Introduction to Nehemiah

In case you want to “get ahead” for Sunday and prepare for our fall study in Nehemiah, here is an introduction from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible:

Nehemiah is the central figure in the book that bears his name. It contains some of his own records, but he is not the author of the entire book. The same author probably wrote Nehemiah and portions of Ezra. Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem in 445 b.c., 13 years after Ezra arrived. He returned for a further visit sometime between 433 and 423 b.c. He may have made several journeys between Persian capitals and Jerusalem in this period of 20 years.

Nehemiah continues Ezra’s final glimpse of God’s people mercifully re­established in their land after the Babylonian exile and before the long, dark intertestamental period of waiting for a greater restoration and revelation of God’s deliverance. Many have noted this book’s lessons in leadership. Wise, prayerful Nehemiah leads a third group of exiles back to Jerusalem and there unites the people, amid surrounding opposition, to rebuild the city walls and to live as God’s people according to his Word. But Nehemiah is about much more than leadership, however inspiring that leadership might be.

In the end, this book leaves us with a leader’s failures more than his successes. Rather than focusing mainly on human faithfulness to God, the book of Nehemiah shows God’s faithfulness to his unfaithful people. This divine faithfulness is rooted in God’s covenant promises. As in Ezra, the remnant of God’s people is here recorded carefully by genealogy: this is Abraham’s seed, the people God promised to bless and through whom he would bless all the nations of the world. Perhaps at no point in their history had the prospects for this people looked bleaker, with a ruined city to rebuild, hateful enemies all around, and sin always threatening from within.

At this point of weakness, Nehemiah leads the people toward trust in a strong, trustworthy God. The wall rebuilt under Nehemiah’s direction pictures not fearful retreat or isolation but rather God’s protection of this people whom he has chosen, and through whom he will accomplish his redemptive plan for the human race. The book’s climax comes not simply with the finished wall but with worship of the Lord God who has spoken and whose word will not fail. As we see this people rebuilding, so imperfectly and sustained only by God’s faithful promises, we cannot help but look ahead to God’s people today. For we too, though not working with physical stones, are “like living stones . . . being built up as a spiritual house.” And Christ himself is the chief cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:5–6).

Nehemiah’s people were waiting for the promised Savior, who now has come according to God’s word of promise: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Even as we see and worship Jesus, God’s people today also wait for him—for his second coming. As living stones in God’s spiritual house, with Jesus as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:19–22), we also build imperfectly, battling enemies without and sin within. But we also look ahead to God’s promise of that “holy city, new Jerusalem,” the eternal dwelling of God with his people (Rev. 21:2–3). Safe in that city, around the throne of God and of the Lamb, “his servants will worship him” perfectly and forever (Rev. 22:1–3).

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