Remember that time I called 1st Chronicles “coma-inducing” and Ezra a “snoozefest and a half”? I was wrong. I have now realized that I had no idea what the meaning of snoozefest was until I got to the book of Nehemiah. Well, to be fair, Nehemiah was another short one – 13 chapters, where as 1st Chronicles was 29 chapters. So overall I’d still say that Nehemiah was much less painful to read, since it was much shorter. So it has that going for it.
Nehemiah re-hashes a chunk of the events of Ezra, but from a different point of view. This is the first book so far that is written entirely in the first person p.o.v. (of Nehemiah, of course). Ezra started off in the third person, but switched to first person (Ezra’s p.o.v.) inexplicably about 7 chapters into the book. So that was fun and not at all infuriating. At least Nehemiah is consistent and much less confusing than Ezra.
Nehemiah starts off 20 years into Artaxerxes’ reign over Persia. Once again, just like Ezra, we are given no indication which king Artaxerxes this is. Nehemiah is a Jewish exile who lives in Babylon at the start of the story and works as cupbearer to the king. One day he ends up having a heart to heart with Artaxerxes, and asks if he can travel back to Jerusalem to help his people rebuild the city. Artaxerxes agrees to let him go.
So Nehemiah travels back to Jerusalem, and the first thing he does upon his arrival is to inspect the state of the city walls. They are in bad shape, mostly still laying in ruins from when the city was destroyed previously. He convinces the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, and then the next 4 chapters are spent on this effort. As expected (and as was also discussed in Ezra), the neighboring people are not thrilled that the Jews are back in town rebuilding their city and its walls. So the neighbs spend lot of time heckling Nehemiah and the Jews and threatening to attack them. It eventually gets to the point where Nehemiah and team have to have weapons ready with them while they rebuild and constantly be on guard for potential attack. They have to assign people on posts to keep watch and be ready to defend the people if need be. So rebuilding the walls is not an easy task, but the Jews persevere and eventually complete the rebuilding effort at the end of chapter 6.
Nehemiah appoints gatekeepers and puts his brother Hanani and “Hananiah the commander of the citadel” in charge of Jerusalem and gives them instructions on when to open the gates. He then assembles the nobles, the officials, and the “common people” for registration by families. In chapter 8, ALL the people assemble in the town square and Ezra reads the law of Moses to them. Zzzz. Then the people celebrate. Later that month, everyone gathers together in town again to do a big confession of their sins and to make a covenant with God to always follow his law and not stray from him (like their forefathers had done). Oh and if you read my Ezra review, you won’t be surprised that a major part of the oath is a promise “not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.” Of course.
In chapter 11, the people get together and hold a lottery thing to figure out who gets to live in Jerusalem, and who will live in the surrounding towns in Judah (based on a rule of 1/10th of the people being be chosen to live in Jerusalem). Chaper 12 then describes the long elaborate dedication ceremony and celebration for the newly reconstructed town walls. In the last chapter of the book, Nehemiah talks about various other reforms he has put in place over the people of Judah, such as: proper distribution of tithes to the Levites, rules for avoiding work on the Sabbath, and of course, dealing with the men who have taken foreign wives and have had families with them. And that is how the book ends. Prettaayy riveting, huh?
Writing this blog post has made it abundantly clear that Nehemiah is the most boring book of the Bible I have read thus far by a comfortable margin. The way I know this is: I take notes when I read these books, and when I take my notes, I highlight the good things in green, the questionable/bad things in yellow, and the really bad things in red. Even the most boring books up until this point have had a significant amount of highlighting. But my notes for Nehemiah contain almost none. They are virtually a barren wasteland of black and white.
That said, there are a couple decent things that happen in this book:
- At some point Nehemiah uncovers an issue where the Levites are not being given their fair portions of the tithes given to the temple. He fixes that and appoints people to ensure no one breaks that law again.
- In chapter 5, Nehemiah discovers that many of the Jews are being bled dry, monetarily, by unfair business practices of the town nobles and officials. He says to the nobles/officials, “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen! As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” He then commands them, “Let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them—the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.” He makes it a law of the land.
So these couple things are nice, as I always like to see when someone fights for the little guy and ensures that they don’t get screwed over by those with more power and privelege. It’s kinda funny though, because Nehemiah seems to really love tooting his own horn in this book. It’s all about, “Oh Lord I am suuuuch a great guy, see what I’m doing?? See?? Don’t forget me and all I have done for these people! Remember me with favor!” He repeats this request to God several times throughout the book, including three times in the last chapter. It’s like, o.k. o.k. dude, we get it. You’re a real giver … so selfless. But I’d respect you more if you didn’t seem to be so concerned about what kind of reward you’re gonna get out of it in the end from God. You’d seem a bit cooler if you just did it and let the work speak for itself.
There’s nothing all that interesting in the “Bad Stuff’ vein in this book either. And the stuff that is there is nothing new as opposed to what already happened in Ezra. The bad stuff in Ezra mainly centered around the rules against marrying and having families with foreigners, and this book has another couple interesting tidbits on that topic as well. The main passage worth noting is from chapter 13, where Nehemiah details some of his reforms before closing out the book:
23. Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25. I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26. Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27. Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”
Hahah, wow. Good to know that he did whatever it took to get the job done here, even if it meant beatings, curses, and pulling out people’s hair.
So that is that, the book of Nehemiah. Pretty boring. But at least my review was relatively short compared to the novel-length ones from many of the other books. I’ll give this book a rating of:
The ratio of good to bad stuff is about even in this book and none of it is very extreme on either side. Next up we have Esther. Which is only … 10 chapters! Woo hoo! One more short one before I have to dig into what I’m sure will be a monster of a book – Job. I’d better enjoy this short book business while it lasts because it’s coming to an end very soon.