Bible Commentary for 2 Chronicles 36 thru Nehemiah 8
2 Chronicles Chapter 36
After the death of Josiah, his son, Jehoahaz became king and he ruled for three months. Because the king of Egypt defeated Josiah at Megiddo, Judah became a vassal to Egypt. Jehovah was displeased with Jehoahaz so he allowed the king of Egypt to removed him from the throne and replace him with his brother Eliakim who was two years older than Jehoahaz. The king changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim. The NIV Bible Commentary, page 677, tells us this concerning the changing of the Judean king's name: "More tangibly the Pharaoh's control over the king's name demonstrated his lordship over his person; indeed, it would be four and a half centuries before the Jews would again be able to exercise political freedom, under the Macabees." He then took Jehoahaz to Egypt where he died.
The prophet Jeremiah prophesied concerning Jehoahaz at Jeremiah 22:11, 12 this: “For this is what the LORD [Jehovah] says about Shallum son of Josiah, who succeeded his father as king of Judah but has gone from this place: ‘He will never return. He will die in the place where they have led him captive; he will not see this land again.’”
Jehoiakim ruled for eleven years and he did evil in Jehovah’s eyes. In his third year, Jehovah brought Nebuchadnezzar against him who bound him in shackles but did not take him to Babylon. Instead, he made him a vassel king even though he was still paying tribute to the king of Egypt. Also, as we read in Daniel 1:1-7, he took some, but not all, of the articles from the temple, thus desecrating it, and some of the members of the royal family to serve in his court among whom were Daniel and his three companions. This fulfilled Jehovah’s word to Hezekiah recorded at Isaiah 39:7. Jeremiah the prophet also relates some events, not recorded in this chapter, which occurred during his rule. In Jeremiah 26:20-23, we learn that Jehoiakim killed a prophet of Jehovah, Uriah, who had prophesied against Jerusalem and he wanted to kill Jeremiah for doing the same thing but his princes would not allow him to do so. (Jeremiah 26:19) Jeremiah also relates how Jehoiakim, in his fifth year of rule, destroyed a scroll on which Jeremiah had written Jehovah’s denunciations against Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 36: 9, 22-28) Jehovah also had Jeremiah prophesy the manner of his death. (Jeremiah 22:18, 19; 36:30) His son Jehoiachin succeeded him on the throne.
Jehoiachin was eighteen years when he began to rule and he ruled for three months. He also did what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes. Jeremiah prophesied concerning him that Jehovah would send Nebuchadnezzar against him and he would be taken to a land that he was not familiar with where he would also die. (Jeremiah 22:24-30) The events of his capture by Nebuchadnezzar are recorded at 2 Kings 24:10-16. The king of Babylon also took more articles from the temple at this time. The prophet Ezekiel was taken to Babylon at the same time as Jehoiachin and he counts his prophetic years starting with the fifth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin. (Ezekiel 1:2)
Nebuchadnezzar then put another son of Josiah on the throne in place of Jehoiachin whom he renamed Zedekiah. He was twenty-one years old when he began to rule and he ruled for eleven years. At Jeremiah 37:2 we learn this about Zedekiah: “Neither he nor his attendants nor the people of the land paid any attention to the words the LORD [Jehovah] had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet.” All the leaders of the priests and the people became more unfaithful and continued in their detestable practices and in defiling Jehovah’s temple. Ezekiel the prophet was shown in a vision some of the detestable practices that were going on in the temple during this time. (See Ezekiel chapter 8)
Zedekiah also rebelled against the king of Babylon who had made him swear an oath in Jehovah’s name by making an alliance with the king of Egypt. This brought the king of Babylon against him. The king of Egypt made an effort to help him and the king of Babylon left off his siege of Jerusalem to fight him. But Jehovah sent this message to Zedekiah through Jeremiah the prophet. “This is what the LORD [Jehovah], the God of Israel, says: Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of me, ‘Pharaoh’s army, which has marched out to support you, will go back to Egypt. Then the Babylonians will return and attack this city; they will capture it and burn it down.’” (Jeremiah 37:5-8)
When the king of Babylon returned from defeating Egypt, Jehovah handed the people of Jerusalem and Judah over to him. He did not have any mercy on anyone man or woman, old or young. He carried off all the articles inside and outside the temple and from the treasuries of the palace, he left nothing. They set fire to the temple, broke down the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed everything of value in the city. He carried a remnant, those that had escaped the sword, into exile in Babylon. Zedekiah was among this remnant because Jehovah had promised him that Nebuchadnezzar would not put him to death. He sent Jeremiah to him and told him this: “Yet hear the promise of the LORD [Jehovah], O Zedekiah king of Judah. This is what the LORD says concerning you: ‘You will not die by the sword; you will die peacefully. As people made a funeral fire in honor of your fathers, the former kings who preceded you, so they will make a fire in your honor and lament, “Alas, O master!” I myself make this promise, declares the LORD [Jehovah].’” The land would now enjoy its Sabbaths until the seventy years of Babylonian domination had been completed. (Jeremiah 29:10) In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, a proclamation was issued for the release of the Jews from Babylon. The prophet Isaiah had foretold this event and it is recorded at Isaiah 45:1-7.
The Book of Ezra
Ezra Chapter 1
In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, Jehovah caused him to issue a proclamation and he put it in writing. He wrote: “The LORD [Jehovah] the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you-may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:2, 3) All those whose hearts God had moved made preparation to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Priests, Levites, and heads of families of Judah and Benjamin took the lead. Their neighbors assisted them by giving them articles of silver and gold, livestock, and other goods. King Cyrus gave the returnees all the articles that belonged in the temple, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken when he destroyed it. He entrusted these articles to Sheshbazzar, the one appointed as leader of Judah by Cyrus. In the listing of the some 5,400 articles that Cyrus took from the treasury of Babylon, the Ark of the Covenant is not included as being a part of the articles that were entrusted to Sheshbazzar. The ark appears to have disappeared before the destruction of the temple. We also know that all the articles made of bronze had been cut into pieces before being taken to Babylon. (2 Kings 25:13)
There is much controversy over just who Sheshbazzar was. According to The Bible History Commentary of the Old Testament, page 656, there are four possible views as to his identity. 1) Some believe that Sheshbazzar was a Persian name for Zerubbabel because both are associated with the building of the foundation of the temple. But this view is rejected because Zerubbabel is never referred to again by the name of Sheshbazzar. 2) Some believe that he was a Jew who was appointed by Cyrus but because he was probably old at the time of the return he died very early after arriving in Jerusalem. No scriptural proof exists for this viewpoint other than what we learn from Ezra 3:1. Here we learn that in the seventh month Zerubbabel was leading the people in the work of building an altar along with Jeshua. 3) It is thought that he was Shenazzar in 1 Chronicles 3:17 and was the uncle of Zerubbabel. 4) Others believe that he may have been a Persian official sent by Cyrus to make sure that his wishes were carried out. This is the least likely of these four thoughts to be true.
Ezra Chapter 2
A listing of the returnees is given in this chapter. When they reached the land, each family settled where they had previously lived. 1 Chronicles 9:2 states that the first to resettle on their own property in their own towns were some Israelites, priests, Levites and temple servants. Ezra lists a total of 42,360 Israelites in addition to 7,337 men and women servants and 200 men and woman singers. We also learn there were many priests who could not find their family records to prove their descent so they were excluded from the priesthood. They were not allowed to eat the most sacred food until the high priest began ministering with the Urim and Thummin. (Exodus 28:30)
When the people arrived in Jerusalem some of the heads of the families gave money to the treasury for the rebuilding of the temple. They gave 1,100 pounds of gold, about three tons of silver and 100 priestly garments.
The NIV Bible Commentary, Volume I, page 688, explains verse 70 this way: "Later Nehemiah would be compelled to move people by lot to reinforce the population of Jerusalem, as the capital city had suffered the severest loss of life at the time of the Babylonian attacks. The survivors, who came for the most part from towns in the countryside, naturally preferred to resettle in their hometowns."
Ezra Chapter 3
When the seventh month came, the month for celebrating the Festival of Booths, the Israelites were already settled in their towns. At this time they assembled in Jerusalem to build an altar to Jehovah. The phrase 'at this time' would appear to mean that it was the seventh month when they built the altar. But verse 7 of this chapter specifically says that "on the first day of the seventh month, they began to offer burnt offerings to LORD [Jehovah]." Therefore, the altar had to have been constructed before the seventh month.
High priest Jeshua, son of Jehozadak and Zerubbabel and his associates led the people in this so that they could offer sacrifices to Jehovah. The altar had been built according to the instructions that Jehovah had given to Moses. Even though the people were afraid of their neighbors, they completed the altar and began offering the morning and evening burnt offerings. Then they celebrated the Festival of Booth with the prescribed offerings for each day. Afterwards they presented at this altar all of the prescribed offerings that Israel was under obligation to offer to Jehovah throughout the year even though the foundation of the temple had not yet been laid.
The monies that had been collected were given to the masons and carpenters who were going to build the house. Cyrus had also ordered that cedar logs be brought to Jerusalem to be used in the building work. The people of Judah supplied food, drink and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre as pay for cutting and shipping these logs.
The Jews began the work of rebuilding the temple fourteen months after their arrival in the land of Palestine on the same foundation that had been laid by Solomon. The Bible History Commentary of the Old Testament, page 659, tells us this: “There was a period of preparation for building the temple foundation for the work did not begin until the second month of the second year after their arrival (May-June, 536), exactly seventy years after the first deportation in 605. Why this delay of seven months after the altar was built? Because they had to get organized and secure the building materials.” The Levites, twenty years of age of up, were appointed to supervise this building work. When the foundation had been laid, the priest put on their official garments and took their trumpets along with the official musicians, the sons of Asaph, and they began to offer praise to Jehovah as had been prescribed by David. The people were very joyous on this occasion and the older priests and Levites who had seen the first temple wept aloud. There was great rejoicing in Jerusalem at this time and the sounds of this joy could be heard in the distance.
Ezra Chapter 4
When the people living in the surrounding area learned that the exiles were building a temple for Jehovah, they came to Zerubbabel and the leaders and asked if they could participate in this building work. They claimed that they had been sacrificing to Jehovah since the king of Assyria settled them in this land. However, their way of worshipping was not in harmony with Jehovah’s instruction. (2 Kings 17:24-33) Zerubbabel and Jeshua refused their help and told them that they could have no part in building this temple to Jehovah, that they, the returning exiles alone had been commanded by Cyrus to do so. The surrounding peoples then began doing all that they could to stop this work. This interference continued throughout the reign of Cyrus and into the reign of Darius, some sixteen years.
During the reign of the Persian king, Artaxerxes, the commanding officer of the Trans-Euphrates wrote a letter complaining about what the Jews were doing in Jerusalem. The writers of this letter claimed that all of the people living in the Trans-Euphrates were included in this complaint, and this therefore was the view of the entire population of the area. The letter claimed that the Jews were rebuilding a city that was known to be a rebellious and wicked city. If the king allowed this city to be rebuilt, he would receive no more tribute, taxes or duty from the inhabitants of the city. They advised him to make a search in the records and he would find that this city was just as they had described it, a place of rebellion from ancient times.
The king replied that he had made a search and found that their complaint had some validity. Jerusalem’s kings had been powerful and had ruled over the entire Trans-Euphrates and tax, tribute and duty had been paid to them. So an order was to be issued to them to stop the rebuilding work until he said that it could go be started again. Upon receipt of the king’s reply, these men immediately came to Jerusalem and forced the Jews to discontinue the rebuilding work.
Many scholars believe that verses 6-23 represents a digression by Ezra from relating events regarding the opposition to the building of the temple to the opposition lodged by the neighboring peoples against the rebuilding of the city itself and its walls. They recognize that there were three rulers of Persia who were named Artaxerxes but cannot place either of them as ruling during the period between 536 and 515 when the temple work began and when it was completed.
The Bible History Commentary of the Old Testament, page 660, states this: “These letters to and from Artaxerxes are out of place chronologically, but they follow here logically to show that the opposition Ezra had begun to describe (vv.1-5) continued on for many years - to 464-424. Artaxerxes was the king who was reigning during the events recorded in chapters 7 –10.”
If the above is true, then verse 24 would be the continuation from verse 5.
Ezra Chapter 5
In the second year of Darius, king of Persia, Jehovah sent his prophets Haggai and Zechariah to the Jews to arouse them from their laxity so that they could began the rebuilding of the temple. The prophet told them that they were spending a lot of time in their own pursuits but had gained very little in return because Jehovah was not blessing them. He said to them: “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.” (Haggai 1:9) After hearing the words of Haggai and Zechariah and being encouraged that Jehovah was with them, the remnant began immediately to work on the house of Jehovah. (Haggai 1:14; see also Zechariah 1:1-6)
Tattenai, who was governor of the Trans-Euphrates and his associates came to the Jews and asked them who gave them authority to rebuild the temple. This time they did not allow themselves to be intimidated by these people and they continued to build because Jehovah was with them. Tattenai then wrote a letter to King Darius regarding this rebuilding work.
In his letter he stated that the work of rebuilding the temple was being done diligently and was making rapid progress. When he asked the Jews who authorized them to restore this structure, they told him that they as servants of the God of heaven and earth were restoring the temple that had been built many years age. But because they as a people had angered Jehovah, he had allowed the Babylonians to destroy the temple and deport the people to Babylon. But in his first year, Cyrus, king of Babylon had issued a decree that the temple was to be rebuilt and had even returned the articles that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple. He had put these articles in the care of Sheshbazzar, the appointed governor, and told him to put them in the temple that was to be built on its original site. But up to this time, the construction had not been completed. Tattenai then requested that the king do a search in the archives of Babylon to see if Cyrus had issued such a decree.
Ezra Chapter 6
King Darius issued the order that a search be made in the archives for this decree. A scroll was found that showed Cyrus, in his first year as king, had authorized the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. In this particular scroll (verse 3) dimensions are given for the temple. The footnote for this verse in the NIV Study Bible states this concerning these dimensions: “These dimensions, which contrast with those of Solomon’s temple, are probably not specification of the temple as built but of the outer limits of a building the Persians were willing to subsidize. The second temple was not as grandiose as the first.”
King Darius then wrote to the governor and other officials of Trans-Euphrates warning them not to interfere with the work being done on the temple. In fact, he authorized them to help the Jews by giving them monies from the royal treasuries so that the temple could be completed. Additionally, they were to provide animals for the offerings, wheat, salt, wine and oil that was to be given to the priest on a daily basis so that they could offer sacrifices pleasing to Jehovah. He also wanted the priest to pray on behalf of himself and his family.
It was decreed by the king that if anyone tried to change his edict concerning the house of Jehovah, it was to be considered a crime. He also stated that the God who caused His name to dwell on this temple would overthrow anyone who tried to destroy His temple. Because of this decree of Darius, the governor of the region did as he had been ordered and the Jews continued to build until they had completed the work on the third day of the month Adar, the twelfth month of the year according to the Jewish calendar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius. It had taken them about three and one-half years to complete it. Seventy years had now passed since the destruction of the first temple.
The Jews then dedicated the house of Jehovah. They offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and twelve male goats as a sin offering for each of the twelve tribes. The priests and Levites were installed according to the way the Mosiac Law outlined.
They celebrated the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The priests and Levites were all ceremonially clean and could do their work. The Levites killed the Passover lambs for the people as well as for themselves as King Josiah had ordained them to do. Then they observed the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread joyfully because Jehovah had filled them with joy because of what He had done in helping them to complete the work of building the temple. The term ‘king of Assyria’ (verse 22) is here used to refer to the Persian king, Darius. The footnote for this verse in the NIV Study Bible says this: “A surprising title for Darius, the Persian king. But even after the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C., the term ‘Assyria’ continued to be used for former territories the Assyrians had occupied (even Syria is an abbreviation of Assyria). Persian kings adopted a variety of titles, including ‘king of Babylon.’”
Ezra Chapter 7
It is believed that a period of about sixty years had passed between the time of the events recorded in this chapter and those of chapter six. In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, grandson of Darius and now king of Persia, Ezra, a descendant of Aaron through his son Eleazar came to Jerusalem from Babylon. Some of the priests, Levitical singers, gatekeepers and temple servants came with him. The king gave Ezra what he asked for because Jehovah was with him.
Ezra left Babylon on the first day of the first month, Nisan, and arrived four months later, on the first day of the fifth month. He was a qualified teacher of the law because he had devoted himself to the study of the law and to teaching its decrees.
Artaxerxes gave Ezra a letter stating that he was being sent to Jerusalem to inquire how the Jews were faring as far as God’s law was concerned. He had with him gold and silver given him by the king as well as donations from Jews living in Persia to buy whatever was needed for worship at the temple. If more funds were needed for the temple these could be taken from the royal treasury. The treasurers of these funds were to provide whatever Ezra needed such as silver, wheat, wine, olive oil and salt for use at the temple. The king was very concerned about the wrath of God coming upon his realm because of some neglect in Jehovah’s worship at Jerusalem. He reminded the rulers of the Trans-Euphrates that they were not to impose any taxes, tribute or duty on the priests or Levites, singers, gatekeepers and even the temple servants, any who had responsibilities at the house of Jehovah. Ezra is also to appoint magistrates and judges among all who worship Jehovah and he is to teach the law to those who do not know it. Obedience to Jehovah’s law and to the law of the king was paramount.
Ezra gave praise to Jehovah who put it into the heart of the king to bring honor to His house and who had caused him to have favor in the eyes of the king and his officials. Because Jehovah’s hand was with him, he acted courageously and gathered leading men to go to Jerusalem with him.
Ezra Chapter 8
The list and number of those who came to Jerusalem with Ezra are given in the verses 1-14. There were 1,496 men in the group along with women and children. When Ezra surveyed the group before embarking on the journey, he saw that there no Levites or temple servants among them. So he sent men to Iddo in Casiphia to request that he would send temple servants to go with them so that they might have attendants for the temple. These temple servants had been appointed by David to assist the Levites in their duties. Iddo sent two hundred and twenty temple servants to Ezra. From the descendants of Levi, thirty-eight men agreed to return to Jerusalem also. Ezra had the group fast and humble themselves before Jehovah so that they could request that He would give them a safe journey because Ezra had assured the king that they relied on Jehovah, therefore he would not need to send a contingent of soldiers with them to protect them. Jehovah heard their prayer.
Ezra took further steps to protect the silver and gold and other articles that the king had donated to the house of God. He divided the silver and gold among twelve of the leading priest and some of the Levites and told them that both they and the articles were consecrated to Jehovah and they should guard them carefully until they reach Jerusalem. Under Jehovah’s protection they arrived in Jerusalem in safety. They then gave the offerings to Meremoth, son of Uriah the priest. Everything was weighed and counted and nothing was missing.
These returnees then went to the temple and sacrificed burnt offering to Jehovah. They sacrificed twelve male goats as a sin offering; twelve bulls for all Israel; ninety-six rams and seventy-seven male lambs all as burnt offerings. They then delivered the kings orders to the rulers of the Trans-Euphrates who were to give monetary assistance from the royal treasury if needed for the house of Jehovah.
Ezra Chapter 9
The leaders of the people came to Ezra and told him that “the people of Israel including the priests and the Levites were engaging in idolatrous practices and had taken marriage mates from among the pagans living around them. Ezra was astounded at this revelation and he tore his clothes and pulled out his hair. He sat appalled because of this unfaithfulness on the part of the people until the evening being joined by others who also felt as he did. Then at the time of the evening sacrifice, Ezra began to pray to Jehovah expressing his grief over their sin. He stated that "our guilt has reached to heaven." Because Israel has constantly been sinning against Jehovah, they have become subjected to the cruelty of foreign rulers. But Jehovah in His infinite mercy had not completely deserted His people. He has been gracious to them by giving them some relief from their bondage. He caused the king of Persia to show them kindness in granting them permission to return and rebuild the house of God and repair the ruins. Even at this time He had put a wall of protection around Judah and Jerusalem.
But now, Israel had not kept His commands concerning those who did not follow His word. By their practices these pagans were defiling the land therefore He had warned His people not to form marriage alliances with them nor were they to seek a treaty of friendship with them. Obedience to Jehovah would preserve the land as an inheritance for their children for eternity. Even though they had been punished for their disobedience, yet Jehovah had left a remnant to them. Now this remnant was breaking God’s commands just as their forefathers had done. Wouldn’t this act now cause Jehovah to bring complete destruction upon them, leaving no one alive? Israel in their guilt could not at this time stand in the presence of Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4)
Ezra Chapter 10
While Ezra was praying, a large crowd gathered around him and wept bitterly. One of the men said to Ezra that yes, they had been unfaithful by taking marriage mates from the people of the surrounding areas. He suggested that Israel could be saved if they would conclude a covenant with Jehovah that they would send these women and their children away. It could be done according to the law and Ezra was the person who could take charge of this matter. He would have their support so he should take courage to get the matter done.
Ezra then put the leading priest, Levites and all the people with him under oath to do what had been suggested and they agreed to take the oath. Then a proclamation was issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for everyone to assemble in Jerusalem within three days. Anyone who refused to come to Jerusalem would have all of his property confiscated and he would be expelled from the assembly of the exiles.
The people assembled on the twentieth day of the ninth month in Jerusalem. They were in great distress because of the occasion and because it was also the rainy season. Then Ezra stood up before the assembly and told them that because of their unfaithfulness in marrying pagan women, they had added to Israel’s guilt before Jehovah. He asked them to confess this guilt to Jehovah and do His will by separating themselves from these pagan people and by sending their pagan wives away.
The people had no other choice but to agree with Ezra and to do as he said they should. But they said that it could not be done that day because there were many people involved and the matter needed more time to be concluded. They suggested that officials be put in charge in each town to take of this matter. Then each individual could come to them at a set time and resolve the matter. This was agreeable to the majority of the people assembled, but some disagreed with handling the affair this way although no reason was given for their objection.
Ezra selected men who were heads of families, one from each family division to act as the officials. These officials began the task of investigating the cases on the first day of the tenth month and by the first day of the first month of the following year, all cases had been investigated and resolved. They found that there were a total of one hundred and ten marriages that had to be dissolved. The list of the men involved included priests and Levites. (Verses 18-24) The men, afterward, offered a ram along with its drink and grain offering as a guilt offering to atone for their sin.
The Book of Nehemiah
Nehemiah Chapter 1
In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah’s brother visited him while he was in Susa the location of one of the royal palaces of the king. His brother had come from Judah and Nehemiah wanted to know how the returnees were doing and what condition the city of Jerusalem was in. His brother told him that the returnees were in great trouble as the walls of the city had not been rebuilt. Nehemiah was upset at hearing these words and he mourned and fasted for some days and prayed to Jehovah.
In his prayer, he said to Jehovah that He was the God who keeps His covenant of love with those who love and obey Him so let His eyes and ears be open to hear the prayer of His servant in behalf of His people, Israel. Nehemiah admits that all Israel had sinned against Him including himself. They had not obeyed His commands, decrees and laws given to Moses. Jehovah had told Moses that if Israel was unfaithful, He would scatter them among the nations but if they repented of their sins, He would gather them again to the place where He had chosen to put His Name. Israel was His people because He had redeemed them by His mighty hand so he, Nehemiah, requested that Jehovah hear the prayers offered in their behalf. He was especially concerned that the king would respond favorably to his request.
Nehemiah Chapter 2
Four months later when Nehemiah was serving before the king in his capacity as cup-bearer, he was, for the first time while in the king’s presence, in an unhappy state and the king remarked on this. The king knew that Nehemiah was not sick so there must have been some other reason for his sad countenance. Nehemiah told him that his sadness was a result of the news that he had heard about the city where his fathers were buried. The city with its walls and gates were still in ruins. He then said that if it was a favorable request, he wanted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. The king was agreeable to this and Nehemiah set a time that he would return.
He asked the king to give him a letter to show to the governors of the Trans-Euphrates so that he would not be harassed as he traveled through their area going to Judah. He also needed a letter to give to the man in charge of the kings’ forest so that he could get wood to make the beams for the wall and gates. The kings gave these to him because Jehovah was with him. The king also sent a cavalry of soldiers with him as reinforcements when he had to deal with the people of the land because Nehemiah knew that he would face opposition. When he arrived he took the letter that the king had written to the governors of the Trans-Euphrates. Some of the officials of the area were not happy that the king of Persia was concerned about the people of Judah specifically Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem.
The Bible History Commentary of the Old Testament, page 677, says of these men “that as soon as they heard that Nehemiah had arrived on the scene to help Israel, they were very displeased. Immediately they began to plan how to stop Nehemiah from achieving his goal. Perhaps they were hoping to gain control of Judah. In fact in the Elephantine papyri written in 407 B.C., 37 years after this event, Sanballat was called ‘governor of Samaria.’ ”
Three days after he arrived in Jerusalem, he inspected the walls of the city. He did this at night because he did not want to arouse any suspicion about what he was there to do. After he had completed his tour of the walls, he went to the leading men and said to them that if they were to restore the walls and gates of Jerusalem, there would no longer be any disgrace upon them. He also told them that Jehovah was with him in this affair and so was the king. They were encouraged by this information and they were eager to begin the rebuilding. But the three men mentioned above, when they heard about the rebuilding work, began to ridicule them and accuse them of rebelling against the king. But Nehemiah would not allow them to harass him. He told them that Jehovah would give them success and their help would not be needed as they had no stake in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah Chapter 3
Eliashib, the high priest, and his fellow priest started the work at the Sheep Gate, which was located in the northeast corner of the city near the temple area. They did repairs on the walls as far as the Tower of Hananel where others continued the work. The Sheep Gate is mentioned at John 5:1-3 in connection with a pool that the Jews in Jesus’ day believed had healing powers. The sons of Hassenaah repaired the Fish Gate. Others repaired sections of the wall between this gate and the next one, the Jeshanah Gate, which Joiada and Meshullam repaired. The sections of the wall opposite where some had homes were repaired by these homeowners. Hanun and the resident of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate and they also repaired a five hundred-yard section of the wall near this gate. Malkijah, son of the ruler of Beth Hakkerem, repaired the Dung Gate, the gate that led to the Valley of Hinnon where garbage was thrown. The Fountain Gate was repaired by the son of the ruler of the District of Mizpah who also repaired the part of the wall that ran by the Pool of Siloam next to the King’s Garden.
Priests who did not live in Jerusalem repaired sections of the walls near the homes of the priests who lived in the city. The Temple Servants who lived on the hill of Ophel made repairs to the walls opposite the Water Gate. This gate led to the main water supply for the city, Gihon Springs. The priest who lived in Jerusalem repaired the walls opposite their homes, which were above the Horse Gate. The Horse Gate is notable because this is where Athaliah was killed. (2 Kings 11:16) The goldsmiths and the merchants made repairs to the walls opposite the Inspection Gate and the Sheep Gate.
Nehemiah Chapter 4
During the rebuilding work, Sanballat and Tobiah continued to harass the men while they were working. But Nehemiah, knowing their aim, prayed to Jehovah that He would hear their prayer because they were despised. He should turn the insults of these men back onto their heads and let them be as plunder in a land of captivity. Jehovah should not forget what they were doing nor should He blot out their sins because they were deliberately trying to demoralize the workers so that they would not complete their tasks. (Psalms 69:28)
The work continued until the wall reached half its normal height. Again, enemies of the Jews began to plot to stop the work. Sanballat, Tobiah and others threatened to fight against Jerusalem but again Nehemiah petitioned Jehovah for help and he posted guards to keep an eye out for them. The Jews who lived in the outlying district also came and told Nehemiah that these enemies of theirs intended to try and catch them off guard. So Nehemiah stationed people at the lowest points in the wall and he encouraged them by saying that Jehovah was on their side. The enemy soon learned that their plans had become known to the people in Jerusalem and that they were prepared to defend the city. So they were not able to do anything to stop the work at that time.
But Nehemiah remained cautious and he put half of the people on guard duty while the other half worked on the walls. Even those who were working kept his sword at his side. If an attack were to happen, he had assigned a man to blow a trumpet to signal the people to gather together to him to take their stand. The work continued from the first light of dawn until the stars shown. The men even agreed to remain inside the walls of the city during the night so that they could continue guarding the city against an attack.
Nehemiah Chapter 5
Nehemiah now faced a problem that was an internal one. Some Jews were complaining that is was impossible to get enough grain to feed their families. Others said that they had to mortgage their fields, vineyards and homes to get sufficient grain. Others had to borrow money from their Jewish brothers to pay the king’s property tax. Others had their children sold into slavery because they could not repay their creditors due to the exorbitant interest rates being charged them by their brothers. Upon hearing these complaints, Nehemiah was very angry. But he took time to think what the best solution to this problem would be. He then called the nobles and officials to meet with him.
Of all the problems that the people faced, the most odious to Nehemiah was the fact that the more affluent Jews were exacting usury from their brothers who were poor, something that Jehovah had commanded them not to do. (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37) They were also selling their Jewish brothers into slavery to the Gentiles another violation of God’s Law. (Leviticus 25:42) Nehemiah exhorted them that they should be walking in a way so as not to allow the Gentiles to bring reproach upon Jehovah. He told them that he, his brothers and his men were lending the people money and grain and they were not charging them interest so these men should stop exacting usury. They should give back to the people their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses and the usury that they had already exacted from them and they should not, in the future, charge interest on the produce of their fields.
These men agreed that they would do as Nehemiah had told them. Nehemiah summoned the priest and made these men take an oath before them to do as they had promised. If they did not keep this oath, then Jehovah should shake them out and empty them as Nehemiah had just done with his garment. The whole assembly said ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise Jehovah’ to show that they would keep their promise.
As an aside, Nehemiah now relates how, since he had been appointed governor in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, he had not made use of the provisions allotted to the governor as others before him had done. These men had put additional burdens upon the people by taxing them forty shekels of silver in addition to their having to provide the food for the governor’s table. Even the assistants to these governors took advantage of the people. But Nehemiah had not acted in this way as he revered Jehovah his God. He had fed many men at his table and he had personally borne the expense out of his own pocket. He was truly concerned for the people and he wanted Jehovah to remember him for the help he had rendered the people.
Nehemiah Chapter 6
When the work on the walls was near completion, Sanballat and Geshem, still determined to stop Nehemiah, sent a message to him asking him to meet them in a village located on the plains of Ono, which was the westernmost settlement of the Jews. Nehemiah sent word back that he did not have time to stop his work to meet with them. They sent this message to him four times and the last time they sent this message, the aide also brought with him another letter. This letter stated that they were going to send a report to the king of Persia telling him that the Jews were building the walls so that they could revolt against him and set up their own government with Nehemiah as their ruler. Nehemiah did not fall for this ploy either because he knew that they were only trying to frighten them into stopping their work. Again Nehemiah prayed for strength from Jehovah.
Shemaiah, who may have been a priest/prophet, was hired by Sanballat and Tobiah to try to trick Nehemiah into going into the temple to hide from his enemies saying that he was going to be killed. He even agreed to go with him and they would close the temple doors behind them. But Nehemiah knew better that to allow himself to be fooled into doing something for which Jehovah would be angry with him and that would cause the people to think ill of him. Again he asked Jehovah to remember what these men had done as well as others who were trying to intimidate him.
The completion of the building of the wall and its gates in just fifty-two days is a real credit to Nehemiah’s organizational skills. After the walls had been completed, the surrounding nations realized that God had helped the Jews and they became afraid and left the Jews alone.
During this time Tobiah was in constant contact with the nobles of Judah because many of them were indebted to him and he had also married the daughter of Shecaniah and Tobiah’s son was married to the daughter of Meshullam. (3:4, 30)
Nehemiah Chapter 7
When the doors had been put in place in the gates, the gatekeepers were assigned to the gates that they were to guard and the singers and Levites were appointed. Nehemiah put his brother, Hanani, and Hananiah, a man of integrity, in charge of Jerusalem and instructed them as to when the gates to the city were to be opened and closed. Nehemiah wanted to maintain security in the city so those who had already been serving as guards during the construction of the wall were to stay in their positions and other were to be appointed to guard areas near their own homes.
The population of the city was smaller than it should have been due to the fact that the majority of its original inhabitants had been killed when Nebuchadnezzar attacked the city. So Nehemiah decided to invite people to move to the city. He then assembled the nobles, official and the common people in the public square in front of the Water Gate in order to register them in accordance with the genealogical records of the first returnees. The listing given in this chapter is essentially the same as that given in Ezra chapter 2.
Nehemiah Chapter 8
In the seventh month on the first day of the month, when the people assembled in the public square in front of the Water Gate, Ezra brought out the Book of the Law and began reading it aloud to the people. He stood on a high platform built especially for this occasion along with thirteen other men who may have been priests. This assembly included men, women and children, all who were able to understand. As he opened the book, all the people stood up and Ezra said words of praise to Jehovah and the people responded by lifting their hands saying “Amen, Amen!” and they bowed low before Jehovah. Then Ezra began to read from the Book of the Law and the Levites would explain or give meaning to the words to make sure that the people understood what was being read to them. He read from the Book of the Law from daybreak until noon.
Afterwards Nehemiah and Ezra encouraged them to remember that this day was a day sacred to Jehovah and they should not weep or mourn. (Deuteronomy 12:7, 12) They had been weeping as the Law was being read to them. This was to be a day of rejoicing not of grieving. They were to enjoy their food and drink and to share these with others who had not prepared anything. All the people then left to have their meals and to celebrate joyfully because they now understood Jehovah’s laws for them.
Then on the second day, the heads of the families, the priests and Levites gathered for a more consecrated study of the Law with Ezra. They learned that during the Festival of Booths held in the seventh month, the people were to live in booths during the celebration. They decided to send out a proclamation to all of the people living in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns instructing them to cut branches from various trees such as the olive and wild olive trees, from myrtle trees, palms and shade trees to make these booths. This is what Jehovah had commanded they should do. (See Leviticus 23:39-43)
The people obeyed and they went out and got branches and built the booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the court of the temple and in the public squares and they lived in them. Israel had not celebrated this festival in this manner since the days of Joshua and they were very joyful. Each day of this feast, Ezra would read to the people from the Book of the Law and on the eighth day, in accordance with the requirements of the festival, a solemn assembly was held.
Note: All cited scriptures in this commentary are taken from the New International Version unless otherwise stated.
***©2005 by YORWW Congregation
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