Skip to main content

Nehemiah 5-8

You may be wondering by this time: how do the narratives in Ezra and Nehemiah fit together? The two men are mentioned together in Nehemiah 8, but how do the rest of the narratives in these two books coincide?
Lawrence Boadt addresses that question in this way:
We know the dates for Nehemiah’s terms as governor were 445-433 B.C. and 430 or 429 down to perhaps 417 at the most (that is, two twelve-year terms). But we are not sure about Ezra. If he had come before Nehemiah in 458, as has traditionally been believed, why did Nehemiah have to do the same reforms all over again? Many scholars solve this question by suggesting that Ezra really came after Nehemiah, in the year 398 B.C. They base this on the reference to the “seventh year of King Artaxerxes” in Ezra 7:7 for the beginning of Ezra’s ministry in Jerusalem. But in fact there were two kings of Persia named Artaxerxes: Artaxerxes I ruled from 464 to 423, and Artaxerxes II from 404 to 358. Ezra 7:1 simply reads: “Now after this, Ezra … went up from Babylon in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia.” But which Artaxerxes is meant?
The traditional date for Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem has been 458 B.C., the seventh year of Artaxerxes I. He was followed some thirteen years later by Nehemiah, sent from Persia in 445 to govern the province of Judah and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah served twelve years in that post and was recalled to Persia. But after a short period, he returned for a second term as governor. The biblical books seem to place Ezra and Nehemiah in Jerusalem at the same time working together on the reform of the people (Neh 8:9). But if so, then Ezra did very little for many years before Nehemiah’s arrival—and this is just the opposite of the impression given by other references in the Book of Ezra which hint that Ezra got right to work.
The second solution places Ezra in the time of King Artaxerxes II, during Nehemiah’s second term as governor. This would be 398 B.C., and it would mean that Nehemiah remained as governor for nearly fifty years, a most unlikely possibility. So neither answer really solves the question, but it seems most reasonable to presume that the two men did not work at the same time. They have probably been joined together by the editors, who either got the dates mixed up or wanted us to see that the accomplishments of Ezra and Nehemiah must be looked at as a single inspired work of restoring the faith of the people.
No matter what dates we give Ezra and Nehemiah, the problem remains of how the four books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah fit together. They all share the same priestly outlook, but they often seem to overlap each other and sometimes to be at odds in their dates, as though written from different points of view. Yet almost all scholars agree that the four books were put together as a continuous story sometime after the events, and that they do not necessarily reflect the exact chronological order in which those events took place. The most common solution is to see that the stories and memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally separate books. Ezra was joined to the Books of Chronicles as a supplement, so that Chronicles gave a picture of Israel from Adam to the end of the exile and Ezra brought the story from the exile to the middle of the next century. The memoirs of Nehemiah were then added at a much later time to complete the picture with the re-establishment of Jerusalem as a city of glory and hope. In the process of all these combinings, some of the chapters about Nehemiah were added to the Book of Ezra, and some about Ezra were inserted into the last part of the Book of Nehemiah.[1]
Nehemiah 5-8 presents some interesting narrative. In chapter 5, we have Nehemiah dealing with the problem of the Jewish people charging one another interest and so impoverishing a portion of the population. Nehemiah gets them to stop doing this. C. S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity
There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest; and lending money at interest—what we call investment—is the basis of our whole system.
Though Nehemiah got his people to agree to stop charging one another interest on loans, I doubt we will ever get such agreement worldwide today. However, it is an intriguing thought: what would the world be like without charging interest? I imagine the world would look rather different. Some of the rich might not be so wealthy, and some of the poor might not be so impoverished.
Chapter 6 focuses on the attempt of Nehemiah’s enemies to get him and the rest of the Jews to stop working on rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. I love Nehemiah’s response: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” (Nehemiah 6:3) That is how we should respond to the naysayers in our lives when they try to distract us from our God-given work.
Chapter 7 explains why the authors/editors of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are so interested in genealogy. The research and establishment of one’s genealogy was very important in the post-exilic period for two reasons: to establish...
  1. That one was a true Israelite.
  2. One’s right to serve as a priest in the Temple.

Chapter 8 focuses on the ministry of Ezra, reading the law of God to all of the returned exiles. In some ways, Ezra’s ministry was a forerunner of the Jewish synagogue service that was to develop many years later. During the Babylonian captivity, the Men of the Great Assembly formalized and standardized the language of the Jewish prayers. Before that time, the Jewish people prayed in their own words and there were no standard prayers that were recited.[2] Thus, one aspect of the synagogue service found its origins in the Babylonian captivity. However, the reading of the law as part of the service finds its origins, I believe, in Ezra.
The reaction of the people to the reading of the law is interesting to me. They all wept. (Nehemiah 8:9) The reading of the law is a sad thing when we realize we have not kept it. However, Ezra urged the people to stop weeping, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) That is all the more true for us who have experienced God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

[1] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 456-458


Popular posts from this blog

C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves
In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malver…

A Prayer at Ground Zero

Christmas Day Thought from Henri Nouwen

"I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful "crib" I have ever seen. Three small woodcarved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand - nearly too small to attract attention at all.
"But then - a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
"While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the ge…

Sheldon Vanauken Remembered

A good crowd gathered at the White Hart Cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, February 7 for a powerpoint presentation I gave on the life and work of Sheldon Vanauken. Van, as he was known to family and friends, was best known as the author of A Severe Mercy, the autobiography of his love relationship with his wife Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis.

While living in Oxford, England in the early 1950's, Van and Davy came to faith in Christ through the influence of C. S. Lewis. Van was a professor of history and English literature at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement around 1980. A Severe Mercy tells the story of Davy's death from a mysterious liver ailment in 1955 and Van's subsequent dealing with grief. Van himself died from cancer in 1996.

It was my privilege to know Van for a brief period of time during the last year of his life. However, present at the White Hart on February 7 were some who knew Van far better than I did--Floyd Newman, one of Van's…

Fact, Faith, Feeling

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where to get off', you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith." Mere Christianity

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I remember seeing the graphic illustration above of what C. S. Lewis has, here, so eloquen…

C. S. Lewis Tour--London

The final two days of our C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland & England were spent in London. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city that included Westminster Abbey. A number of our tour participants chose to tour the inside of the Abbey where they were able to view the new C. S. Lewis plaque in Poets' Corner.

Though London was not one of Lewis' favorite places to visit, there are a number of locations associated with him. One which I have noted in my new book, In the Footsteps of C. S. Lewis, is Endsleigh Palace Hospital (25 Gordon Street, London) where Lewis recovered from his wounds received during the First World War....

Not too far away from this location is King's College, part of the University of London, located on the Strand, just off the River Thames. This is the location where Lewis gave the annual commemoration oration entitled The Inner Ring on 14 December 1944....

C. S. Lewis occasionally attended theatrical events in London. One of his favorites w…

C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance

A friend's blog written yesterday ( got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:
It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.
Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"
His answer was as follows: &q…

C. S. Lewis's Parish Church

The first time I visited Oxford, in 1982, the porter at Magdalen College didn't even recognize the name--C. S. Lewis. I had asked him if he could give me directions to Lewis's former home in Headington Quarry. Obviously, he could not and did not. (Directions to Lewis's former home are now much easier to obtain. Just click here for directions and to arrange a tour: The Kilns.)
Things have changed a lot since 1982. Now Lewis is remembered all around Oxford. At the pub where the Inklings met, at Magdalen College, and not least--at his parish church--Holy Trinity Headington Quarry. The first time I visited the church I only saw the outside and Lewis's grave, shared with his brother Warnie.
Since that first visit I have returned to Holy Trinity a number of times and worshiped there. Father Tom Honey is a real gem. Under his leadership the congregation has grown and now includes a number of young families. I was overwhelmed by the number of children who came into the sanctuary…

A Christmas Psalm

Psalm 110
The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your troops will be willing on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
"You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms,
Chapter XII, paragraphs 4 & 5:

"We find in our Prayer Books that Psalm 110 is one of those appointed for Christmas Day. We may at first be surprised by this. There is nothing in it about peace and good-will, nothing remotely sugg…