As has happened several times before, I wrote this commentary after giving sermons about this book of the Bible. It was with great joy that I was able to share the rich lessons from this book with the believers who attended the sermons, in Gummersbach, Germany. 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 13:7). These are the more mature believers who take care of God’s church (Heb 13:17; Acts 20:28). Such believers will not rule, but serve (1Pet 5:1-3). Their great example is the Lord Jesus, who was in the midst of the disciples “as the one who serves” (Lk 22:26-27).
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 particular 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. He makes himself small before God; that is why he is fearless in his actions before people. He acts with authority and, if necessary, harshly, no matter whom 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 have tried, as much as possible, to give a verse by verse commentary, with the emphasis on the application. In the study of Nehemiah 1-2, I base each verse on questions I can ask about the text. There will certainly be other questions to think of. I will gladly leave that to the reader for the next chapters. It can be a tool to better understand and apply the text. The question is followed by an explanation or clarification, with applications interwoven into it. In the first two chapters, as a kind of summary, I close each verse with some lessons I see in it. I hope it will be a stimulus for the reader to discover these lessons for themselves in the following chapters.
Ger de Koning
Middelburg, Dutch version revised 2017 / English version April 2022
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 everyday life takes place. The book deals with the civilian life of the Israelites, but in a situation where they are subject to the Gentiles.
Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem in the twentieth year of Arthahsasta (Artaxerxes). That is thirteen or fourteen years after Ezra, who returned in the seventh year of Arthahsasta. There are about ninety years between the return under Cyrus, mentioned in Ezra 1:1, and the arrival of Nehemiah in Jerusalem. With the arrival of Ezra and later that of Nehemiah, God has His own intentions. Nehemiah respected the position that Ezra has. Nehemiah appreciated it, as shown in his book (Neh 8:1-2,10; 12:27-43). There was no jealousy.
Ezra was a scribe and also a priest. He was an examiner of the Word of God, in which he had his sources, providing him with strength to act. Nehemiah was more of a practical man, a man busy with everyday things. They both had the same mind. How is it that the situation had become so that a Nehemiah was needed while Ezra was in Jerusalem? Had Ezra’s energy faded a bit?
The people we meet in the book of Nehemiah are those who had returned in the book of Ezra, but sometime later. The decay had 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 was 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 6:19). 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 fulfillment 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).