Study Guide

Ezra and Nehemiah Summary

Ezra and Nehemiah Summary

Ezra

As the curtain rises and the orchestra dramatically swells, King Cyrus of Persia has just defeated the Babylonians. Inspired by God's spirit, he tells the Israelites that they can head home and rebuild their temple. He returns the sacred temple vessels stolen by the Babylonians and personally bankrolls the whole building project from his treasury

Zerubbabel and Jeshua the High Priest (not Star Trek characters, but they should be) lead the people back and start laying down the foundations for a new Temple. But Israel's enemies are able to frustrate the building plans by getting the new Persian king Artaxerxes to order construction to a halt.

Things stay that way until Darius comes to power in Persia. Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, urge the Israelites to start building, so naturally the enemies of Israel again complain to the king and demand he check the records to see if Cyrus actually gave permission to build. But—bwahahaha!—when Darius finds Cyrus's original decree, he lets them start rebuilding. Ezra (earlier in time but not in the narrative) is sent by Artaxerxes to help the Israelites get their religious observance back on track. A big part of this involves Ezra breaking up marriages between Israelites and non-Israelites. He has a major meltdown when he hears about all the intermarriage, and manages to convince the men to send away their foreign wives and children.

Nehemiah

Nehemiah's a Hebrew cup-bearer to Artaxerxes, who allows him to return to Jerusalem to help set things in order and rebuild the city. Gentile leaders from different provinces (specifically, leaders of the Ammonites, Samaritans, and Arabs) try to derail the rebuilding project, but thanks to some military readiness and cases of Five-Hour Energy, Nehemiah and his workers successfully speed-build the walls of the city.

After this, Nehemiah reads the riot act to Israelite officials and nobles who have been oppressing the poor, charging ridiculous interest on loans, and forcing the people to pawn their land in order to eat. He successfully evades charges of rebellion against the Persian king drummed up by his enemies, and has Ezra give everyone a crash course on the Laws of Moses. The surviving Jews return from exile to repopulate Jerusalem, and Nehemiah—who's come back from a trip to the Persian capital in Susa—shapes up the backsliding Jews, breaks up more interfaith marriages, and saves the day. And he's the first to admit it.

  • Ezra Chapter 1: Cyrus (Not the Jonah Hill Movie)

    • As the book begins, God inspires King Cyrus of Persia (who has just conquered Babylon) to send out a herald and a written edict throughout his new empire.
    • The edict tells the people that God has appointed Cyrus the new ruler of this empire, and ordered him to build him a new temple in Jerusalem.
    • Cyrus orders all the Israelites out of captivity and sends them back to Judah and Jerusalem to rebuild the house of their God.
    • He also says that people should give the Israelites gold, goods, animals, and offerings to God to help them in their mission.
    • The people of Judah and Benjamin and all the Levites and priests get ready to return.
    • Their neighbors help them prepare with gifts and aid, like Cyrus commanded.
    • Also, with the help of his treasurer Mithredath and the Prince of Judah Sheshbazzar, Cyrus releases the treasure and gold and silver vessels the Babylonians had plundered from the temple in Jerusalem, returning them to the Israelites.
  • Ezra Chapter 2: List-O-Mania

    • This chapter provides a very long list of the different families and descendants who returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. It lists single ancestors and the number of their descendants who've journeyed back.
    • The list includes: the Israelite people as a whole, the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the descendants of Solomon's servants.
    • It also lists people who couldn't prove their descent from Israel but still claimed it, including the descendants of some priests who were excluded since their names weren't found in the genealogical records and they were thus considered "unclean."
    • The governor tells the questionable priests not to eat any holy food, until an approved priest can consult the seer stones Urim and Thummim and see if these guys are the real deal.
    • The entire assembly of people is 42,360 members strong, not counting their 7,337 servants. There are also 200 male and female singers.
    • There's also an accounting of the number of horses, camels, mules, and donkeys.
    • When they arrive in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the family make offerings to the temple building fund. They also donate lots of gold, silver, and priestly robes.
    • The priests, Levites, and some of the people live inside the Jerusalem city limits. Some of the singers, gatekeepers, temple servants, and the rest of Israel settle in their respective towns in the suburbs.
  • Ezra Chapter 3: Booth Biz

    • In the seventh month, the people gather together in Jerusalem.
    • The high priest Jeshua, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and the priests set up an altar to God on the ruined foundations of the temple and make offerings day and night.
    • The people observe the "festival of booths" and make the various kinds of burnt offerings required by God's laws from the time of Moses.
    • They also hire carpenters and masons to rebuild the temple's foundation, and buy cedar wood from the Sidonians and Tyrians with the authorization of King Cyrus.
    • In the second month of the second year after their arrival, Jeshua and Zerubbabel lead the people in laying the new temple foundations. They appoint the Levites to oversee the work.
    • When the builders lay the foundations, the priests blow trumpets and the Levites play cymbals.
    • Then they sing psalms composed by King David, praising God's goodness and steadfast love.
    • The people shout with joy when the temple foundations are laid.
    • But many of the elderly priests, Levites, and heads of families who remember the first temple weep aloud at the same time.
    • The people can't distinguish the weeping from the joyful shout, and all the noise from the celebration can be heard far away.
  • Ezra Chapter 4: Making Mischief

    • When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin hear that they're building a new temple, they approach Zerubbabel and say they want to help since they've been sacrificing to God too.
    • As if.
    • Zerubbabel dismisses them, saying that the Israelites alone will build, since that's what Cyrus asked them to do. Anyway, it's not their place to join in the building.
    • But the enemies bribe the royal officials and successfully delay the temple rebuilding until the time of King Darius.
    • Before Darius comes to power, the enemies of Judah—Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel—write a letter to the Emperor Artaxerxes, urging him to stop the rebuilding of the temple and the rest of the rebuilding projects in Judah.
    • Note: At this point, the original Hebrew changes to Aramaic.
    • Scribes named Rahum and Shimshai, on behalf of their associates (including, apparently, the Babylonians and the Persians in general, and the people exiled in the province "Beyond the River"), write another letter urging Artaxerxes to stop the rebuilding.
    • The letter claims that the Jews are rebuilding a wicked and rebellious city, Jerusalem.
    • If they're able to rebuild its walls, they'll stop paying tribute to the Emperor, and will go back to making trouble, causing the king to lose control of the whole province.
    • They tell Artaxerxes to look in the annals, where he'll see just how rebellious Jerusalem has been in the past.
    • Artaxerxes totally buys this argument and writes a letter back to Rehum and Shimshai, telling them that Jerusalem shouldn't be allowed to rebuild, since one of his officials looked into it for him and determined that the city had in fact been rebellious in the past.
    • Rehum, Shimshai, and their allies go to Jerusalem and stop the rebuilding projects by force. It won't be resumed until the second year of Darius' reign.
  • Ezra Chapter 5: Prophetic Aid

    • The prophets Zechariah and Haggai prophesy to the people of Judah, and, encouraged by the prophets, Zerubbabel and Jeshua start to rebuild the temple again. After all, lumber prices are going through the roof.
    • The governor of the province Beyond the River, Tattenai, a guy named Shether-bozenai, and their associates question the Israelites about who gave them permission to rebuild and who are the people who are rebuilding.
    • But God looks after the Jews, keeping his eye on their elders, who ignored this questioning.
    • Tattenai sends a letter to Darius, on behalf of himself and his associates.
    • He tells Darius that they all went to see the temple being constructed in Jerusalem.
    • They recounted their questions to the elders, who insisted that Cyrus gave them the order to rebuild the city and the temple.
    • The elders also explained how the governor appointed by Cyrus, Sheshbazzar, returned the temple vessels Nebuchadnezzar had stolen, and also laid foundations for a new temple, which they haven't yet been able to rebuild.
    • Tattenai asks Darius to check and make sure that Cyrus really made this decree about rebuilding the temple.
  • Ezra Chapter 6: Dive in the Archive

    • Darius orders a search of the archives in Babylon.
    • But it's in a search of the archives in Ecbatana, the capital of Media, where they discover that Cyrus really did decree the rebuilding of Israel's temple (along with some stipulations about its size and about returning the vessels).
    • So Darius sends a letter ordering Tattenai and the other officials in the province to let the people of Judah go on with rebuilding.
    • He tells them to pay the people of Judah to rebuild the temple, covering the cost from the province's treasury, and to also supply all the young bulls, rams, and sheep for offerings, and all the wheat, salt, wine, and oil the priests require.
    • Darius says that if anyone alters the edict, they'll be impaled on their own roof beam and their house will be turned into a dunghill.
    • Darius also asks God to overthrow any kings or peoples who attack and try to disrupt the rebuilding.
    • Tattenai and the other officials back off after the threat from Darius, and the elders keep building and prospering. Zechariah and Haggai keep encouraging the people through their prophecies.
    • They finish the temple in the sixth year of Darius' reign, thanks to God and the decrees from the Persian Emperors. Even Artaxerses is OK with it.
    • The people of Israel and the priests and Levites all celebrate, offering mass quantities of bulls and rams and lambs, along with twelve male goats symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel.
    • They also celebrate Passover. The priests and Levites purify themselves, and everyone eats the Passover lamb.
    • Not only the people of Israel eat the lamb, but others who have separated and cleansed themselves from the nations' impurities get a turn at the buffet.
    • The people are overjoyed that God inclined the heart of the king to let them build.
  • Ezra Chapter 7: Enter Ezra

    • During the reign of Artaxerxes, Ezra leaves Babylonia. He's a scribe who's an expert in the Law of Moses, and King Artaxerxes gives him whatever he wants.
    • We're given his illustrious ancestry, all the way back to the original High Priest Aaron, so it's clear that something pretty special is in the works.
    • Ezra and some other Israelites—temple servants, priests, singers, gatekeepers, Levites—take around four or five months to journey to Jerusalem. God makes sure he gets there safely.
    • Ezra wants to study the law of God, practice it, and teach it to others. He majored in Old Testament at NYU.
    • Artaxerxes sends a letter to Ezra. The letter permits any other Israelite to go to Jerusalem with Ezra (so this predates Ezra actually going to Jerusalem, it would seem).
    • He commissions Ezra to govern Judah according to God's law, and to bring gifts of gold and silver from Artaxerxes and from the whole province of Babylonia, along with freewill offerings from the people and priests.
    • The money, says Artaxerxes, is to purchase animals for sacrifice, along with grain and drink offerings.
    • They can use the remainder of the money for whatever they want. Par-tay!
    • He gives Ezra vessels for the temple and tells him to draw funds for whatever he requires for the temple out of the king's treasury.
    • Artaxerxes also orders the provinces' treasurers to give Ezra everything he needs up to a certain limit. This is a pretty sweet deal.
    • They should do whatever the God of Israel commands. He also tells them not to impose tribute or taxes of any kind on the various priests, singers, and others connected with the temple.
    • He tells Ezra to appoint judges and magistrates, and to instruct people in the law, punishing them however he needs to if they break it, including death or banishment. This is a pretty impressive amount of authority when you think about it.
    • Ezra's voice breaks in at the end, praising God for inspiring the king and his officials to help and favor Ezra. He says that he gathered other leaders of Israel to go with him.
  • Ezra Chapter 8: List-O-Mania Part II: The Reckoning

    • Still speaking in the first person, Ezra begins this chapter with another long list recording the names of the different heads of families who went with Ezra to Jerusalem during Artaxerxes' reign.
    • It also lists the number of males who came with each head of family.
    • While this rag-tag team is returning, they stop by a river near Ahava, and Ezra realizes they don't have any descendants of Levi with them. One needs Levites to run the temple.
    • He organizes a team of leaders and sends them to ask a guy named Iddo and his fellow temple servants at Casiphia to send them ministers for God's house.
    • The text then lists the names and number of family members of the different ministers they managed to round up.
    • Ezra organizes a fast by the river Ahava in order to gain God's protection, since he'd earlier refused the King's offer of cavalry protection, stating that God would defend them.
    • Oops—this better work.
    • Yep, the fast successfully secures their protection.
    • Next, Ezra sets aside twelve priests and puts them in charge of all the treasures, vessels, bowls, and offerings of gold and silver that they're bringing back to Jerusalem. They're to guard the stuff until they can weigh them in the chambers of the temple and place them there.
    • After they leave Ahava, God protects them from ambushes. They reach Jerusalem, remaining there three days before presenting the silver, the gold, and the vessels to the temple priests.
    • All the money and bling are accounted for.
    • The returned exiles offer bulls, rams, lambs, and male goats as burnt offerings.
    • They support the people and the temple, and convey Artaxerxes' orders to the satraps and governors of the province.
  • Ezra Chapter 9: The Parent Trap

    • After the burnt offerings, some Israelite officials approach Ezra and tell him that the people haven't separated themselves from the people of other nations who commit abominations (Canaanites, Hittites, Egyptians, Justin Bieber fans).
    • The problem is that some of them are still married to women from these different lands and have had children with them.
    • They tell Ezra that the leaders and other officials have led the way in arranging these mixed marriages.
    • Ezra tears his clothes, pulls out hair from his head and beard, and sits down appalled. Other people who obey God's laws gather around him while he stews about it.
    • In the evening, Ezra gets up and ends his brief fast. (He basically skipped lunch.) He prays to God, saying he's extremely ashamed, and the guilt of the people is really great.
    • Ezra says that they've been guilty from their ancestors' time to the present, which led them to be captured by foreign kings and brought into exile.
    • But God has left a remnant of his people. They're still slaves ruled by foreigners, but God's showering his love on them and giving them a shot to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem.
    • But now, says Ezra, they're at risk of getting it wrong yet again by intermarrying with the people who have filled the land with abominations and idol worship, and disobeying the prophets' orders not to do this.
    • Ezra says that, in the past, God has punished them even less than they deserved by even allowing a remnant of the people to survive.
    • Now he's worried that God will destroy them until there's nobody left standing.
    • He concludes by saying that they're so guilty they can't even face God.
  • Ezra Chapter 10: Weep Fest

    • While Ezra prays and weeps in front of the temple, a large number of other people (men, women, and children) come and weep.
    • A guy named Shecaniah suggests that everyone make a covenant with God agreeing to send away their foreign wives.
    • Ezra agrees and makes the priests, Levites, and all the people swear to it.
    • He then goes to the chamber of Johanan son of Eliashib, where he fasts and mourns about the people's faithlessness and bad choices in wives.
    • Then they make a proclamation ordering everyone in Judah to gather in Jerusalem in the next three days.
    • If they show up late, they'll lose all their property, won't be allowed back in the congregation of the people as a whole, and their "Levites Live" concert tickets will be confiscated.
    • Everyone gets there on time.
    • The tribes of Judah and Benjamin are all together. They sit in the heavy rain and tremble.
    • Ezra explains their sin to them, telling the people to confess to God and then separate from their foreign wives.
    • They agree to do so, but say that they'll need time, since so many people have transgressed this way. You can't do something like this overnight, y'know.
    • Plus, it's raining and everyone's getting soaked.
    • They ask that the people who've taken foreign wives have appointed times to come in and officially separate themselves.
    • Only a few people oppose the plan.
    • Ezra appoints men who are heads of families to gradually meet with each of the men who have taken foreign wives. There are so many that it takes months to figure it all out.
    • The book ends with a list of the names of all the priests, Levites, and men of Israel who had taken foreign wives, before sending them away along with the children they had with them.
    • The priests make guilt offerings to repent. They're the worst offenders.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 1: Quest of the Cupbearer

    • This book begins by stating that it's the first person account of Nehemiah.
    • He says that he was living in the Persian capital, Susa.
    • His brother Hanani came to him, and Nehemiah asked him how the Jews who had left exile and returned to Jerusalem were doing.
    • Hanani explains that they're in trouble: Jerusalem's wall is broken down and its gates have been burned.
    • Nehemiah weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays for days.
    • He asks God to listen to his words, as he repents for his family and his nation's failure to keep God's commandments.
    • He admits that God told them all this would happen when he gave the law to Moses.
    • But he also promised that he'd gather them from exile if they managed to keep his commandments again.
    • Nehemiah asks God for success and mercy in the mission he's about to undertake.
    • He ends by noting that he was cupbearer to the King of Persia, at this time. This was a pretty important position, so he was really close with the king.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 2: Wine and Whine

    • While serving wine to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah looks sad, which he never does.
    • Artaxerxes notices the sad face and asks what's wrong, and Nehemiah explains that his people's city is currently a wasteland.
    • Artaxerxes asks Nehemiah what it is he wants to request from him.
    • So after a quick prayer to God, Nehemiah asks Artaxerxes if he can return to his homeland of Judah and help rebuild the city.
    • The king asks how long he'll be gone and when he'll return, and they set a date.
    • He also grants Nehemiah's request to send letters to the provincial governors granting him safe passage, and to tell Asaph, the guy who oversees the King's forest, to give him the wood he needs to do the rebuilding and to build himself a house as well.
    • So far so good.
    • Nehemiah sets out, using the letters the king gave him, escorted by cavalry and army officers.
    • But two of Israel's enemies, Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite, are not happy that Nehemiah is coming to help the Israelites.
    • Nehemiah stays in Jerusalem for three days before stealthily heading out with a few men to inspect the city's walls.
    • He does all this in strict secrecy, not telling the Jews, nobles, officials, or priests what he's doing.
    • Nehemiah then addresses everyone, urging them to rebuild the wall, and explaining how God and the King have both been gracious to him.
    • Everyone says, "Let's do it."
    • Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem accuse them of being rebellious toward the king by doing this.
    • They mock and ridicule them.
    • Nehemiah tells these enemies that God will have mercy on Israel, and that the enemies have no historic claim to Jerusalem so they should just shut up.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 3: Ultimate Chore List

    • This is another long list and record-keeping chapter.
    • Nehemiah explains exactly who repaired and rebuilt every part of the walls and gates.
    • It's impossible to summarize this chapter in a form shorter than the actual chapter since it's just a long record of names and duties, with no action or story whatsoever. So check it out again in the text.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 4: No Respect

    • Now back to the action.
    • Sanballat ridicules the Jews, and asks his associate and the army of Samaria what these Jews think they're doing, rebuilding their city and its walls.
    • Tobiah claims that they're doing such a shabby job of it that even a fox could knock down the wall.
    • Nice try, Tobiah.
    • Nehemiah prays, asking God to bring the guilt of these enemies down on them since they taunted his people.
    • So the people manage to rebuild the wall up to half its previous height, working really, really hard.
    • But Sanballat, Tobiah, and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites get even angrier when they hear how well the rebuilding and repairs are going.
    • They plot to attack the people of Judah. But the people pray and set up a guard 24/7 to keep watch against their enemies.
    • The workers complain about how difficult the rebuilding has become, with tons of rubble piled everywhere. And the people in the outlying towns warn about the enemies who are plotting against them.
    • Nehemiah reorganizes things: he stations people in strategic locations around the wall, guarding the reconstruction with weapons.
    • He urges the nobles, officials, and everyone else not to be afraid, to remember God, and to fight to protect their kin, their families, and their homes.
    • The enemies realize that their plots been foiled and they don't attack.
    • However, from that time on, half the workers hold weapons and guard the site while the other half work.
    • The workers themselves work with one hand and carry a weapon with the other. The builders all have swords strapped to their sides.
    • Nehemiah tells the nobles to come to their aid if the workers blow a trumpet for assistance, since they're pretty spread out as they rebuild.
    • Nehemiah orders everyone to spend the night inside Jerusalem itself so that they'll be able to repel any nighttime attacks.
    • Neither Nehemiah nor his brothers, servants, or men of the guard stop to even wash or change their clothes, and they keep their weapons in their right hands at all times.
    • It's getting pretty funky in there.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 5: Predatory Lending

    • People are coming to Nehemiah with various complaints. They're having trouble getting grain during a famine and are being forced to pledge their property just to get enough to eat.
    • They say that they're borrowing money in order to pay their taxes to the king, and the people who are lending the money—fellow Jews—are forcing them to essentially rent out their sons and daughters as slaves. Not cool.
    • Some of their daughters have even been raped. Totally not cool.
    • Nehemiah gets angry, and accuses the nobles and officials of preying on their own people by charging excessive interest. They're essentially selling the people back into exile and slavery.
    • The nobles have no argument to make against this. Busted.
    • Nehemiah says that the nobles should give back all the property they've confiscated from the people and to return what they've taken from them in interest.
    • The nobles and the priests agree and promise to forgive the people's debts and return their property.
    • Nehemiah, performance artist, shakes out the folds of his garment, saying that anyone who fails to follow through will be shaken out from the fold of the House of Israel.
    • Fortunately, the nobles and priests follow through on their promise.
    • Nehemiah explains that he served as governor over Judah for twelve years.
    • Selflessly, he and his brothers didn't even eat the food allowance granted them by the Emperor and survived on Ashdodite takeout.
    • Unlike previous governors who excessively taxed and burdened the people, Nehemiah says he was a good governor.
    • He devoted his attention to rebuilding the wall, and didn't acquire land.
    • He goes through the number of people who dined at his table and what they typically ate in a day, along with how much wine they had for ten days. So generous.
    • Nehemiah further demonstrates his restraint in not also taking advantage of the food allowance.
    • What a great guy.
    • He asks God to remember him because of the good he's done.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 6: Threats and Intimidation

    • When Israel's enemies—Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem again—hear that the wall's been completed, they ask to meet with Nehemiah.
    • Nehemiah sees that they plan to do him harm. No fool, this guy.
    • He refuses, asking why he should take time off from his work to do this.
    • They ask him four times, and he answers in the same way. No dice.
    • The fifth time, they up the ante.
    • The enemies' servant brings a letter saying that they've heard that the Jews intend to rebel against the Empire and that Nehemiah wants to be their king, with the prophets supporting him.
    • Nehemiah knows they're just trying to intimidate him.
    • He tells them that they're making all this stuff up just to scare them away from rebuilding.
    • He still won't meet with them. Talk to the hand.
    • Nehemiah goes to visit a guy named Shemaiah who says (actually, falsely prophesies) that they should go hide in the temple, since men are coming to kill Nehemiah.
    • Nehemiah cleverly sees that Shemaiah's been hired by Sanballat and Tobiah to trick him and make him an object of ridicule.
    • Only priests are allowed in the temple, so obviously he's trying to get our man to break the law.
    • He asks God not to forget what Shemaiah and the wicked prophetess Noadiah and other prophets did to try to trick him.
    • The wall's finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul, impossibly fast according to Shmoop's Senior Masonry Consultant.
    • The surrounding nations are all disheartened and scared by this.
    • They understand that God supports the Jews, since they haven't even been able to get their contractor to return their phone calls.
    • Nehemiah also mentions that some of the nobles were friends with Tobiah, due to his family's intermarrying with Jews.
    • The nobles try to make Tobiah sound good in Nehemiah's presence, while Tobiah sends Nehemiah letters designed to intimidate him.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 7: Gate Master

    • After finishing the wall and appointing people to positions at the temple, Nehemiah puts his brother Hanani and another guy, Hananiah the commander of the citadel, in charge of Jerusalem.
    • This is because of their piety and exceptional faithfulness, plus he thought it would be cool because their names sound so similar.
    • Nehemiah tells them not to open the city gates until the sun is hot, and that the gatekeepers should bar the doors while they're standing guard.
    • He also tells them how to appoint guards and watchmen.
    • Nehemiah notes that the city at this time was very large, but few people were living in it.
    • Next Nehemiah writes another extremely long list.
    • He records the number of Israelites to return to the city in total, listing the number who came along with each head of family.
    • He lists the priests, Levites, temple servants, descendants of Solomon's servants, and those who couldn't prove their descent from Israel.
    • The people descended from priests but couldn't prove it were excluded from the priesthood. They weren't allowed to partake of the holy food until a legit priest, using the magic seer stones Urim and Thummim, could determine if they were really part of Israel.
    • Nehemiah says that the entire assembly of Israel numbered 42,360 people, not including their 7,337 male and female slaves.
    • He adds that they had 245 male and female singers. No backup dancers, though.
    • He even lists the number of horses, mules, camels, and donkeys, and goes on to list the amount of gold, silver, basins, and priestly robes.
    • The special classes of people listed above (priests, Levites, gatekeepers, etc.) and some of the people settle in their own towns outside the city.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 8: Gettin' Schooled

    • At the beginning of the seventh month, everyone gathers at the Water Gate in Jerusalem.
    • Ezra brings the Law of Moses and reads it to all the people.
    • He begins at sunrise morning and finishes at midday. Everyone turns off their phones and listens.
    • Nehemiah lists the people who stood on the platform next to Ezra as he read, and also the names of those Levites who helped explain the law so people could understand it.
    • Nehemiah also explains the form of this assembly, with the people standing up as Ezra opens the scroll and starts to read, and concluding with an "Amen, Amen."
    • The people weep with guilt when they hear the law being read, since they've been so disobedient. But Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites who were teaching the people tell them to rejoice rather mourn. This day is holy to the Lord, and they should eat and drink with joy.
    • So the people rejoice and ask if this stuff will be on the exam.
    • On the second day of the seventh month, the heads of the ancestral houses get together to study the law with Ezra.
    • They discover that during the seventh month they're actually supposed to be celebrating the festival of booths (Sukkot), living in booths outside their houses as taught in the book of Moses that Ezra's been reading.
    • So everyone goes to the hills to gather branches to build booths to live in temporarily.
    • No one had observed this festival since the days of Joshua, so this is a big deal.
    • They observe the holiday for seven days, and then hold a solemn festival.
    • Ezra continues teaching them the law every day during this time.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 9: Sin and Sackcloth

    • On the twenty-fourth day of the month, the people are fasting, wearing sackcloth, and putting dirt on their heads—the whole atonement thing.
    • The Israelites separate themselves from the other people living there and confess their sins and disobedience.
    • They read from the Law for a quarter of the day, then confess and worship God for the next quarter.
    • Some of the Levites cry out to God and tell the people to stand up and bless and praise God.
    • Following that, they send out for falafel.
    • Next, Ezra stands up and confesses the people's sins to God. He praises God as the creator of the world, and the God of Abraham.
    • Then Ezra recites the whole history of Israel up until his own time. He begins with the Exodus and the miracles God performed against Pharaoh.
    • He tells it all: God destroying Pharaoh's army, God leading the people as a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud, giving Moses the Law on Mount Sinai, and providing bread from heaven and water from the rock for the people in the wilderness.
    • Even with all that, the people were disobedient, building the golden calf while Moses was hard at work up on Mt. Sinai.
    • But God was forgiving and continued to sustain them in the wilderness anyway.
    • Then God let the people conquer Canaan and become a populous nation.
    • Still, they were disobedient, killing prophets and committing blasphemies.
    • So God let the people fall into the hands of their enemies, though he's still merciful to them in many small and individual ways. He also instructs them through the prophets.
    • But they still failed to be obedient and were stubborn—what is it with these people?—so God permitted them to be sent into exile.
    • But he never totally forgot about them.
    • Though God has been merciful to them in letting them return, they're still slaves, says Ezra, ruled by foreign kings.
    • They all make a covenant agreeing to be obedient this time, signed with the names of the officials, priests, and Levites.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 10: List Love: The Next Dimension

    • This chapter begins with another list: the names of the officials, priests, and their associates who signed the covenant.
    • In the covenant, all the people and the nobles promise together to finally follow God's Law as given to Moses. They also promise not to marry the daughters of foreigners, not to buy grain and merchandise that foreigners bring into the city on the Sabbath, and to forgive debts every seventh year.
    • Each person also pledges to give a third of a shekel for the upkeep of the temple and for performing various festivals, offerings, and observances every year.
    • They agree to pay for the wood offering by casting lots, and promise to bring their first fruits, firstborn sons, and firstborn livestock to the temple.
    • Note: the firstborn sons do not get sacrificed.
    • They agree to give their first batch of dough to the priests. The priests will also get some of the fruit of their trees, oil, and wine.
    • They also establish guidelines for how the Levites should collect tithes from the people.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 11: List Fever

    • The leaders of the people all live in Jerusalem, and the people themselves cast lots so that a tenth of them will end up living in Jerusalem. People who offer to go voluntarily (without casting lots) are blessed.
    • Kind of like when you voluntarily offer to check your carry-on baggage, Virgin America lets you board with Group 1.
    • Nehemiah lists the Benjaminites and Judahites who lead the province and live in Jerusalem. The leaders of the towns actually live in the towns.
    • He also lists the leaders of the priests and Levites, and also briefly mentions gatekeepers, singers, and important people like Pethahiah, a guy who helped the king in matters related to the people. Sort of an ombudsman.
    • Nehemiah concludes with another medium-longish list of all the places and villages where the people lived, including Ono—the valley of the artisans and rumored birthplace of Yoko.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 12: A List to End All Lists

    • This chapter begins with another huge list: priests and Levites. It also lists a few gatekeepers at the end for good measure.
    • In this case, since it's just a list of names, it's impossible to summarize. Take our word for it.
    • Next, Nehemiah organizes the biggest bash of all: the dedication of the Temple.
    • The Levites come to Jerusalem and rejoice with singing, cymbals, harps, and lyres. The singers and Simon Cowell come from their villages as well.
    • The priests and Levites purify themselves, the people, the wall, and the gates.
    • Nehemiah—since the dude is inventing Excel spreadsheets—lists all the important people and various honchos who paraded into the city on this festive occasion.
    • Everyone offers sacrifice and rejoices: man, woman, and child. People can hear the celebration from far away.
    • Men are appointed to look after and keep track of the first fruits and tithes that are given to the priests and Levites. They perform the service of purification along with the singers and gatekeepers.
    • Just like in King David's day, the singers have a leader again, and they perform songs of praise for God.
    • The people give daily portions of food to the singers and gatekeepers and set aside the portion for the Levites, who then set aside the portion for the priests.
  • Nehemiah Chapter 13: Tobiahgate

    • The people find out that the Law of Moses says that they shouldn't let any Ammonites or Moabites into their society, since these tribes refused to give their Israelite ancestors food and hired Balaam to curse them. (See Numbers 22:5.)
    • So the people refuse to hang around these particular foreigners.
    • The priest Eliashib prepares a room for Israel's old enemy Tobiah in the chamber where they used to store the grain offering, frankincense, vessels, tithes, wine, and oil.
    • Nehemiah isn't there while this is happening because he's paying a visit to King Artaxerxes back in Persia.
    • When he returns and finds out what went down, he throws out all of Tobiah's furniture and brings back the grain, vessels, and other things they used to keep in that room.
    • He discovers that the Levites and singers weren't receiving their fair portion, so he fixes this and appoints a new group of treasurers to make sure the Levites get their share.
    • Nehemiah asks God to remember him for all these righteous deeds.
    • Nehemiah sees that the people are pressing grapes and selling and buying food on the Sabbath.
    • He tells them to knock it off, explaining that this is exactly the kind of behavior that got them exiled in the first place.
    • He orders the gates to the city shut when the Sabbath begins, and says that they shouldn't be opened until it ends.
    • The merchants and sellers end up spending the night outside the city for one or two Sabbaths before Nehemiah threatens to arrest them.
    • Nehemiah also commands the Levites to purify themselves and guard the gates to make sure the Sabbath is kept holy.
    • He again asks God to remember these good deeds and count them in his favor.
    • Nehemiah also takes on Jews who've married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab, and whose half-foreign children can't speak Hebrew.
    • He curses and beats some of the men who've married such women, and pulls out their hair, forcing them to swear to give up their foreign wives and kids.
    • This is a very convincing tactic.
    • He uses the example of King Solomon marrying foreign women as an example of how destructive it can be.
    • Jehoiada's son is friends with that villainous Sanballat. Nehemiah chases Jehoiada's son away from him, and tells God to remember how this guy defiled the priesthood.
    • Nehemiah states that he eliminated all foreign practices, established the duties of priests and Levites, and took care of the wood offering and first fruits.
    • As the book ends, he asks God again to remember him for these good deeds.