Nehemiah

NEHEMIAH (nē'hĕ-mī'a, Heb. nehemyâh, Jehovah has comforted)

1. One of the leaders of the returning exiles under Zerubbabel (Ezra.2.2; Neh.7.7).

2. The son of Azbuk, a prince of Beth Zur who helped repair the wall of Jerusalem (Neh.3.16).

3. The son of Hacaliah and governor of the Persian province of Judah after 444 b.c. Of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah little is known aside from what is in the book that bears his name. His times, however, are illuminated by the rather considerable material found in the Elephantine Papyri from Egypt, which were written in the fifth century. These papyri come from a military colony of Jews residing on an island far up the Nile, opposite Aswan, and are written in Hebrew. They include copies of letters to and from Jerusalem and Samaria. They name several men who are also mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was a “cupbearer” to King Artaxerxes (Neh.1.11; Neh.2.1). Inasmuch as some of the Elephantine Papyri that are contemporary with Nehemiah are dated, we know that this Artaxerxes must be the first, called Longimanus, who ruled 465-423 b.c. The title “cupbearer” clearly indicates a responsible office—not merely a servile position—for the king speaks to Nehemiah as an intimate and also indicates that he regards Nehemiah’s journey to Jerusalem only as a kind of vacation from official duties (Neh.2.6). Furthermore, the credentials given Nehemiah by the king and also the office of governor entrusted to him show that the king looked on him as a man of ability. That a captive Jew should attain to such an office need not surprise us when we remember the examples of Daniel, Esther, and others. Indeed some ancient courts made it a practice to train captive noble youths for service in the government (Dan.1.4-Dan.1.5).

Nehemiah was an officer of the palace at Susa, but his heart was in Jerusalem. Word came to him from Hanani, one of his brothers, of the ruined condition of Jerusalem. Overcome with grief, Nehemiah sought the refuge of prayer—and God answered abundantly.

Hanani is called Nehemiah’s brother in Neh.1.2. In Neh.7.2 a Hanani and Hananiah are both mentioned. It is possible that this verse means to equate the two forms of the name Hanani, calling Nehemiah’s brother ruler of the palace at Jerusalem. It has been suggested that this Hanani is the same man mentioned in the Elephantine Papyri as an official who seems to have come into Egypt on a government mission. It was probably on another official trip that Hanani told Nehemiah of the sad state of affairs in Jerusalem.

Only about twelve years earlier, in Artaxerxes’s seventh year (457 b.c.), Ezra had gone back to Jerusalem with about 1,750 men, besides women and children (Ezra.8.1-Ezra.8.20) and treasure worth a king’s ransom (Ezra.8.26-Ezra.8.27). But if we refer Ezra.4.6-Ezra.4.23 to the days of Ezra himself, it appears that his adversaries had persuaded the king to stop Ezra’s efforts at rebuilding. The city, therefore, lay unrepaired, needing a new decree from the king. This permission Nehemiah providentially secured, thanks to his position at the court. Nehemiah therefore appeared at Jerusalem with a royal commission to continue the work that Ezra had begun.

Nehemiah was a man of ability, courage, and action. Arriving at Jerusalem, he first privately surveyed the scene of rubble (Neh.2.1-Neh.2.16), and he encouraged the rulers at Jerusalem with his report of answered prayer and the granting of the king’s new decree (Neh.2.18). Then he organized the community to carry out the effort of rebuilding the broken-down wall. Courageously and squarely he met the opposition of men like Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem (who are all now known from nonbiblical documents); and at last he saw the wall completed in the brief span of fifty-two days (Neh.6.15).

Nehemiah cooperated with Ezra in numerous reforms and especially in the public instruction in the law (Neh.8.1-Neh.8.18). However, he left for Persia, probably on official business, in 431 b.c. (Neh.13.6). Later he returned to Jerusalem, but for how long we do not know. Of the end of his life we know nothing. The Elephantine Papyri indicate that a different man, Bagohi, was governor by 407 b.c.——RLH


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NEHEMIAH nē’ ə mī ə (נְחֶמְיָ֖ה, LXX Νεεμια, prob. means “Compassion of Yah”).

Nehemiah, Jewish patriot and Pers. statesman was a man raised up to save Israel from national disintegration. He saw clearly that national collapse would jeopardize true religion. He was a cupbearer to the Pers. king, Artaxerxes I (464-424 b.c.), a position of great responsibility and influence; the holder ranked as a high official of the court. In this period only a man of exceptional trustworthiness would have been given the post, for the father of Artaxerxes had been murdered and he himself had gained the throne by a palace revolution.

Nehemiah was a member of a prominent Jewish family, for one of his brothers was the spokesman of an official delegation to Susa (Neh 1:2), and later became a governor of Jerusalem (7:2). The fact that both his and his father’s name (Hacaliah, Neh 1:1 and 10:1) contain the name Yah, may well indicate that his family was loyal to the Jewish orthodox faith. He was made aware of the plight of his people in the month of Kislev (Nov-Dec) 444 b.c., by delegates from Jerusalem to Susa, the winter residence of Pers. kings. Significantly, he first asked about the people, and then about the city. Their answer left him dejected and he turned to fasting, prayer and confession, in which he fully identified himself with his people. It was not until the month of Nisan (March-April), some four months later, when the king insisted on knowing the cause of his dejection, that he unburdened his heart and asked for and obtained leave of absence to become governor of Jerusalem (2:6). His resource at this juncture to impromptu prayer (2:4) shows the deep piety of the man and gives the narrative the ring of truth. The mention of the presence of the queen (2:6) lends support to the conjecture of secular historians that Artaxerxes was not immune from harem intrigue. The suggestion that Nehemiah was a eunuch rests solely on a careless, but explicable, slip by some copyist of a LXX MS.

His every decision indicated wisdom and forethought, and his actions were marked by determination and indomitable courage. His request for letters of safe conduct and authority to obtain materials for the work of rebuilding (2:7, 8) was doubtless prompted by his inside knowledge of conditions in the provinces. (For a parallel case, cf. Arsham who made a similar journey to Susa c. 410 b.c., S. Cowley, Elephantine Papyri, 26.) On his arrival at Jerusalem he made sure of his facts by a secret survey by night of the conditions of the city walls. He was then in a position to disclose the purpose of his mission and to rally the people for the rebuilding of the walls. The response was tremendous: all sections of the community dedicated themselves to the work: priests and laymen, Jews from the outlying towns and districts, and even women joined in the work (3:12). The succinct account in ch. 3 of the building activity does not divulge any information about the organizational feat that must have been involved, doubtless again due to the ability of Nehemiah.

When a report of Nehemiah’s purpose reached the ears of the governors of adjacent provinces their suspicions were aroused and they embarked on a policy of opposition. The ringleader was doubtless Sanballat, governor of Samaria (this was Sanballat I; two of his successors bore the same name, BA XXVI [1965], p. 109f. and p. 120). He was supported by the governor of Ammon, Tobiah (on the Tobiads, B. Mazar, IEJ, Vol. 7, p. 137ff. and p. 229ff.) and by the governor of Dedan, Geshem (K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and OT [1966], p. 159f.). The course of their opposition conforms unmistakably to an all too familiar pattern of human behavior. In their first act of opposition they used the well tried and well-nigh invincible weapon of ridicule (2:19). No technique has yet been invented to rival in effectiveness the skillful use of sneers, jeers, and gibes. A dangerous edge was given to their mockery by the insinuations that Nehemiah was planning high treason. He met the attack by asserting his assurance of divine help, by stating the inoffensive and constructive nature of the undertaking, and finally by reminding them that they were exceeding their authority. In matters concerning Jerusalem they had no stake or claim, nor any association with it (2:20). Nehemiah was a man impervious to blustering gibes. When the work got well under way, the opposition took on a somewhat different form. The means—mockery—was the same, only intensified, but now it was motivated by annoyance and anger (4:1-3). Nehemiah’s answer was prayer and persistence in the work (4:4-6). His shrewdness is seen in his planning the completion of all the lower half of the wall first. (This would seem to be the obvious implication of 4:6, 7.)

When verbal gibes and threats failed, Nehemiah’s opponents planned to use force (4:8). Again Nehemiah turned to prayer and at the same time took steps to counter the threat. His motto might well have been “Praying and Watching” (4:9). From this time forward work proceeded on a war footing.

Nehemiah’s troubles did not all come from outside Jerusalem. The Jews themselves confronted him with problems requiring diplomacy or firmness. First Judah threatened defection, ostensibly because of overwork, but defeatism also played its part.

A still more difficult internal crisis arose through the complaint of the people that they were being exploited by the rich (5:1-5). Nehemiah brought the offenders to heel and insisted on immediate redress. They agreed to forego their mortgage claims. Nehemiah displays an unerring understanding of human nature by insisting that all promises must be duly and publicly confirmed by oath (5:12). No one could gainsay his own unselfish and blameless conduct.

Two more attempts were made by Sanballat and his friends to undermine the work. First by attempting to lure Nehemiah away from Jerusalem (6:2). He refused, pleading pressure of important work. They then brought an open accusation of treason (6:6). It is said expressly that Geshem (Gashmu) shared this view. With his control of the great trade routes S, he was in a position to spread such a rumor as far as the king’s palace itself. Nehemiah did not fail to see the implications of this move (6:9).

With the wall sufficiently complete for defense purposes, steps were taken to rehabilitate the Jews. The first step was to make them familiar with the spiritual basis of their nationhood, the law of Moses. Prolonged sessions for readings were arranged, and the authority of the laws for their lives was acknowledged. The Temple service was restored and provision made for its continuation. Nehemiah’s final task was the restoration of national purity (13:1-27). It was a situation that demanded inflexible determination. He had a will of iron and tolerated no compromise.

For Nehemiah worldly success did not spell spiritual failure, and royal society left his appetite for divine fellowship unimpaired. The place of the fear of God in his heart was so great as to banish wholly the fear of man. In a time of apostasy, the study of the character of Nehemiah is particularly relevant.

Bibliography

J. S. Wright, The Date of Ezra’s Coming to Jerusalem (1958); J. M. Myers, Ezra and Nehemiah (1965); H. H. Rowley, The Servant of the Lord (1965), p. 137ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ne-he-mi’-a, ne-hem-i’-a (nechemyah, "comforted of Yah"):

1. Family

2. Youth

3. King’s Cupbearer

4. Governor of Judea

5. Death

LITERATURE

Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah, is the Jewish patriot whose life is recorded in the Biblical work named after him. All that we know about him from contemporary sources is found in this book; and so the readers of this article are referred to the nodetitle for the best and fullest account of his words and deeds.

See Ezra-nehemiah.

1. Family:

All that is known of his family is that he was the son of Hacaliah (Ne 1:1) and that one of his brothers was called Hanani (Ne 1:2; 7:2); the latter a man of sufficient character and importance to have been made a ruler of Jerusalem.

From Ne 10:1-8 some have inferred that he was a priest, since Nehemiah comes first in the list of names ending with the phrase, "these were the priests." This view is supported by the Syriac and Arabic versions of 10:1, which read: "Nehemiah the elder, the son of Hananiah the chief of the priests"; and by the Latin Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) of 2 Macc 1:21, where he is called "Nehemiah the priest," and possibly by 2 Macc 1:18, where it is said that Nehemiah "offered sacrifices, after that he had builded the temple and the altar."

The argument based upon Ne 10:1-8 will fall to the ground, if we change the pointing of the "Seraiah" of the 3rd verse and read "its princes," referring back to the princes of 10:1. In this case, Nehemiah and Zedekiah would be the princes; then would come the priests and then the Levites.

Some have thought that he was of the royal line of Judah, inasmuch as he refers to his "fathers’ sepulchres" at Jerusalem (Ne 2:3). This would be a good argument only if it could be shown that none but kings had sepulchers at Jerusalem.

It has been argued again that he was of noble lineage because of his position as cupbearer to the king of Persia. To substantiate this argument, it would need to be shown that none but persons of noble birth could serve in this position; but this has not been shown, and cannot be shown.

2. Youth:

From the fact that Nehemiah was so grieved at the desolation of the city and sepulchers of his fathers and that he was so jealous for the laws of the God of Judah, we can justly infer that he was brought up by pious parents, who instructed him in the history and law of the Jewish people.

3. King’s Cupbearer:

Doubtless because of his probity and ability, he was apparently at an early age appointed by Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to the responsible position of cupbearer to the king. There is now no possible doubt that this King his king was Artaxerxes, the first of that name, commonly called Longimanus, who ruled over Persia from 464 to 424 BC. The mention of the sons of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, in a letter written to the priests of Jerusalem in 407 BC, among whom Johanan is especially named, proves that Sanballat must have ruled in the time of Artaxerxes I rather than in that of Artaxerxes II.

The office of cupbearer was "one of no trifling honor" (Herod. iii.34). It was one of his chief duties to taste the wine for the king to see that it was not poisoned, and he was even admitted to the king while the queen was present (Ne 2:6). It was on account of this position of close intimacy with the king that Nehemiah was able to obtain his commission as governor of Judea and the letters and edicts which enabled him to restore the walls of Jerusalem.

4. Governor of Judea:

The occasion of this commission was as follows: Hanani, the brother of Nehemiah, and other men of Judah came to visit Nehemiah while he was in Susa in the 9th month of the 20th year of Artaxerxes. They reported that the Jews in Jerusalem were in great affliction and that the wall thereof was broken down and its gates burned with fire. Thereupon he grieved and fasted and prayed to God that he might be granted favor by the king. Having appeared before the latter in the 1st month of the 21st year of Artaxerxes, 444 BC, he was granted permission to go to Jerusalem to build the city of his fathers’ sepulchers, and was given letters to the governors of Syria and Palestine and especially to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, ordering him to supply timber for the wall, the fortress, and the temple. He was also appointed governor of the province of which Jerusalem was the capital.

Armed with these credentials and powers he repaired to Jerusalem and immediately set about the restoration of the walls, a work in which he was hindered and harassed by Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, and others, some of them Jews dwelling in Jerusalem. Notwithstanding, he succeeded in his attempt and eventually also in providing gates for the various entrances to the city.

Having accomplished these external renovations, he instituted a number of social reforms. He appointed the officers necessary for better government, caused the people to be instructed in the Law by public readings, and expositions; celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles; and observed a national fast, at which the sins of the people were confessed and a new covenant with Yahweh was solemnly confirmed. The people agreed to avoid marriages with the heathen, to keep the Sabbath, and to contribute to the support of the temple. To provide for the safety and prosperity of the city, one out of every ten of the people living outside Jerusalem was compelled to settle in the city. In all of these reforms he was assisted by Ezra, who had gone up to Jerusalem in the 7th year of Artaxerxes.

5. Death:

Once, or perhaps oftener, during his governorship Nehemiah returned to the king. Nothing is known as to when or where he died. It is certain, however, that he was no longer governor in 407 BC; for at that time according to the Aramaic letter written from Elephantine to the priests of Jerusalem, Bagohi was occupying the position of governor over Judea. One of the last acts of Nehemiah’s government was the chasing away of one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib, because he had become the son-in-law to Sanballat, the governor of Samaria. As this Joiada was the father of Johanan (Ne 12:22) who, according to the Aramaic papyrus, was high priest in 407 BC, and according to Josephus (Ant., XI, viii.1) was high priest while Bagohi (Bogoas) was general of Artaxerxes’ army, it is certain that Nehemiah was at this time no longer in power. From the 3rd of the Sachau papyri, it seems that Bagohi was already governor in 410 BC; and, that at the same time, Dalayah, the son of Sanballat, was governor in Samaria. More definite information on these points is not to be had at present.

LITERATURE.

The only early extra-Biblical data with regard to Nehemiah and the Judea of his times are to be found:

(1) in the Egyptian papyri of Elephantine ("Aramaische Papyri und Ostraka aus einer judischen Militar-Kolonie zu Elephantine," Altorientalische Sprachdenkmaler des 5. Jahrhunderts vor Chr., Bearbeitet von Eduard Sachau. Leipzig, 1911);

(2)in Josephus, Ant, XI, vi, 6-8; vii, 1, 2;

(3) in Ecclesiasticus 49:13, where it is said: "The renown of Nehemiah is glorious; of him who established our waste places and restored our ruins, and set up the gates and bars"; (4) and lastly in 2 Macc 1:18-36 and 2:13; in the latter of these passages it speaks of `the writings and commentaries of Nehemiah; and how he, founding a library, gathered together the acts of the kings and the prophets and of David and the epistles of the kings concerning the holy gifts.’R. Dick Wilson