As has happened several times before, the reason to write this commentary is the giving of sermons about this book of the Bible. In Gummersbach, Germany, it was with great joy that I was able to share the rich lessons from this book with the believers who attended the sermons. What I have been able to gather in the preparation, I have edited in such a way that the whole, now as a commentary, can be offered to anyone who wants to take knowledge of it.
The book contains rich lessons for those who are leaders in the church of God. By this I do not mean by people appointed leaders, but believers who show in their lives that they want to live according to the norms of God’s Word and are examples to others (Heb 13:77Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.). They are more mature believers who take care of God’s church (Heb 13:1717Obey your leaders and submit [to them], for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.; Acts 20:2828Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.). Such believers will not rule, but serve (1Pet 5:1-31Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as [your] fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,2shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to [the will of] God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;3nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.). Their great example is the Lord Jesus, who was in the midst of the disciples “as the one who serves” (Lk 22:26-2726But [it is] not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.27For who is greater, the one who reclines [at the table] or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines [at the table]? But I am among you as the one who serves.).
That does not mean that this book would not have lessons for those who are not leaders. The Lord Jesus is the example of service for every believer. Every one of God’s children is called to learn from Him as the Exemplar Servant. Because Nehemiah is so similar to Him, this book is full of applications for every believer.
The history and person of Nehemiah provide a variety of situations that we can translate into our time. In every situation we see Nehemiah act in a way that suits that situation. It seems as if he is present everywhere and has an appropriate answer to everything. He also knows how to step back in time. We will discover that the secret is his intense prayer life.
Being subservient does not mean being a ‘softy’. Nehemiah is not a weakling. For God he makes himself small; that is why he is fearless in his actions before people. He acts with authority and, if necessary, harshly, no matter who he has in front of him. In this way he puts a stop to evil practices and brings about a reversal in wrong situations.
What a blessing this man has been for God’s people! May God grant us to be like Nehemiah and to take to heart the lessons of this book.
I will finish the explanation of the verses of Nehemiah 1-2, as a kind of summary, with some lessons I see in it. I hope it will be a stimulus for the reader to discover these lessons for him/herself in the following chapters.
Ger de Koning
Middelburg, revised 2017 / translated February 2020
Introduction to the book of Nehemiah
The book is written by Nehemiah himself and is therefore an autobiography. Yet he tells no more about himself than is necessary to see his connection with the people of God and his service to them.
The subject of the book of Nehemiah is the rebuilding of the city wall around Jerusalem. The city is the area where the life of every day takes place. The book deals with the civilian life of the Israelites, but in a situation where they are subject to the nations.
Nehemiah appears in the twentieth year of Arthahsasta in Jerusalem. That is thirteen or fourteen years after Ezra’s return to Jerusalem, who arrived there in the seventh year of Arthahsasta. Between the return under Cyrus, mentioned in Ezra 1:11Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also [put it] in writing, saying:, and the arrival of Nehemiah in Jerusalem is about ninety years. With the arrival of Ezra and later that of Nehemiah, God has His own intentions. Nehemiah respects the place that Ezra has. Nehemiah has an eye for it, as shown in his book (Neh 8:1-2,101And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel.2Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who [could] listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.10Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”; 12:27-4327Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs [to the accompaniment] of cymbals, harps and lyres.28So the sons of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites,29from Beth-gilgal and from [their] fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built themselves villages around Jerusalem.30The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall.31Then I had the leaders of Judah come up on top of the wall, and I appointed two great choirs, the first proceeding to the right on top of the wall toward the Refuse Gate.32Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah followed them,33with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam,34Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah,35and some of the sons of the priests with trumpets; [and] Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph,36and his kinsmen, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah [and] Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them.37At the Fountain Gate they went directly up the steps of the city of David by the stairway of the wall above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east.38The second choir proceeded to the left, while I followed them with half of the people on the wall, above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall,39and above the Gate of Ephraim, by the Old Gate, by the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped at the Gate of the Guard.40Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me;41and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah, with the trumpets;42and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam and Ezer. And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah [their] leader,43and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.). There is no jealousy.
Ezra is a scribe and also a priest. He is an examiner of the Word of God, in which he has his sources that provide him with strength to act. Nehemiah is more of a practical man, a man who is busy with everyday things. They both have the same mind. How is it that the situation has become so that a Nehemiah is needed while Ezra is in Jerusalem? Has Ezra’s energy faded a bit?
The people we meet in the book of Nehemiah are those who have returned in the book of Ezra, but then some time later. The decay has come. Nehemiah is characterized by a deep sense of the decay of God’s people. On the other hand, Nehemiah is also characterized by an awareness of the faithfulness of God. Fortunately the Lord can send men like Nehemiah when Ezra’s service is no longer so emphatically present.
In Nehemiah it is about building a wall around the city of God, in which the temple of God stands. He dwells with His people. The personal application of the book is that we build a wall around the city of our souls, realizing that our “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1Cor 6:1919Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?). As we build this wall, we meet resistance. We must overcome this resistance. This gives rise to struggle and requires vigilance. When the people say “let us rise and build”, the enemy says “I will rise and resist”.
The book of Nehemiah is perhaps the most fundamental book of the Bible when it comes to personal service to God. For man in general, and for the believer in particular, there is no right to choose one’s own fulfilment of life. To start a study for a profession or to set up a career in business or to engage in any other work, without asking for the will of God, is not only foolish, it is also sin.
The Lord’s claims must be fully acknowledged. He needs to occupy the first place in all things. Our prayer must be: “Lord what do you want me to do and how and where and when do you want me to do it?” To this end, all areas of our lives must be handed over to Him: family, profession, church. Then God can reach His goal with us and our lives will be successful in the true sense of the word.
A division of the book:
1. The servant and his special commission (Nehemiah 1-3).
a. The servant is prepared, the hidden exercises of the heart (Nehemiah 1).
b. The way is prepared, the circumstances controlled (Nehemiah 2).
c. The rebuilding of the wall and the gates (Nehemiah 3).
2. Resistance and measures against the attacks of the enemy (Nehemiah 4-7).
3. Restoring the authority of God’s Word (Nehemiah 8-10).
4. The government of the city (Nehemiah 11-13).