The author of this book is something that has been debated into three major views. Kenneth Boa's sermon on the overview of Nehemiah shows these three views.
The evidence points to Ezra, a Jewish scribe and priest, compiling Nehemiah's accounts into the book we now know today. We know this to be true because Ezra and Nehemiah were originally written as a single manuscript and later divided into two separate accounts. Ezra, a descendant of Aaron, Moses' brother, was used by God to keep His covenant to report His nation and rebuild the temple. This was accomplished by the favor God bestowed upon him in the eyes of King Artaxerxes who supplied the every need of the returning Jews from the Babylonian exile.
According to an article from gotquestions.org on the background of the book of Nehemiah, the book is believed to be written between 445-450 B.C.. Chronologically, this book fits into the Old testament after Esther. For better context, this is approximately 1000 years after Moses and 400 years before Christ. The nation of Israel is in shambles, completely dispersed by the Babylonian Exile. Their capital, Jerusalem, was destroyed along with Solomon's temple so much so that it could be described as a ghost town. This was the state of the beloved capital for 70 years, forgotten and destined to be buried by time. The people have made a home for themselves in Babylon and the desire to return, if any at all, was minuscule. Jews began to rise to positions of great important. People like Esther, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all became leaders in this new land. Things started to change in the book of Ezra. After 70 years the Jews were given the opportunity to return back to Jerusalem. 50,000 Jews, only 2% of the 2 or three million Jews, returned and rebuilt the temple.
According to David Guzik's study guide for Nehemiah, the book picks up this narrative around 15 years after the end of Ezra, or 100 years after the first Jews returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel. One important thing to note from the book of Ezra is they also attempted to rebuild the walls but were stopped by their enemies. (Ezra 4:6-23) This was something that the Jews considered impossible up to the point of Nehemiah.
The ancient Hebrew name for the book of Nehemiah means “comfort of Jehovah or Yahweh”. This plays into the purpose of the book significantly by setting the overall theme. According to Geisler's, “A Popular Survey of the Old Testament”, the three main purposes for this book are as follows:
The Narrative continues by immediately establishing the importance of Nehemiah by giving the geographical location, Shushan the citadel. This was the capital city of the Persian empire, specifically the palace. Nehemiah inquires about the Jews in Jerusalem that returned several years prior. Even though the temple was rebuilt the city was still in shambles because the wall was not built. David Guzik explains the importance of walls during this time period in his study guide. All of the suffering the Jews were going through is because of the lack of protection of a wall. With out protection, Jerusalem will never thrive or become great because there was nothing stopping bandits from sweeping in and stealing any valuables. Even though the temple was built, it could never be beautiful and adorned with valuables because it would be raided and taken away. The people who lived in an unwalled city were constantly under waves of stress because they were complexly at the mercy of anyone who walked in. Hearing this, Nehemiah goes to the Lord in prayer.
Personal Application of Chapter One
In chapter two, Nehemiah is confronted by the king on why his countenance is so low. This gives Nehemiah the opportunity to tell the king of his desire to go to Jerusalem to build a wall. By the grace of God, the king is happy to not only allow Nehemiah to go, but to provide all the needed supplies. Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem without telling anyone of his intentions and goes to view the walls late at night. The chapter ends with enemies of the Jews trying to stop the work of God. But Nehemiah stays focused and blows off all of their attacks.
Personal Application of Chapter Two
The third chapter is all about the rebuilding of the wall. It goes into detail about the people who worked and what areas they did that work. It is basically a record book or names.
Personal Application of Chapter Three
Chapter four shows Jews perseverance and dedication in overcoming opposition. They faced mockery, but much more then that. Their enemies were deeply disturbed, this was directly from the devil himself. They called the Jews “feeble”. The adversaries began to work harder to stop the progress as the gaps in the walls began to close. All of them came together and conspired to attack and kill.
Personal Application of Chapter Four
Chapter five focuses more on the obstacles that the devil hurled at the Jews internally. When death threats and discouragement failed to break the Jews we the importance of maintaining a strong body that fluidly works together. The issue was over money. Because the men were working on the wall, they dropped their jobs and ceased to take in any income to support their family. There was also a famine running through the land which made it even harder for the people to find food. The nobles were selling food for high interested which caused many people to have to sell their houses simply to be able to eat everyday. This angered Nehemiah because it was a self centered problem that stopped the building of the walls. He took action and righted the problem immediately.
Personal Application for Chapter Five
This is the turning point of the book of Nehemiah. In chapter six, the walls are finally finished. The devil makes his final attack to try to stop it once and for all, but Nehemiah sees right through the deception.
Personal Application of Chapter Six
Chapters 7-13 are focused on the regeneration of Jerusalem and the spiritual revival of the people.
The walls are up and the doors are installed in the gates. Nehemiah turns the city over to his brother and the ruler, Hananiah, and warns them to protect the city against invasion. Because the number of inhabitants was few in Jerusalem and it was relatively very large by comparison, a census was taken of those within Jerusalem.
The people want to understand God better. They go to Ezra and Ezra begins reading the law to the people. As Ezra read, there were Levites who explained the law to them so they understood. So the people wept and mourned for their sin. The Levites instructed the people that they were not to morn or weep because the day was a holy day unto the Lord. So, the people met for a second day to hear the word of the Lord. The feast of booths had not been performed for generations and so the people built booths and kept the feast for seven days and heard the word of the Lord for eight days. On the eighth day, they had a solemn assembly.
The Israelites repented in sackcloth and ashes because of the conviction from the reading of God’s word. Then the leaders worshipped and praised the Lord and prayed to the Lord with a prayer that described their rebellion against the Lord from the time of the deliverance out of Egypt until the present time. So, the people then wanted to make a covenant with the Lord, to do what He commanded them to do.
The signers of the covenant are listed and the people are further instructed about the specific things they need to do to remain obedient to the Lord.
The rulers would live in Jerusalem. The remainder of the people would cast lots to see which ten percent lived in Jerusalem and which ninety percent would live in the outlying cities. The men who were willing to dwell in Jerusalem where blessed by the others indicating that possibly living in Jerusalem was expected to be more dangerous. Then follows a list of the people who would live in Jerusalem.
The Levites living in Jerusalem are listed. Then thanks were given from the top of the gates around the city.
A summary is given of the record of Nehemiah.
https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Neh/Neh_1.cfm https://bible.org/seriespage/21-nehemiah http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/nehemiah%E2%80%93the-man-behind-the-wall/