was also the name of a son of Jacob. God gave the region called Judah to this man’s (Judah’s) descendants.
Levites ~ the people of one of the 12 families of *Israel; they acted as assistants to the priests in the *temple.
Lord ~ a title for God to show that he is over all. But sometimes we translate *Jehovah as ‘Lord’.
lots ~ a method that seems to choose something by chance. But people would pray about the decision. They asked God to control the lots. And they believed that the decision came from God.
Moabite ~ a person from the country called Moab; or anything with a relationship to Moab.
orchard ~ a place to grow fruit trees.
perfume ~ oil that smells sweet.
Persian ~ a person from the country called Persia, or anything with a relationship to the country called Persia.
prophet ~ someone who tells God’s messages; a person whom God sends to speak for him; someone who is able to tell the will of God to other people; someone who declares God’s words. However, some people were false prophets. These people pretended to speak God’s words. But really, their messages came from the devil, or from their own imagination.
ruin ~ buildings and walls that have fallen down.
sacrifice ~ a gift to God by the *Jews. They gave such a gift when they asked God to forgive their *sins. The gift was often an animal or a bird. Sometimes people offered sacrifices to thank God for something.
shield ~ soldiers use these strong boards to keep themselves safe from attack.
sin ~ when people do bad things against God or other people; when people do not obey the commands of God.
spear ~ a long and thin *weapon of war which has a point. Soldiers throw them.
temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem where the *Jews *worshipped God.
tithe ~ one tenth (1/10th or 10%). The law said that the people must give a 10th of the harvest of oil, grain and wine to God. This 10th part was called a ‘tithe’.
tower ~ a tall, strong building.
trumpet ~ an instrument to make music or to sound an alarm.
vineyard ~ a place where fruit bushes grow. People use the fruit to make wine.
weapon ~ a tool of war that a soldier uses in attack or defence.
worship ~ to praise God and to give thanks to him; to show honour to God and to say that we love him very much. But some people worship false gods instead of the real God.
Bibles ~ AV, NIV, RSV & TEV
Stan K. Evers ~ ‘Doing a great work’ ~ Evangelical Press ~ Welwyn Commentary series
Derek Kidner ~ ‘Ezra and Nehemiah’ ~ IVP Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
Raymond Brown ~ ‘The Message of Nehemiah’ ~ IVP The Bible Speaks Today
Dave Cave ~ ‘Ezra and Nehemiah’ ~ Crossway Bible Guides
Warren W. Wiersbe ~ ‘Be Determined’ ~ Victor
© 2006, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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