For the most part, the Old Testament to the point of Nehemiah (as the books of the O. T. are bound in most of our Bibles) has represented a linear, chronological order of events from the creation of the universe in Genesis 1 through the disintegration of Israel/Judah in II Kings 17. The Chronicles ameliorate this linear trend somewhat in that they re-state the events of the Kings, but through Nehemiah, the stories told fit the usual workings of our Western minds.
After Nehemiah, this pattern will change. The remaining books of the Old Testament go back to re-describe events of earlier periods. Nehemiah was a late contemporary of Ezra and the story of Esther also happens during this time of Artaxerxes I of Persia (464-423 B. C.). The books of the Old Testament will accomplish their re-telling and embellishment of events that have already happened before the time of Nehemiah, and Malachi will be written sometime between 432 and 425 B. C. What follows is a period of silence for over 400 years before the Christ is born.
Key verse of Nehemiah: ". . . for the people had a mind to work." Nehemiah 4: 6.
The book seems to divide itself naturally into four divisions: Preparation to Reconstruct the Wall, Reconstruction of the Wall, Renewal of the Covenant, and Obedience to the Covenant.
Preparation to Reconstruct the Wall. Nehemiah is the cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes. He hears that the remnant of Jews who went to Jerusalem have are in distress and reproach, and that the work of restoring the Wall that had been destroyed in 586 is stalled. The King notices that Nehemiah is downcast. When learning of the plight of Nehemiah's people, he authorizes him to return to Jerusalem and lead in the rebuilding of the wall. When Tobiah and Sanballat learn that Nehemiah is in Jerusalem and for what purpose, they begin to plot to keep him from being successful (chapters 1 and 2).
Reconstruction of the Wall (chapters 3-7). The names of many of the builders are given in chapter 3. Beginning in chapter 4 we read of opposition through ridicule, opposition through threat of attack, opposition through discouragement. In chapter 5 we read of opposition through extortion and Nehemiah's unselfish example. Chapter six details even more forms of oppostion, but the wall is rebuilt in only 52 days. Chapter seven names those who took part.
Renewal of the Covenant. In chapter 8, the reading of the law (Torah) is described. Such a public reading had not happened for a very long time. As the law was read, the consciences of those who heard were stirred, and many repented in sackcloth (chapters 8 and 9).
Obedience of the Covenant (chapters 10-13). The natural consequence of the reading of the law was the renewal of the Covenant. The remnant began to keep the commands of God again. Remnant theology will be mentioned many times in the prophecies of the remainder of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Romans speaks of a remnant that will be saved, spiritual Israel (Romans 11).
Application to today's life: "The people were of a mind to work." The Lord's kingdom today so desperately needs those who are of a mind to work: Those to do benevolence, those to edify, and those to evangelize, following the pattern of the church in A. D. 33 (see Acts 2: 37-47).
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