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Nehemiah Chapter 1

Introduction to Chapter One

  Nehemiah PrayingThe books of Ezra and Nehemiah, along with 1st and 2nd Chronicles were authored by Ezra, the priest and scribe. In the Jewish Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah are one book, while in the Catholic Bible they are known as First and Second Ezra (Esdras). 

            Ezra returned to Jerusalem in 458 B.C., with the authority of Artaxerxes king of Persia.  He had with him almost 1500 men, including woman and children the number who returned with Ezra could have numbered close to 8000 from

Persia. This is covered in Ezra chapter 7 through 10. This is the second return from Babylon (Persia). 

The first occurred during the reign of Cyrus in 538 B.C.  This is covered in Ezra chapters 1 to 6, when 50,000 exiles return under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest. Zerubbabel means “seed of Babylon”.  Zerubbabel of the line of David, was the civil leader of the exiles while Joshua the High Priest was the spiritual leader. Both men were involved in the construction of the 2nd Temple.  Opposition to the 2nd Temple brought a halt to the construction after it started. 

 It was not until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were called to encourage the people did construction resume in 520 B.C., and the 2nd Temple was completed in 516 B.C. Throughout the whole process, the Jews were opposed by the people of the land who attempted various schemes and threats to stop completion of the Temple.  The details are covered in Ezra chapters 1 to 6.

Between Ezra chapter 6 and 7 there is an eighty-year span.  Chapter 6 ends with the Passover celebrated in 516 B.C. at the completed Temple.  Between the completion of the Temple and the call of Ezra, is the book of Esther.  In the book of Esther, Haman the Agagite tries to annihilate the Jews, as a result Esther becomes queen of Persia and wife to Xerxes, the father of Artaxerxes I.  Therefore Artaxerxes stepmother was a Jew, and he would have been familiar with the story of the Jews. Thus the restoration was being prepared before the event.  Ezra was given favor by Artaxerxes in the 7th year of his reign, to go to Jerusalem and pray for the King. 

Persian Ruler

Major events

Books of the Bible

Cyrus the Great (562-530 B.C.)

Defeats Babylon in 539 B.C, allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

Daniel, Ezra:1-6

Cambyses (530-522)

Conquered Egypt in 525 B.C. dies in battle and man Gaumata pretends to be his dead brother.


Darius the Great


Defeats and kills usurper Gaumata to gain the throne.  Empire in the east and west revolted, he crushed the rebellion after two years.  Lost the war on Greece.


Allowed the 2nd Temple construction to resume after 16-year pause.

Haggai, Zechariah

Xerxes I


Destroyed Babylon in 482. Invaded Greece but was pushed out in 479, completely driven out in 466.  Married Esther as his queen.


Artaxerxes I


Faced rebellion in Egypt for six-years. Signed the peace of Callias (449), giving Greek cities independence and excluded the Persian fleet from the Aegean.

Allowed Ezra to return and pray for the well-being of the Persian King.


Allowed Nehemiah to return in 444 B.C. as governor of Judah.

Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi

Darius II (Nothus)


Gained control of Asia Minor as a result of the Peloponnesian War.



In 458 B.C., when Ezra returned Nehemiah’s brother Hanani returned with him.  He would see firsthand the condition of the land and the people.  Ezra describes the situation how the exiles who returned under Cyrus in 538 B.C., had turned away from Law and were marrying the idolatrous woman of the land, violating the laws of Moses again.  The situation was so bad, even the High Priest’s son were married to foreign pagan woman (Ezra 10:18).

In 445 B.C., Hanani returned from Jerusalem to report to his brother Nehemiah the condition of the exiles.  This is where chapter one of Nehemiah begins.


Chapter One: Nehemiah gets word of Jerusalem


 1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.
It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan[a] the citadel, 2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” Nehemiah 1:1-3


Nehemiah: The name Nehemiah means “Jehovah comforts”.  The book of Nehemiah is a historical book which borrows from Nehemiah’s private journal.  Nehemiah is telling us his own testimony, how he was used by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  His name is a Hebrew name, unlike Esther and Mordecai who are named after the gods of Mesopotamia (Ishtar and Marduk).  Nehemiah was religious Jew who served in the court of the Persian King.

Chislev..twentieth year: The month is the Babylonian name for period of November/December 445 B.C.  The calendar is based on the reign of the king of Persia, Artaxerxes I.  Therefore the year is either 446 or 445 B.C., since began his reign in 466/465 B.C., the twentieth year is 445 B.C.

Nehemiah MapShushan:  This also known as the city of Susa.  Cyrus turned the city into the capital of the Persian Empire, the area was known as Elam and its descendents the Elamites. The book of Esther is centered in the city of Shusan also (Esth. 1:2-5, 2:38, 3:15, 4:8-16, 8:14-15; 9:6-18) Daniel had his vision in Shusan (Daniel 8:2) and his tomb  is located in the city.

Hanani: The brother of Nehemiah who went with Ezra to Jerusalem in 458 B.C., and has returned 13-years later.  He has returned with other men of Judah.

I asked: Nehemiah did not wait for the information to come to him, he wanted to know, he pursued the information.  A mark of leader is someone who is not waiting for information to be offered, they are proactive in their approach to information. They want to move forward and not be reactive to events and circumstances.  This is true for both spiritual and secular leadership models.

            For example, most new companies today and in the past have been the result of a leader seeing some opportunity and pursing it. 

The Jews: Nehemiah wanted to know the status of the captives who returned 80-years earlier during the time of Cyrus and the Jews who returned with Ezra 13-years earlier.  He also wanted to know about the status of Jews who managed to escape the Babylonian destruction in 586 B.C. It easy to forget in a world of satellite, radio and the internet, people had to wait months to hear news, rather than seconds.  News probably had been filtering in over the years to Nehemiah, but now he could hear the real situation from his brother Hanani. 

Jerusalem: Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., the not only destroyed the Temple, but the walls and gates of the city were torn down by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. Though the Jews were given permission to return by Cyrus the Great, they were hindered from rebuilding the Temple.  The orders to rebuild the Temple did not include the walls and gates (Ezra 1).  When Ezra returned in 458 B.C., he was given authority to establish Jewish law but he did not have authority to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Daniel Tomb

            Nehemiah, by asking these questions is trying to gain intelligence from the situation, so he can know how to approach this issue. 

They said:  They said includes the brother of Nehemiah as well as the other who had returned from Jerusalem with him.  The information these men provide is what spurs Nehemiah to act.  He is personally involved in God’s cause.  He sees himself on the God’s side playing part, he wants to know what is happening so he can act.

Great distress: The situation described is 13-years after Ezra, the Jews are in a desperate situation. The two Hebrew words describe the situation first as gadowl, meaning large or great magnitude, the word modifiesra , which means evil or displeasing.  He is describing the great evil upon the Jews of Jerusalem.

Reproach: In addition to being in state of great distress, the enemies of the Jews were taunting them with scorn and ridicule.  The situation was dire for the Jews in Jerusalem.

Wall of Jerusalem: The walls and gates of Jerusalem, left the people in the city at the mercy of their enemies.  These walls were still down from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the walls were the first line of defense in a city, un walled cities were sitting targets for armies and marauders.



Praying and Fasting for results

4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4


So it was: Nehemiah like Daniel was an intercessor.  Nehemiah was in a very privileged position, he was cup bearer to the king of Persia.  He was closer than most of Artaxerxes ministers since interacted throughout the day insuring the food and drink of the King was secure.

            Nehemiah reacted to the news in a personal way, rather than distancing himself, he included himself in the dire situation of his fellow countrymen suffering in Jerusalem.  He reacted to the news even though he was not personally affected by the events.  A leader sees himself as part of the group he is leading, the greatest leaders have endeared themselves to the people they led because they were considered one of the group, rather than an elite person.

For example, Alexander the Great’s army was at point of dying of thirst. Several of his men made it to shallow pool of water, they poured water into their helmet and brought back as precious offering to thirsty Alexander.  Rather than drink the while his men were thirsty, he poured it out on the ground, he wanted his men to see him as one of them. 

Wept: Nehemiah was sincerely troubled by the situation in Jerusalem, he understood why Israel received punishment for their sins.  Though everything was good for himself, he did not take comfort in his own situation, he cried in front his brother and the men of Judah.  Jesus wept when in John 11:35 when he saw the mourning of Lazarus.  Immediately Jesus was seen as loving Lazrus, because he also mourned his death, seeing the pain the people were in.


32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked.  "Come and see, Lord," they replied.

 35Jesus wept. 36Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"  John 11:32-35


Mourned: Once Nehemiah understood the problem his first action was to mourn for many days.  The Hebrew word for mourn is 'abal, which means to lament. Nehemiah took the information personally, he identified with the people of Jerusalem. His mourning over the state of Jerusalem was about 3 to 4 months. Chapter 2 is the action is Nehemiah action plan from the revelation of the events we see here.

Fasting: The resulting information brought Nehemiah to point of warfare.  Like Daniel he engaged the situation not in the physical realms but in the spiritual.  His two weapons of choice were prayer and fasting.  Fasting means to abstain from food, he did this conjunction with the state of the people in Jerusalem.  Again, Nehemiah identified with the pain and suffering of the people, by causing himself pain and suffering through fasting.  He was mourning the state of affairs his people and he fasted to demonstrate to himself how serious he was about the situation.

            Daniel set an example for Nehemiah during the reign of Cyrus in 536 B.C., when Daniel prayed and fasted for 21-days in Daniel chapter 10.  Only later was it revealed to Daniel that the reason a response was so long in coming was that the “Prince of Persia” withstood the angel who was going to answer Daniel’s prayer.  Nehemiah prayer like Daniel, took on the role of intercessor for his people.  Nehemiah like Daniel is engaged in Spiritual warfare through fasting and prayer.

Praying: Nehemiah calls out to the Lord to hear him his pleas for his people.  The prayer Nehemiah prays is an intercessory prayer.  He includes himself, his father and his people as guilty before God.  He takes a position of spiritual leadership even before he communicates it with anybody else. Spiritual Intercession demonstrates leadership and mature faith.

            When you pray and intercede for others, you are no longer focused on self but to intercede and come between a person and God.  God’s leaders were also intercessors; they did not separate themselves from those who they led.



 Moses interceded for Israel, even when they rebelled against God numerous times and wanted to kill him (Moses).  Moses identified himself with those who he was leading. 


9 "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation." 11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. "O LORD," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.' " 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. Exodus 32:9-14


Daniel was another powerful intercessor who prayed three times a day into well into his eighties.  Daniel understood the power of intercessory prayer.  In Daniel chapters 9 and 10 we see Daniel praying for his people.

He confesses his sins and sins of his people, he prayed with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.  Daniel was serious about what he was praying for.  How many people do we know today, how pray and fast in sackcloth and ashes?


 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: 
       "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:3-6






Jesus came into this world to intercede on our behalf, without the intercession of Jesus we would have no hope.  Jesus set the example how God’s leaders are to be intercessor for those they are leading.  Jesus prayed for his disciples and all believers in John 17.  Jesus now intercedes for us before the throne of God, he is our High Priest. God today is still looking for intercessors; Jesus fulfills the words of Isaiah 59:16, which reveals the heart of God and his search for intercessors.

16 He saw that there was no man, 
      And wondered that there was no intercessor; 
      Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; 
      And His own righteousness, it sustained Him. 
       17 For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, 
      And a helmet of salvation on His head; 
      He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, 
      And was clad with zeal as a cloak.  Isaiah 59:16-17



Nehemiah’s Prayer


Nehemiah asked the Lord to hear his prayer, he acknowledged the sins of Israel he included himself and his family in these sins. He prayed according to the “Word” of God given to Moses.  He prayed for God to fulfill His promise of gathering the people of Israel. 

5 And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You[b] and observe Your[c] commandments, 6 please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. 8 Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations;[d] 9 but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’[e] 10 Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. 11 O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
For I was the king’s cupbearer. Nehemiah 1:5-11


I pray: Nehemiah begins his prayer by acknowledging the person and nature of God. He keeps his covenant with those who “love you and observe Your commandments”. 

Let your ear:  Nehemiah then ask God to hear his prayer.  We can ask God to hear us, we can beg our case before God. Nehemiah did not just pray this prayer once, he tells us he prayed “day and night”.  How many times do we pray a request, then walk away saying ok from it?  Are we willing to pray “day and night”, do we really want the prayer answered?  Do we believe God can answer our prayer?  Our lack of prayer power stems for our lack of belief in God’s ability to answer our prayers.  Jesus tells us to not give up in our prayers, Nehemiah prayed for 3-4 months, night and day, fasting and mourning, before the door was opened for him.


1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' 4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' " 6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" Luke 18:1-8

Confess the sins: Nehemiah was willing to stand in the gap for Israel.  God is looking for people who are willing to fill in the gaps in the wall.  Nehemiah was such a man.  Walls were the defense of cities, when there was a hole in the wall the enemy could enter, therefore the whole required a man to stand and guard the gap. When Jerusalem was judged, God used this picture of gap in the wall, with no man willing to stand in the gap.

 Nehemiah Inspecting29 The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. 30 "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. 31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD."  Ezekiel 22:30-31

My father’s house: Nehemiah took personal responsibility for himself and his family as well as the nation.  He never thought of himself above the people, Nehemiah’s heart was to do God’s will. 

The word: Nehemiah prayed according to scripture.  He looked to the word of Moses regarding the judgment of Israel and the promises of restoration.  Nehemiah believed God’s word and used it as part of his prayer.  Nehemiah understood God is true to His WORD.  Moses foretold the dispersion of Israel amongst the nations for disobedience, he also promised a restoration and a gathering if they would turn back.  Nehemiah understood the promise and prayed for the restoration.   Daniel did the same, he prayed for the words of Jeremiah to be fulfilled, he took God at His Word.  We can do the same thing, we can take God at His word.

Your servant prosper: Nehemiah asked for God’s intervention, he wanted to prosper in his action.  Through the knowledge of events, Nehemiah knew what to pray, so he prayed night and day for an opportunity to ask the Persian King to allow him to restore Jerusalem. 

Grant him mercy: Nehemiah understood he was risking his life and position in seeking the King’s favor.  He was willing to take risks for the will of God.  He will willing to trust his life to God’s ability to hear and answer his prayer.

We can ask ourselves are we willing to do the same? 

This man: The Persian King Artaxerxes I was the target of this prayer.  Nehemiah was specific in his request, he sought favor with the king.  During the next 3-4 months prepared the king’s heart to answer Nehemiah’s intercession.



Nehemiah Intercessory Prayer Model”

  1. Acknowledge God’s nature and character
  2. Ask God to hear our prayer
  3. Pray “Day and night”
  4. Confess our sins and those we want to impact
  5. Pray God’s judgment and promises of restoration
  6. Be specific in your prayers, pray for events and people.




Principals of Nehemiah’s Leadership from Chapter 1


  1. Obtain knowledge of the situation
  2. To identify with those you are leading
  3. Pray and fast according to God’s WORD
  4. Establish a plan of action:  

 Timeline Nehemiah










445 B.C.

Nehemiah hears about the problems of Jerusalem and prays and intercedes






Nehemiah is sent to Jerusalem with the king authority.






Nehemiah starts the wall






Nehemiah completes the wall






Day of Trumpets celebrated






Feast of Tabernacles celebrated






Time of confession






Wall dedicated




Nehemiah’s first time as governor (Nehemiah 1-12)




Nehemiah returns to Persia

No Ref.



Malachi prophesies in Jerusalem during Nehemiah’s absence.




Nehemiah returns and serves a second term as governor (Nehemiah 13)



























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