The Law Read and Explained & The Post Exilic Period of the Old Testament: The Persian Period

I’m sure You’re real happy with Nehemiah, but there are a lot of people that are really mad.  Are they going to kill Nehemiah or what’s going to happen?

Nehemiah is the central figure of the Book of Nehemiah, which describes his work in rebuilding Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. He was governor of Persian Judea under Artaxerxes I of Persia (c. 5th century BC).

According to most scholars, Nehemiah was a real historical figure and the Nehemiah Memoir, a name given by scholars to certain portions of the book written in the first person, is historically reliable.

In the 20th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, (445/444 BC), Nehemiah was cup-bearer to the king. Learning that the remnant of Jews in Judah were in distress and that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, he asked the king for permission to return and rebuild the city.

Artaxerxes sent him to Judah as governor of the province with a mission to rebuild, letters explaining his support for the venture, and provision for timber from the king’s forest. Once there, Nehemiah defied the opposition of Judah’s enemies on all sides—Samaritans, Ammonites, Arabs and Philistines—and rebuilt the walls within 52 days, from the Sheep Gate in the North, the Hananeel Tower at the North West corner, the Fish Gate in the West, the Furnaces Tower at the Temple Mount’s South West corner, the Dung Gate in the South, the East Gate and the gate beneath the Golden Gate in the East.

“And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month” (Neh 8:1-2).

“And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Neh 8:6).

Nehemiah and Ezra, with the help of Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, taught the people the laws of God.  And Nehemiah said to them,

“Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10).

The second day the people began to gather olive, pine, myrtle, palm, and thick tree branches to make shelters they can live in, as it was written –

“And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month” (Neh 8:14).

Sheep Gate in the North
This is the northeast corner of the Old City, providing access to the Temple Mount from the Kidron Valley. In the Byzantine period this gate was referred to as the St Stephen’s gate, because tradition says that it was outside this gate that Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:58). Later, the gate which stood here was renamed Bab el-Ghor (the Jordan Valley gate) but this name is hardly used today

The most important lesson to be learned from this fascinating site is that throughout Jerusalem’s long history, the topography of the landscape has always dictated where the city’s fortifications could and could not be built.

;For centuries, the builders of Jerusalem – Canaanite, Israelite, Jewish, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, Mameluk, Turkish – have reused the same locations for their walls and gates over and over. Because the eastern hill of the city dramatically gives way to the Kidron Valley at this point, it has always been the site of the northeastern gate. The names of these various gates are simply icing on this complex layer cake.

“Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner” (Neh 8:18).

“Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.

And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.

And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the Lord their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped theLord their God” (Neh 9:1-3).

All the Israelites were told of the lives their ancestors had lived with God, all the way back to Abraham. 

The purpose of doing so kept the people’s mind off of evil and wicked things, i.e., the ways of the devil.  The same with today, 1 keep your mind on Jesus at all times.  God then made a covenant with the people (Neh 10:1-39).

“And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities.

And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.

Now these are the chief of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon’s servants(Neh 11:1-3).

These are the people mentioned directly above –  (Neh 11:4-36).

Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra (Neh 12:1-44).

Tower of Hananel
The name of a tower on the wall of Jerusalem, prob. near the NE corner, not far from the Sheep Gate. Nehemiah 3:1 says that when the wall was rebuilt, the Sheep Gate was built as far as the Tower of Hananel and that when the walls were dedicated, companies of princes inspected them, including the Tower of Hananel.

It is not known how the tower got its name. It was replaced by the Tower of Antonia. Jeremiah 31:38 and Zechariah 14:10 mention it as a boundary of Jerusalem when it will be rebuilt.

“And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.

For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God.

And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron” (Neh 12:45-47).

It was also found in the book of Moses that the children of God were never to live with the Ammonites or the Moabites because they had never helped the Israelites, but hired Balaam to curse them.

Fish Gate
Fishermen brought through the Fish Gate fishes for selling to Jerusalem. The spiritual meaning of the Fish Gate is there that after the Sheep Gate redemption in the blood of the Lord Jesus begins fishing of men; in other words, preaching of the Gospel about the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ said that He will make from His disciples fishers of men.

The Fish Gate means the preaching of the Gospel and fishing, the men to the kingdom of God.

“And I [Nehemiah]came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.

And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff to Tobiah out of the chamber.

Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.

And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.

Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.

Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.

And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren.

Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.

Old Gate, which spiritual meaning is death of the old man. The Lord Jesus doesn’t repair the old man, but makes the new man through the regeneration in the Holy Spirit. In sanctification life, the Lord Jesus sets up “doors and locks” that sin can’t get any grip on our heart.

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit kills deeds of our flesh. The Holy Spirit rules and leads us in righteousness and by that way we will die to sinful deeds. The Old Gate proclaims us that the old one must die, because the new one has been reborn.

The Holy Spirit gives to believer the power to die to the flesh and resist sin and choose the righteousness of God instead of sins. The Old Gate is an important gate, because without death of the flesh believer cannot wander in the will of God. Death of the flesh is God’s gracious work and by this work Jesus’s disciples have ability to walk and live according to the will of God.

There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.

Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?

Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.

And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.

So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.

Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.

And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.

In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:

And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.

The Valley Gate describes wandering of Jesus’s disciples.

Ge 26:19 And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.

De 8:7 For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;

Ps 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Eze 3:22 ¶ And the hand of the LORD was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee.

And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.

Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.

Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?

And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me.

Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.

Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;

And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good(Neh 13:7-31).

The Post Exilic Period
of the Old Testament

What is Post-Exilic Prophecy?
Post-Exilic Prophecy is prophecy that is dated to the period after the Israelites who were deported to Babylon returned to the land of Israel.

These books are Haggai, Joel, Malachi, Obadiah and Zechariah.

Though often called the Minor Prophets, they are by no means insignificant, considering the message they bring from God to His people.

The Exile

The exile was a major turning point in the history of Israel.

Judah and Jerusalem had fallen to the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.

Many of the people of the land had been taken captive to Babylon, while others had fled to Egypt and parts unknown.

A small number of the poor had remained behind in Judah. The ltimate curse of the covenant had been realized.

After centuries of prophetic warnings, the death penalty had been carried out on Israel.

The land was in ruins, and the people were in exile.

In 539 B.C., however, Babylon fell to the Persians, and in 538, Cyrus issued a decree permitting the exiled Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the temple.

Were the prophecies of restoration now to be fulfilled?

Would the messianic kingdom of God now be established?

These are the questions faced by the post-exilic prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

In order to understand the post-exilic prophets, some historical context is necessary.

The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had died in 562, and his death had precipitated the rapid decline of his empire.

His reign was followed in quick succession by the reigns of Evil-Merodach (562–560), Neriglissar (560–556), and Labisi-Marduk (556) before any semblance of stability was reached with the reign of Nabonidus (555–539).

Yet even under Nabonidus there was trouble because of religious controversies.

Due to these problems, Nabonidus was absent from the capital for lengthy periods of time.

His son Belshazzar was the effective ruler of Babylon during these periods.

In 539 B.C., Belshazzar was present in the city when Babylon fell to Cyrus the Persian.

Cyrus had a policy, unusual for the time, of allowing captive peoples to return to their homelands, so in 538, he issued a decree allowing the exiled Jews to return to Judah (cf. Ezra 1:1–4).

Tens of thousands returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua, but an even larger number remained behind, not willing to give up the life they had established in Babylon over the previous decades (Ezra 2).

Those who did return to the land were faced with numerous hardships.

The land was in poor shape for farming, and many buildings were in need of repairs.

In addition, the Jews who had remained in Judah had taken the land of those who had been exiled. Furthermore, Judah’s neighbors were adamantly opposed to the rebuilding program.

All of this caused widespread discouragement.

Thus after rebuilding the altar in 537 (Ezra 3:1–7) and preparing the foundation of the temple in 536 (Ezra 3:8–13), opposition and despair caused work to come to a standstill for over fifteen years (Ezra 4:1–5).

To the northeast of Judah, Cyrus had continued to expand the Persian Empire until his death in 530.

He was followed by Cambyses II (530–522), and Gaumata (522), before Darius Hystaspes (522–486) came to the throne.

After receiving complaints from the enemies of the Jews and researching the royal archives, Darius discovered the decree of Cyrus.

In 520 B.C. he ordered opposition against the Jews to cease in order that they might complete the temple (Ezra 5:1–6:12).

It was near the beginning of his reign that the prophets Haggai (520 B.C.) and Zechariah (520–518 B.C.) arose in Judah to bring God’s word to the people.

After much work, the temple was finally completed in 515 B.C.

In Persia, Darius’ lengthy reign was followed by that of Xerxes (486–465) and then Artaxerxes I (464–424), during whose reign Ezra led a second group of returnees to Judah in 458 (Ezra 7:1– 28).

Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem with a third group of returnees in 445 to finish rebuilding the wall of the city (Neh. 1–2).

He returned to Persia in 433. The ministry of the prophet Malachi likely occurred sometime in the period soon after Nehemiah’s departure but before his second visit (cf. Neh. 13:6).

The post-exilic prophets faced a daunting task.

Earlier prophets had foreseen a glorious restoration following the judgment of exile (cf. Amos 9:11, 14–15; Micah 4:6–7).

Daniel, on the other hand, had borne witness to a sevenfold extension of the punishment of exile (cf. Dan. 9:24–27).

Yet Cyrus had now permitted the Jews in Babylon to return to their land.

Was this the promised time of restoration or not?

The post-exilic prophets reveal an eschatological tension in their writings.

They bear witness to the inauguration of eschatological restoration, but also proclaim that the fullness is yet to come.

They provide the first hints that the promised restoration from exile is not to occur all at once.

The postexilic period, cavers over 500 years, can be conveniently divided into five periods: Persian, Greek, Hasmonean, Roman and Herodian.

In 539-538 B.C. Cyrus the Persian defeated the Babylonians and reversed the policy of depopulating areas and scattering people into foreign lands.

Cyrus Cylinder
Cyrus II of Persia, commonly known as Cyrus the Great and also known as Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire.

Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen.

Under his successors, the empire eventually stretched from parts of the Balkans (Bulgaria-Pannonia) and Thrace-Macedonia in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east.

His regal titles in full were The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World.

He also proclaimed what has been identified by scholars and archaeologists to be the oldest known declaration of human rights, which was transcribed onto the Cyrus Cylinder sometime between 539 and 530 BC.

This view has been criticized by some as a misunderstanding of what they claim to be the Cylinder’s generic nature as a traditional statement of the sort that new monarchs may make at the beginning of their reign.

Almost immediately thereafter  he allowed the exiled Israelites to return to their homeland under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (cf. Ezra 1-2, 5:13-16; Neh 7).

The Cyrus Cylinder provides important extra-biblical confirmation. Many Jews opted to remain in the lands to which they had been exiled, though maintaining their religious and ethnic identify.

This  phenomenon, known as the dispersion of the Jews, had become an irreversible social reality.  However, the Old Testament exilic and postexilic narratives, with the exception of the book of Esther, focus on the challenges and crises facing the returnees.

The first major challenge was the rebuilding of the temple in the face of external opposition (Ezra 4:1-5; 5:1-6:18) and internal neglect (Hag 1:2-11).

Its restoration was a prerequisite for the reinstatement of God’s presence and blessings, and a strong priesthood was necessary to reinstitute local worship according to prescribed norms (Hag 2:11-19; Zec 3).

Stirred into action by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and with Persian sponsorship, the Perisan-appointed governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua successfully completed the project, dedicating the temple in 516/515 B.C. (cf. Ezra 6:15-16).

Another challenge was the threat of assimilation and idolatry (Ezra 9).  With Persian endorsement Ezra returned to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. (Ezra 7:6-10).

He confronted the people, led them in confession of their unfaithfulness to God (Ezra 10) and later fulfilled his commission to teach the Book of the Law of Moses to the people (Neh 8-9).

A third significant challenge was the fortification of Jerusalem. In 445 b.c. Nehemiah, royal cupbearer to the Persian monarch, appealed to Artaxerxes I on Jerusalem’s be­half.

Artaxerxes appointed Nehemiah gover­nor of Judea, funded his return to Jerusalem and provided building materials (2:1-9; 5:14). Despite considerable opposition,4 Ne­hemiah and the returnees succeeded in their mission (6:15).

The dedication of the wall was accompa­nied by extensive reading from the law and a call for covenant renewal. This period of revival was apparently short-lived, however.

When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, per­haps in 433/432 b.c., he discovered that the priests and people alike had become negli­gent in their worship.

The Persian kings’ endorsement and sup­port of religious activity in “Yehud” (Judea) is consistent with their interest in temple communities in Babylonia, Syria, Asia Minor, Armenia, Phoenicia and elsewhere:

Temples served as regional power centers and helped maintain civil obedience and political loyalty. It is hardly coincidental that the Persians authorized the second temple’s completion shortly after their subjugation of Egypt in 526-525 B.C.

They willingly com­missioned Ezra and Nehemiah a few years after quelling Egypt’s revolt in 460 b.c. The Egyptian threat to the south highlighted Persia’s reliance upon a productive and loyal “Yehud.”

Priestly governmental systems were less threatening to Persian kings than were local monarchies. Judea was ruled by both a high priest and a governor (cf. Hag 1:1,14; Zec 4), and the balance of power between the two fluctuated throughout the postexilic period.

Nehemiah played a crucial role as governor in the mid-5th century B.C., yet in Judea over­all this period saw an increasing role of the priesthood and a decreasing role of the Davidic royal family. By the end of the Persian period (c. 330 B.C.) the priests had risen to a prominent position.

The Persians hoped to curry the favor and support of local deities and their priestly ser­vants, who might intercede for the prosper­ity of the empire (cf. Ezra 6:9-10; 7:23).

Religious endorsement was essential to the legitimization of Persian rule in the eyes of various peoples. The Persians were so suc­cessful in this that in Babylonia their rule was not regarded as foreign domination.

Israel’s leaders and prophets recognized the constraints of their situation under Per­sian rule but welcomed Persian support to carry out God’s commands in their homeland.

Nevertheless, they consistently testified that God was the source of all blessing and suc­cess (Ezra 1:1; 7:6; Neh 2:8,20) and continued to look forward to a day when the Davidic branch would take root and all peoples would flock to Mount Zion to seek the Lord of hosts (Zec 3:8-10;8:20-23).

Opposition & Banking and Money in the Ancient World

It’s hard to do, try, and accomplish something while you also have to keep your eye out for a problem to occur, but I guess if we leave the problem solving up to You then we have nothing to worry about. 

But did they do that?  Did they finish the wall?

“And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews.

For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live.

Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth.

There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards.

Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.

And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.

Nehemiah was a high official in the Persian court of King Artaxerxes I at the captial city of Susa, which lay 150 miles east of the Tigris River in what is now modern Iran.

Nehemiah served as the king’s cupbearter (Neh 1:11), which evidently put him in a position to speak to the king and request favors from him.

After hearing about the sad state of affairs in Judah, Nehemiah acquired the king’s permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its fortifications.

He is even given letters from the king to ensure safe passage and to obtain timber from the king’s forest for the gates and walls of Jerusalem.

Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them.

And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer.

Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?

I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury.

Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them.

Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise.

Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise.

Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor.

But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.

It has been reported that a discovery of a wall dating back to Nehemiah’s time has been found.

Nehemiah was a man commissioned by God, and encouraged by King Artaxerxes to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, and it’s protective wall that surrounded that city.

Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land: and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work.

Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us.

Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people.

Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Neh 5:1-19).

“Now it came to pass when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;)

That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief.

And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?

Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.

Jerusalem, a city of three faiths, has over the centuries been destroyed and rebuilt many times.

The work of a leading, yet for some controversial, Israeli archaeologist has rekindled interest in one particular Biblical builder.

On November 9, 2007 at Bar IIan University near Tel Aviv Dr. Eliat Mazar told conference delegates that she had discovered parts of Nehemiah’s wall close to Jerusalem’s Dung Gate.

She confidently dated the wall after finding pottery shards and arrowheads at the scene, said to be from the 5th century B.C.

Her discovery has been the catalyst for considerable academic debate.

Ephraim Stern, Professor of Archaeology at Hebrew University at the time agreed with Mazar’s dating of the wall.

The story of Nehemiah rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem offers a wealth of insight into calling, leadership and management.

In fact, there are whole books devoted to studying Nehemiah’s leadership style such as “Rebuilding the Walls: A Challenge to the Church from Ezra and Nehemiah” by Stuart Bell.

It may look like Nehemiah’s calling was just about rebuilding a city wall but it was really about rebuilding broken, poor, fearful people by giving them physical security and renewed hope.

Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand;

Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words.

And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.

Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.

For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.

Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.

And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.

And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.

Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.

My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.

 

Gold coin produced by the Roman Imperial Mint.
The Roman Empire inherited the spirit of capitalism from Greece (Parker).

During the time of the Empire, public deposits gradually ceased to be held in temples, and instead were held in private depositories.

The earliest recorded evidence showing banking practices is given by one source as during 325 B.C.

On account of being in debt, the Plebeians were required to borrow money.

At that time newly appointed quinqueviri mensarii were commissioned to provide services to those that had security to provide in exchange for money from the public treasury.

Another source has the shops of banking of Ancient Rome firstly opening in the public forums during the period 318 to 310 B.C.

In early Ancient Rome deposit bankers were known as argentarius and at a later time (from the 2nd century anno domini onward) as nummularius (Andreau 1999 p. 2) or mensarii.

The banking-houses were known as Taberae Argentarioe and Mensoe Numularioe.

Bankers operated from either appointment by the government therefore tasked with collecting taxes, or were instead independent and practicing banking for individual ends.

Statutes (125/126 A.D.) of the Empire described “letter from Caesar to Quietus” show rental monies to be collected from persons using land belonging to a temple and given to the temple treasurer, as decreed by Mettius Modestus governor of Lycia and Pamphylia.

Money-lenders would set up their stalls in the middle of enclosed courtyards called macella on a long bench called a bancu, from which the words banco and bank are derived.

As a moneychanger, the merchant at the bancu did not so much invest money as merely convert the foreign currency into the only legal tender in Rome – that of the Imperial Mint.

The Roman empire at some time formalized the administrative aspect of banking and instituted greater regulation of financial institutions and financial practices.

Charging interest on loans and paying interest on deposits became more highly developed and competitive.

The development of Roman banks was limited, however, by the Roman preference for cash transactions.

During the reign of the Roman emperor Gallienus (260–268 A.D.), there was a temporary breakdown of the Roman banking system after the banks rejected the flakes of copper produced by his mints.

With the ascent of Christianity, banking became subject to additional restrictions, as the charging of interest was seen as immoral.

After the fall of Rome, banking temporarily ended in Europe and was not revived until the time of the crusades.

In the 4th century monopolies existed in Byzantium and in the city of Olbia in Sardinia.

So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.

And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.

Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them.

For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.

Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear” (Neh 6:1-19).

Now that the wall was finished Nehemiah appointed Hanani and Hananiah charge of Jerusalem because he was faithful and feared God. 

They didn’t open the gates of the city until the sun was high, and he set watchers upon the wall.  The city was big, but there weren’t that many people and their houses hadn’t been built yet. 

God then brought to his mind to obtain the genealogy records of the people (Neh 7:6-73).

Banking and Money
in the Ancient World

Detailed account of raw materials and workdays for a basketry workshop. Clay, ca. 2040 B.C.
Archaeological evidence
Objects called tokens made of clay have been recovered from within Near East excavations dated to a period beginning 8000 B.C. and ending 1500 B.C.., presumed to have been made as records of the counting of agricultural produce.

Commencing the late fourth millennia mnemonic symbols were in use by members of temples and palaces to serve to record stocks of produce.

Types of records accounting for trade exchanges of payments were being made firstly about 3200.

A very early writing on clay tablet called the Code of Hammurabi, refers to the regulation of a banking activity of sorts within the civilization (Armstrong), during the era, dating to ca. 1700 B.C., banking was well enough developed to justify laws governing banking operations.

Later during the Achaemenid Empire (after 646 B.C., further evidence is found of banking practices in the Mesopotamia region.

The earliest monetary ex­changes were made on the basis of a barter system.

In Mesopotamia barley and dates were often standards of trade, since they could be stored for a relatively long period of time without loss. Tithes, taxes and tribute could be paid in agricultural produce.

Coins were introduced in Lydia during the seventh century b.c. but were not common until the time of Alexander the Great (c. 330 B.C.).

Barter was used even in Roman times. Pre­cious metals (e.g., silver, gold and electrum) formed into vessels (cups, bowls, dishes) or jewelry (rings, earrings, bracelets) of

ten were used as items of exchange.

An item’s weight (e.g., a silver plate of 130 shekels; Num 7:13) was the primary indi­cation of its monetary value, although other factors, such as the quality of the craftsman­ship, were important as well.

Common units of weight were the gerah (.02 ou or .6 g), the shekel (.4 ou or 11.5 g),the mina (1.5 lbs or .6 kg) and the talent (74 lbs or 34 kg).

All of these weight equivalents are approximate and to a degree conjectural, however, and weights were not fixed for all places through­out the entire Biblical period.

This does not mean that ancient people were casual about weights and exchanges; the condemnation of fraudulent weights and scales, in fact, shows how seriously they treated precision in such matters (cf. Lev 19:36;  Prov 16:11).

Prices naturally fluctuated through the centuries, and it is difficult to ascertain how much a particular commodity may have cost at a given time and place—and equally dif­ficult to communicate prices in a manner meaningful to a modern reader.

The laws of supply and demand operated then as now. 2 Kgs 7:1 indicates that in the 9th century b.c. the price of one silver shekel for two seahs (about 24 qts or 14.61) of barley was regarded as so inexpensive that it would only occur when grain was overly abundant.

The prophet Hosea, in ap­proximately 740 B.C., seems to have re­deemed his wife, Gomer, from slavery for a price of 15 shekels of silver and “about a homer and a lethek of barley” (Hos 3:2).

A homer seems to have been approximately 6 bushels or 220 liters and a lethek half that, indicating a total price of about 4.46 ounces (127.5 g) of silver and 8.53 bushels (3301) of barley for redemp­tion of a slave woman in 8th century Israel.

Hosea’s contemporaries would have been able to determine whether this represented a typical or an exorbitant price. With regard to the Israelites/Jews, mon­ey was safeguarded in temples and palaces or buried in underground hoards.

Loans were documented and witnessed. Six-month agricultural loans were common, as were prom­issory notes and letters of credit.

Laws regu­lated abuse of collateral: Outer garments had to be returned that night (Ex 22:26-27), the taking of millstones was prohibited (Deut 24:6) and creditors could not enter debtors’ homes to collect collateral (Deut 24:10).

Interest-carrying loans to fellow Israelites were pro­hibited (Ex 22:25) and real es­tate transactions highly re­stricted.

As in modern business ventures, risk and profit were of­ten directly proportional. Interna­tional trade was highly risky but could also be quite profitable; local trading offered lower risks but also smaller re­turns on invest­ment.

Nehemiah’s Answers By Prayer & Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem

I see trouble coming, and those guys were laughing at You, not a smart thing to do.

Tobiah was a high ranking official of the transjordan Ammonites when Nehemiah was rebuilding Jerusalem after returning from Babylonian captivity in 516 B.C.

Tobiah was one two central figures who, mocked, harassed, intimidated and opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem:

“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel” (Neh 2:10).

There are three remarkable phases of Tobiah’s life:

1. Opposition to the rebuilding of the temple.

2. Joining in worshiping and running the temple.

3. When he was thrown out of the temple, he crossed the Jordan and built his own temple and palace.

“Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel” (Neh 3:1).

The men repaired everything, but the nobles didn’t do much work, the…

“…nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (Neh 3:2-32).

“But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.

And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?

Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.

Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity:

And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.

So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.

But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth,

And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.

Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.

And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.

And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.

The Kidron Valley is the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem, separating the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.

It continues east through the Judean Desert, towards the Dead Sea, descending 4000 feet along its 20 mile course.

The settlement Kedar, located on a ridge above the valley, is named after it.

The neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz bears the valley’s Arabic name.

The Bible calls the Valley “Valley of Jehoshaphat – Emek Yehoshafat.”

It appears in Jewish eschatologic prophecies, which include the return of Elijah, followed by the arrival of the Messiah, and the War of Gog and Magog and Judgment Day.

The central point of reference for the Kidron Valley is its confluence of Jerusalem’s richest concentration of rock-hewn tombs.

This area, located on the periphery of the village Silwan, was one of the main burial grounds of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period.

Several of these tombs were also used later in time, either as burial or as shelters for hermits and monks of the large monastic communities, which inhabited the Kidron Valley.

The ancient tombs in this area attracted the attention of ancient travelers, most notably Benjamin of Tudela.

And it came to pass, that when the Jews which dwelt by them came, they said unto us ten times, From all places whence ye shall return unto us they will be upon you.

Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows.

Silwan is a predominantly Arab neighborhood on the outskirts of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Forty Jewish families also live in the area.

Silwan is located in East Jerusalem.

After 1948 Palestine War, the village fell under Jordanian occupation. Jordanian rule lasted until the 1967 Six-Day War after which it was occupied and later annexed by Israel.

Silwan is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Municipality.

The international community considers Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal under international law, but the Israeli government disputes this.

In 2009, Silwan had an estimated population of 31,000.

And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.

And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work.

And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah.

They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.

For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.

And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another.

In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us.

So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.

Nehemiah motivated his people to rebuild the wall protecting Jerusalem in 52 days.
This was definitely accomplished with God’s help.

This wall is said to have been 4.5 miles long, 24 ft at the base and just over 26 ft. tall. By hand.

No power tools. No machinery.
Could we take 52 days to accomplish something similar?
Rebuild our health.
Our hearts.
Our self image. Our confidence.
Our relationship to our Father?
To change our lives?
How about changing our mental dialog?
With God all things are possible, as evidenced by Nehemiah’s wall.

Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labour on the day.

So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing” (Neh 4:1-23).

Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem

North Wall of the Old City Jerusalem
This wall which surrounds the Old City is 2 1/2 miles of lime stone.

It encompasses an area of approximately one square kilometer.

This is the size of the Old City.

The ancient city of David is located on the south side outside the wall and borders the Kidron Valley.

Aside from the physical rebuilding of the Jerusalem walls, a more important rebuidling process was underway.

That is, Nehemiah led Israel back to God.

Essentially, Israel wanted to demonstrate that they were committed to reclaiming their lives and returning to the proper worship of God.

When Nehemiah began rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in 445 B.C., he met with strong resistance from three individuals named Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem.

Although Nehemiah did not record their titles, we know from extra-biblical evidence that they were rulers of adjoining areas (cf. Neh 2:9-10).

Sanballat: Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, the province north of Judah. We know, in fact, of three men by this name who ruled Samaria at different times.

A 407 B.C. papyrus letter from Elephantine in Egypt mentions the Sanballat of Nehemiah’s time.

Written to the governor of Judah, requesting permission to rebuild the ruined temple at Elephantine, it states:

“All these things in a letter we sent in our name to Delaiah and Shelemiah sons of Sanballat governor of Samaria.”

Sanballat means “hatred in secret” (represents the devil. Tobiah means “Jehovah is good” (represents the flesh) Geshem means “having material substance”
Every redemptive and good story has a villain.
Dorothy and Toto had the Wicked Witch of the West.

Cinderella had the Evil Stepmother—and Nehemiah had Sanballat, the governor of Samaria.

If there was ever a picture of how evil operates—and escalates—to attempt to sabotage God’s work, it’s in the pages of Nehemiah.

No matter your purpose or what you are accomplishing for God’s glory, whether you are building a marriage, an organization, or like Nehemiah, rebuilding something that was broken, you’ll find encouragement in recognizing Sanballat’s tactics, which are a great picture of your opponent’s schemes.

When Nehemiah first approached King Artaxerxes and asked for permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall that had been burned by fire, Sanballat heard the news and was disturbed.

Then when Nehemiah and the Jews actually began the rebuilding project, Sanballat, and his friend Tobiah, mocked and ridiculed them.

As the building project progressed, Sanballat’s irritation grew and he became angry and “greatly incensed.

It appears that at this time, 38 years after Sanballat’s confrontation with Nehemiah, Sanballat’s sons were acting on behalf of their aged father.

A coin and a bulla (seal impression) from the mid-4th century B.C., inscribed with the name of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, were discovered in a cave in the wilderness of Judah.

This particular Sanballat was likely the grandson of Nehemiah’s Sanballat.

The an­cient Jewish historian Josephus mentions a third Sanballat, who was ruling Samaria in 332 B.C. and was perhaps the great-grandson of the Sanballat who opposed Nehemiah.

Tobiah: The Tobia family was well known in the 3rd century B.C. as powerful Jewish aristocrats living in the Transjordan.

Papy­rus letters of an Egyptian official named Zenon, dating from around 260 B.C., mention a wealthy landowner, businessman and tax collector named Tobias (an alternative spell­ing of Tobiah) in the province of Ammonitis.

Ruins of the Tobiah family’s palatial estate from the 2nd century B.C., mentioned by Josephus, have been excavated 11 miles (18 km) west of modern Amman, Jordan.

The family name is inscribed above two entrances to rock-cut halls on the estate. 

The Tobiah of Nehemiah’s acquaintance appears to have been governor of the province of Ammon, east of Judah in Transjordan.

Geshem: An inscription found in north­western Arabia from the time of Nehemiah reads, “Geshem son of Sahrand Abd, governor of Dedan.”

A silver offering bowl uncovered in the eastern delta region of Egypt from the late 5th century B.C. bears the same name, stating:

“That which Kainu son of Geshem king of Kedar offered to Hanilat.”

Since Dedan and Kedar were tribal nations occupying the eastern desert, including Syria, northern Ara­bia, Sinai and northern Egypt, Geshem must have been a powerful ruler who controlled a vast area.