27 Nov 2017 Nehemiah Backstory
Guest author, one of our Tuesday AM leaders
Recently Tuesday morning Bible study women have been studying Nehemiah and there have been some questions that have come up about how Nehemiah fits into the overall story of the Bible, why Nehemiah wanted to build a wall, along with other questions. Hopefully this post can help with a few key pieces to picture what happened.
Let’s pick up the story just after Moses died in the book of Joshua when Joshua had just led the Israelites into the Promised Land. As the Israelites invaded the Land, they plodded their way through conquering one city at a time. Each city was surrounded by a wall for protection against enemy armies, wild animals, and criminals. Breaking through the walls or gates of the city meant the victor would then control the city, its trade and its resources.
During Joshua’s conquests of the Promised Land, the Israelites took over Jerusalem. There were 12 tribes who made up the Israelites, each named after one of Jacob’s twelve sons. As the land was later divided up between the tribes, Jerusalem was given to the tribe of Judah. All the Israelites were instructed by God to clear out all other religions and people, so they would not be tempted away from God. However, the people thought they could handle the temptations, so they didn’t obey God’s instructions (this reminds me of us today when we try to do it our way!). This led to much heartache and suffering for the Israelites through the book of Joshua and Judges. A cycle occurred as the Judges were put into leadership to pull the Israelites back to God. They would repent, life would be great for a while and then they’d start to do things on their own. God would send another Judge to bring them back to him and the cycle would continue.
As the book of 1st Samuel begins, the final Judge, Samuel, was begged by the people to appoint them a king. God responded by choosing Saul to be their king. Saul was a good king until he stopped following God’s instruction. God then chose David to be the next king. Saul grew jealous and paranoid of David, his son’s best friend and attempted to kill David.
In the book of 2nd Samuel, when David became king, he established Jerusalem as the chosen city for serving God. David had a son, Solomon who followed in his footsteps by seeking God’s wisdom.
1st and 2nd Chronicles parallel many of the events in 2nd Samuel and 1st & 2nd Kings but with a slightly different view on it all.
1st Kings tells us how Solomon built a Temple as a permanent building for the people to connect with God. It was a beautiful place and was devoted to God.
But Solomon also chose things that weren’t within God’s protective boundaries which caused heartache and consequences for Israel. Up until this point, God’s people had been relatively unified. Although divided amongst the twelve tribes, they were all Israelites and, for the most part, following God’s instructions. However halfway through 1st Kings, Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, yielded to a rebellion which led to the kingdom dividing into a Northern Kingdom (named Israel) and Southern Kingdom (named Judah).
Through 2nd Kings, we can read how the kings of the Northern Kingdom notoriously turned from God and suffered the consequences of it. The Assyrian Army invaded from the North and overtook Israel. Many refugees fled to Jerusalem while Hezekiah was king. He expanded the walls of the city to incorporate them and keep them safe. Consider the Northern Kingdom part of whatever greater ruler was conquering the land from here on as they were no longer their own entity.
However, the Assyrians also attacked the Southern Kingdom, including Jerusalem, it’s capital. Hezekiah was devoted to God (often choosing faith over reason) so God protected Jerusalem and the Assyrian army wasn’t successful in their attempt to conquer Jerusalem. Damage was done to the city’s walls, but the city held its ground against the invaders.
Then the Babylonian Empire came down from the north and overtook the Assyrians. The Babylonians were then over all the Assyrians had previously conquered as well as the Northern Kingdom and made their way down to Jerusalem
Jerusalem, and all of Judah with it, fell to the Assyrians as a consequence for the Israelites’ continual reliance upon their strength rather than God. Under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, many Jews from Jerusalem were carted off to Babylon as slaves (including Daniel and his friends).
What happens over the next section is recorded through the books of Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah and their contemporary prophets (such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi). The Persian army was the next wave to conquer the entire area. Through their reign, many Jews were allowed to make the long trek back to the Promised Land and begin to rebuild. Ezra led the rebuilding of the temple first (to establish their center of faith) and then Nehemiah followed with the rebuilding of the Jerusalem’s city walls (to establish their safety).
Many Jews lamented the rebuilding of the temple and the walls because it didn’t have the glamour and beauty of the original structures, but it was more than the rubble that remained. After Jerusalem was established as safe again, 400 years passed until God interceded again through the birth of Jesus. Jesus completely turned the temple system over, allowing us to communicate with God as He had originally intended through our relationship with Him. We can learn a lot from the people of the Old Testament as they get distracted from God and try to do things on their own power. We can also see God’s consistent grace and pursuit of His people, just like He pursues us now.
Want to know more? Check out:
The Story (the Bible put together in a novel format, by Zondervan)
Seamless (a Bible overview study by Angie Smith)
The Bible Project (watch some of the videos of other books of the Bible to understand the story more)