The Historic Context
In the original Hebrew Ezra and Nehemiah form only one book. Ezra recounts the reconstruction of the Temple at the time of the return from exile and Nehemiah recounts the building of the walls of Jerusalem.
Ezra speaks of events extending over 80 years (538–455 BC) while Nehemiah evokes the 13 years of his mandate as Governor over Judea (455–432).
Ezra and Nehemiah are one of the last historic writings of the Old Testament along with Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
The General Theme
The reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem, achieved in just 52 days (6:15) is the centre of this book. But Nehemiah evokes also a spiritual awakening following the reading of the book of the law by Ezra (ch8–9), which revives the religious life of the those who had returned from exile.
An high official in the court of the King Artaxerxes I of Persia, Nehemiah portrays a irreproachable witness which secures the king’s support even though there is opposition to the building of the wall (Ezra 4:7-23). As an organised governor of Judea, he is seen above all as a faithful believer and man of prayer (mentioned eleven times in thirteen chapters); demonstrating perseverance in the face of opposition (ch4,6), a God focused man of great integrity (ch5,13), having spiritual discernment (ch6).
In parallel Ezra 9, Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 9 demonstrate humiliation and repentance are a prelude to spiritual reconstruction. This aspect of the book of Nehemiah is prophetic: under the momentum of Ezra and Nehemiah the Temple, the walls of Jerusalem, the Levitical office and social order are restored.
Section 1 – chapters 1–7 Reconstruction: The Wall is Rebuilt
The preparations (ch1–2)
The achievement of the work despite the opposition (ch3–7)
Section 2 – chapters 8–13 Spiritual Restoration: The People are Instructed
The renewing of the covenant (ch8–10)
The obedience to the covenant (ch11–13)