A-Z: Famous stories from the Bible: Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem

Definition

Nehemiah was a Jew living in exile in the Persian Empire in the fifth century BC, where he served at the court of king, Artaxerxes, as his wine steward. One day, Jewish visitors passed on the distressing news that the walls of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, were in ruins, leaving it vulnerable to attack from any enemy. Nehemiah was so upset that he mourned, fasted and prayed for some days. 

The King noticed that Nehemiah was downcast and asked why. After praying again, Nehemiah told him the whole story and asked for the king’s help. In response, Artaxerxes gave him permission to return to Jerusalem (a long and dangerous journey in those days). Not only that, he also gave Nehemiah letters of safe conduct, requisition notes for building materials and an army escort. 

Nehemiah views the ruins of Jerusalem's wallsWhen Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he faced opposition from those who did not want the status quo to be changed. Therefore, Nehemiah surreptitiously reconnoitred the city by night to discover how badly damaged the city walls were. Only then did he approach the city officials and tell them of his plan to rebuild the walls. He also told them how the king had been supportive of his mission and how convinced he was that God had been guiding his actions from the beginning. Although some mocked the idea, most officials were in agreement and determined to begin the work speedily.

The story illustrates: 

  • Nehemiah’s faithful dependence on God and courage in serving him
  • God can accomplish his purposes even through those who do not believe in him 
  • According to the Old Testament, the Jews were God’s chosen people and Jerusalem his holy city, enjoying his special protection.

Related topics

Big ideas from the Bible: Exile; Prayer

Bible References

Nehemiah 1:1-4; Nehemiah 2:1-6; Nehemiah 2:11-18
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