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Purpose: Provide a historical background of the Book of Nehemiah with many dates and a timeline chart linking Nehemiah and Ezra's activities. Nehemiah faced eight problems when rebuilding Jerusalem.
The Jews faced complete destruction of their own possessions, traditions, the temple and their country. They had sinned and God had judged them (1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles along with most of the prophets). Significant dates are below.
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God, however, promised to remake Israel. This is the way the Lord rebuilt Jerusalem. Emperor Cyrus' in his first year of ruling the Persian empire, he issued a decree allowing Jews to return to their land - seventy years later as prophesied. They made three returns:
1) Zerubbabel led the first wave of Jewish exiles to return in 536 B.C. (Ezra 1-6)
(Big gap of 57 years - Esther's time)
In 535 B.C. the construction of the temple began.
In Feb 18, 516 B.C. the temple was completed and dedicated.
2) Ezra led the second in 455 B.C. (Ezra 7-10)
Ezra left with about 1500 men and their families in mid-March 455 B.C.
In August of 455 B.C., the little group arrives safely in Jerusalem.
3) Nehemiah led the third in 445 B.C. (Neh 1-3)
In Dec. of 446 B.C., Nehemiah hears of the report.
In April of 445 B.C., after a prayer period of four months, Nehemiah speaks with the king.
- Early September, after just 52 days, the wall was completed.
The question that goes through our minds is, "Why wasn't the wall rebuilt earlier?" In the end it only took 52 days to rebuild, not years.
There were obvious obstacles. Nehemiah secretly inspected the wall to avoid planned opposition. Certain noble men were unwilling to help with the rebuilding of the wall. They had their allegiances elsewhere. Certain resources to rebuild the wall therefore were hard to secure.
Nehemiah brought vision, prayer, God's involvement, an emperor's resources and great bold leadership to accomplish a work which should have been completed at least fifty to sixty years earlier. The temple was finished in 516 BC, and it seems obvious that this would be the next work! No, but it was 70 years later, after the temple was rebuilt, that the wall was finally completed.
The Book of Nehemiah helps us see what obstacles the Jews faced in rebuilding the temple but also what resources our God has to rebuild things like walls and lives.
Nehemiah's Time Chart of Old Testament