Nehemiah, cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, hearing about the destruction of Jerusalem and the dire conditions there, takes it upon himself to go personally and implement the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Each section was built privately by a group or family despite local opposition which caused the builders to have to arm themselves. Nehemiah also causes the well-to-do to forgive the debts of the poor, and he rescinds the heavy taxes they once had to pay.
1-1 The narrative of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah-
In the month of Kislev of the twentieth year, 49 when I was in the fortress of Shushan, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, together with some men of Judah, arrived, and I asked them about the Jews, the remnant who had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. 3 They replied, “The survivors who have survived the captivity there in the province are in dire trouble and disgrace; Jerusalem’s wall is full of breaches, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 When I heard that, I sat and wept, and was in mourning for days, fasting and praying to the God of Heaven. 5 I said, “O Lord, God of Heaven, great and awesome God, who stays faithful to His covenant with those who love Him and keep His commandments! 6 Let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to receive the prayer of Your servant that I am praying to You now, day and night, on behalf of the Israelites, Your servants, confessing the sins that we Israelites have committed against You, sins that I and my father’s house have committed. 7 We have offended You by not keeping the commandments, the laws, and the rules that You gave to Your servant Moses. 8 Be mindful of the promise You gave to Your servant Moses- ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples; 9 but if you turn back to Me, faithfully keep My commandments, even if your dispersed are at the ends of the earth, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place where I have chosen to establish My name.’ 10 For they are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and Your mighty hand. 11 O Lord! Let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to hold Your name in awe. Grant Your servant success today, and dispose that man to be compassionate toward him!” I was the king’s cupbearer at the time.
2-1 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, wine was set before him; I took the wine and gave it to the king—I had never been out of sorts in his presence. 2 The king said to me, “How is it that you look bad, though you are not ill? It must be bad thoughts.” I was very frightened. 3 but I answered the king, “May the king live forever! How should I not look bad when the city of the graveyard of my ancestors lies in ruins, and its gates have been consumed by fire?” 4 The king said to me, “What is your request?” With a prayer to the God of Heaven, 5 I answered the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.” 6 With the consort seated at his side, the king said to me, “How long will you be gone and when will you return?” So it was agreeable to the king to send me, and I gave hima date. 7 Then I said to the king, “If it please the king, let me have letters to the governors of the province of Beyond the River, directing them to grant me passage until I reach Judah; 8 likewise, a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the King’s Park, directing him to give me timber for roofing the gatehouses of the temple fortress and the city walls and for the house I shall occupy.” The king gave me these, thanks to my God’s benevolent care for me. 9 When I came to the governors of the province of Beyond the River I gave them the king’s letters. The king also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard, it displeased them greatly that someone had come, intent on improving the condition of the Israelites. 11 I arrived in Jerusalem. After I was there three days 12 I got up at night, I and a few men with me, and telling no one what my God had put into my mind to do for Jerusalem, and taking no other beast than the one on which I was riding, 13 I went out by the Valley Gate, at night, toward the Jackals’ Spring and the Dung Gate; and I surveyed the walls of Jerusalem that were breached, and its gates, consumed by fire. 14 I proceeded to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, where there was no room for the beast under me to continue. 15 So I went up the wadi by night, surveying the wall, and, entering again by the Valley Gate, I returned. 16 The prefects knew nothing of where I had gone or what I had done, since I had not yet divulged it to the Jews—the priests, the nobles, the prefects, or the rest of the officials.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the bad state we are in—Jerusalem lying in ruins and its gates destroyed by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and suffer no more disgrace.” 18 I told them of my God’s benevolent care for me, also of the things that the king had said to me, and they said, “Let us start building!” They were encouraged by [His] benevolence.
19 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard, they mocked us and held us in contempt and said, “What is this that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 I said to them in reply, “The God of Heaven will grant us success, and we, His servants, will start building. But you have no share or claim or stake in Jerusalem!”
3-1 Then Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests set to and rebuilt the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and set up its doors, consecrating it as far as the Hundred’s Tower, as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 Next to him, the men of Jericho built. Next to them, Zaccur son of Imri. 3 The sons of Hassenaah rebuilt the Fish Gate; they roofed it and set up its doors, locks, and bars. 4 Next to them, Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz repaired; and next to him, Meshullam son of Berechiah son of Meshezabel. Next to him, Zadok son of Baana repaired. 5 Next to him, the Tekoites repaired, though their nobles would not take upon their shoulders the work of their lord. 6 Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah repaired the Jeshanah Gate; they roofed it and set up its doors, locks, and bars. 7 Next to them, Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite repaired, [with] the men of Gibeon and Mizpah, under the jurisdiction of the governor of the province of Beyond the River. 8 Next to them, Uzziel son of Harhaiah, [of the] smiths, repaired. Next to him, Hananiah, of the perfumers.50 They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Next to them, Rephaiah son of Hur, chief of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired. 10 Next to him, Jedaiah son of Harumaph repaired in front of his house. Next to him, Hattush son of Hashabneiah repaired. 11 Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-moab repaired a second stretch, including the Towerof Ovens. 12 Next to them, Shallum son of Hallohesh, chief of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired—he and his daughters.
33 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, it angered him, and he was extremely vexed. He mocked the Jews, 34 saying in the presence of his brothers and the Samarian force, “What are the miserable Jews doing? Will they restore, offer sacrifice, and finish one day? Can they revive those stones out of the dust heaps, burned as they are?” 35 Tobiah the Ammonite, alongside him, said, “That stone wall they are building—if a fox climbed it he would breach it!”
36 Hear, our God, how we have become a mockery, and return their taunts upon their heads! Let them be taken as spoil to a land of captivity! 37 Do not cover up their iniquity or let their sin be blotted out before You, for they hurled provocations at the builders. 38 We rebuilt the wall till it was continuous all around to half its height; for the people’s heart was in the work.
4-1 When Sanballat and Tobiah, and the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that healing had come to the walls of Jerusalem, that the breached parts had begun to be filled, it angered them very much, 2 and they all conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to throw it into confusion. 3 Because of them we prayed to our God, and set up a watch over them 51 day and night…. 7 I stationed, on the lower levels of the place, behind the walls, on the bare rock—I stationed the people by families with their swords, their lances, and their bows. 8 Then I decided to exhort the nobles, the prefects, and the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them! Think of the great and awesome Lord, and fight for your brothers, your sons and daughters, your wives and homes!”
9 When our enemies learned that it had become known to us, since God had thus frustrated their plan, we could all return to the wall, each to his work. 10 From that day on, half my servants did work and half held lances and shields, bows and armor. And the officers stood behind the whole house of Judah 11 who were rebuilding the wall. The basket-carriers were burdened, doing work with one hand while the other held a weapon. 12 As for the builders, each had his sword girded at his side as he was building. The trumpeter stood beside me. 13 I said to the nobles, the prefects, and the rest of the people, “There is much work and it is spread out; we are scattered over the wall, far from one another. 14 When you hear a trumpet call, gather yourselves to me at that place; our God will fight for us!” 15 And so we worked on, while half were holding lances, from the break of day until the stars appeared….
5-1 There was a great outcry by the common folk and their wives against their brother Jews. 2 Some said, “Our sons and daughters are numerous; we must get grain to eat in order that we may live!” 3 Others said, “We must pawn our fields, our vineyards, and our homes to get grain to stave off hunger.” 4 Yet others said, ‘‘We have borrowed money against our fields and vineyards to pay the king’s tax. 5 Now we are as good as our brothers, and our children as good as theirs; yet here we are subjecting our sons and daughters to slavery—some of our daughters are already subjected—and we are powerless, while our fields and vineyards belong to others.”
6 It angered me very much to hear their outcry and these complaints. 7 After pondering the matter carefully, I censured the nobles and the prefects, saying, “Are you pressing claims on loans made to your brothers?” Then I raised a large crowd against them 8 and said to them, “We have done our best to buy back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; will you now sell your brothers so that they must be sold [back] to us?” They kept silent, for they found nothing to answer. 9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. You ought to act in a God-fearing way so as not to give our enemies, the nations, room to reproach us. 10. I, my brothers, and my servants also have claims of money and grain against them; let us now abandon those claims! 11 Give back at once their fields, their vineyards, their olive trees, and their homes, and [abandon] the claims for the hundred pieces of silver, the grain, the wine, and the oil that you have been pressing against them!” 12 They replied, “We shall give them back, and not demand anything of them; we shall do just as you say.” Summoning the priests, I put them under oath to keep this promise. 13 I also shook out the bosom of my garment and said, “So may God shake free of his household and property any man who fails to keep this promise; may he be thus shaken out and stripped.” All the assembled men, answered “Amen,” and praised the Lord.
The people kept this promise.
14 Furthermore, from the day I was commissioned to be governor in the land of Judah—from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes until his thirty-second year, twelve years in all—neither I nor my brothers ever ate of the governor’s food allowance. 15 The former governors who preceded me laid heavy burdens on the people, and took from them for bread and wine more than forty shekels of silver. Their servants also tyrannized over the people. But I, out of the fear of God, did not do so. 16 I also supported the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there at the work. 17 Although there at my table, between Jews and prefects, one hundred and fifty men in all, beside those who came to us from surrounding nations; 18 and although what was prepared for each day came to one ox, six select sheep, and fowl, all prepared for me, and at ten-day intervals all sorts of wine in abundance—yet I did not resort to the governor’s food allowance, for the [king’s] service lay heavily on the people.
19 O my God, remember to my credit all that I have done for this people!
6-1 When word reached Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a breach remained in it—though at that time I had not yet set up doors in the gateways—2 Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let us get together in Kephirim in the Ono valley”; they planned to do me harm. 3 I sent them messengers, saying, “I am engaged in a great work and cannot come down, for the work will stop if I leave it in order to come down to you.” 4 They sent me the same message four times, and I gave them the same answer. 5 Sanballat sent me the same message a fifth time by his servant, who had an open letter with him. 6 Its text was-“Word has reached the nations, and Geshem too says that you and the Jews are planning to rebel—for which reason you are building the wall—and that you are to be their king. Such is the word. 7 You have also set up prophets in Jerusalem to proclaim about you, ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Word of these things will surely reach the king; so come, let us confer together.”
8 I sent back a message to him, saying, “None of these things you mention has occurred; they are figments of your imagination”—9 for they all wished to intimidate us, thinking, “They will desist from the work, and it will not get done.” Now strengthen my hands!… 14 “O my God, remember against Tobiah and Sanballat these deeds of theirs, and against Noadiah the prophetess, and against the other prophets that they wished to intimidate me!”
15 The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth of Elul, after fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard it, all the nations round about us were intimidated, and fell very low in their own estimation; they realized that this work had been accomplished by the help of our God.
49. I.e., of King Artaxerxes; cf Neh. 2.1.
50. I.e., member of the guild of perfumers.
51. I.e., the workers on the walls.