Problems common to the combined Books Ezra-Nehemiah have been pointed out in the Introduction to the Book of Ezra. The achievements of the two men were complementary; each helped to make it possible for Judaism to maintain its identity during the difficult days of the Restoration. Nehemiah was the man of action who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and introduced necessary administrative reforms. Ezra in turn was the great religious reformer who succeeded in establishing the Torah as the constitution of the returned community.
The biblical sources for Nehemiah’s life and work are the autobiographical portions scattered through the book. They are called the “Memoirs of Nehemiah,” and have been used more extensively and effectively by “the Chronicler” than the “Memoirs of Ezra.” No competent scholar questions the authenticity of Nehemiah’s memoirs. From these and other sources, the picture emerges of a man dedicated to the single purpose of the welfare of his people. Despite temperamental shortcomings, Nehemiah was a man of good practical sense combined with deep faith in God. In view of his selfless service to a community capable of severely testing any leader, we can be indulgent toward his numerous appeals to God to credit him with the work he had done. Nehemiah was a layman, and his generous dedication of talents to the service of God and of God’s people remains an example of undiminished force for laymen today.
The Book of Nehemiah is divided as follows:
The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah. 1 In the month Chislev of the twentieth year, I was in the citadel of Susa
when Hanani, one of my brothers, came with other men from Judah. I asked them about the Jews, the remnant preserved after the captivity, and about Jerusalem,
and they answered me: “The survivors of the captivity there in the province are in great distress and under reproach. Also, the wall of Jerusalem lies breached, and its gates have been gutted with fire.”
When I heard this report, I began to weep and continued mourning for several days; I fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
I prayed: “O LORD, God of heaven, great and awesome God, you who preserve your covenant of mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments,
may your ear be attentive, and your eyes open, to heed the prayer which I, your servant, now offer in your presence day and night for your servants the Israelites, confessing the sins which we of Israel have committed against you, I and my father’s house included.
Grievously have we offended you, not keeping the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances which you committed to your servant Moses.
But remember, I pray, the promise which you gave through Moses, your servant, when you said: ‘Should you prove faithless, I will scatter you among the nations;
but should you return to me and carefully keep my commandments, even though your outcasts have been driven to the farthest corner of the world, I will gather them from there, and bring them back to the place which I have chosen as the dwelling place for my name.’
They are your servants, your people, whom you freed by your great might and your strong hand.
2 O Lord, may your ear be attentive to my prayer and that of all your willing servants who revere your name. Grant success to your servant this day, and let him find favor with this man”-for I was cupbearer to the king.
1  The first mission of Nehemiah, from the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I, lasted from the spring (⇒ Nehemiah 2:1) of 445 B. C. until 433 B. C. (⇒ Nehemiah 5:14). It is recounted in ⇒ Nehemiah 1:1-⇒ 6:15; ⇒ 12:27-43; ⇒ 6:16-⇒ 7:5; ⇒ 11:1-21 which may be read in that order.
2  Cupbearer to the king: an important official in the royal household. Because Nehemiah could appear in the queen’s presence (⇒ Nehemiah 2:6), it is commonly presumed that he was a eunuch; but this is not necessarily so.