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Nehemiah (whose name means "the LORD comforts") was an Old Testament figure whose activities are principally described in the book of the Bible that bears his name. Nehemiah lived during the rebuilding of the temple that was originally built under King Solomon in Jerusalem. (That temple had been destroyed when the southern kingdom of Judea (consisting of the Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin) were taken into captivity in Babylon.) After Babylon was subsequently conquered by the Persians, the Persian king appointed Nehemiah (who had been named as the king's cupbearer) as governor of Judea, and allowed him and other captives to return to Judea to rebuild the temple. Under Nehemiah's direction, and despite encountering much opposition from the local population, the returned exiles rebuilt the walls of Jersualem and the Temple (although on a much less grand scale than the original). Nehemiah also reinstated enforcement of the Mosaic Law, including requiring Jewish men to divorce their non-Jewish wives. After twelve years, Nehemiah went to report to the Persian king in the capital of Susa. However, during his absence, the returned exiles relapsed into the former evil ways that had existed prior to the Babylonian exile, including the conduct of business on the Sabbath (in which non-Jews -- who were also allowed to reside in the Temple -- participated). This greatly angered Nehemiah, leading him to once again purify the Temple, along with the priests and Levites who served there, and to reinstate enforcement of the Mosaic Law.
Nehemiah was a God-fearing Jew who served in the fortress of Sushan as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia, Nehemiah 1:1. Even while there, he still had an interest in how the Jews were doing in their homeland and was concerned for the state of the city of Jerusalem. He received unsettling reports of its condition. Artaxerxes sensing his sorrow permitted him to go and rebuild. The book of Nehemiah gives the complete account of that rebuilding with all the challenges under his governorship, Nehemiah 8:9, 10:1, 12:26. Nehemiah’s time is linked to when Persia was in power. The first ruler to reign was Cyrus, also known as Darius the Mede, Daniel 5:30, 9:1. In his first year, he issued the decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, II Chronicles 36:22, Ezra 1:1, 5:13, 6:3, Isaiah 44:28, Daniel 9:25. Among those that who came out of captivity of Babylon to return to Jerusalem and Judah were Mordecai and Nehemiah, Ezra 2:1-2, Nehemiah 7:7. After Cyrus’ death, three kings reigned, Daniel 11:1-2. Cambyses his oldest son succeeded him, but the identities of the other two are vague. Then Darius the Persian arose to power. History records him reigning for 36 years. During his reign the events occurred that are in the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, Esther, Haggai, and Zechariah. In fact, certain years of his reign are specifically numbered, shown as follows: YEAR 2 – The prophets Haggai and Zechariah, by the Word of the Lord, call the people to build the temple, Haggai 1:1, 15, 2:10; Zechariah 1:1, 7. YEAR 2 – After the temple building is suspended, the work resumes, Ezra 4:24. YEAR 3 – King Ahasuerus (possibly a form of Darius’ title, Xerxes) makes a great feast and Queen Vashi is deposed, Esther 1:3. YEAR 4 – Zechariah, by the Word of the Lord, speaks about no longer weeping and fasting, Zechariah 7:1. YEAR 6 – The temple is completed, Ezra 6:15. YEAR 7 – Ezra and others come to Jerusalem, Ezra 7:7-8. The king’s new title of Artaxerxes, king of kings, Ezra 7:12, may be in recognition of his now ruling, not just 120 provinces, Daniel 6:1, but 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia, Esther 1:1. YEAR 7 – Esther is brought to the king, Esther 2:16-17. YEAR 12 – Haman plots against the Jews, Esther 3:7. YEAR 20 – Nehemiah, cupbearer to the king, becomes governor of Judea for 12 years, Nehemiah 1:1, 5:14. He sees the king and “the queen also sitting by him” (likely Esther), Nehemiah 2:6. YEAR 32 – Nehemiah returns to the king, Nehemiah 13:6, after which he goes back to Jerusalem. Nehemiah provides glimpses of Christ. As the cupbearer, closely intimate with the sovereign, he resembles Christ who was with the Father. Both had compassion for the people. As the builder doing work amidst rejection, he pictures Christ in his ministry amidst opposition. Both fervently interceded for the people. Finally, as governor who had gone to the king and came back, Nehemiah pictures Christ returning to reign.
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