Lesson 1 of5
In Progress

Summary of Nehemiah


Nehemiah continues a cycle of episodes begun in the book of Ezra: return and reconstruction of the temple under Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:5–6:22); return and reconstruction of the community under Ezra (7-10); and now, return and reconstruction of the walls under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:1–7:73a). In each, return and reconstruction authorized by the Persian crown meet with opposition eventually overcome with God’s help. The book of Nehemiah is concerned with the last return; the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (2:11–6:19) and the repopulation of the city (11:1-36) form the two stages of reconstruction. Again, in accordance with the previous missions, this task is met with considerable opposition from the surrounding peoples (2:10–5:19); the opposition is overcome and the project ends with a joyful celebration (12:22-43). Following a brief interlude, Nehemiah returns for a second term as governor and carries out a number of reforms (13:4-31).


Ezra and Nehemiah are our only narrative source for the history of the restoration, 538 to 430 B.C.E. The postexilic period witnessed the reestablishment of the Jewish religious community in Jerusalem and the implementation of the Torah. Though the situations we face are quite different from those encountered by the postexilic community, both Ezra and Nehemiah provide many examples of hard work coupled with prayer and an unshakable faith in God as a formula for successful problem solving that is as relevant today as it was then.


Nehemiah is the sixteenth book of the Old Testament, coming immediately after Ezra and before Esther.


Jewish tradition identifies Ezra as the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Today, many scholars believe Ezra and Nehemiah come from a different hand than Chronicles and that various older traditions have been gathered together and edited by a postexilic editor, though these may include an autobiographical section written by Nehemiah, the so-called Nehemiah memoir (Nehemiah 1:1–7:73a; parts of 12:27-43; and 13:4-31).


The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, separate works in English Bibles, appear as a single book in the earliest manuscripts, suggesting that they are best read and interpreted as a literary whole. The work was written in Judah, probably in Jerusalem, sometime during the Persian period (586-332 B.C.E.), after the return from Babylon. Uncertain dates for Ezra and differing understandings of the compositional history of this material make precise dating impossible, though recent scholarship seems to favor a date somewhere in the first quarter of the fourth century B.C.E.


Nehemiah is an account of the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem and the repopulation of the city under the direction of Nehemiah, promulgation of the law by Ezra, and subsequent reforms by Nehemiah.


Ezra-Nehemiah looks like a history of the restoration. While important historical information is presented, Ezra-Nehemiah should be read as a theological, rather than a chronological, presentation of this formative period that saw the return of Israel from exile and the rebirth of God’s people in the promised land. This is seen in the theological ordering of the final form of the text: the rebuilding of the temple, followed by the purification of the people, and the rebuilding of the walls, climaxing in the reading of the law.