Nehemiah as the city builder
Nehemiah was adamant that mixed marriages were banned. He was supported here and in other public affairs issues by his near-contemporary, Ezra the scribe. He led the list of signatories to a sealed binding agreement that promised its abolition following a day of community prayer (Neh. 9) which summarized spiritual learnings from the time of their ascendant Abraham. He went to the extent of chasing out the high priest of the temple because he was an in-law of the foreigner and Samaritan Sanballat.
Local authorities and businessmen of Jerusalem’s neighboring areas such as Sanballat and Tobiah were worried that a fortified and respiritualized Jerusalem would erode their power and influence with the Persian king or topple their financial superiority. But their intrigue that sought to diminish Nehemiah’s good standing with the King hatched no egg. Instead, Nehemiah was reappointed to the post.
As early as ancient times, public officials could be paragons of uncorrupt, graft-free leadership and true service to the people. Nehemiah was such a man. Amid the poverty of residents when he was first assigned, he just couldn’t bring himself to receiving his legal allowance for his work as governor. On the contrary, he even financed the expenses of an estimated 150 poor Jews who returned from captivity.
Because he was very credible in his lifestyle and persuasive in his moral standards and prudent in his dealings, no one questioned his command to the gentry and rich residents that they abolish interests and other usurious practices in their financial dealings. With this order, the poor were freed from famine, enslavement and indentured labor. Such renewed civil order gave everyone time and space to return to the worship of God and caused the law to apply fairly and equally to all residents.
Nehemiah is the supposed author of the book named after him since he introduced himself in its early chapters as an “I.”, identifying himself as the cupbearer. Thus, Nehemiah the book is sometimes considered the only autobiographical genre of the Bible.
The last recorded act of Nehemiah was his effort to end mixed marriages.
Nehemiah is considered a model of today’s “well-balanced” person. He is sensitive to both God and people, he is prayerful but also practical and pro-active with what he longs for, with a capacity to be joyful and sorrowful. For example, unlike Ezra, he considers cooking and enjoying a good meal on the Harvest Festival as a festive event to be joyful about. He could also be tough and tender. The Book Nehemiah is replete with examples of why Nehemiah the man was successful in his targets.
Other references describe Nehemiah “to be almost without blemish, a man of pure, disinterested patriotism.” “In nothing was he more remarkable than in his piety, walking before
God with singleness of eye…”
Though remained in Jerusalem till about 405 BC, toward the close of the reign of King Darius Northus, the time and place of his death are not known. —gloria jane baylon, Library member and volunteer.