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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
Nehemiah is the thrilling story of a man whom God had placed in a position of great authority in the Persian Empire, with a view to his achieving what had previously been forbidden, the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. It was no mean task. Judah was surrounded by powerful enemies who opposed the rebuilding, and who were willing to use any means in order to seek to prevent it, and, at their instigation, the king of Persia himself had, in the early part of his reign, issued an order for such work to cease. It would take a man of God of great influence and tact to reverse the situation. And such was Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is revealed as discreet and fearless, as well as being a brilliant organiser, demonstrating by his achievements that he had the capacity to win men to fall into line with his, and God’s purposes. Not all the Jews in Judah welcomed his arrival, but his abilities under God are brought out by the way that he persuades almost all to assist him in the work regardless of their own loyalties.
But his vision was greater than that. He saw himself as establishing the eschatalogical Jerusalem promised by the prophets, ‘the holy city’ of Isaiah 52.10. And from 11.1 onwards we have a description of that achievement, commencing with the repopulation of Jerusalem with Jews from the new Israel; the guarantee that the worship of Jerusalem would be true, being founded on priests and Levites whose genealogies could be determined,; the celebrations that greeted the building of the wall that made all this possible; and the careful activity of Nehemiah in ensuring the purity of the city. Like Ezra, Nehemiah ends with a description of the putting away of idolatrous foreign wives who were the spark which could have returned the new Israel to idolatry. To us this might appear almost an irrelevance, but to the people who knew the harm that idolatry had done to Israel/Judah, it was the most important of all the steps taken to ensure the continuation of the community as YHWH’s people.
Following the return to Judah and Jerusalem, from Exile in Babylonia, of the ‘remnant of the captivity’ in 538 BC, along with those who followed later, the remnant had been having a pretty hard time of it (Nehemiah 1.3). This was not surprising because they faced opposition from four powerful groups:
So they were looked on with hostility by all, apart, that is, by those few in the land who had remained wholly faithful to YHWH, and who therefore now worshipped with them, or by those who had recommitted themselves to YHWH (Ezra 6.21).
There were moreover powerful voices among their adversaries, and these included the governor of the district of Samaria. These adversaries were in a position constantly to send accusations to the Persian king, and also to arrange that the remnant were given a very hard time. With regard to giving them a hard time it was not difficult in those days to organise gangs who could be disruptive, for when they did so, who would be able to prove anything? And they looked on a half-desolated Jerusalem as fair game, and no doubt took advantage of any wealth which came to Jerusalem because of the existence of the Temple with its worship. The remnant had partially tried to deal with this difficulty by building a wall round Jerusalem, which confirms that there was continual harassment of that partially populated city (Ezra 4.12-13, 21), but this had been circumvented by their enemies (Ezra 4.8-23), who, once they had persuaded the king of Persia to intervene and stop the work, had gone beyond their remit and had gleefully prevented the walls from being rebuilt, and had burned the new gates with fire (Ezra 4.23).
But it was not only Jerusalem that was vulnerable. In their own dwelling places situated among the peoples of the land the returnees were even more vulnerable. We do not know how far the governors of the area who followed Zerubbabel, and were prior to Nehemiah (445 BC), were prepared to act in their defence. We only know that by the time of 407 BC, per the Elephantine papyri, a (probable) Persian named Bagoas was the governor of Judea (alternately he may have been a Jewish prince with a Persian name). But it is clear from Nehemiah 1.3 that over these decades things had not been good, (they were ‘in great affliction and reproach’), and this was so even after the return of Ezra the Priest, with a new batch of returnees, who had been sent by the king to ensure the correct functioning of YHWH worship, something which had probably brought new life to the remnant. But his authority was in the religious sphere rather than the political. This was the parlous situation at the time when this book opens.
Relationship Of The Book Of Nehemiah To The Book Of Ezra.
There can be little doubt that the two books, Ezra and Nehemiah, were brought together as one at an early date, and were early seen as one. All the external evidence points to this as a fact. Thus the question must arise as to whether they were ever issued separately, for it was not until the time of Origen, and then Jerome, that they were spoken of as two books, and even Origen agrees that in Hebrew tradition they were seen as one. Indeed, on the evidence that we have it was not until around the middle ages (1448 AD) that the Jews themselves depicted them as separate works, and this when the Hebrew text of the Scriptures was put into print. Nevertheless the fact that this did occur demonstrates that there are good grounds for seeing them as separate works, and this would appear to be confirmed by the use in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 of closely related lists, which, while not being identical, are sufficiently close for them to be seen as repetitive, something unlikely to have happened in a joint work. It is also suggested by the fat that both books end with the removal of idolatrous foreign wives, something which could be seen as the ultimate achievement of these godly leaders, as it rooted out attempts to return to idolatry. But in that case, why were the two books brought together so early? One good reason why they might initially have been brought together may have been in order to conform the number of Old Testament books to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet (just as the twelve ‘minor’ prophets were seen as one for a similar reason).
On these grounds, therefore, they have been treated in the commentary as separate books, something which is attested by their headings. Nevertheless their relationship is certainly very close, and, indeed, that is what we would expect from two books written largely by contemporaries around the same time referring to contemporary events. Nehemiah’s abrupt and forceful style, however, punctuated with asides and frank comments, is unique, and there are few who would doubt his authorship of the main body of chapters 1 to 7 of the book, together with parts of chapters 12.31-13.31. Besides the change of subject between the end of Ezra and the commencement of the activities of Nehemiah might be seen as being too abrupt for them to be part of the same work. The idea that the two books are the work of the Chronicler has no external support, (unless 1 Esdras is seen as providing that support, but its support must be seen as extremely doubtful) and it must be doubted on the grounds of the different approach of the Chronicler.
Outline Of The Book.
1). Nehemiah obtains permission from the king of Persia to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and carries out the work in the face of great and continuing opposition, not resting until Jerusalem is once again secure (1.1-7.73).
2). The Book of the Law is read and expounded on, and in consequence the people enter into a solemn covenant with God (8-10).
3). Jerusalem is established as the holy city, populated by true Israelites (11.1-36); its worship is conducted by those who are shown to be genuinely descended from those chosen by the Law of Moses to conduct the worship of YHWH (12.1-26); its wall and gates are purified and dedicated to YHWH and the means of sustenance of the Levites and priests is ensured (12.27-47); the holy city is purified and caused to properly maintain the Sabbath whilst being cleansed of idolatrous foreign wives (13.1-31).
The book opens with a typical opening line. Nehemiah was not a prophet and therefore we would not expect it to say too much. But he was an extremely important person within the Persian Empire. He was ‘cupbearer to the king’. That does not mean that he was a waiter. It indicates that he was the man who received the cup from a servant, and after tasting it to see if it was poisoned by pouring the wine into his hand and drinking it, handed it to the king. He was thus the one man in a position to most easily poison the king. Consequently he was a man in whom the king placed absolute trust. And we soon discover that Nehemiah had entry into the king’s presence at other times, which accentuates his importance. Few had that privilege.
1.1a ‘The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.’
It is possible that the simple title ‘Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah’ was considered by him as sufficient to indicate who he was. It may well have been his view that it was only lesser men who had to provide details. In his day his name said everything. He was, of course aware that he intended to provide some detail later (verse 11), but that was in the course of the narrative. Here he was simply ‘Nehemiah ben Hacaliah’, a man of renown. Nehemiah means ‘Yah has comforted’. The meaning of Hacaliah is unknown. The name Nehemiah was a common one and is testified to of others in 3.16 and Ezra 2.2. It is also attested in extra-Biblical records. But there was only one Nehemiah ben Halachiah
On the other hand some see in this description the hand of the editor as he sought to combine Nehemiah’s record with the book of Ezra. But however we see it, some such introduction would always have been necessary, even prior to that, so that we would know who was in mind in what was to follow. And besides, if it were the words of an editor we might have expected a more detailed introduction. It was only the man himself, aware of his own importance, who could be so brief. And this would also explain the seemingly careless dating (the king’s name is not mentioned).
‘The words of --.’ The Hebrew word translated ‘words’ often indicates doings and activities, and it clearly does that here. The aim is to describe Nehemiah’s deeds, and what he accomplished. Compare 1 Kings 11.41; 14.19; 1 Chronicles 29.29; 2 Chronicles 9.29.
Nehemiah Learns Of The Sad Condition Of Those Who Had Escaped from Babylon And Of The Recent Destruction Of The Walls Of Jerusalem That The Returnees Were Attempting To Build (1.1b-3).
1.1b-2 ‘Now it came about in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the fortress, that Hanani, one of my kinsmen, came, he and certain men out of Judah, and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.’
As with the name, so with the date. He assumes that the recipient of his account will know which king it is whose reign it is the twentieth year of, (he also knows that he will make it clear in 2.1). This may portray the haughtiness and contemporary attitude of someone who felt that there was no need to say more, because the long reign of Artaxerxes was a permanent institution throughout the empire. He would not have known that he was writing for posterity. Alternatively it may indicate that it was chapter 2 which began an official record made by him, possibly in a report to the king, and that he added this explanatory information in chapter 1, with the date given in 2.1 being in mind, when he made it available to a wider audience. He would know that the reader would find the more detailed reference in 2.1. The twentieth year of Artaxerxes (2.1) would be 446 BC, and the month of Chislev around November/December. It was the ninth month of the Jewish calendar commencing from the first month Nisan (Passover month - March/April). This raises a slight problem in that the following Nisan (2.1) is also said to be in the twentieth year, but that is probably looking at the numbering from the point of view of the commencement of the reign of Artaxerxes rather than the commencement of the New Year.
Again some see in this lack of mention of the king’s name the hand of an editor who was conjoining the two narratives, of Ezra and Nehemiah, who expected his readers to refer back to Ezra 7.1, 11, 21; 8.1. But those references are rather remote, and anyway the same argument could have applied in 2.1, and yet the details of the reign are given there. It thus rather suggests that 2.1 was what was in mind.
‘The fortress Shushan (Susa).’ This was the winter residence of the Persian kings, with Ecbatana being their summer residence (Ezra 6.1). The ruins of Susa lie near the River Karun and it was once, in the second millennium BC, the capital of Elam, continuing as such into the first millennium. It was a powerful and impressive city. It was finally sacked by Ashurbanipal of Assyria in 645 BC, who sent men into exile from there to Samaria (Susanchites - Ezra 4.9). But it was restored, and it was at Susa that Daniel had one of his visions (Daniel 8.2). Darius I built his palace there, and it was there that Xerxes (Ahasuerus) demoted his chief wife, Vashti, replacing her with Esther (Esther 1-2). The fortress had again been restored by Artaxerxes.
It is apparent from this verse that Nehemiah regularly received fellow-Jews as guests into the king’s fortress, so that it is not surprising that Jewish affairs obtained a hearing at high levels. Hanani, (‘He is gracious’), whom he received at this time, along with other prominent Jews, may well have been his brother, although the word need only indicate a kinsman. The Hanani in 7.2 may or may not be identical, for Hanani was a common name. We do not know whether this was just a private visit, or whether it was a deputation concerning some official matter. Nor do we know whether they were visiting from Judah, or had simply been to Judah on a visit. Nehemiah may well have summoned them on learning of their arrival from Judah because he wanted to learn about the situation there.
Whichever way it was he asked them concerning the situation in Judah and Jerusalem, and how ‘those who had escaped, who were left of the captivity’ were going on. He clearly had a deep interest in the land of his forefathers. The question then arises as to who he was referring to by these words. Does he mean the returned exiles who had ‘escaped’ from Babylonia, a remnant of the captivity, who had returned to Judah (compare Ezra 9.8 which speaks of ‘a remnant to escape’), or is he speaking of those who had initially escaped captivity and had remained in Judah? The former appears more likely, especially in view of Ezra 9.8. It is certainly not likely that he was unaware of the fact that exiles had returned to Judah from Babylonia under the decrees of the kings of Persia, and he would naturally as a Jew himself be concerned about their welfare.
1.3 ‘And they said to me, “The remnant who are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
We have already seen in Ezra that the Jews who had returned from Babylon saw themselves as the true Israel, ‘the remnant’ of Israel who ‘escaped’ (Ezra 3.8; 9.8). It is therefore quite clear that it is the returnees who had established themselves in Judah who were seen as ‘the remnant who are left of the captivity (exile)’. Does this then mean that Nehemiah did not see himself as a part of the remnant of the captivity? The answer, of course, is no. His heart and his spirit were with them. What he did not have was permission to go. Like Daniel before him, he was not in a job that he could leave at will. He was a slave, albeit a very exalted one, of the king of Persia.
‘Are in great affliction and reproach.’ The word used for ‘affliction’ is regularly translated ‘evil’. Great evil had come upon them. This suggests that they were having a very difficult time indeed, and reminds us how little we know about the problems that they faced, problems of drought, recurring violence, constant antagonism of their neighbours, and so on. The word for reproach indicates the constant criticism and hatred that was directed against them because they refused to dilute Yahwism by allowing syncretists to worship with them. All around them sought to bring them into shame, the syncretistic Jews who had remained in the land and were largely only semi-Yahwists; the syncretistic half-Yahwists in Samaria; and the out and out idolaters. The returnees, and those who sided with them, were being treated as outcasts and pariahs because of their faithfulness to truth. The situation had no doubt been made worse by the putting away of wealthy idolatrous wives, who were put away because of their idolatry which was affecting the remnant. They would have had great influence among their own people (Ezra 9-10).
Furthermore this appalling situation was revealed physically in the state of Jerusalem. As a consequence of their adversaries the walls that they had been attempting to rebuild had been broken down, and its gates burned with fire (Ezra 4.23). All their attempts to make themselves secure had been stymied. The reaction of Nehemiah here, and the fact that it is mentioned at all, demonstrates that this must have occurred recently. He would have know perfectly well what had happened to the walls of Jerusalem as a result of the Babylonian invasion, and it was history long gone (over one hundred and forty years previously). News of it would hardly, therefore, have been brought to him, nor would it have stirred him. It suggests that he had seemingly previously heard, and rejoiced over the fact, that the walls were being rebuilt so that the fact that they had now been again destroyed hit him hard.
Nehemiah’s Cry Goes Up To God (1.4-11).
So Nehemiah now did what God’s true people always do when they face adversity. He prayed to YHWH. The prayer is very much an individualistic one, although parts of it can, as we would expect, be paralleled elsewhere, for he prayed with a full knowledge of his people’s liturgical past. He was not praying out of a vacuum, but with a good knowledge of Judah’s prayers of old.
His prayer can be summarised as follows:
Note how in ‘A’ he approaches God, and in the parallel he approaches the king. In ‘B’ he makes a plea to be heard, and in the parallel he asks God to be responsive to his prayers. In ‘C’ he confesses the sin of his people, and in the parallel he describes the people for whom he is praying. Centrally in ‘D’ he makes his appeal on the basis of the covenant.
1.4 ‘And it came about, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days; and I fasted and prayed before the God of heaven,’
He did not rush into his prayer. He pondered deeply over the news that he had received, something which caused him to sit down and weep as he thought of the sufferings of his people. He mourned over the news for a good number of days, fasting and praying ‘before the God of Heaven’. This last was the name by which YHWH was known in Persia and Babylon (compare Daniel 2.18, 19, 37, 44; Ezra 5.12; 6.9, 10; 7.12, 23) and to foreigners (Jonah 1.9). The purpose of fasting was in order to express grief, and in order to prevent anything interfering with his praying.
His Elaborate Approach To God (1.5).
In his approach Nehemiah expresses three things which should be a constant in all our praying; the greatness of God, the wonder of His love, and the necessity for obedience to His covenant in accordance with His requirements.
1.5 ‘And said, “I beseech you, O YHWH, the God of heaven, the great and terrible God, who keeps covenant and covenant love with those who love him and keep his commandments.”
He speaks with YHWH as the One Who is:
His Plea To Be Heard (1.6a).
He calls on God to be attentive to his constant and persevering prayer for God’s people.
1.6a “Let your ear now be attentive, and your eyes open, that you may listen to the prayer of your servant, which I pray before you at this time, day and night, for the children of Israel your servants,’
He prays that God will hear what he has to say, and will see the situation. And that as a result He will listen to his prayer, a prayer from one who is his servant, a prayer which he is bringing before him day and night. He was thus coming in humility, but also in consistent, persevering prayer, in the way in which Jesus would later teach us to pray (Luke 11.5-13). For the idea of attentive ears and open eyes compare 1 Kings 8.28-29; 2 Chronicles 6.40; Psalm 130.2; Isaiah 37.17, and God’s response and required conditions in 2 Chronicles 7.14-15.
And he underlines that he is coming on behalf of ‘the children of Israel’ who are God’s servants. For ‘children of Israel’ see 2.10; 7.73; 8. 14, 17; 9.1; 10.39; 13.2. It is a Nehemaic expression. This is, of course, a regular name used for Israel/Judah emphasising their tribal relationship, although literally speaking it is a misnomer. The majority were not strictly directly descended from Jacob by blood, but were ‘sons’ by adoption, being descended:
He Confesses Deeply The Sin Of His People, Including That Of His Own Father’s house (1.6b-7).
Confession of our sins must always be central to our prayers. ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us’. As God says in 2 Chronicles 7.14, ‘if My people who are called by My Name, will humble themselves, and will pray, and will seek my face, and will turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven, I will forgive their sins, and I will heal their land’. This was what Nehemiah now did.
1.6b-7 ‘While I confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Yes, I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against you, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances, which you commanded your servant Moses.”
Confession of sin had long been a requirement of the covenant. The confession of the sins of the children of Israel was one purpose of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16.21), and confession of sin was a requirement for forgiveness of specific sins (Leviticus 5.5). Furthermore confession of sin was one of the requirements if God was to restore His people from captivity (Leviticus 26.40). Thus while he had no sacrifice to offer, and no goat substitute, what Nehemiah could do was confess the sins of his people (see also 9.2; Psalm 32.5; Proverbs 28.13; Daniel 9.20). It was an acknowledgement that Israel had deserved all that had happened to them.
He did not exclude himself from this confession of sins, confessing his own sin and the sins of his father’s house. And he spells out what he means by sin in terms of dealing corruptly with God, and not observing the commandments, statutes and ordinances (judgments) laid down by Moses (compare Deuteronomy 5.31; 7.11). He makes no excuses.
It is clear from this that Nehemiah was well acquainted with Levitical teaching and Deuteronomic teaching.
He Appeals To God On The Basis Of His Covenant Promises (1.8-9).
He now calls on God to be mindful of His word and of His promises.
1.8-9 “Remember, I beseech you, the word that you command your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you trespass, I will scatter you abroad among the peoples, but if you return to me, and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts were in the uttermost part of the heavens, yet will I gather them from there, and will bring them to the place which I have chosen, to cause my name to dwell there.’ ”
Thus he reminds God of His promises. Promises made to Moses as to what would happen if when His people had trespassed and were scattered abroad, they returned to Him and kept His commandments and did them. His promise had been that no matter how far they had been scattered, even to the uttermost part of Heaven, he would gather them from there and bring them to the place which He had chosen to cause His Name to dwell there.
This is not a direct quotation from Moses, but a summary of what God had promised that He would do, based on Scriptural terminology. Especially in mind is Deuteronomy 30.1-4. ‘(If, having trespassed and) been scattered abroad among all the nations --- you shall return to YHWH your God, and shall obey His voice according to all that I command you this day (keep His commandments and do them), --- if any of your outcasts be in the uttermost parts of the heavens, ,i.from there will YHWH your God gather you --- and will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you will possess it.’
This is supplemented by, ‘and YHWH will scatter you among the peoples’ (Deuteronomy 4.27; compare Leviticus 26.33; Deuteronomy 28.64); ‘you shall keep My commandments and do them’ (Leviticus 22.31; 26.3; compare Deuteronomy 19.9); and ‘the place which I have chosen to cause My Name to dwell there’ (Deuteronomy 12.11). ‘If you trespass --’ is a brief summary of what is stated in, for example, Leviticus 26.14; Deuteronomy 4.25; 28.15, 58, and is mentioned in respect of deserving captivity in Leviticus 26.40.
From the point of view of Nehemiah’s prayer the important point was that YHWH had now done this thing and had brought His people to the place in which He had caused His Name to dwell there. God had gloriously delivered them and he was therefore puzzled why God, having done so, had left His people in such deep anguish and distress. It did not seem consistent with the promise.
A Description Of The People For Whom He Is Praying (1.10).
He now points out that they are not just any people. They are the people whom YHWH had in the past redeemed by His great power and His mighty hand from among the Egyptians (Exodus 32.11). Surely, he was saying, You did not show your compassion towards them for nothing?
1.10 “Now these are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power, and by your strong hand.”
Here then were the people whom God had delivered in accordance with His promises, His servants whom He had redeemed by His great power and His strong hand (Exodus 32.11). Now he was about to ask that YHWH would intervene on their behalf. We note that there is no criticism of YHWH, no question as to why He had done what He had, only a plea that, having already done what He had, He would now act further on behalf of His people through Nehemiah. His confession of sin was a recognition that God’s people were still receiving their due punishment for sin. Redemption by great power and a strong hand echoes the Exodus deliverance (Exodus 32.11; 6.1; 13.9). The return from Exile could be seen as another Exodus, and that deliverance also had been followed by times of anguish and misery as the Book of Judges makes clear.
A Request That God Be Responsive To Both His And Their Prayers, The Prayers Of Those Who Fear Him (1.11a).
He makes clear that he is not praying for an unresponsive people. he is praying for those who fear YHWH’s Name.
1.11a “O Lord, I beseech you, let now your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants, who delight to fear your name,”
Nehemiah recognises that much God-fearing prayer is going up from the returned exiles, to which he now adds his own prayers. And he calls on God to be attentive to their combined prayers. Note his continual emphasis on the fact that he and they are God’s servants. Moses is God’s servant, he is God’s servant, the returnees are God’s servants (1.6, 7, 8, 10, 11). And the reason that he is confident that God will hear is because they ‘delight to fear His Name’. To ‘fear His Name’ means not only that they worship Him with due reverence and awe, but also that they ‘fear God and keep His commandments’ (Ecclesiastes 12.13). We are reminded in this regard of the words of the Psalmist, ‘if I regard iniquity in my heart, YHWH will not hear me’ (Psalm 66.18). We should note that this fear is not a craven fear. It is something which is a delight to them. They enjoy being God’s servants.
An Appeal That God Will Help Him As He Takes The Dangerous Path Of Approaching The King On Their Behalf (1.11b).
We do not know at what stage Nehemiah’s concern for his people turned to a recognition that he was in a position to do something about it. But this is what often happens when we pray. God suddenly says, ‘well, why don’t you do something about it?’ However, such a suggestion would have filled Nehemiah’s heart with apprehension. It may seem to us a simple task to lay a petition before the king, but it was far from being so. The appeal could not be made directly. The petitioner had in some way to draw the king’s attention to the fact that he had an appeal to make, and then hope that the king was feeling benevolent. If the king was in a bad mood it could result in the petitioner’s death. The means of drawing the king’s attention was usually by putting on a sad countenance. But it was a dangerous procedure. All courtiers were called on to express happiness in the king’s presence, so that anyone who was not expressing happiness was clearly doing it for a purpose. It was because he wanted the king’s ear. On the other hand not to be happy in the king’s presence without good reason could be seen as derogatory to the king’s majesty and could well result in death. The man could be dragged out and summarily executed. Thus Nehemiah sought God’s help in the difficult and dangerous task he would undertake.
1.11b “And prosper, I pray you, your servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
The day had come when he knew that he must risk all and place his petition before the king. And so he called on God to prosper him on that day, and grant him mercy in the sight of ‘this man’. As God’s servant he was casting his future upon God. We can compare the similar situation with Esther in Esther 4.11, 6. ‘This man’ may well have been an intentional attempt by Nehemiah to remind himself that, however great the king might be, he was in the end only a man, or indeed as an attempt to remind God that Artaxerxes was only a man who was at His disposal. On the other hand it might have been an expression of awe. But such an expression would not have been seen as insulting. The kings of Persia did not give themselves semi-divine status.
1.11c ‘Now I was cupbearer to the king.’
Nehemiah now indicates his own exalted status, and why it was that he had access to the king, and not only access, but access as the king’s confidante. It was because he was the king’s cupbearer. It was he who would have responsibility for the selection of which wines would be presented before the King, and would himself drink from the king’s cup prior to the king partaking, by pouring some into his hand and drinking it. This was as a guard against poisoning. His delicate palate would immediately discern any foreign element. He would also be expected to provide convivial conversation for the king, and tactfully hear whatever the king had to say. He could thus exert considerable influence over the king. The office would often be combined with other important offices. Thus in Tobit 1.22 we read of Achiacharus (Ahikar) that he was cupbearer and keeper of the signet, and steward and overseer of the accounts and was next to the king in importance.
It is not necessary to assume that Nehemiah was a eunuch. Many cupbearers were, but many were not, and many who had access to the queen and the royal harem were also not eunuchs. Indeed we have texts which lay out the behaviour expected of them in the royal harem. The fact that his being a eunuch is never mentioned against him by his opponents among the Jews would serve to confirm that he was not so. Otherwise it could have been used in order to diminish his religious status in the eyes of many Jews.
It will be noted that this verse is transitional, and acts as a convenient introduction to what follows, thereby linking his prayer with its fulfilment.
Nehemiah’s Successful Approach To The King And His Subsequent Commission (2.1-8).
Having reached his decision before God Nehemiah now carried it out into practise. He came into the king’s presence revealing something of his grief while performing his service.
2.1 ‘And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, when wine was before him, that I took up the wine, and gave it to the king. Now I had not (previously) been sad in his presence.’
The timing of the event may well have been important. Nisan was the first month of the calendar year, and the new year may well have been a time when the king was inclined to dispel favours. Thus Nehemiah may well have been awaiting this propitious time. In view of 1.1, however, it appears that for dating purposes Nehemiah is using the regnal year, as there Chislev was also in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes. This may have been with the intentional purpose of linking 2.1 with 1.1 by placing them in the same regnal year. Nisan would still, however, have been the month of the new year celebrations.
‘When wine was before him’ is simply a general indication that this occurred at mealtime. It was, of course, then that Nehemiah would be called on to perform his duty of receiving the king’s wine, tasting it, and passing it on to the king something which he proceeded to do. He then makes the general comment, ‘I had not been sad in his presence’. The time indicator ‘previously’ is not strictly necessary, although helping us with the sense. The point is that he was never ‘sad in his presence’ at any time. It was something that was unheard of. Or alternately it may signify that even though he had been fasting and praying he had not been sad in his presence. The implication is that now he was, and deliberately so. His heart must have been beating fast as he awaited the king’s reaction. He was aware that at any moment he might immediately be arrested for ‘making the king sad’.
2.2 ‘And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart.” Then I was very deeply afraid.’
The king, who was always surrounded by smiling faces, immediately discerned what the situation was. Nehemiah was clearly not sick, so why the sad face? What was the sad news that Nehemiah wanted to convey to him? Perhaps he expected to hear of the death of a beloved relative. That alone could justify Nehemiah bringing his sorrows to the king’s attention. The fact that the queen was present at the feast (verse 6) was probably an indication that it was a private feast.
‘Then I was very deeply afraid.’ He had reason to be afraid. He was about to ask Artaxerxes to put aside his temporary decree which had prevented the building of the walls of Jerusalem (Ezra 4.21). Depending on how serious a matter the king saw that to be it could have been seen as a request of great significance, and it might certainly be seen as questionable whether such a political plea justified ‘making the king sad’. An element of treason might even have been seen as involved. If the king was annoyed about it he could order his immediate execution. But Nehemiah had not come unprepared. He had considered carefully how to phrase his request. He presented it in terms of the disgrace brought on his father’s sepulchre. He was indicating that his concern was a matter of family honour. This was something that the king would appreciate for to both royalty and the aristocracy the family sepulchre was seen as of huge importance. It will be noted that Nehemiah makes no mention of Jerusalem.
2.3 ‘And I said to the king, “Let the king live for ever. Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the house of my fathers’ sepulchres, lies waste, and its gates are consumed with fire?”
‘Let the king live forever.’ This was a normal way of addressing kings. It was a prayer for the king’s continual well-being. And Nehemiah then asserted that the reason why he was so upset was because of the condition of the city with which his father’s sepulchre was connected. It was in ruins. The city lay waste, and its gates had been burned with fire. And this could only rebound on the condition of the family sepulchre. ‘The house of my fathers’ sepulchres’ may well reflect the fact that Persian kings attempted to give their sepulchres the appearance of a house or palace, even when they were utilising rock tombs.
The king, who might well have been troubled had Nehemiah mentioned Jerusalem, was seemingly only full of sympathy. He could fully appreciate his favourite’s distress.
2.4 ‘Then the king said to me, “For what are you asking?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.’
So the king asked Nehemiah what the heart of his request was. What was it that his faithful servant wanted from him? Nehemiah, with his heart no doubt somewhat relieved, flashed a silent prayer to Heaven and then explained his heart’s desire. It is a reminder that when we are going about God’s business we should ensure that we keep in close touch with God.
2.5 ‘And I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you would send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may rebuild it.”
His request was, that if it pleased the king, and if he Nehemiah had found favour in his sight, he would send him to Judah to restore the city of his fathers where his fathers’ sepulchres were found. He still gives no hint that he is referring to Jerusalem.
2.6 ‘And the king said to me (the queen also sitting by him), “For how long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I set him a time.’
The mention of the queen sitting by suggests that she may well have approved Nehemiah’s request, and have added her voice to his. Nehemiah may well have been one of her favourite courtiers. But the king was very happy with his request and only wanted to know how long it would take him to fulfil it. When would he be coming back? So the king gave his permission, and Nehemiah set a date for his return.
On the other hand it has been suggested that the sudden introduction of the queen quietly introduces a change from a public feast to a more private one. The questions that the king asks may well have been retained for such a private occasion, with the king initially having simply indicated his approval.
2.7-8a ‘Moreover I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given to me to the governors of Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through till I come to Judah. And a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which appertains to the house (the temple), and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into.”
As an experienced courtier who had thought it all out beforehand, and in response to the king’s request, Nehemiah now outlines his requirements. Firstly he asks for letters demonstrating that he has the king’s authority, to all governors of the Province of Beyond the River (Syria, Palestine, and the surrounding area). These would provide him, at least officially, with safe conduct on his way to Judah. Secondly he asks for a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, requiring him to provide the necessary timber for the proposed construction, including beams for the gates of the fortress which was by the Temple, which was a huge construction securing the frontal approach to Jerusalem; the beams necessary for the building of the walls with their gates; and beams for the restoration of Nehemiah’s own family residence, or residence as governor. Whilst he would prove to be very generous to his fellow Jews he was nevertheless aware (as Artaxerxes also was), of his own importance.
The fact that he knew the name of the keeper of the king’s forest in Palestine (Asaph was a Jewish name) suggests that he had fully researched his intended visit to Jerusalem. It is never spiritual to be careless. We have no certain information as to where the king’s forest was, but Palestine and its surrounds were at the time well forested, and the king of Persia would no doubt have taken over from Babylon ownership of the royal forests of the kings of Judah and Israel.
2.8b ‘And the king granted it to me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.’
That the king granted his requests he saw as due to the good hand of his God upon him. And it was no doubt so. But part of the reason undoubtedly lay in the fact that he was a faithful and trusted servant of the king. God can often bless us because we have ourselves laid the foundation for such blessing.
Nehemiah Takes The Road To Jerusalem With A Suitable Armed Guard (2.9-10).
Having received the king’s permission, and having obtained his letters of authority, Nehemiah set off for Jerusalem accompanied by a suitable armed escort. He was a leading Persian courtier travelling in a way that befitted his dignity. The king would hardly have allowed otherwise. This was not an Ezra travelling with a large party of returnees. This was a king’s favourite and royal official who was travelling in style, and it was the king who would decide on his escort. This was all to the good for it no doubt made the right impression on the governors of the Province when they received the king’s letters. They would know what manner of man this was.
2.9 ‘Then I came to the governors of Beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me captains of the army and horsemen.’
Arriving in the Province of Beyond The River in style, he handed over the king’s letters to the various governors. He was accompanied by his royal escort which would in itself speak volumes. All would acknowledge his importance and would no doubt help him on his way.
2.10 ‘And when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them greatly, in that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.’
There were, however, two officials who were not pleased at his arrival. These were Sanballat the Horonite, who was probably the governor of the district of Samaria, which up to this time had probably included Judah, (we know that he certainly was later), and Tobiah the Servant, the Ammonite, who may well have been his deputy, but was certainly closely connected with him. They were ‘greatly grieved’ that such an important and influential man had come in order to look after the welfare of ‘the children of Israel’. This is not surprising. They had looked on them as easy pickings, but now they had to recognise that, with the arrival of Nehemiah, duly appointed by the king, the situation had changed.
That the returnees were thought of as ‘the children of Israel’ hints at the fact that the returnees now indeed saw themselves as the true Israel, something already made clear in Ezra 2.2; 3.8; 9.8. But it also made clear that the returnees, while an identifiable group, were scattered among the local population (they were ‘the children of Israel’ not ‘Israel’), and were probably looked on as fair game, both to be excessively taxed and to be treated contemptuously, and even violently. This was undoubtedly why they were experiencing such anguish and reproach (1.3). The coming of Ezra would unquestionably have uplifted them spiritually, but he had not had the authority to outface the Governor of Samaria. Nehemiah, however, was of a different standing. It was clear from his royal escort that he was an important Persian official, and the letters had no doubt made clear that he was appointed as the independent Governor of Judah. He therefore had the authority to stand up to Sanballat, and the self-confidence with which to back it up (6.11). Sanballat and Tobiah, on the other hand, were probably not aware how close he stood to the king, otherwise they would not have later thought that they could traduce him.
Both Sanballat, whose sons names (Delaiah and Shelemiah) included the Name of Yah, and Tobi-yah, were apparently syncretistic Yahwists, the consequence of this being that much of their opposition to the returnees was probably religious. They still took offence at the fact that the returnees had never allowed their fathers, or themselves, a part in the worship of the Temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 4.2-4). And they therefore did everything possible to make life difficult for the returnees. There were indeed large numbers of Yahwists in the district of Samaria (which probably included Judah), some of whom were descended from the newcomers introduced by various kings (2 Kings 17.24, 33; Ezra 4.9-10), and others of whom were descended from the old Israel and Judah which had become so involved in idolatry (Jeremiah 39.10; 40.5). These were now all excluded from the new Israel because of their connections with idolatry.
We know from the Elephantine papyri that Sanballat was governor of Samaria in 408 BC, but clearly then ageing in that his sons were acting for him. And in view of his prominence in the opposition and the way that he treated Nehemiah on equal terms (Nehemiah 6), and that Nehemiah never resents it, it must be seen as probable that he was already governor. Nehemiah, it is true, never gives him the title. But that may simply have been due to the fact that Nehemiah was indicating his contempt for him, preferring to call him ‘the Horonite’ (probably ‘resident of Beth-Horon’ (Joshua 16.3, 5) and therefore not to be seen as a genuine Yahwist). We can compare the similar ‘Tobiah -- the Ammonite’. Meanwhile the title given to Tobiah of ‘the Servant’, while it could indicate ‘servant of the king’ and be an honourable title, was probably rather intended by Nehemiah to indicate Tobiah’s slavish obedience to Sanballat. In later centuries the name Tobiah was linked with a prominent Ammonite family, but Tobiah was a common Jewish name (‘YHWH is good’), and there may have been no connection.
Nehemiah Secretly Inspects The Walls Of Jerusalem And The Decision Is Made To Rebuild Them (2.11-18).
Having arrived safely in Jerusalem Nehemiah rested, prior to a secret surveillance of the condition of the walls. His men would have to be quartered, although that might have been in a camp outside the city. Meanwhile he and his officers no doubt had to endure a ceremonious welcome. A high Persian official would always be welcomed with due ceremony, especially when accompanied by a formidable armed escort. But he was clearly keen to get on with his task, for he was well aware of the opposition that would arise once the idea that he was to rebuild the walls got around, and he wanted to delay that opposition as long as possible. So, after making a secret survey in the dead of night, he called on the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem to commence the rebuilding.
2.11 ‘So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.’
Arriving in Jerusalem he rested ‘for three days’. Three days only signifies ‘a short period’, with each part of a day counting as a day. Thus he may only have taken one day of rest, after the day of arrival, using it to acclimatise himself and get to know the Jewish leaders, and to prepare for his surveillance. He knew what a daunting task the building of the walls might prove to be, and that he must move quickly. No one but himself was aware of what he had in mind.
2.12 ‘And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me, nor did I tell any man what my God put into my heart to do for Jerusalem, nor was there any beast with me, except the beast that I rode on.’
In consequence when night came (the beginning of a new day for the Jews, so possibly the second night after his arrival), without telling anyone of his purpose, he took with him a few trusted men, and set off on his surveillance, without telling anyone what God had put on his heart to do for Jerusalem. No doubt he had a trusted Jerusalem guide, as well as a small armed escort. But he did not want to draw attention to what he was doing. The limitation to a single beast, no doubt an ass, may have been because of his awareness of his own importance, or it may have been because he feared that if others called on such beasts the secret might leak out.
2.13 ‘And I went out by night by the valley gate, even toward the jackal’s well, and to the dung gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and its gates were consumed with fire.’
Initially he went out by night by the Valley Gate (compare 3.13; 2 Chronicles 26.9), a gate probably in the West wall 1000 cubits (approximately 1500 feet, a little less than five hundred metres) from the Dung Gate which was at the southern end of Jerusalem, examining its condition as he passed through. Then he moved along southward outside the remains of the wall towards the Jackal’s Well (or Dragon’s Eye), a site now unknown, examining the walls as they went along, before arriving at the Dung Gate, which was probably almost at the southern end of the city. This was the gate through which rubbish would be carried out of the city to be hurled into the valley below, and was by the Pool of Siloam. It may be identified with the Potsherd Gate of Jeremiah 19.2. He discovered during his examination the condition of the gates and walls. The gates had been consumed with fire, and the walls were broken down.
2.14 ‘Then I went on to the fountain gate and to the king’s pool, but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass.’
Then he moved northward up the East wall until he reached the Fountain (or Spring) Gate, which no doubt led out onto a spring-fed pool of water (possibly En Rogel). They then moved on to the King’s Pool, the site of which is unknown, although it may well have had connection with the King’s Garden. But it was at this point that they discovered that it was impossible to proceed further because of the rubble caused by the previous destruction of the walls by Nebuchadnezzar, rubble which has since been confirmed by excavation. Even his sure-footed ass was unable to proceed.
2.15 ‘Then I went up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and I turned back, and entered by the valley gate, and so returned.’
Possibly at this stage he dismounted, or it may be that going up in the night by the brook he was able to skirt the rubble. There he viewed the eastern wall. He had seemingly seen enough for he now turned back and returned round the southern end of Jerusalem to the Valley Gate from which he had first emerged (verse 13). He had probably been able to survey the other walls quietly from the inside during the day without attracting attention. Now, therefore, he was aware of the difficulties that lay ahead.
Some, however, see him as indicating by this that he completed the circuit of the wall before re-entering by the Valley Gate, but without making further comment.
2.16 ‘And the rulers did not know where I went, or what I did, nor had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest who would do the work.’
He now makes clear that no one knew where he had gone, or what he had gone to do. The initial mention of the rulers may suggest that he was staying in their palace. They would thus have been aware that he had gone out. But as far as they were concerned he may have been visiting his escort. They were unaware of his intentions. Nor had he given any explanation of his intentions to anyone, not the people, nor the priests, nor the nobles, nor the rulers, nor even those on whom he would call to do the work. He did not want to risk word leaking out.
2.17 ‘Then I said to them, “You see the evil situation that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.”
But now, having satisfactorily concluded his survey he called them all together and pointed out the precarious and reproachful situation that they were in without walls or gates. It was dangerous and an embarrassment. Then he called on them to work with him in building the walls of Jerusalem so that they might once more be a proud independent city, without the reproach that came from them not being able to rebuild the walls. No longer need they be trodden down by their local enemies.
2.18 ‘And I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me, as also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.’
He then informed them how clearly God had been at work in making his appeal to the king of Persia successful, and what the king had said to him. This put a new light on things and strengthened their resolve with the result that they were all in agreement. ‘Let us rise up and build’, they all declared. And in view of this they prepared themselves and nerved themselves for the huge task ahead.
That the divisions which later appear, such as Nehemiah’s conflicts with Eliashib the High Priest, were not yet apparent, is clear. And it is what we would expect. Nehemiah was an unknown quantity and all that was in mind at the time was the rebuilding of the wall, which almost all saw as a good thing. Thus disparate groups were getting together with a will in order to see the task accomplished.
Opposition From Local Leaders In High Places (2.19-20).
The news that they were to commence building inevitably leaked out, for there were many collaborationists in Jerusalem who had opted to compromise with their neighbours and would gladly therefore win favour by passing on the information. The result was that it reached the ears of Sanballat the Horonite, who was probably even at that time either the acting Governor, or the duly appointed Governor, of the District of Samaria, a District which had formerly included Judah. (He was certainly the duly appointed Governor later as we know from the Elephantine papyri).
He was powerful enough himself, but he also held counsel with his Deputy, Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and with Geshem the Arabian. Geshem was an important ruler over combined tribes of Arabians to the east and south of Judah, which at this time had good relations with the Persian Empire. His name has been found as ‘King of Qedar’ on a silver vessel dedicated by his son Qainu to the goddess Han-’Ilat discovered in Lower Egypt (the inscription reads, ‘what Qainu, son of Geshem, king of Qedar, brought (as an offering) to Han-’Ilat’). Geshem may also well have been the one referred to as ‘the King of Qedar’ in a Lihyanite inscription. He was thus a formidable opponent. He was probably the Gashmu mentioned in 6.6. His interest in opposing the building of the walls of Jerusalem may well have been his fear that Jerusalem would become a trading centre which would rival his own trading activities. Trading rights were very carefully guarded. And besides, the fortifying of Jerusalem could only add another political power in the area, especially in view of the presence of Nehemiah, a king’s favourite. A weak Judah was favoured by all three.
Notice the deliberate way in which Nehemiah demonstrates how the opposition to what he had come to do was gradually increasing. In verse 10 Sanballat and Tobiah had been grieved at the thought of his arrival to assist the Jews, now they were accumulating friends and actually mocking what he was seeking to achieve and suggesting that it was treason. (In 4.1-3 we will learn of their growing anger at what is being achieved, and in 4.7-8 they will actually plan violence against the builders).
2.19 ‘But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you do? Will you rebel against the king?”
Thus when Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem learned of the plans they jeered at them, not believing that they could achieve them. But they also took steps to ensure that the men of Judah knew that in their view this was nothing less than rebellion against the king of Persia by asking, ‘Will you rebel against the king?’. As the rebuilding of the walls was not seen as a political activity in the eyes of the King of Persia, but rather as a safeguarding of the sepulchres of the ancestors of his favourite, Nehemiah, they may well not have been warned that what was afoot had the backing of the king. They had previously prevented the rebuilding of the walls by warning the king of the danger of fortifying Jerusalem (Ezra 4.11-23), and they probably hoped that this reminder would bring the rebuilding to a halt. No one would wish to be thought of as rebelling against the king. But they had not reckoned on the influence that Nehemiah knew that he had with the king, nor on his confidence as one of the great men of Persia. Nor did they realise the depth of his faith in God. It is this last which is brought out in is reply.
2.20 ‘Then I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us. Therefore we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, nor right, nor cult-participation rights, in Jerusalem.”
In his reply Nehemiah does not refer to the fact that he had the king’s permission. He knew that they were already aware of that. Rather he cites the fact that ‘the God Of Heaven’ was on the side of His people. It was He Who would prosper them in the task ahead. On those grounds therefore they would press ahead. As servants of the God of Heaven they would arise and build, whilst their adversaries were to recognise that Jerusalem was none of their business. They had no portion there. It was now a separate district. They had no political rights there. It belonged to Judah. They had no right to participation in the cult there. Jerusalem was for YHWH, and for His faithful people.
The Rebuilding Of The Walls Of Jerusalem (3.1-32).
It is difficult to overemphasise the huge impact of what was about to be accomplished. A city which was largely uninhabited, lay partially in ruins, had no means of protection, and was making little impact on the surrounding area (apart from its significance to the returnees themselves as the site of the Temple), was about to arise from the ashes and become a powerful influence throughout the area. And it would all begin with the rebuilding of its walls.
That this was clearly seen by all comes out both in the ferocity of the opposition that was provoked, and in the dedication of God’s people to the task in hand. On the one hand were those who strove to prevent it by any means possible, including propaganda, threats and violence (2.19; 4.1-3, 7-8), and on the other were those who were prepared, as depicted in this chapter, to set aside personal interests, and work together in spite of their differences, in order to ensure the completion of the work. It is a picture in microcosm of the work of God’s people in the world today, divided by differences of viewpoint, but each with their appointed portion of the wall to complete. Nor would the building work continue without cost. Many of those who were involved in the building would consequently find themselves in debt (5.3-5), all would have to be on constant alert against the dangers of threatened violence (4.17-18), and their families would meanwhile have to struggle on alone in the face of adversity.
This chapter, which might at first appear simply to be a list of names, brings out the intensity of what was involved. For in it we have described to us details of those who were involved in the building of the wall, both in their unity and in their diversity, and how they worked together as one in their fulfilment of their God-given task. Each group was given its task to do and were left to get on with it. What is only a name to us represented a gang of dedicated builders. This mention of them individually can be seen as an indication that they were all observed by God. Divinely speaking it reminds us that God has a place for all of us so that we can participate in His purposes, and that He is individually interested in what each of us is doing. Humanly speaking it is the record of a great achievement in which many disparate elements united to achieve a common purpose. It was probably written by the leaders of those involved as they indicated their pride in their achievement (note the use of the third person and the lack of Nehemiah’s usual pithy comments), while being later incorporated by Nehemiah into his memoirs.
That it was a great achievement cannot be doubted. The necessary material had to be obtained and shaped, no doubt including making use of the stones from the old wall; there had to be full cooperation where one piece of wall connected with the next; and food and drink had to be continually supplied to the workers, no doubt by interested womenfolk. It was a combined operation on a large scale carried out voluntarily by all involved.
It also provides interesting information about where the returnees dwelt in the land round about. It is a reminder that they were not just in a little cluster around Jerusalem. At least five administrative areas have been detected on the basis of the words ‘ruler of’; Jerusalem (verse 9), Beth-hakkerrem (verse 14 - 5 kilometres (3 miles) north of Bethlehem), Mizpah (verse 15 - 7 kilometres (4 miles) south of Bethel), Beth-zur (verse 16 - 6 kilometres (4 miles) north of Hebron), and Keilah (verse 17 - in the Shephelah, 16 kilometres (10 miles) north east of Lachish). We also have mention of the men of Jericho (verse 2), Gibeon and Mizpah (verse 7), and the men of Tekoa (verses 5, 27). Tekoa was 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Bethlehem.
We must not underestimate the enormity of the task achieved. Furthermore, it was achieved in a remarkably short space of time such that it took even their enemies by surprise. They probably worked in shifts continually day and night. The chapter certainly bears testimony to Nehemiah’s organisational capabilities and his ability to enthuse disparate elements to join together in a common task, although, having said that, there can be no doubt that the allocation of the work was determined in consultation with interested parties, for it displays knowledge that Nehemiah could not have gained in so short a time without such consultation. We will note, for example, how work was allocated in accordance with people’s interests, whilst responsibility for many sections appears to have been in the hands of those directly involved with those areas, and the way in which the work progressed confirms their capability. They were wisely chosen.
The change to the third person in the narrative suggests that the record is based, not on Nehemiah’s memory of events, but on a contemporary record made by those involved. They wanted it recording as a reminder of the work done, and the participation of all involved. And this is confirmed by the fact that it describes the bolts, bars and doors of the gate as being put in place, whereas in 6.1 Nehemiah states that he had not yet hung the doors. This was therefore clearly a later record, incorporated by Nehemiah into a contemporary record of his own. But that it was made an essential part of Nehemiah’s own record is quite clear from the fact that otherwise we would have no record of the building of the wall which was a main purpose for which he had come. Also from the fact that it fits so neatly into the narrative.
3.1 ‘Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they rebuilt the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up its doors; even to the tower of Hammeah they sanctified it, to the tower of Hananel.’
Even the greatest were involved in the project. Eliashib the High Priest (the grandson of Jeshua - 12.10-11), together with his brother priests, set to work with a will on the portion allotted to them. And as each part was built they sanctified it (set it apart to God as holy). The priests were genuinely grateful to God for the fact that the wall was being built, as well they might be, for it protected their Temple. ‘They rose up -- and built.’ Thus we see them fulfilling what had been decided on earlier, ‘we will arise and build’ (2.20). The narrative deliberately begins with the activity of the priests, (it does not commence at the north east corner, see verse 32). Central to the whole description is that the house of God is being protected, along with the city that it made holy.
The priests apparently commenced work at the Sheep Gate (near the north east corner), but the work would no doubt also continue on at the same time along the whole of their section on the northern wall, as far as the Tower of Hammeah (The Hundred) and the Tower of Hananel. These may well have been the Towers of the great fortress protecting the northern approach.
‘They rebuilt the Sheep Gate and sanctified it.’ This sanctifying of it is prior to the setting up of its doors, which would have occurred some time later (after 6.1). It would be second nature to the priests to sanctify their work as they went along in view of its proximity to the Temple. The Sheep Gate was probably the gate through which sacrificial sheep were brought to the Temple. It was in the north-east corner of the city wall. Compare John 5.2.
They also worked from there westward and rebuilt the Tower of The Hundred, and sanctified it, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. The Tower of The Hundred is not mentioned anywhere else (except in 12.39), but was clearly seen as of importance in relation to the Temple as it was specifically sanctified. (The ‘it’ cannot refer to the wall as it is the wrong gender). The Tower of Hananel is mentioned in 12.39, and is referred to as an identifying feature in Jeremiah 31.38 and Zechariah 14.10. It was possibly the northernmost point of Jerusalem.
3.2a ‘And next to him built the men of Jericho.’
‘And next to him --’ is a feature of the next few verses up to verse 12. From then on, a few verses having intervened, it is ‘after him --’ (verses 16-31), although ‘next to him’ occurs in verses 17, 19. It has been suggested that ‘next to him’ indicated that they were following the line of previous walls, whereas ‘after him’ indicated a new line for the eastern wall at the top of the eastern ridge, a line made necessary by the rubble from the previous devastation. ‘Next to him’ in verses 17, 19 may be a deliberate attempt to indicate the closeness of the relationship of the Levites mentioned there.
‘The men of Jericho’ were among the returnees (Nehemiah 7.36; Ezra 2.34) although there described as ‘the sons of Jericho’. They had now come to Jerusalem to assist in the building of the wall. This would be at no small sacrifice. It was clearly seen as important for the prestige of the whole area. The Jordan, by Jericho, may well have marked the eastern border of the new district of Judah.
3.2b ‘And next to them built Zaccur the son of Imri.’
Next to them built Zaccur, the son of Imri. He rebuilt the next section as far as the Fish Gate. Clearly Zaccur did not build on his own. This no doubt refers to him as including the fairly large household or wider family which were his as a prominent and comparatively wealthy man. His whole wider family would be involved in building. It was possibly this Zaccur who was a sealant of Nehemiah’s covenant (Nehemiah 10.12), in which case he was a Levite, and probably identifiable with the father of Hanan (Nehemiah 13.13).
Zaccur was a fairly common Jewish name, previously being that of the father of Shammua the Reubenite spy (Numbers 13.4); of a Simeonite (1 Chronicles 4.26); and of two other Levites: (a) a Merarite (1 Chronicles 24.27); and (b) a "son" of Asaph (1 Chronicles 25.2, 10; Nehemiah 12:35).
3.3 And the sons of Hassenaah rebuilt the fish gate; they laid its beams, and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars’.
The Fish Gate itself was repaired by ‘the sons of Hassenaaah’. Hassenaah (Senaah with the definite article ‘ha’) is probably a place name, referring to the place to which the sons of Senaah had returned (Ezra 2.35; Nehemiah 7.38). These returnee families, now living in Senaah, rebuilt the fish gate. This gate may well have been near the north-west corner of the walls, possibly a little to the south of it, although we cannot identify it specifically. Compare 12.39; Zephaniah 1.10; 2 Chronicles 33.14. It presumably led into the fish market.
It must be recognised that the repairing of a gateway was not simply a matter of preparing a place to hang the gates, but would include the construction and repair of guardrooms, administrative rooms and storerooms within the gateway.
‘They laid its beams, and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars’. The setting up of the doors, bolts and bars would have been done after the gateway had been rebuilt, and therefore after 6.1. See 7.1. It is a recurring idea in connection with gateways (verses 13, 14, 15). The gateway having been rebuilt, the doors would later be set up, and bolts and bars would be provided so as to bar the gateways. Note the emphasis placed on security. This was a main reason for the building of the walls.
We learn here a recurring lesson of life in that having rebuilt our spiritual gateway with God’s help we are to set up doors, bars and bolts to keep out the Enemy (compare Ephesians 6.10-18). It is not spiritual to be careless.
3.4a ‘And next to them repaired Meremoth the son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz.’
The verb now changes from ‘rebuilt’ to ‘repaired, made strong’. This may indicate that in this section the walls were in a better state of preservation. But as it is also used of the building of new walls later in the chapter it is possibly simply a general term for building.
This important northern section was repaired under the oversight of Meremoth, the son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz. It is probable that he is the same Meremoth, son of Uriah, son of Hazzoz, who is described as being in charge of a group of priestly builders in 3.21 with regard to ‘a second portion’. Thus he was clearly seen as very reliable, having oversight over two portions. It has been suggested that 3.17 may suggest that that Meremoth was a Levite, which might discount the connection, but that interpretation is not necessary.
One question is whether this Meremoth is to be identified with Meremoth the son of Uriah who was one of the treasurers to whom Ezra handed over the treasures that he had brought from Persia (Ezra 8.33). There he was called ‘the priest’, i.e. one of the chief priests. While that Meremoth is not also further called ‘the son of Hakkoz’ there is a good likelihood that the identity can be maintained, even though it be admitted that both names were popular ones. This would make Meremoth a very important man, and would serve to confirm the close association of the ministry of Ezra with the time of Nehemiah. The problem with this identification is that the sons of Hakkoz had not earlier been accepted as priests because they could not prove their genealogy (Ezra 2.62), but it is quite probable that by this time that had been remedied. In 10.6 a Meremoth is listed as eleventh among the priests, but is seen as important enough to be called on as a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah. This may well be the same Meremoth. In Nehemiah 12.3 a Meremoth, (clearly not the same one), was one of the chiefs of the priests who had come up with Zerubbabel. This Meremoth the son of Uriah may have been his grandson.
3.4b ‘And next to them repaired Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabel.’
Meshullam was a very popular Jewish name. It appears that this Meshullam later gave his daughter to be wife of Jehohanan, the son of Tobiah, suggesting that, at least by that stage, he was favourably inclined towards Tobiah, who was an adversary of Nehemiah’s and opposed to the building of the wall (2.19). But however that may be, Meshullam here, along with his wider family, plays his full part in the building of the wall. His presence is, however, a reminder of the divisions which grew up among the descendants of the returnees as they continued to settle in the land (Nehemiah 6.17-19). He was not the only one to be so involved. Many of the aristocracy became friendly with Tobiah and were in constant communication with him (6.17), reminding us that not all was straightforward for Nehemiah, even among the descendants of the returnees. But differences had to be set aside when the walls of Jerusalem had to be rebuilt.
Another Meshullam, son of Besodeia, helped to repair the gate of the old city (verse 6) whilst even another ‘Meshullam, the son of Berechiah’, repaired a further part of the wall (verse 30). This latter might be seen as identifiable with the one here, but as there is no mention of him as building ‘a second portion’ (contrast verses 11, 19-21, 24, 30), it may simply be a coincidence of names.
3.4c ‘And next to them repaired Zadok the son of Baana.’
The next section was repaired under the supervision of Zadok ben-Baana. This was probably the same Zadok who was also one of the signatories to the covenant made with Nehemiah by the princes, priests and Levites of Israel (Nehemiah 10.21), although the name was a admittedly very popular one. We do not know whether the Zadok mentioned in 13.13 is identical with him.
3.5 ‘And next to them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles did not put their necks to the work of their lords (or ‘of their Lord’).’
Next to Zadok and his wider family were the Tekoites. However, their leadership refused to be involved. They were stiffnecked. They refused to take on themselves the yoke ‘of their lords’. That may signify Nehemiah and the nobles as ‘their lords’, or it may signify the Lord God as ‘their Lord’ (using an intensive plural). Tekoa was a sub-region of Beth-zur, south of Bethlehem (Bethlehem was probably in the region of Beth-hakkerem) Their leaders may well not have been descendants of the returnees, but may have been of those who had remained in the land. It may be another reminder of the tensions still remaining among the people in the district of Judah. On the other hand they might simply have felt themselves above this kind of work, while willingly offering their townsfolk for the task. It is clear, however, that Nehemiah did not view their attitude with anything but disfavour. He felt that all should be willing to do what they could for the Lord.
3.6 ‘And Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the gate of the old (city or wall). They laid its beams, and set up its doors, and its bolts, and its bars.’
The next gate following the Fish Gate was the ‘gate of the old’, that is, either of the old city or of the old wall. It was jointly repaired by Joiada ben-Paseah and Meshullam ben-Besodeia and their families. Both were popular Jewish names. A son of Eliashib the High Priest was also called Joiada. The gateway and the gatehouses would be repaired first, with the beams being put in place ready for the gates, then later on (after 6.1) the gates with their bolts and bars would be hung. Note that once again trusting in God does not prevent the need for bolts and bars. We are not called on to be foolish. This gate was near the north-west corner of the city.
3.7 ‘And next to them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite, and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon, and of Mizpah, which pertains to the seat of the governor of Beyond the River.’
The part of the wall following the Gate of the Old City/Wall was repaired by Melatiah the Gibeonite, and Jadon the Meronothite, who supervised the men of Gibeon and Mizpah. As Melatiah was a Gibeonite, Meronoth was presumably connected with Mizpah. The Mizpah in question is possibly identified as being the place where the Governor of Beyond The River had his residence when he visited Judah (‘the seat of the Governor’). Or it may be that ‘towards the seat of the governor of Beyond the River’ refers to the part of the wall being repaired, it being by the Governor’s Jerusalem residence. Either way it is probable that Mizpah is the Mizpah of 2 Kings 25.23; Jeremiah 40.5-12.
All the work described above was on the northern wall, and it is around this point that we move to the work on the western wall.
3.8a ‘Next to him repaired Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths.’
The next part of the wall was repaired by the family or guild of Uzziel ben Harhaiah, who were goldsmiths. The name of the family guild head is intended to include both his own wider family and the guild of goldsmiths who would all assist in building. In Jerusalem each occupation would have its guild, and they would tend to live together in their own ‘quarter’ where their products were sold. This part of the wall probably sheltered ‘the quarter of the goldsmiths’, where gold was moulded and then sold in the gold market. Note, however, that in verse 32 we learn of goldsmiths involved in the Temple area, no doubt on religious artefacts.
3.8b ‘And next to him repaired Hananiah one of the perfumers, and they left out part of Jerusalem even to the broad wall.’
Next to the quarter of the goldsmiths was the quarter of the perfumers where perfume was made and traded (or ‘of the apothecaries’). A leading light of the guild was Hananiah, a well recognisable Jewish name. This part of the wall appears to have been built leaving outside the wall a section of Jerusalem, which had possibly grown up subsequently since the previous wall was built. ‘They’ may indicate the perfumers, or it may indicate a number of those previously mentioned.
‘Even to the broad wall.’ This suggests that there was a section of Jerusalem which was left outside the walls going ‘as far as the broad wall’, a no doubt recognisable landmark. If this omitted section had never previously been included within the walls of Jerusalem we can understand why they would not want to build a new wall enclosing it due to time pressure. Rather they repaired the old one which left it outside. The work had to be done quickly. We do not know why the broad wall was called ‘the broad wall’. It may have been because it was at the widest part of the city, or it may have been because it had previously had to be rebuilt and had been made broader in order to increase its strength. Sites on the western hill (outside the wall) have been found to contain iron age remains, which would tie in with what we find here.
3.9 ‘And next to them repaired Rephaiah the son of Hur, the ruler of half the district of Jerusalem.’
‘Them’ refers to the perfumers. Next to the perfumers repaired Rephaiah, and the residents of half the district of Jerusalem over whom he was ruler. Rephaiah is a common Jewish name used elsewhere of a member of David's family (1 Chronicles 3.21); of a captain of Simeon (1 Chronicles 4.42); of a grandson of Issachar (1 Chronicles 7.2), and of a descendant of Saul (1 Chronicles 9.43; in 1 Chronicles 8.37 called "Raphah").
‘The ruler (plch, an unusual word for ruler, possibly cognate with Akkadian pilku = region) of half the district (‘circle’) of Jerusalem.’ This district would include land outside the city of Jerusalem as well as in it. The mention of five rulers of districts in the passage is a reminder of the fact that Judah was split up into administrative districts. (The others mentioned are Beth-hakkerrem (verse 14 - 5 kilometres (3 miles) north of Bethlehem), Mizpah (verse 15 - 7 kilometres (4 miles) south of Bethel), Beth-zur (verse 16 - 6 kilometres (4 miles) north of Hebron), and Keilah (verse 17 - in the Shephelah, 16 kilometres (10 miles) north east of Lachish). The non-mention of other such rulers of districts may either suggest that their rulers were not sympathetic to the returnees, or that they were simply not sympathetic towards the rebuilding of the wall.
3.10a ‘And next to them repaired Jedaiah the son of Harumaph, and over against his house.’
This suggests that Jedaiah was an important man who had a large house in that part of Jerusalem. It confirms that where possible those who had residences in Jerusalem built the section of the wall in which they were most interested (as with the goldsmiths and the perfumers). This may, of course, have been at their own suggestion, but it would certainly encourage them to ensure that the work was done properly.
Jedaiah, which means ‘Yah knows’, was another popular name. ‘Sons of Jedaiah’ had previously arrived with the first batch of exiles a hundred years earlier (7.39; Ezra 2.36). Thus Jedaiah was a family name. It was the name of a priest in Jerusalem after the Exile (1 Chronicles 9.10; 24.7); a Jedaiah was found among the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel (11.10; 12.6, 19), and another priest was also called Jedaiah ( 12.7, 21). A Jedaiah was one of those previously called on by Zechariah to fashion a crown for the symbolic crowning of Joshua the High Priest as ‘the Branch’ (Zechariah 6.10, 14).
3.10b ‘And next to him repaired Hattush the son of Hashabneiah.’
Next to the household of Jedaiah, repaired Hattush, son of Hashabneiah, and his household. Here was another prominent man, made responsible for the repair of this part of the wall.
A Hattush was one of those who signed the covenant with Nehemiah (10.4), but that may have been the prominent Hattush of the sons of David who had returned with Ezra (Ezra 8.2). A Hattush, the son of Shemaiah, of the sons of David, is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3.22. These are probably not connected with this Hattush, who was a son of Hashabneiah. Hashabneiah was the name of a Levite mentioned in connection with the prayer preceding the signing of the covenant (9.5), but again there was probably no connection.
3.11 ‘Malchijah the son of Harim, and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab, repaired another portion, and the tower of the furnaces.’
Two further prominent men and their households, Malchijah and Hasshub, repaired the next section. This included the tower of the furnaces (or ‘ovens’). This was possibly the quarters occupied by the bakers. The tower of the furnaces is also mentioned in 12.38, lying between the Valley Gate and the broad wall. The sons of Harim and the sons of Pahath-moab were listed with the returnees (Ezra 2.6, 32).
Malchijah, the son of Harim, is mentioned elsewhere as having taken a foreign wife, and having to put her away at the behest of Ezra because of her idolatry (Ezra 10.31). She was probably from a prominent family and the affair no doubt caused some resentment against the returnees. This confirms that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries (compare also on verse 4a). Two other Malchijahs, besides the son of Harim, had also taken foreign wives (Ezra 10.25)
Malchijah (Yah is my king) was a prominent Israelite name. Two other Malchijahs were involved in the building of the wall, one the son of Rechab, ruler of Bethhecceram (3.14), and the other a goldsmith (3.31). A Malchijah is mentioned as one of those at Ezra’s left hand during the reading of the Law (8.4), and a Malchijah was a signatory of Nehemiah’s covenant (10.3). Identification of who was who is impossible.
The name was also that of a Levite, descendant of Gershom, who was one of those whom David set over the "service of song" in worship (1 Chronicles 6.40). It was that of the head of the 5th course of priests (1 Chronicles 24.9). It was that of the father of Pashhur (Nehemiah 11.12; Jeremiah 21.1; 38.1), an ancestor of Adaiah, the latter being one of those who took up his dwelling in Jerusalem at the behest of Nehemiah (11.12). It was that of a priest, who was a singer at the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah (12.42).
Hasshub was also a prominent name. It was the name of another prominent builder of the wall (3.23), and of one of the signatories to Nehemiah’s covenant who was one of ‘the chiefs of the people’. It was also the name of a Levite chief (11.15; 1 Chronicles 9.14).
3.12 ‘And next to him repaired Shallum the son of Hallohesh, the ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, he and his daughters.’
In charge of the repairing of the next section of the wall were Shallum, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem (compare verse 9 for the ruler of the other half), ‘and his daughters’. The daughters no doubt took oversight rather than doing the actual building, (they were chief’s daughters). They would inherit his name and property, and can be compared with the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36.1-8). They are the only women described as involving themselves in the work. It is, however, extremely probable that others played their part in some way in a more humble fashion.
Shallum was such a popular name that it is hard to know where to begin. It was the name of the youngest son of Naphtali (1 Chronicles 7.13), called "Shillem" in Genesis 46.24; Numbers 26.49, who went into Egypt with Jacob. It was the name of a descendant of Simeon, being the son of Shaul and the father of Mibsam (1 Chronicles 4.25). He lived in the mid-second millennium BC. It was the name of a son of Sismai, descended through the female line from Sheshan of the tribe of Judah (1 Chronicles 2.34, 40, 41), who lived later in the second millennium BC. It was the name of a son of Kore, a porter of the sanctuary during the reign of David (1 Chronicles 9.17, 19, 31; compare Ezra 2.42; Nehemiah 7.45). The name is also written as "Me-shullam" in Nehemiah 12.25, "Me-shelem-iah" in 1 Chronicles 26.1, 2, 9, and "Shelemiah" in 1 Chronicles 26.14. He lived about 1050 BC.
It was the name of a son of Zadok, who as such was the father of Hilkiah, a high priest and ancestor of Ezra the scribe (1 Chronicles 6.12, 13; Ezra 7.2). It was the name of the fifteenth king of Israel, the son of Josiah (Jeremiah 22.11; 2 Chronicles 34.22) who took the throne name of Jehoahaz II (2 Chronicles 36.1). It was the name of a son of Bani, a priest who had taken a foreign wife and was compelled by Ezra the scribe to put her away (Ezra 10.42). It was the name of the father of Jehizkiah, an Ephraimite in the time of Ahaz king of Israel (2 Chronicles 28.12). It was the name of the husband of the prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22.14; 2 Chronicles 34.22). He was the keeper of the sacred wardrobe and was probably the uncle of Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 32.7; compare Jeremiah 35.4). It was the name of a Levite who was a porter at the time of Ezra (Ezra 10.24).
3.13 ‘Hanun, and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the valley gate. They built it, and set up its doors, its bolts and its bars, and a thousand cubits of the wall to the dung gate.’
Next to Shallum and his daughters were Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah. They repaired the Valley Gate (from which Nehemiah initially went out to view the walls. See 2.13; 2 Chronicles 26.9), and the wall for the next fifteen hundred feet (almost five hundred metres), going as far as the Dung Gate, which was at the southernmost part of the walls. The Dung Gate was the gate through which rubbish was taken out in order to be flung into the valley below. It was by the Pool of Siloam, and may well be the Potsherd Gate of Jeremiah 19.2. Responsibility for such a large section may suggest that the wall in that section was in a fairly good state of repair.
Hanun, which means ‘favoured’ or ‘pitied’, was also the name of one of the six sons of Zalaph who assisted in repairing the East wall (3.30), as well as being the name of a son and successor of Nahash, king of Ammon, who dishonoured David’s messengers and rued the consequences (2 Samuel 10.1 ff; 1 Chronicles 19.1 ff).
Zanoah was a town in the Judean Shephelah (lowlands), grouped with Eshtaol, Zorah and Ashnah (Joshua 15.34). It was 3 kilometres (2 miles) south of Bethshemesh and was reoccupied by Jews after the Exile (11.30). Along with Jericho it indicates something of the area in which the returnees settled (from Jericho to the Shephelah).
3.14 ‘And Malchijah, the son of Rechab, the ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He built it, and set up its doors its bolts and its bars.’
The Dung Gate itself was repaired by a second Malchijah, who was the son of Rechab, and was ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem. He and his helpers rebuilt the whole gatehouse, making it ready to receive the doors, bars and bolts which were later put in place. It must be seen as possible that the short length of wall between the Dung Gate and the Fountain Gate, going round the southernmost point, had been left standing, thus not requiring repair.
3.15 ‘And Shallun the son of Col-hozeh, the ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the fountain gate. He built it, and covered it, and set up its doors, its bolts and its bar, and the wall of the pool of Shelah by the king’s garden, even to the stairs that go down from the city of David.’
The section after the Dung Gate was repaired by Shallun, ruler of the district of Mizpah, along with his helpers. This included the Fountain or Spring Gate which was fairly close to the Dung Gate, and was fully repaired. Also within his responsibility was the wall of the Pool of Shelah by the King’s Garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David. Two gates close together (the Dung Gate and the Fountain Gate) were necessary because one was for the disposal of rubbish, whilst the other was by the King’s Garden, and led down to a water supply, possibly the King’s Pool (2.14).
The Pool of Shelah may well be the same as the Pool of Shiloah (Isaiah 8.6; the consonants are the same), possibly also the Pool of Siloam, and ‘the upper pool’ (2 Kings 18.17; Isaiah 7.3; 36.2). It was within the walls, and supplied by Hezekiah’s tunnel (2 Kings 20.20), but watered the King’s Garden, possibly situated on the hillside leading down from the gate, by means of a conduit as the water also supplied the King’s Pool. It was by this conduit that the Assyrian generals stood as they addressed the inhabitants of the city (2 Kings 18.17), possibly on the stairs that go down from the city of David, which may have led to this pool. The geography is not, however, certain.
‘Ruler of Mizpah.’ Compare verse 19 where Ezer is also ruler of Mizpah. But this is not difficult to understand for there were a number of Mizpahs, which simply means ‘watchtower’. The main Mizpah was a Benjamite city north of Jerusalem, near Gibeon and Ramah and it was where Gedaliah, the governor appointed by Nebuchadnezzar after the destruction of Jerusalem, ruled and was assassinated (2 Kings 25.22-26; Jeremiah 40.6; 41.1-2). There was another Mizpah in the Shephelah not far from Lachish (see Joshua 15.38-39). Alternately one may have ruled the city of Mizpah, while the other ruled the surrounding district, also called Mizpah.
3.16 ‘After him repaired Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, the ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, up to the place over against the sepulchres of David, and up to the pool that was made (or the artificial pool, i.e. man-made), and up to the house of the mighty men (warriors).’
From now on we have ‘after him’ (3.16-31) in contrast with ‘next to him’ (3.2-12). But see verses 17, 19. ‘Next to him’ is used mainly on the northern and western wall, ‘after him’ on the eastern wall, with neither being used going round the southernmost point from the Valley Gate to the Fountain Gate. This may simply be for literary reasons.
This is a general description of the section repaired by Nehemiah, the son of Azbuk, who was ruler of the half district of Beth-zur. Here we have one of two other Nehemiahs (compare 7.7; Ezra 2.2). He was clearly a man of importance. Beth-zur was six kilometres (four miles) north of Hebron, identified as the mound of Khirbet et-Tubeiqah. Occupied and fortified by the Hyksos, it was destroyed by the Egyptians and left deserted and it was thus not mentioned by Joshua. But shortly thereafter it was rebuilt and became a flourishing Israelite city. It was occupied throughout the monarchy but suffered at the hands of the Babylonians and was mainly abandoned until being occupied by the returnees. This Nehemiah was ruler of half of the district around Beth-zur.
The section of the wall repaired by this Nehemiah and his helpers is identified by three apparently well known landmarks (although sadly not known to us), the sepulchres of David, the Man-made Pool, and the House of the Mighty Men/warriors. Many see it as a wholly new section of the wall, built higher up the slope because the wall at this point had been so thoroughly demolished that its rubble made building on the old line impossible. Compare how Nehemiah had been hindered in his examination of the wall at this point, being unable to pass along because of the rubble (2.14-15). This claim gains some support from archaeology.
The sepulchres of David (compare 2 Chronicles 32.33) are unidentified. David was ‘buried in (by) the city of David’ (1 Kings 2.10) a description which places the sepulchres in this part of Jerusalem, the ‘city of David’ being the ancient Jebusite fortress (which was inside the walls at this time but was outside the walls existing in the time of Jesus and the present walls). But whether the sepulchres were within the walls, or on the slopes outside we cannot be sure. Long, horizontal tunnels have been discovered in the area, but they may have had other uses, and some would argue that Semitic practise, and especially Israelite practise, is against the sepulchres being within the actual city. Such would render it ‘unclean’. Josephus tells us that they were plundered by the Hasmoneans and by Herod. Then they were desecrated and destroyed in the time of Bar Kochba, being thereafter lost to sight. Other identifications can be rejected. They are in the wrong area.
Unless ‘the Man-made Pool’ was the King’s Pool we have no way of identifying it, whilst the situation of ‘the house of the Mighty Men’ (the Barracks) is unknown. It may have originally been utilised by David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23.8 ff.).
3.17a ‘After him repaired the Levites:
It would appear that this next section of the wall, up to verse 19 (or 20) was repaired by Levites who had become involved in administration. This may have been because they were looked to for leadership after the devastation of the land by the Babylonians. Note the recurrence of ‘next to him’ twice, probably indicating their close relationship, and the reference to ‘their brothers’.
3.17b ‘Rehum the son of Bani.’
Rehum, son of Bani, was clearly a man of importance needing no further introduction. He and his household repaired a part of the wall beyond the Barracks, a section of the wall which led up to the High Priest’s palace (verse 20). He may well have been a descendant of the Rehum mentioned in Ezra 2.2 as one of the ten important men who returned with Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel. (Although that Rehum may have been one of the chief priests who arrived with Zerubbabel - 12.2). A Rehum was a signatory to Nehemiah’s covenant (10.25).
Bani was also the name of a Levite who signed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.13), and it was in fact the name of two Levites who are mentioned in connection with Temple worship in Ezra’s time (9.4, 5). Uzzi, son of Bani, would later be an overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem (11.22).
The name Bani was also given to a Gadite, who was one of David's mighty men (2 Samuel 23.36); to a Levite whose son was appointed for service in the tabernacle in David's time (1 Chronicles 6.46); to a Judahite whose son lived in Jerusalem after the exile (1 Chronicles 9.4); to a family head whose descendants came back with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2.10) and had taken idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.29); to a man who had taken an idolatrous foreign wife (Ezra 10.38), whose brothers ‘the sons of Bani’ had also taken idolatrous foreign wives; to a leader of the people who signed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.14). It was thus a very common name making identifications difficult.
3.17c ‘Next to him repaired Hashabiah, the ruler of half the district of Keilah, for his district.’
Next to Rehum operated Hashabiah along with men from Keilah, the district over half of which Hashabiah was ruler. This may be the Hashabiah who signed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.11), and was one of the chiefs of the Levites mentioned in 12.24. The other half of Keilah was ruled over by his fellow-Levite, Bavvai, who was repairing the next section (verse 18).
The name Hashabiah also applied to a Levite who dwelt in Jerusalem at the time of Nehemiah (11.15); to a Levite whom Ezra induced to return from exile with him (Ezra 8.19); to one of the twelve priests set apart by Ezra to take care of the gold, the silver, and the vessels of the temple on their return from exile (Ezra 8.24); to a Levite who was the grandfather of Uzzi, an overseer of Levites in Jerusalem (11.22); and to a priest who was head of a father’s house in the days of Joiakim, son of Joshua the High Priest (12.21). Any connection of any of these with Hashabiah the ruler is tentative in the extreme.
More generally the name applied to two Levites of the family of Merari (1 Chronicles 6.45; 9.14); to a son of Jeduthun (1 Chronicles 25.3); to a Hebronite chief of a clan of warriors who had charge of West Jordan in the interests of YHWH and the king of Israel in the time of David (1 Ch 26.30); to a Levite who was a "ruler" (1 Chronicles 27.17); and to one of the Levite chiefs in the time of Josiah, who gave liberally toward the sacrifices (2 Chronicles 35.9).
Keilah was a town in the Shephelah (Joshua 15.43), possibly the Kelti of the Amarna letters. David relieved it from the pressure of the Philistines in Saul’s time, but having done so had to leave because he could not trust the inhabitants not to hand him over to Saul (1 Samuel 23.1-13). It is probably now Khirbet Qila which is on a hill commanding the ascent to Hebron south from Socoh.
3.18 ‘After him repaired their brothers, Bavvai the son of Henadad, the ruler of half the district of Keilah.’
The next section of the wall was repaired by ‘their brothers’, that is the remainder of the men of Keilah, under Bavvai the son of Henadad, ruler of the half district of Keilah. It may well have been his brother Binnui and his household who repaired the wall further on (verse 24).
Henadad was a Levite family name (Ezra 3.9). Binnui of the sons of Henadad signed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.9).
3.19 ‘And next to him repaired Ezer the son of Jeshua, the ruler of Mizpah, another portion, opposite the ascent to the armoury at the turning (of the wall).’
‘Next to him’, as in verse 17, may be intended to indicate the close relationship between the Levites as they worked in association.
Thus next to Bavvai and the men of Keilah repaired Ezer and the men of Mizpeh. They repaired the portion opposite the ascent to the armoury ‘at the turning’ or ‘at the angle’ or ‘by the buttress’ or ‘by the escarpment’. The meaning of the word is uncertain and probably means ‘a place where something is cut off or ends abruptly’. It was no doubt easily identifiable at the time. The same word occurs in verses 20, 24, 25. The armoury would be within the walls at the point where there was an angle. A further ‘angle’ to the wall is mentioned in verse 24. Perhaps the wall angled outwards, and then back in again.
Ezer was ruler of Mizpah. See on verse 15. An Ezer (meaning ‘help’) was also a musician in one of the large companies appointed by Nehemiah to give thanks at the dedication of the wall (12.42). Elsewhere it is the name of a Horite chief (Genesis 36.21; 1 Chronicles 1.38); a Judahite (1 Chronicles 4.4); an Ephraimite, slain by men from Gath (1 Chronicles 7.21); and a Gadite who followed David while in exile as a result of the wrath of Saul (1 Chronicles 12.9). It was a regular Jewish name.
3.20 ‘After him Baruch the son of Zabbai earnestly (strivingly) repaired another portion, from the turning (of the wall) to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest.’
It is an open question as to whether Baruch is the last of the list of ‘the Levites’ (verse 17) or is in fact introducing groups of priests responsible for the wall which was by the house of Eliashib the High Priest. Eliashib himself had take responsibility for the part of the northern wall near the Temple area (3.1) and was not therefore available to work here. Compare how in verse 21 Meremoth is a priest, and how in verse 22 ‘the priests, the men of the Plain (countryside)’ operated. Note also that a priest named Baruch signed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.6). In view of the close connection with the house/palace of the High Priest all this may suggest that it is most likely that Baruch was a priest. From this point on the line of the wall is defined mainly in terms of people’s houses. So Baruch and his helpers repaired the portion from the ‘turning’ or buttress, to the High Priest’s palace.
The word translated ‘earnestly’ usually indicates ‘burning with anger’. It may indicate ‘passionately, burning with zeal’, or it may suggest a particularly difficult part of the wall which required huge effort and resulted in some exasperation, something well remembered.
Baruch’s namesake was scribe to Jeremiah and greatly assisted him in his work (Jeremiah 32.12; 36:4 ff.; 36:10 ff.). Another Baruch is also mentioned in 11.5 as father of Maaseiah, and son of Colhozeh, a descendant of Perez, the son of Judah. Maaseiah willingly took up residence in a sparsely populated Jerusalem at Nehemiah’s request.
3.21 ‘After him repaired Meremoth the son of Uriah the son of Hakkoz another portion, from the door of the house of Eliashib even to the end of the house of Eliashib.’
This Meremoth was also responsible for another section of the wall in verse 4, which see for details about him. But the section mentioned here does not appear to have been very large (it was the length of the High Priest’s house/palace). Meremoth was clearly seen by the High Priest as very reliable.
3.22 ‘And after him repaired the priests, the men of the countryside.’
Finishing off the section of the wall near the High Priest’s house were ‘the priests, the men of the countryside’ (literally ‘of the circle’. This could refer to ‘the circle of the Jordan’ compare Genesis 13.10; but see 12.28). We do not know how these were distinguished from the priests involved on the northern wall, but there would appear to have been a difference.
3.23a ‘After them repaired Benjamin and Hasshub over against their house.’
The next part of the wall was repaired by Benjamin and Hasshub. Benjamin and Hasshub may have had two houses one close to the other (i.e. each over against their house), or they may have been related and have thus shared the one large house. This is a different Hasshub from the one mentioned in verse 11. This would appear to be been a wealthy part of Jerusalem which had large houses.
The suffix is in fact singular (literally after ‘him’ or ‘it’), referring to the priests as one group.
3.23b ‘After them repaired Azariah the son of Maaseiah the son of Ananiah beside his own house.’
The next part of the wall, which was by his house, was repaired by Azariah, the son of Maaseiah and his household. The naming of two elements among his forebears suggest his importance, and probably the importance of Ananiah. Azariah was a popular Jewish name. His house must have been a large one for it is mentioned in verse 24 as a landmark. Three other Azariahs are mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah. A Levite who assisted Ezra to expound the Law (8.7); a priest who sealed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.2), and a prince of Judah mentioned in connection with the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem (12.32 ff). Ananiah (Yah has dealt graciously) was the name of a town of Benjamin mentioned in connection with Nob and Hazor (11.32), which may have been named after Ananiah. It is commonly identified with Beit Hanina, between three and four miles (six kilometres) North-Northwest from Jerusalem.
3.24 After him repaired Binnui the son of Henadad another portion, from the house of Azariah to the turning (of the wall), and to the corner.’
Binnui the son of Henadad (and brother of Bavvai - verse 18) repaired the part of the wall between the end of the house of Azariah to the next angle in the wall and then on to the corner. All this would be familiar to the early readers. Bavvai in verse 18 would appear to have been his brother.
This Binnui was also a signatory to Nehemiah’s covenant (10.9) where he is revealed as a Levite. It may be his son, who as one of the two Levites selected, aided in the reception of the gold and silver for the Temple when Ezra arrived (Ezra 8.33). By now Henadad may have been dead, or too old to work on the wall. Sons of a Henadad who were Levites (Ezra 3.9), and who was presumably a forebear of this Henadad, had arrived with Zerubbabel and helped with the building of the Temple (Ezra 3.9). It was common for names to pass down in a family.
The sons of a former Binnui had arrived with Zerubbabel (7.15; compare Ezra 2.10 where he is called Bani) but they were ‘men of Israel’ not ‘Levites’. A Binnui who was of the sons of Pachath-moab had married an idolatrous foreign wife (Ezra 10.30) as had another Binnui (Ezra 10.38). Thus it was a common name among the Jews.
3.25a Palal the son of Uzai (repaired) over against the turning (of the wall), and the tower that stands out from the upper house of the king, which is by the court of the guard.’
The next section, which was repaired (the verb is read in) by Palal the son of Uzai, was either near, or contained, a tower which was a part of the Davidic palace complex. The palace probably had a number of towers and this one is identified by its position ‘by the court of the guard’ (compare Jeremiah 32.2). This tower ‘stood out from the upper house of the king’, possibly at the southernmost end of the palace. (The palace was situated near the Temple. The complex must have been very widespread).
3.25b ‘After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh (repaired), and the Nethinim dwelt in Ophel, unto the place over against the water gate toward the east, and the tower that stands out (the projecting tower).’
The writer probably assumes that the reader will realise that where Pedaiah was repairing was the southern point of Ophel (the rising ground leading up to the Temple), and was thus where the Nephinim dwelt. His initial readers would know where the former Water Gate, and the Projecting Tower, were. Note the continuing reference to Ophel in the following verse.
The idea here may be that Pedaiah, with the Nethinim (Temple servants) who dwelt in Ophel (see Isaiah 32.14; Micah 4.8), were the ones who repaired this section. Alternatively it may simply be indicating that Pedaiah repaired the section which was adjacent to the houses of the Nethinim in Ophel. Either way he repaired as far as the place which was adjacent to the Water Gate towards the east, and as far as the projecting tower. The Water Gate gave access to the Gihon spring. It may not have been rebuilt at this stage as a consequence of the fact that access to the spring at this point was prevented by the build up of rubble from the previous destruction of the walls. This would have been mid-way up the eastern wall.
Pedaiah was the name of a man who stood by Ezra at the reading of the Torah (Nehemiah 8.4), and he may well be identical with this man. It was also the name of a Levite appointed over the treasuries of YHWH’s house (Nehemiah 13.13). A further Pedaiah ben Koliah was a Benjamite, who was forefather of one of the rulers ruling in Jerusalem as a result of its repopulation by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 11.7).
Others who were named Pedaiah were, 1) the father of Joel, who was a ruler of Western Manasseh in David’s day (1 Chronicles 27.20); 2) Pedaiah of Rumah (2 Kings 23.36), who was the father of Zebudah, Jehoiakim's mother; 3) a son of Jechoniah (Jehoiachin) while in captivity, whose sons were Zerubbabel and Shimei (1 Chronicles 3.18-19). Zerubbabel is elsewhere called the son of Shealtiel (Jechoniah’s first son) but the relationship may have been by Levirate marriage, or by adoption as heir to the throne.
The Ophel (‘swelling, rising’) was the rising ground rising up eventually to the Temple, and was a convenient place for the humbler ‘Temple Servants’ (Nethinim - see Ezra 2.43-54) to live so as to be near the Temple. The Nethinim were descended from foreigners (often prisoners of war) who had been enslaved and given by kings to serve in the Temple in a humble capacity. But their returning to Jerusalem with the returnees confirms their present pride in their position and the fact that they saw themselves as genuine Yahwists.
3.27 ‘After him the Tekoites repaired another (a second) portion, over against the great tower that stands out (projecting tower), and unto the wall of Ophel.’
The Tekoites were also involved in verse 5, which see. This is thus the second portion for which they were responsible. It was adjacent to the Projecting Tower. They repaired ‘unto the wall of Ophel’ (compare 2 Chronicles 27.3 where Jotham ‘built much on the wall of Ophel). The wall of Ophel would appear to have been an inner wall running east-west (but see 2 Chronicles 33.14).
3.28 ‘Above the horse gate repaired the priests, every one over against his own house.’
As we have seen the Nethinim (Temple Servants) dwelt at the low point of the Ophel (the ground rising towards the Temple). Now we have reached the point where the priests dwelt in Jerusalem. The portion of the wall by their houses was ‘above the Horse Gate’ (mentioned in Jeremiah 31.40), and each took responsibility for the portion adjacent to his own house.
As the Horse Gate is not said to be repaired it may well have been a part of the old devastated wall which was not being rebuilt, with the new wall being built on the higher ridge. This would explain why the new wall was ‘above the Horse Gate’, no gate now being included.
3.29a ‘After them repaired Zadok the son of Immer over against his own house.’
The next section was repaired by Zadok the son of Immer and his household, adjacent to his own house. Contrast verse 4c where Zadok the son of Baana had been involved. Being a ‘son of Immer’ may indicate his priestly descent.
Immer was the name of one of priestly courses in the time of David (1 Chronicles 24.14 compare 7.40; Ezra 2.37). ‘Sons of Immer’ had married idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.20). See also 11.13. In all these cases priestly descent was involved.
3.29b ‘And after him repaired Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the east gate.’
The next section was repaired by ‘Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the east gate.’ This was probably the east gate in the Temple, indicating that Shemaiah was a prominent Levite and a temple gate-keeper. This distinguishes him from the Shemaiah, son of Shechaniah, who was a post-exilic Davidide (1 Chronicles 3.22).
3.30a ‘After him repaired Hananiah the son of Shelemiah, and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph, a second portion.’
The next section was the responsibility of Hananiah and Hanun. This may well have been the Hananiah, the governor of the fortress, who was placed in charge of the whole of Jerusalem by Nehemiah because he was ‘a faithful man who feared God above many’ (7.2). Alternately if ‘a second portion’ also applies to him this may be the Hananiah who was prominent among the perfumers in verse 8.
A prominent Levite named Hananiah sealed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.23), whilst it is also the name of a priest who was present at the dedication of the walls (12.41), and one who was head of his father’s house in the days of Joiakim, the father of Eliashib the High Priest (12.12).
Hanun is described as ‘the sixth son of Zalaph’. He may be identifiable with the Hanun who repaired along with the inhabitants of Zanoah in verse 13, which would explain why this is ‘a second portion’. We do not know why he is unusually distinguished as ‘a sixth son’, although it may emphasise his personal worth in that he is prominent in spite of being only a sixth son..
3.30b ‘After him repaired Meshullam the son of Berechiah over against his chamber.’
Meshullam the son of Berechiah has already been mentioned as active in the rebuilding in verse 4. Here he now also has responsibility for the wall ‘over against his chamber’, probably in the Temple complex (compare 12.44; 13.4-9; Ezra 10.6). This brings out his religious importance. His daughter in fact married the son of Tobiah the Servant (6.18), and he may well have been influential in Tobiah also later having a chamber in the Temple (13.4-9).
3.31 ‘After him repaired Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, unto the house of the Nethinim, and of the merchants, over against the gate of Hammiphkad, and to the ascent of the corner.’
The next section was that which led up to the north east corner. It was repaired by Malchijah who was a goldsmith. It was adjacent to ‘the house of the Nethinim’, probably the large house they lived in when actually on duty in the Temple, in contrast with their normal dwellingplaces at the commencement of the Ophel (verse 26). It was seemingly large enough to also be used by merchants, presumably those who were involved in trade connected with the Temple It was probably this connection which resulted in a goldsmith being involved in the oversight of the building. The Gate of Hammiphkad (the miphkad) is of unknown meaning (‘muster, inspection, appointed place’ have been suggested). It may have been where animals for sacrifice were gathered and inspected.
3.32 ‘And between the ascent of the corner and the sheep gate repaired the goldsmiths and the merchants.’
In 3.1 the description of the building works had commenced with the building of the Sheep Gate in the northern wall by the priests. Now the final section of the building work, that between the north east corner and the Sheep Gate, is described. This involved the activity of the goldsmiths and the merchants, probably because they had a thriving religious market in that area connected with the Temple. Thus the goldsmiths and merchants worked on the wall side by side with the priests (verse 1). It was an indication of the unity of purpose of all God’s people, both spiritual and secular, as they worked together on the wall.
But it is also a vivid reminder of how Temple worship and purity was always in danger of becoming mixed up with, and polluted by, secular greed, something which had clearly been in Zechariah’s mind in Zechariah 14.21, where some decades previously he had declared that in the coming age ‘there shall no more be a trafficker in the house of YHWH of Hosts’. It was a theme which Jesus took up when He ‘cleansed’ the Temple and declared, ‘do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise’ (John 2.16). This was what they were in grave danger doing. It can also become a great danger for us.
Continual Opposition To The Building Of The Wall And Problems Related To It (4.1-6.14).
Meanwhile the work did not go on unopposed. Powerful men were involved in seeking to ensure that the walls were not rebuilt, and that Jerusalem was not re-established. We have already had three of these described to us in 2.19. They were formidable opponents. We now learn about their activity in more detail.
Combined with these activities was the problem of the extreme poverty that resulted for many due to their dedication to the building of the walls. Many had been living on the breadline for decades, scratching an existence from their limited resources, but now the concentration on the building of the walls had tipped them over the edge. They found themselves hungry, and even enslaved by debt, and that by their fellow Jews (5.1-6). This too was something that Nehemiah had to remedy (5.7-13).
Meanwhile the work on the wall progressed until it was finally accomplished. Jerusalem was once more a walled city, with its gates secure.
Sanballat Arouses The Neighbours Of The Jews To Ridicule Their Attempts To Rebuild The Walls, But Without Effect (4.1-6).
We note here the deepening of the already revealed opposition to the Jews and to the building of the walls. Notice the growth in the antagonistic attitude of those who were opposed to them, each time expressed in accordance with a pattern:
Notice the pattern, ‘and when they/he heard of it’, and the growth in feeling, ‘it grieved them greatly’, ‘they laughed us to scorn, and despised us’, ‘he was furious, and took great umbrage’, ‘they conspired to come and fight against Jerusalem’.
We may also notice the growth in Nehemiah’s response:
4.1 ‘But it came about that, when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was furious, and took great umbrage, and mocked the Jews.’
In his attempts to thwart the work an angry Sanballat, who was probably already governor of the district of Samaria, turned to insults, mocking the attempts of ‘the Jews’ (the returnees and those who had involved themselves with them in the pure worship of YHWH). The significance of the building of the walls is brought out by his fury. It was no light matter. It represented a new political force arising in the area, and one which was separatist based on its exclusive Temple worship (see Ezra 4.1-6). It thus represented the weakening of his authority, and was an affront to his own particular views. For he saw himself as a Yahwist, and was angry that the Jews would not accept him as such.
There is in fact no more potent weapon than ridicule when used against those who want to be well thought of. It can turn half-hearted people from their purposes, and prevent others from joining them. Many a Christian’s progress has been halted by such methods. But in this case it failed because ‘the people had a mind to work’. They were confident that they were doing the work of God. And it consequently only left the alternative of violence (4.7). The mockery was indirect (verse 2), although it certainly reached Nehemiah’s ears. The aim was to build up a huge feeling of contempt concerning the activities of the Jews. It was also aimed at bolstering his own self-esteem.
4.2 ‘And he spoke before his allies (brothers) and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are the feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, seeing they are burned?”
The word ‘brothers’ almost certainly means ‘allies’ (compare Amos 1.9), those in brotherly union with him as adversaries of the Jews. The army of Samaria would be a local military contingent such as a governor would necessarily require as a kind of police force (compare Ezra 4.23). The mention of the latter is significant as preparing for the intended violence that will follow. Sanballat thus makes his views widely known among those who have some authority, and those who will enforce his decisions. He is bolstering them up as well as himself.
His questions are clearly derogatory, based on his contemptuous view of their weakness and feebleness. What did such feeble people really think that they could achieve? As we know they had been constantly struggling against hard times and had been finding life difficult (1.3), something partly due to Sanballat and his cronies. The question brings home how necessary the powerful leadership of Nehemiah, combined with the strength of his escort, was to the ailing Jews. They provided some kind of backbone.
The first two questions can be seen as referring to their attempts to make themselves secure, ‘will they fortify themselves?’ or ‘depend on themselves?’ (ensuring their own protection)), ‘will they sacrifice?’ (thus ensuring God’s protection). The second set of questions then demonstrates that he saw that as a vain hope based on inadequate foundations. They may be seen as a chiasmus:
In this case ‘fortifying themselves’ or ‘leaving it to themselves’ is paralleled by ‘making the burned stones live’, in other words relying on themselves and hoping for a miracle as they use inadequate materials for their fortifications. Sacrificing is paralleled with anticipating instantaneous results as a response. In this last there may be an echo of Zechariah 3.9, ‘I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day’. Did they really think that offering sacrifices could remove their sin in one day?
On the other hand we may see them as two couplets:
The overall picture is the same. His claim is that they are relying on themselves and on an inadequate God, and are anticipating the achievement of a quick fix while relying on inadequate materials. Among other things he has in mind how long the building of such walls could be expected to take, especially given their lack of expertise, and the uselessness of using burned limestone, which would easily crumble, for building purposes. He considers that they are just not aware of the problems. The writer knows, of course, that his readers are aware that it has meanwhile been accomplished satisfactorily.
The regular meaning of ‘azab is to ‘leave, abandon’. Thus the translation ‘will they (vainly) leave themselves (in the hands of God)?’ (compare Psalm 10.14), or ‘will they leave (it to) themselves?’. This is then followed by ‘will they (vainly) sacrifice?’ But at Ugarit a secondary meaning for ‘azah was found which translates as ‘to build, renovate, restore’. Thus the translation, ‘Will they fortify themselves?’ In other words, ‘will they make a vain attempt to render themselves secure using inadequate materials?’ This latter would then indicate that by ‘will they sacrifice?’ he is also indicating the uselessness of their sacrifices which are also inadequate. He probably saw their version of Yahwism as lacking in depth and quality, with its failure to unite Him with other gods (in contrast with the heretical Jews at Elephantine). Thus overall he is stressing that they are relying on inadequate things: on their own feeble activity, on their equally feeble sacrifices, on their confidence that they could complete the work quickly against all odds, and on their confidence that they could make useless materials useable. They were hoping for the impossible.
4.3 ‘Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, “Even what they are building, if a fox go up, he will break down their stone wall.”
Tobiah, who was standing by him, joined in the derision claiming that if even a fox were to climb on the walls it would cause them to break down. He too has in mind the inadequacy of the materials, the shortage of time and the lack of expertise of the builders. He considers that they are incapable of achieving their purpose.
4.4-5 “Hear, O our God, for we are despised. And turn back their reproach on their own head, and give them up for a spoil in a land of captivity, and do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before you, for they have provoked (you) to anger before (in front of) the builders.”
Nehemiah’s response emphasises the fact that Sanballat’s questions were intended to be an insult against the God of the Jews, as well as a reproach on His people. He calls on God to hear what has been said. They have despised His people, and have provoked Him to anger in front of His people. Thus he prays that what had previously happened to God’s own people because they had despised God, should now be done to these equally sinful people. Let their sin not be overlooked. Let them too be taken into exile.
Some modern translations have ignored the preposition ‘before’, translating ‘have provoked the builders to anger’. But this is to alter the clear significance of the text. ‘Before’ cannot be ignored, nor can it be taken adverbially. But there are a number of examples where ‘provoke to anger’ refers to God even when He is not mentioned (e.g. 1 Kings 21.22; 2 Kings 21.6; 23.19; 2 Chronicles 33.6; Psalm 106.29; Hosea 12.14).
‘And do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before you.’ Compare Psalm 109.14; Jeremiah 18.23, which demonstrate that his prayer in such circumstances was on a parallel with that of other godly men. For the idea of having iniquity ‘covered’ (casah) see Psalm 85.2. (The word casah means to put a cover over, but it is not the word that usually signifies atonement which is caphar). For to ‘have sins blotted out’ see Psalm 51.1, 9; Isaiah 43.25; 44.22. These benefits were the prerogatives of God’s redeemed people when they came to God in God’s way.
But while recognising that Nehemiah falls short of the ideal of Christ’s teaching (‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’), we should note in his defence that Nehemiah was not praying that they would never find true forgiveness. He was praying rather that they would receive what their sins deserved while they remained in their present condition. For by their very attitude they were revealing that they had no true knowledge of YHWH (a knowledge that they claimed) and therefore had no rights to the benefits that they claimed through their own sacrificial system. These words are the negative side of ‘turn back their reproach on their own head, and give them up for a spoil in a land of captivity’. He was not seeking to remove their right to forgiveness if they approached God on God’s terms (by renouncing idolatry and truly submitting to YHWH and His covenant), only praying that they would not find ‘easy forgiveness’ through their own ritual. Let them, in their unrepentant state, receive the due reward for their sins (we can compare the cry of the martyred saints in Revelation 6.10).
‘For they have provoked (You) to anger before the builders.’ And his grounds for his prayer were that they had by their behaviour provoked God to anger. Their sin had not been against man, but against God. This need not mean that Sanballat and his cronies had actually openly spoken in front of the builders. Only that what they had been propagating had reached the ears of the builders. The builders had been made aware of the general mockery that accompanied their work, shaming them and thus provoking YHWH to anger because it was His work that they were doing.
4.6 ‘So we built the wall, and all the wall was joined together to half its (height), for the people had a mind to work.’
‘So we built the wall.’ In the face of the opposition, and with confidence in the One to Whom Nehemiah had prayed, the work on the walls continued apace until within a comparatively short time Jerusalem was encircled by a wall which was overall half the height of that finally intended. This would provide some defence in itself. No longer could people creep in anywhere at will. (The full height would be revealed by those parts of the wall which had survived the catastrophe). And this was the result of the exertions of men who were determined to get the job done, and had laboured accordingly.
Sanballat And His Allies Determine Violence Against the Builders Of The Walls With The Aim Of Preventing Their Completion Only To Be Thwarted By Nehemiah’s Precautions (4.7-23).
Their derision having failed in its purpose, and their anger still being aroused, Sanballat and his allies now determined to bring the work to a stop by using violence. To the already formidable opponents were added the Ammonites to the east of Judah (although Tobias was an Ammonite) and the Ashdodites to the west. Ashdod was the name of the overall province that included former Philistine territory. These plotted an incursion into Jerusalem with the hope of causing confusion. Nehemiah responded by praying to God and setting a watch, with half his builders ready at arms, and all his builders armed in case they were needed.
4.7 ‘But it came about that, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem went forward, that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very angry,’
The frequency with which Jerusalem must have suffered unofficial raids is suggested by the number of adversaries who were angry at the repairing of the breaches in the walls. They realised that any future plans that they might have for unofficial raids were now being thwarted. Furthermore it indicated that Jerusalem was once again becoming a power in the land.
The phrase ‘the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem’ in Hebrew uses the figure of bandaging up a wound. For this metaphor compare 2 Chronicles 24.13; Isaiah 30.26; Jeremiah 8.22; 30.17; 33.6. Its similar use in 2 Chronicles 24.13 may suggest that it was a common phrase, a reminder that YHWH is the One Who heals them (Exodus 15.26)
The fact that Tobias (the Ammonite) is mentioned separately from the Ammonites would appear to be against the suggestion that he was governor over the Ammonites, although he may well have had influence among them. Thus the Ammonites and the Ashdodites were ‘new’ enemies. It is worthwhile considering the strength of the opposition:
4.8 ‘And they conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to cause confusion in it.’
The different groups described conspired together to send bands of armed men against Jerusalem in order to cause confusion among the builders (verse 8), and kill some of them (verse 11), thus hoping to disillusion them and bring about a cessation of their labours. These were apparently to be lightning strikes, totally unexpected by the builders, and taking them by surprise. What was planned was thus not an invasion or war against Judah in the normal sense (something which the Persian overall authorities would not have permitted) but a series of incursions only against Jerusalem, causing destruction and death, something which was intended to prevent the walls being built. That this was so comes out in the fact that Nehemiah’s response in defending Jerusalem succeeded. Judah could hardly have resisted an all out war conducted and coordinated by their neighbours on all sides. The whole emphasis of both sides was on Jerusalem alone.
Even so Sanballat would know that he could be called to account by the Satrap over Beyond the River for his actions. Thus he must have reasoned, 1) that he could suggest that much of it was the work of brigands who were difficult to control, and/or 2) that as regards his own activities he could point to the previous instruction from Artaxerxes calling on him to enforce the cessation of the building of the walls (Ezra 4.22-23), no further decree to allow the building of the walls having been received by him, and that he was thus acting in accordance with instructions, and/or 3) that he could count on the matter not being treated too seriously, being dismissed as simply resulting from local feuds, or indeed a combination of all three. These arguments would depend on the attacks not seeming to be too coordinated or too severe.
On the other hand he would count on the fact that many of the Jews would be aware of what had happened previously when the Persian authorities had come down hard on them for seeking to rebuild the walls (Ezra 4.22-23), and might therefore easily capitulate. And on the fact that they would not want to see extra problems arising for their families as a result of their activities, for the passing through a country of invading bands inevitably left a trail of destruction behind them, especially when their aim was punitive. Indeed had Nehemiah not been there, with his supreme confidence in his own position, their adversaries might well have succeeded. But Nehemiah knew that there were limits on how far their adversaries would dare to go, and was clearly confident therefore that his defensive measures would, with the help of God, succeed.
4.9 ‘But we made our prayer to our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.’
Nehemiah’s response was to pray to God and set a twenty four hour watch. There is the important lesson here that faith and practicality must go hand in hand. In Jesus’ words, we must ‘not put to test the Lord our God’ (Matthew 4.7). Without God’s help the watch may well not have succeeded. But to have relied on God without setting a watch would have been to wrongly put God to the test.
Three Attitudes Which Nehemiah Had To Contend With (4.10-12).
Nehemiah’s firm response is now set against the background of three attitudes which were in danger of halting the work. The first was the growth of discouragement among the builders as they considered the task in hand (and Judah said’ -verse 10); the second was the intention of their adversaries to make a number of surprise murderous attacks on the builders, which no doubt became known to them (‘and our adversaries said’ - verse 11); and the third was the feeding of the discouragement by their fellow-Jews who had not been willing to involve themselves in the work (‘the Jews who dwelt by them came, they said’ - verse 12). They were beset with doubts from all sides.
That the activities of Sanballat and his allies, together with the difficulties being faced, were undoubtedly beginning to have an effect on the morale of many of the men of Judah comes out in a song that began to be spread among the builders and their families which expressed their feelings. It was a song of hopelessness. Things were getting too much for them. Their strength was failing because of the enormity of the tasks. They were finding things too much for them. The obstacles were enormous. So much rubble still had to be removed. As a consequence they were beginning themselves to doubt their ability to complete the building of the wall.
4.11 ‘And our adversaries said, “They will not know, nor see, till we come into their midst, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.”
Meanwhile their adversaries were planning to increase their discouragement by surprise, unexpected attacks, with murderous bands arriving suddenly among them causing havoc and death. Their whole aim was to make the work to cease in the light of what they had learned concerning the morale of the builders (the song would have become common knowledge).
4.12 ‘And it came about that, when the Jews who dwelt by them came, they said to us ten times from all sides, “You must return to us.”
Meanwhile their fellow-Jews, presumably some who had not been willing to involve themselves in the work, repeatedly (‘ten times’) said to them on all sides, ‘give up and come back to your normal lives among us’. The temptation must have been enormous. There was a clear recognition that any violence would only be carried out against the builders in Jerusalem. Any who disentangled themselves from them would be safe.
‘Said to us ten times.’ Compare a similar use of ‘ten times’ in Genesis 31.41, ‘you have changed my wages ten times’. Compare also Daniel 1.12. It is clear that here it is not intended to be taken literally. It simply means ‘a number of times’.
It is apparent therefore that there was a great danger that the work would grind to halt with the walls still unfinished, and Jerusalem still a prey to marauders. It was then that Nehemiah stepped into the breach and persuaded them to carry on in the face of all the obstacles because God was with them, bolstering his arguments by organising their defences against incursions so that they could see that there was hope even if they remained in Jerusalem in order to complete the work.
It should be noted that verse 12 in the Hebrew is clearly connected with verse 13. Thus Nehemiah’s response is linked with, and contrasted with, the attitude of their fellow-Jews (something which our division of the verses hides). On the one hand their fellow-Jews said, ‘you may as well give up and join us in a place of safety’, and on the other Nehemiah acted vigorously in order to ensure that they were encouraged and did not.
Nehemiah’s Takes Precautions And His Response Encourages The Builders And Balks The Enemy (4.13-15).
Nehemiah’s response demonstrated his leadership abilities, and his firm practicality. He called on the builders to bring with them their weapons and demonstrated how they could set up a solid means of defence against surprise attacks. It was only then that he called them together and reminded them of the greatness of God, and of their responsibilities towards their families. His method clearly worked. The consequence was that when their adversaries realised that their plans were known, and learned that defences had been set up, they backed down from their intentions. It was one thing to carry out spasmodic surprise raids on groups of defenceless builders in Jerusalem which could be explained away. It was quite another to take on Jews who were fully armed, organised and ready to defend themselves, thus turning their raids into direct and deliberate warfare. Furthermore, while no mention is made of them, it is doubtful whether all Nehemiah’s escort had returned to Persia. The king would have expected him to retain a bodyguard. These would now be involved in any fighting, thus making any attack an attack on Persia itself.
4.13 ‘Therefore I stationed (men) in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in the open places. I stationed (there) the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows.’
Here we have Nehemiah’s response to the suggestion that they should give up building the walls and seek safety outside Jerusalem. His wisdom is demonstrated by the fact that before he called the people in order to exhort them, he organised a solid means of defence which would give them something to have confidence in. It was only then that he exhorted them to resist.
His method was simply to demonstrate the possibility of resisting any attack, and to underline the fact that the half-constructed walls already provided a level of defence (‘he set them -- behind the wall’). It need not mean that he organised defence right round the walls. That was not his purpose. His purpose was to demonstrate that if they came together as a unit they were strong enough to resist ‘surprise attacks’, which would no longer be a surprise because they were expected. He would know that messengers would arrive with the news when such attacks were imminent
The transitive verb ‘I stationed’ requires an object to be read in. This is quite a regular feature in the Old Testament. All would know that those whom he stationed were ‘men’, as he then goes on to demonstrate. These were fully armed with swords, spears and bows and stationed in the open spaces where there were no buildings, which would be the parts where the walls were lowest. The very gathering of men fully armed would act as a stimulant to the defenders. It reminded them that they were able to defend themselves, and they would gained courage from each other. They would no longer see themselves as a prey but as an army. Note how he gathered them ‘in their families’. The whole host were divided up into a number of fighting units based on family and tribal connection. It was a ‘gathering of the tribes’ as of old. This idea of ordinary people gathering with weapons in their tribes and sub-tribes in order to fulfil God’s purposes, in other words in preparation for a holy war, is rooted in Israel’s history. It would therefore uniquely arouse their religious zeal and patriotism, and make them one with the glories of their past history.
‘Swords and spears and bows.’ These were the kind of weapons all men would have available to them. In those days all men wore a sword for self-defence when they ventured out, and spears and bows would be used for hunting.
4.14 ‘And I saw, and rose up, and said to the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, “Do not you be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible, and fight for your brothers, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
‘And I saw.’ He reviewed the troops which he had arrayed before the people, and in consequence rose up and spoke to the nobles, rulers and people giving them reassuring words. They were not to be afraid of anything that the enemy would try to do. Rather they were to remember Who and What God was, and that He was on their side. For God as great and terrible compare 1.5; Daniel 9.4; Exodus 15.11; Deuteronomy 7.21; 10.17.
As a consequence they were to be ready to defend themselves, fighting to establish the future for their loved ones and their possessions. For if Judah was to have any independent future Jerusalem had to be re-established. It was recognition of this fact that made their adversaries so fierce in their opposition. And it was recognition of this fact that should make them strong.
4.15 ‘And it came about, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one to his work.’
The news of his preparations for the defence of Jerusalem reached the ears of his enemies, and seemingly nipped in the bud their own preparations with the result that no attack ensued. As Nehemiah piously put it, and firmly believed, they were forced to recognise that God had brought their counsel to naught. God had heard the prayers of His people. An the people with him apparently saw it in the same way, for they returned to their working positions on the wall. The work went on unhindered.
Nehemiah’s Provision For The Defence Of The Builders (4.16-23).
Nehemiah now called on his own specialist troops, fully armed with mail and shields, to act as a protective force for Jerusalem. These were probably his escort which he would have retained in Jerusalem for the journey back and may well have included Persians in their number. They would be fully trained troops. Note that he speaks of them as ‘my servants’. Meanwhile the other workers were to carry arms with them as they continued the work, ready to defend themselves, and to respond to any call for assistance.
4.16 ‘And it came about from that time forth, that half of my servants wrought in the work, and half of them held the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the coats of mail, and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah.’
It seems clear that most of Nehemiah’s ‘men’, apart from those who acted as his bodyguard, had previously been helping with the building work, presumably in a supervisory capacity. Now half of them were withdrawn and called on to stand fully armed ready for any emergency. They would bear the initial brunt of any surprise attack. Notice their superior armour which distinguishes them from the Jews. The other half were to continue to help in the work, but with their own armour held ready by the former in case they were called on. Together with his own permanent bodyguard they formed a permanent ‘standing army’. Meanwhile the rulers of the Jews, also presumably acting as supervisors, were supporting ‘the whole house of Judah’, that is, those who were working on the walls. They encouraged them in the work, kept in communication with Nehemiah, and stood ready to act as militia leaders. These formed a secondary force (armed but with no armour) which could be called up if required. For this situation we can compare David and ‘his men’ (2 Samuel 5.6), ‘his servants’ (2 Samuel 11.1; 15.18), who were a permanent standing army, but could be supplemented by ‘all Israel’ when required (2 Samuel 6.1; 10.17; 11.1).
4.17-18a ‘They all built the wall and those who bore burdens loaded themselves, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other held his weapon, and the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so built.
Meanwhile, while his men performed their guard duties, and helped with supervision, the remainder were divided into two groups, those who ‘bore burdens’ (the fetchers and carriers) and those who built. The former bore their burdens with one hand and carried their weapons in the other. The word for weapons indicates some form of missiles, possibly therefore spears, which was why they could not carry them in their belts. The latter continued building and wore their swords in their belts. All were at the ready in case the alarm sounded, indicating an impending attack.
4.18b-20 ‘And he who sounded the trumpet was by me. And I said to the nobles, and to the rulers and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and large, and we are separated on the wall, one far from another, in whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, resort you to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
The responsibility for sounding the alarm lay in Nehemiah’s hands. Attending him at all times was a trumpeter. And the instructions that he gave to the nobles, and the rulers appointed over the militia, and the people themselves, who were necessarily spread out right round the walls, was that whenever they heard the trumpet sound, there they were to gather, weapons in hand, to assist in driving back the enemy. Nor were they to be afraid, for they were to recognise that ‘our God will fight for us’. In all his preparations Nehemiah in the end totally depended on God. His final confidence was in Him, but we should note that it did not hinder him from detailed planning.
4.21 ‘ So we wrought in the work, and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.’
The ‘we’ here is probably Nehemiah and his servants as per verse 16, half of whom held spears, shields, bows and coats of mail. He and his servants played their full part in the work, whilst half of them stood at the ready for any surprise attack. And they did this from break of day until dusk. ‘Spears’ is here used to indicate all the weapons that they carried in readiness, being the first in the list in verse 16.
4.22 ‘In the same way at the same time I said to the people, “Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and may labour in the day.”
In the same way he called on the people to play their full part, lodging with their servants in the city at night, so that they might act as guards during the night (taking their turn on watch), and labouring during the day.
4.23 ‘So neither I, nor my brothers, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us put off our clothes. Every one (went with) his weapon (to) the water.’
Thus all were to be constantly at the ready, he, his brothers (fellow-Jews), his own special fully armed servants, and his own bodyguard. And this they did. None got undressed, but rather slept in readiness for instant action, and even bore their weapons when they went for water.
‘Every one (went with) his weapon (to) the water.’ This is literally, in our Hebrew text (The Masoretic Text), ‘a man his weapon the water.’ But in view of the constant necessity of drawing water for drinking it seems reasonable to see in this a warning against even going for water without being armed. An alternative (but less likely) is to see it as an indication that they were even to carry their weapons when relieving themselves, with ‘water’ being a euphemism for urine (compare 2 Kings 18.27; Isaiah 36.12 - but there it is ‘water of the feet’). The idea is one of constant readiness.
Another possibility is AV’s translation ‘saving that everyone put them off for washing’, follows the Vulgate (Latin) version. This is based on repointing the Hebrew for ‘his weapon’, and turning it into a verb (‘let go, put off’), but even then it is a forced rendering of what is literally ‘a man let go (put off) the water’. This then paraphrased as , ‘a man put off for the water’.
(Some make a slight emendation to the text on the basis that there is a copying error and translate, ‘everyone with his weapon on the right’ (with hemin replacing hamayim (the water), that is, has his weapon within reach of his right hand in readiness for being suddenly awoken and needing it quickly. Another of many suggested alternatives is, ‘each with his weapon all the time’. But all such emendations are necessarily intelligent guesswork and should be avoided where possible).
One Unforeseen Consequence Of The Concentration On The Building Of The Wall Proves Nehemiah’s Worth (5.1-13).
Nehemiah is now revealed, not only as a great leader, but as a man of compassion. Like many rich men he had probably not considered the effect on the poorer Jews of the concentration of their menfolk as labourers on the building of the walls, no doubt without payment. For many poor families, struggling to survive even before this happened, losing their adult males for nearly two months was turning out to be a catastrophe. There would be three types of people involved:
For the first group, the requirement for their menfolk to work on the walls meant that the poorest families had no income coming in from their normal work as labourers on other people’s fields, apart from what the wives or children could earn which was insufficient. In consequence they were having to sell their children into debt slavery or worse, in order even to obtain food. For the second group failing crops (‘because of the drought’ - verse 3), and the lack of the adult males to either wring from the fields what could be obtained, or work for others in order to be able to earn food, was resulting in some having to mortgage their lands so that they could afford to buy grain, both to eat and to be sown in the coming year in order to continue to survive. Another poor harvest would also result in debt-slavery for their children. For the third group there was the problem that shortage of harvest had meant that they had to borrow money to pay their taxes. This could bring them under a continual debt burden and eventually they also could be in danger of losing their land if harvests continued to be bad. Their plight was the least of the three, but it was serious non-the-less.
This was another side to the problems described in chapter 4. There it was problems without. Here it is problems within. For these people morale, which was already low, had become even lower.
With great vigour Nehemiah deals with the problem. He calls on the wealthier Jews to treat their fellow-Jews as brothers, remembering that they are all YHWH’s servants (Leviticus 25.53, 55), and providing for their needs rather than exacting from them as much as they could. And he himself supplies the example.
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