The Book of Nehemiah begins to show us an additional perspective of those living near Jerusalem trying to reclaim their heritage and struggling to survive. The Jews were forced to work against corrupt officials, opposing nations, and their reputation as a rebellious nation that was loyal to their God rather than the nations who owned them. All of this weighs on Nehemiah, working as the King’s cupbearer, and he feels a responsibility to change it. His position historically meant that Nehemiah had the King’s utmost trust, as he was in charge of the drinks for the entire royal table, so he prays for favor before asking for the King’s permission to go. Nehemiah’s part in the return of the Jews to their land is to rebuild the wall and defenses of Jerusalem, to secure them while Ezra’s people can renew the Temple in its dedication to the Lord.
In Nehemiah’s prayer, he recognizes that the Jews were told if they turned away from God that they would be scattered, and only through obedience and following the Lord would their land be returned to them (Neh 1: 8-9). When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he helped Ezra in the purging and cleaning of Jewish ancestry as the heads of families were brought together to properly recommit to the covenant as a whole community. As we saw in Ezra’s story, the Law was read to all of the people, and a celebration was thrown in accordance with the Feast of Tabernacles to strike a revival of spirit and faith.
In this return of faith, they renew their covenant with the Lord for many of the priests, the Levites, and leaders of the people to sign, as listed in Neh 10. In it, they vow to not mix with the other nations, to follow the Law that was set out with Moses, to dedicate their offerings, firstfruits, children, animals, and to reconfirm the yearly collection that would support the Temple of the Lord and the Levites who tended to it. (Neh 10:33, 36). In bringing back this annual collection of money and resources for the Levites and the descendants of Aaron, they once more promise to give one-third of a shekel, a culmination of the different 10ths during the Mosaic Law we spoke on before, in their contributions.
Following their rededication, they worshipped daily, reading the entire book of Moses to the people, beyond simply the Law, and the corruption of leadership is weeded out. At this time, those that worked in the Temple, the Levites, were not being paid their part to support their families and their livelihoods, as the collections were being stored as treasures. Nehemiah is forced to correct this, bringing the Levites back from outside work and paying them what they are due, pulling them again away from intermarriages with other peoples. They try again and again through multiple situations to be steadfast and demonstrate God’s power in their lives, rather than giving up.
Ezra and Nehemiah worked from different directions to rededicate an entire people to the Lord, restoring first their faiths and then their obedience. As each part came together, the people, the Temple, and the wall, the Lord blessed and protected each piece. The Jews had been living so far from the law, that it was through the efforts of both of these major players that they were continually able to pull the Jews back towards God, again and again, each time they turned away. In the midst of all these changes, they returned also to a time when they had to commit more than their hearts. The Jews were required by Mosaic law to give offerings, firstfruits, firstborns, and separate from this, the annual collection of all things as a third of their harvest, not just a tenth, to support the Levites who served the Temple and were paid for their work with this monetary collection. Again, we see this contribution collected in a long list of other requirements that started first with obedience and blessing, then the maintenance of the responsibilities to the Levites and the Temple of the Lord.