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Passage: Nehemiah 1:1-7:3

Nehemiah 1:1-7:3 – Nehemiah Rebuilds the Walls of Jerusalem

Summary

Authorized by the Persian authorities, Nehemiah leads a third return of Jewish exiles and rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem, despite the relentless opposition of Sanballat and his associates.

Analysis

This long section comprises most of what scholars call the Nehemiah memoir, an autobiographical narrative in which Nehemiah recounts the events of his first term as governor of the Persian satrapy/province variously known as "Beyond the River" or Yehud; especially significant is the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem despite the opposition of the surrounding leaders. It falls into an extensive concentric structure in which the beginning section is paralleled in some way with the final section, the second with the next to last, and so on.

The History of Nehemiah (1:1a)
A    Hanani's report, Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem (1:1b-2:8)
    B    Letters to governors vouch for Nehemiah (2:9)
        C    Opposition (2:10)
            D    Inspection by night, reproach of Jerusalem (2:11-18)
                E    Opposition, Geshem charges sedition (2:19-20)
                    F    Wall building (3:1-32)
                        G    Opposition (4:1)
                            H    Ridicule (4:2-3)
                                I    Prayer (4:4-5)
                                    J    Wall "joined" to half its height (4:6)
                                    J'    Opposition "join together" (4:7-8)
                                I'    Prayer (4:9)
                            H'    Ridicule's effect (4:10-14)
                        G'    Opposition (4:15)
                    F'    Wall building with defense (4:16-23)
                [Problems of Nehemiah's second term as governor      (chapter 5)]
                E'    Opposition, Geshem charges sedition (6:1-9)
            D'    Nehemiah: threats by night, reproach (6:10-14)
        C'    Opposition (6:15-16)
    B'    Letters to Tobiah defame Nehemiah (6:17-19)
A'     Hanani placed in charge of rebuilt Jerusalem (7:1-3)

Nehemiah's autobiographical report of the rebuilding of the walls falls into three sections, each of which describes the ever-narrowing reproach of the community at the hands of the opposition of Sanballat and his associates. The first section, A-E above (chapters 1 and 2), describes Jerusalem's ruined state as a reproach against God. The second section, F-F' (chapters 3 and 4), describes the narrowing reproach aimed at those rebuilding the wall. The final section, E'-A' (6:1--7:3), describes the reproach aimed at Nehemiah himself as the building neared completion. These will be more closely examined below.

As mentioned under Theological Themes: Opposition, it is important to see that every successful advance in Nehemiah's mission is followed by an episode of opposition. This theme of opposition becomes the structural backbone of the narrative concerned with rebuilding the walls. Not only does opposition regularly appear, but it gradually intensifies as the story progresses. This can be seen in two ways:

  • The number of adversaries steadily increases, from Sanballat and Tobiah (2:10) to the addition of Geshem (2:19), the Samarians (4:2), the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites (4:7), and "the rest of our enemies" (6:1), to a climactic "all our enemies" in 6:16.
  • The adversaries themselves become increasingly more hostile, moving from displeasure (2:10) through "mockery" and "ridicule" (the same in Hebrew) in 2:19 and 4:1, to threats of physical violence (4:8) and malicious personal attacks (6:1-9).

Despite this opposition, Nehemiah tirelessly works at his appointed task and finishes rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in a remarkable fifty-two days.