If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
8 September. Nehemiah chapters 4-6
The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem may have been good news for the Jews, but it aroused strong opposition from the people of many other national groups who had come to live in the area following the removal of the Jewish leaders a century earlier. The basis of nationalism – that one particular group of humans identified by ties of blood, political or religious allegiance, “owns” part of the planet – has been the cause of most conflicts down the centuries, and persists today in many places, not least in Israel/Palestine.
As I suggested yesterday, a “prayer/work balance” is a good thing. And so the response of the Jews to the threats for the Arabs and others is “we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (4:9). The working men were also divided, half as builders and half as guards.
In chapter 5, Nehemiah confronts the leaders in Jerusalem who were taking tithes from, and lending money at interest to, the poor people on the surrounding countryside who had remained during the time of the exile. He challenges them with their attitude of being superior to these common and hard-working people, and forces them to stop these practices and recognise all the Jewish people inside and outside the city as one community.
After that, Nehemiah calls himself Governor, and emphasises that he did not want to use that position to profit from or dominate the people, but only to lead them. It is not clear whether that was an official appointment by the emperor in distance Persia, but possibly not, as his enemies including Tobiah use it to threaten to report him to the emperor as leading a rebellion. Nehemiah has to emphasise that his intent is not to rebel, simply to restore Jerusalem as a working city and place of worship.
The completion of the rebuilding of the wall (but not its gates) in 52 days, using reclaimed stone and volunteer labour, was quite a triumph, enough to silence their enemies, at least for the time being.