Nehemiah presents itself as a firsthand account by the titular character of his calling and work to rebuild Jerusalem. Some think some or all of Nehemiah may have been written by Ezra, who is attributed authorship of I Chronicles, II Chronicles and Ezra. Though divided into four books in Christian editions of the Old Testament, Jewish traditions present these as one or two books.
Nehemiah was cupbearer to Persian king Artaxerxes. This must have been a high and trusted position. He was deemed trustworthy enough to serve the king food and set in on the intimate dealings of the king’s court. He was also considered competent to be governor of a province of the vast Persian Empire.
Around the middle of Artaxerxes’ reign, Nehemiah was moved by news of the conditions of Jerusalem and his Jewish brethren there. Though Jewish people were being permitted to return to their ancestral homeland, the fortifications of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt and they were subject to the harassment of surrounding nations. Artaxerxes responded favorably to Nehemiah’s request to do something about the problem, and appointed him governor.
Nehemiah was a shrewd governor. He had to lead Jewish people who were disorganized and disheartened after decades of captivity in foreign lands. He had to manage the clash in cultures between the descendants of those who had been left in the land and those who were returning after being raised in alien cultures. He oversaw a renaissance of Jewish culture and religion with the aid of the priest Ezra and the rediscovery of scriptures in the remains of Solomon’s temple. He fended off jealous neighbors, some of them Persian governors who must have had some clout in Artaxerxes’ court. He also retained the favor of his king, who repeatedly reasserted his desire to rebuild Jerusalem, and his command that the governors of the region provide material support for that purpose.
The book suggests that Nehemiah’s success as a political leader was due to his moral leadership. He desired to set an example for the people. He also expected other leaders to do the same. This led to a moral renewal of the populace. This fits the model in I & II Chronicles, in which the uprightness or degeneracy of the king lead to the same in the people.
This also suggests another point: God is behind it all. God stirred Nehemiah’s heart, and Artaxerxes’, to help a people chastened by the exile to turn their hearts back to the God who called them to be His people.
Books of the Bible that are closely related to Nehemiah are