- Background to Nehemiah
- Prayers by Nehemiah and Modern Christians
- Leadership Qualities of Nehemiah
- Building the Wall of Jerusalem
- Renewal of the Covenant
- Final Reforms of Nehemiah
- The book of Nehemiah is a historical writing.
- Nehemiah is a record of his deep dependence on God and his frequent prayer to God.
- Nehemiah means “Yahweh has comforted. Nehemiah was the son of Hacaliah of Judah.
- He was not a prophet.
- He was exiled to Babylon.
- Persians captured Babylon and improved the living condition of the Israelites.
- They were allowed religious freedom but had to pay tributes.
Background to Nehemiah
a. Political and Historical Background.
- From 587 BC to 538 BC, Israelites were in exile.
- In 538 B.C., the first group of Israelites was set free and returned to Judah.
- Cyrus the Great, of Persia ruled his subjects through governors.
- They were led out of Babylon by Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel who became the first governor of Judah.
- Some Jews remained in Babylon.
- They were referred to as Jews in Diaspora or dispersion.
- Other Jews remained in other lands including Egypt, and Mediterranean lands Nehemiah.
- He was a cupbearer in the palace of the Persian king Artaxerxes I.
- He later became a governor of Judah.
- Even after the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, Israelites remained subjects of the Persian king.
- The Wall of Jerusalem was important to Israel and Judah.
- The Wall represented a sense of pride, ownership, privacy, independence and Security.
- The Greeks conquered the Persians; who were later conquered by Romans.
b. Social Background
- The Jews in foreign lands retained their Jewish way of life.
- The land of Israel was partly occupied by foreigners.
- The foreign cultures of neighboring rulers influenced Israelites who returned.
- They for example, intermarried with foreigners, a custom that God did not allow.
- Israelites were not to intermarry with other people according to the Mosaic Law.
- In spite of this however, Jews maintained their separated identity.
- Some of the foreigners despised Jews.
- The wealthy Jews oppressed the poor Jews.
- In Jerusalem there was starvation.
- Nehemiah condemned oppression of the poor.
c. Religious Background
- Jews returned to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem and the altar of God for sacrifices.
- While in exile, Jews were allowed by the Babylonian king to practice their religion.
- They worshipped Yahweh, practiced circumcision, obeyed dietary laws and observed the Sabbath.
- The exiles could not however observe all the religious practices for example offering animal sacrifices.
- Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to rebuild it’s the wall.
- The temple of Jerusalem was rebuilt, cleared and dedicated to God.
Prayers by Nehemiah and Modern Christians
a) Nehemiah Prayed, Mourned, and Fasted.
- He prayed often and for all actions, keeping God’s law, forgiveness, punishments, human relations, Jerusalem, good works, contributions and offerings, observance of Sabbath day, and preparing duty allocations for priests and Levites.
- He prayed for
- When he learnt about the suffering of Jews who remained in Judah and the ruined state of Jerusalem; He prayed for forgiveness on behalf of his people (Neh.4: 1 – 11).
- Making a request to King Artaxerxes to be permitted to return to Judah (Neh.2: 4 –
- When his enemies ridiculed the Jews and planned to discourage them from rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Tobiah in particular said that the wall was poorly constructed
and it could be brought down by; a fox jumping on it. Nehemiah requested God to punish the enemies who were mocking temple builders (Neh.4: 4 – 5).
- When he learnt that his enemies were conspiring to attack Jerusalem to stop the construction work, he prayed and organized people to provide a 24-hour guard of the wall (Neh.4: 7 – 9).
- For his good work, he prayed for his works (Neh 5:19).
- When his enemies plotted to destroy him, he prayed God for strength and courage to overcome his enemies (Neh 6: 19).
- When Shemaih attempted to frighten him to hide in the temple claiming that there was a plot to kill him, Nehemiah prayed and asked God to punish his enemies (Neh 6:14).
- When he organized contributions for Levites and musicians; and people to distribute them. He asked God to remember his work for the house of God (Neh 13:14).
- He stopped trade on the Sabbath day, and organized rest on the Sabbath day. He warned traders against violating the Sabbath law. He asked Lord to remember him for these actions (Neh.13: 22).
- Nehemiah prayed for punishment of the son of Joiada. The son of Joiada had brought disgrace to the priest hood by marrying a foreigner, the daughter of Sanballat from the town of Beth Horon, (Neh 13:29). after cleansing the Israelites of foreign influence, he forbade mixed marriages
- He prepared duty regulations for priests and Levites. He allocated them duties. He then organized Jews to bring offerings for maintaining priests and Levites. He prayed God to remember his work for the temple, priests and Levites (Neh 13:31).
b. Importance of Prayer in Christian Life
- Through prayers, Christians express their faith in God and praise God for his greatness, goodness, holiness, and majesty.
- Prayer brings Christians closer to God; it strengthens their relationship with God.
- Through prayer Christians request for their needs, blessings, success, good health, and protection among other requests.
- Prayers help Christians to listen to God and to seek his will.
- Prayer is a source of strength.
- It gives Christians courage to face and overcome life’s challenges.
- Christians seek guidance, comfort and support in times of trials.
- In prayer, Christians intercede for the sick, poor, hungry, prisoners, friends, family and community.
- The communal / public prayers unite Christians together.
- Through prayers, Christians ask for forgiveness and the ability to forgive others.
- In prayers, Christians trust that God listens and answers their prayers.
Leadership Qualities of Nehemiah
- A leader is someone charged with the responsibility of guiding, controlling, directing and leading others.
- Nehemiah had many leadership qualities. These were: -
- God fearing man. Nehemiah feared God, relied and depended on God.
- Prayerfulness – he prayed constantly before and after making decisions.
- Courageous – He displayed courage even when his life was in danger
- Hard work and commitment. He was dedicated to the rebuilding of the wall of the temple and Jerusalem.
- Team spirit – he was a team leader, motivating people to work.
- He had planning and organizational skills
- He was visionary.
- He had compassion for the needy especially the poor, Levites and priests
- He was patriotic loved his country
- Wisdom. He made wise decisions at the right time.
- He led by example, a role model
- He was honest and sincere in his prayers
- He was shrewd and impartial
- His trusted God absolutely.
- He was decisive. He told God about decisions he had made and asked for their recognition.
- He was humble. He asked to be allowed to return to Jerusalem and oversee the repair of its wall and temple.
- He believed in law and punishment of wrong doers. He asked God to punish lawbreakers especially Jews who married foreigners.
b. Relevance of Nehemiah’s Leadership to Christians Today
- Christians should copy all the leadership qualities of Nehemiah.
- They should trust in God and seek his guidance in all their activities and needs.
- Christians should live a life of prayer
- Christians should be courageous, be ready to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Christians should be dedicated to their work. Work diligently and honestly
- Christians should set realistic goals and organize their activities.
- Christians should seek wisdom from God to be able to choose appropriate activities to attain their visions.
- Christians should care for the needy and be compassionate to all
- Christians should be patriotic and ready to defend their country against internal / external threats.
- Christians should need to fight for the rights of the helpless children, widows, orphans, and aged.
- Christians should seek God first, view themselves as servants of God and be good role models.
Building the Wall of Jerusalem
- The wall of Jerusalem was destroyed when Babylonians conquered Judah.
- After finishing the wall, he dedicated it to the Lord.
- Dedication is to devote something in honor of a person held dear or to set aside something for some special purpose.
a. Nehemiah Rebuilt the Wall of Jerusalem
- The rebuilt wall had several gates with different names.
- The gates were the entrances to Jerusalem.
- Their names were Dung gate, Potsherd gate, Fountain gate, Water gate, Horse gate, East gate, Sheep gate, Fish gate, Watch gate and Ephraim gate.
- Knowing the names of the gates may not be necessary but its good information.
b. Problems Faced by Nehemiah
- When Nehemiah was building the wall of Jerusalem, he faced many challenges.
- There was lack of cooperation by the nobles of Tekoa.
- They did not want to do manual work at first but they later repented.
- Nehemiah faced opposition from enemies such as. Sanballat, and Tobiah, the Arab who tried to thwart the progress of Nehemiah’s work.
- As he built Jerusalem, the rich oppressed the poor.
- This was worsened by famine
- The priests misused the temple and the offerings.
- For example, temple duties had been abandoned.
- The Levites were not getting their share of the offerings and the Sabbath was violated.
- There was laxity in observance of the Sabbath.
- This was a challenge to Nehemiah because Sabbath day should be kept holy.
- There was a lot of foreign influence because of the conquests by several foreign armies, intermarriages and interactions between Jews, neighboring people and foreigners.
- Marriages in particular threatened the identity of the Israelites as a nation.
- Worse still Priests married to foreign women defiled the priesthood according to Nehemiah.
- Because of these assimilations of Jews through marriages, Nehemiah knew that Israel and Judah would eventually be lost as God’s nation.
- Because of his opposition to these interactions, Nehemiah received death threats.
c. Dedication of the Wall of Jerusalem (NEH. 12:27 – 47
- The rebuilt wall was dedicated to God.
- The wall restored security and prestige of God’s people.
- The wall of Jerusalem was set-aside for God in a solemn ceremony.
- There was a dedication ceremony in which people sung with symbols, harps, lyres, trumpets and other instruments.
- The priests and Levites purified themselves.
- The people led by Ezra, Nehemiah, the priests and other leaders of Judah walked around the wall.
- They divided themselves into two groups.
- One group walked from the right side and the other group from the left side and converged at the temple.
- Sacrifices were offered and people rejoiced.
- Some men were appointed to be in charge of the storehouses; where tithes and first fruits of harvest were kept.
d. Relevance of Nehemiah’s Experience to Christians Today
- Christians should expect opposition, as did Nehemiah.
- They should not be afraid of being ridiculed, mocked and despised.
- If it happens, Christians should persevere in God’s work.
- They should put their trust in God like Nehemiah did.
- They should also fight for the welfare of the disadvantaged groups and not exploit them.
- They have a moral obligation to condemn injustice and take practical steps to help solve problems that afflict individuals, groups, nations, and society.
- They should be in the forefront fighting HIV/ AIDS and drug abuse.
- Christians should be on the lookout for external influence that may corrupt morals of the society and the church.
- They should learn that leadership involves suffering, persecution, and sacrifices.
- This is foregoing personal interests for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Renewal of the Covenant
i. Stages of the Renewal of the Covenant
- Israelites were the chosen people of God.
- They had suffered many hardships.
- There was therefore a need for the renewal of the covenant between God and Israelites.
- The ceremony to renewal the covenant was held in Jerusalem and was led by Ezra, the Levites and other religious leaders.
- The renewal of the covenant can be discussed in 3 main stages:
- A great public assembly was held in the square of Jerusalem inside the water gate.
- God’s law was read and expounded to the people.
- The people of Israel praised and worshipped God.
- They cried and grieved.
- They were sad because they realized that they had failed to observe the Mosaic Law.
- They were instructed to go and celebrate, as it was a holy day of God and an occasion for joy not sorrows.
- The feast of booths/tabernacle was celebrated for 7 days.
- It was a reminder of the days in the wilderness when the Israelites dwelt in tents.
- The Law of Moses was read each day during the celebrations.
- There was a public confession of sin.
- People fasted, prayed and praised God.
- The public confession was followed by the renewal of the covenant vows and a promise to keep God’s law in future.
- Ezra’s prayer closed the celebrations.
- In his prayer, he recalled God’s acts of creation.
- He then recounted the history of the Israelites.
- He mentioned the previous acts of God; where the Lord had demonstrated His love and mercy for the Israelites.
- He then confessed the sins of their ancestors and the present Israelites.
- These were the sins of rebellion and disobedience.
ii. Promises and vows made by Israelites during the renewal of the covenant.
Israelites promised God that they would:
- Live according to God’s law, by obeying all his commands and requirements.
- Stop intermarrying with foreigners living in their land.
- Cancel debts every 7th year
- Contribute annually towards the temple expenses to ensure that the house of God was not neglected.
- Provide sacrifices and offerings for the temple and arrange for provision of wood for burnt sacrifices according to the law.
- Offer first fruits of their harvest and dedicate the first born and flocks as required by the law.
- Pay for their tithes as required by the law.
Which lessons can we learn from the renewal of the covenant?
- God is good, loving, merciful, and faithful to his promises.
- God forgives all people and we are all sinners.
- We fail in our moral obligation to God and to one another.
- Since we are sinners, we should repent our sins and strive to live according to God’s law.
- Christians are to encourage one another as well as others to repent as it brings about reconciliation with God and with one another.
- Christians should be forgiving and avoid situations that lead them to sin
Final Reforms of Nehemiah
- Changes for improvement are known as reforms, which are political, economical, social, religious or a combination of any of them.
- Examples of reformers are King David, Prophet Elijah, and Martin Luther King among others.
- Nehemiah. After building the wall, Nehemiah went back to King Artaxerxes II who if you remember had given permission to go to Jerusalem and build its destroyed perimeter wall.
- Later he returned to Jerusalem and carried out these reforms.
a. Reforms by Nehemiah
- We have discussed reforms, which Nehemiah carried out during his stay in Judah, where he was the governor (Neh 5:14).
- The major reforms were:
- Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem as well as its gates.
- Cleansing of the temple: Nehemiah threw him out Tobiah a foreigner who was living in the temple quarters.
- Reinstatement of the Levites and other temple workers. Levites, and musicians had left the temple duties to work in their farms to earn a livelihood. They were supposed to work in the temple and be supported by member contributions. Nehemiah organised Jews to make offerings and tithes to support temple workers. With these contributions, Nehemiah reinstated and redeployed Levites, priests, musicians and other temple workers.
- Reform of the Sabbath observance. The Israelites were told by the Lord to work for 6 days and rest on the Sabbath day. The Jews started working on the Sabbath day. The merchants camped outside waiting for the reopening of the gates of the temple to do business. When Nehemiah started rebuilding Jerusalem, he ordered closure of the gates of
Jerusalem from the eve of Sabbath to the end of the Sabbath.
- Separations from foreigners (Neh.13: 23 – 30). It was against God’s law to marry foreigners. Nehemiah cursed the men who had married foreign wives. He beat Jews, pulled their hair and forced them to take oaths that neither they, nor their sons nor daughters shall intermarry.
- Purification of priesthood and the office of the Levites. Nehemiah cleansed the priesthood. He sent away Eliashib, a grandson of the High Priest Joshua, because he had given Tobiah a foreigner, a room in the temple.
b. Comparing Teachings of Nehemiah and St. Luke’s Gospel
- Nehemiah lived a prayerful life while St. Luke’s gospel emphasizes importance of prayer. Jesus taught the role of prayer in Christianity.
- Nehemiah fasted, St. Luke’s gospel records that Jesus fasted.
- Nehemiah prayed for forgiveness of sinful Jews. We see Jesus in St. Luke’s gospel being a leader who prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies.
- Nehemiah cared for the needy. Jesus showed compassion to the needy and taught his followers to follow His example.
- Nehemiah condemned evil so did Jesus
- Nehemiah is seen as a reformer of the Mosaic Law. In St Luke Gospel, Jesus was also a reformer. He insisted on inner holiness.
- Nehemiah cleansed the temple of traders so did Jesus.
- Nehemiah was very strict on the Sabbath observance. St. Luke’s gospel teaches that Jesus is lord over Sabbath. He healed and “Worked” on Sabbath.
- Nehemiah was opposed to racial intermarriages; St. Luke Gospel was dedicated to Theophilus, a gentile convert
- Christianity kingdom of God in St. Luke’s gospel is for all, not just the Jews.
- Nehemiah had good leadership skills and wisdom. These are demonstrated in St Luke Gospel.
c. Relating Nehemiah’s Teachings to Christian Life Today
- Prayers and fasting are fundamental to Christians just like they were to Nehemiah who led a prayerful life.
- Nehemiah’s example teaches Christians to face all forms of opposition with courage, wisdom, and firmness
- The good leadership qualities of Nehemiah are relevant to Christians and they are to be emulated.
- Nehemiah cared for the needy. Christians should learn to give spiritual food, physical food and clothing to the needy, orphans, widows.
- As Nehemiah renewed the covenant, Christians should seek spiritual renewal publicly and privately. They should seek for communal as well as individual forgiveness.
- Nehemiah cleansing the temple and organized an inventory for temple contributions, offerings and tithes. He also appointed key people to look after temple contributions and pay Levites and priests. Christians should learn to use the church buildings and contributions rightly
- Nehemiah was guided by the Law of Moses and land just like Christians are guided by the scriptures (Bible) and the law of the nation. The Bible is the source and basis of Christian principles.
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