Introduction to Nehemiah


Author and Date

Nehemiah is the central figure in the book. 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 (see chart).


The theme of Nehemiah is the Lord’s protection of his people and their need to be faithful in worship and in keeping the Mosaic law.

Purpose and Background

The basic purpose and background of Nehemiah are the same as that for Ezra (see Introduction to Ezra). Ezra, “a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6), called the returning exiles back to covenant loyalty and obedience to the law. Nehemiah rebuilt the city walls so that the community could be protected from enemies who might take advantage of them.

Key Themes

  1. The Lord hears prayer (1:4–6).
  2. The Lord works providentially, especially through powerful rulers, to bring about his greater purposes (e.g., 2:8).
  3. The Lord protects his people. Because of this, they need not be afraid (4:14).
  4. The Lord is merciful and faithful to his promises despite his people’s ongoing sin (9:32–35).
  5. Worship is at the center of the life of God’s people. It includes the willing, joyful giving of resources (10:32–39).
  6. God’s people need to be on their guard against their own moral weakness (ch. 13).


  1. Nehemiah Returns to Jerusalem to Rebuild Its Walls (1:1–2:20)
    1. Nehemiah learns of Jerusalem’s dilapidation (1:1–11)
    2. Nehemiah gains permission to return and inspects Jerusalem’s walls (2:1–16)
    3. First signs of opposition (2:17–20)
  2. The Wall Is Built, Despite Difficulties (3:1–7:4)
    1. The people work systematically on the walls (3:1–32)
    2. Opposition intensifies, but the people continue watchfully (4:1–23)
    3. Nehemiah deals with injustices in the community; Nehemiah’s personal contribution to the project (5:1–19)
    4. A conspiracy against Nehemiah, but the wall is finished (6:1–7:4)
  3. A Record of Those Who Returned from Exile (7:5–73)
  4. The Reading of the Law, and Covenant Renewal (8:1–10:39)
    1. The law is read (8:1–8)
    2. The people are to be joyful (8:9–12)
    3. The people keep the Feast of Booths (8:13–18)
    4. A prayer of confession, penitence, and covenant commitment (9:1–38)
    5. Signatories and specific commitments (10:1–39)
  5. The Population of Jerusalem and the Villages; Priests and Levites (11:1–12:43)
    1. Those who lived in Jerusalem and the villages of Judah (11:1–36)
    2. High priests and leading Levites since the time of Zerubbabel (12:1–26)
    3. Dedication of the walls (12:27–43)
  6. Nehemiah Deals with Problems in the Community (12:44–13:31)
    1. The administration of offerings for the temple (12:44–47)
    2. Ejection of Tobiah the Ammonite from the temple (13:1–9)
    3. Dealing with neglect of the offerings (13:10–14)
    4. Dealing with Sabbath breaking (13:15–22)
    5. The problem of intermarriage again (13:23–29)
    6. Summary of Nehemiah’s temple reforms (13:30–31)

The Persian Empire at the Time of Nehemiah

c. 450 B.C.

During the time of Nehemiah, the Persian Empire had reached its greatest extent, engulfing nearly the entire Near East. In 539 B.C. the Persians under Cyrus the Great defeated the Babylonians and absorbed the lands of Israel and Judah (which they called “Beyond the River”) into their empire. The next year Cyrus allowed the people of Judah (now called Jews) to return home and rebuild the temple of the Lord. Several waves of returning Jews resettled in Judea. In about 445 B.C., Nehemiah was granted permission to rebuild Jerusalem’s ruined walls.

The Persian Empire at the Time of Nehemiah