Nehemiah opens with a first-person narrative
relating his concerns over Jerusalem and the Persian monarch's appointment of himself as governor over the province. The
bulk of the account covers the various incidents of Nehemiah's rule as governor as he attempted to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
The narrative must constantly balance Nehemiah's leadership of the community and the active opposition of leaders in the surrounding
areas. There are several points of connection (as noted in the comments) with the first-person narratives of the book of Ezra.
Nehemiah's concern over Jerusalem. The opening explains Nehemiah's appointment as governor and his relentless pursuit of the rebuilding of the city walls. The
section ends with a lengthy prayer that gives voice to the author's concept of the proper approach to God.
The words of Nehemiah: The Hebrew term for words can also be rendered “matters.” The opening does not necessarily support the existence of a “Nehemiah memoir.” In the twentieth year: Apparently the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes (see 2.1
). Susa was a seasonal palace for the Persian monarchs, though Artaxerxes seemed to have favored it and spent protracted periods
One of my brothers may indicate a family member (see 7.2
) or may simply mean a colleague. The Jews that survived: It is unclear what specific group or groups Nehemiah is asking about, but the main point is his concern with the entire community's
welfare as well as the city's.
The wall of Jerusalem is broken down: This should have been well known, following on the destruction of the city by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. Some believe the report must relate to a more recent event, and suggest that the events of Ezra 4.23
may provide the background, though nothing in that account would suggest a destruction of the work that had been accomplished.
Possibly the report is taken as a sign of the royal disapproval of Ezra 4.23
: The wall of Jerusalem is still broken down, and thus Nehemiah must try a different means to aid Jerusalem. Given the use
of terms such as great trouble and shame, another possibility is that the wall and gates are metaphors
for the separation that Ezra was trying to achieve.
I sat down and wept, and mourned for days: This is a sign of grief, and also a sign of the literary character of the account, since it is hard to conceive of a figure
as forceful as Nehemiah acting so victimized for several months.
God of heaven was a characteristic title for God in the Persian period (see Ezra 7.12, 23
They are your servants and your people: After confessing his own guilt, Nehemiah calls on God to remember his people since Nehemiah's prayer is on their behalf.
Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man: Nehemiah apparently has formed a plan to address the misfortunes of Jerusalem, but the reader does not yet know what it is.
Man is clearly a reference to Artaxerxes. In the Persian court, cupbearer was a formal office, with responsibility for ensuring the safety of the king's wine supply as well as acting as a royal adviser.
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