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©Kris Gerbrandt

Chapter 1:1-3 (ESV)

Posted on October 23, 2023  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 1:1-3 (ESV) - The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

Question to consider: Can you think of a time in which you felt helpless after hearing some unexpected news?

The name Nehemiah is rooted in the Hebrew words nahum and yah. The word nahum means to be sorry or to be comforted. The word yah is the shortened name for YHWH. So put together it would be something like, “God is Comfort”. Given the context of the story, I think the name is fitting. This book is kind of the sequel to Ezra (whose name means “help”) who “helped” in the rebuilding of the temple and city by bringing materials, workers, and priests and pointing the people back to the Law after they transgressed it by marrying women from the nations who worshiped after other gods. Nehemiah and Ezra would have been contemporaries although Ezra starts during the reign of Cyrus and ends during the reign of Artaxerxes which is when this book begins.

The month of Chislev is the 9th month of the Hebrew calendar which begins during Passover. It would be around November or December depending on the lunar cycle. Chislev is actually the Babylonian name for the month. I find it interesting that God has always used numbers for the days and months while the pagan nations have named them after their gods or forms of worship. 

If you’ve been through my study of Genesis, I believe that Moses presented the first chapter as a genealogy of the created order to introduce the narrative in chapter two just as the rest of the Genesis narratives were divided by genealogies. The Egyptians had used a ten-day week named for their gods while YHWH established a seven-day week celebrating His act of creation and culminating in the rest from labor (which Israel would not have received from the Egyptians). Ultimately, it pointed to the Sabbath rest we have in Christ which is a rest from the works of the Law.

Our days of course are named after planets (Sun, moon, Saturn) and gods (i.e. Friday is Freya, Thursday is Thor, etc.). Of course we don’t think about worshiping Thor on Thursdays, and I’m sure Nehemiah didn’t think about what Chislev meant in the Babylonian context. It is just worth noting how easily culture can shape our view of things.

Nehemiah would have lived his entire life in Babylon and would therefore be entirely immersed in the culture and influence of the Persians. Unlike many of the exiles, Nehemiah would have had a life of privilege, for we will find out that Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king. Susa was the place where the king went during the winter months. It was also the place where the book of Esther took place. While Babylon probably didn’t get cold during the winter like North Dakota does, Susa would have been a type of resort getaway.

While Nehemiah may have had a coveted position of great responsibility, I am sure he had longed to be able to be among the group that was able to go to Jerusalem, and he lived vicariously through any reports that came back regarding its progress. Hearing of its shame, its broken walls and burned gates would have stirred up feelings of helplessness and anxiety.


Dear heavenly Father, please help us during times when we feel helpless and anxious as we learn about all of the conflicts and hardships in the world. Thank You for the good news that Christ has overcome the world and help us to find peace and comfort in the fact that we will one day see the end of sin and death. Amen.