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The use of the first person pronoun in Nehemiah 1:1 gives the impression that Nehemiah was the writer. If Ezra was the writer, he was copying from the journal of Nehemiah. This book, as was true in the Book of Ezra, has copies of letters, decrees, registers, and other documents. The same man wrote both books. The writer perhaps was Ezra. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are one in the Hebrew canon. Nehemiah was a layman; Ezra was a priest. In the Book of Ezra the emphasis is upon the rebuilding of the temple; in the Book of Nehemiah the emphasis is upon the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In Ezra we have the religious aspect of the return; in Nehemiah we have the political aspect of the return. Ezra is a fine representative of the priest and scribe. Nehemiah is a noble representative of the businessman. Nehemiah had an important office in the court of the powerful Persian king, Artaxerxes, but his heart was with God’s people and God’s program in Jerusalem. The personal note is the main characteristic of the book. I find myself coming to this book again and again because of the kind of book that it is.
Chronologically this is the last of the historical books. We have come to the end of the line as far as time is concerned. As far as the Jews are concerned, the Old Testament goes no further with their history. The Book of Ezra picks up the thread of the story about seventy years after 2 Chronicles. The seventy years of captivity are over and a remnant returns to the land of Israel. The return under Ezra took place about seventy–five years after the return of Zerubbabel. Nehemiah returned about fifteen years after Ezra. These figures are approximate and are given to show the stages in the history of Israel after the Captivity. This enables us to see how the “seventy weeks” of Daniel fit into the picture in a normal and reasonable way. The “seventy weeks” of Daniel begin with the Book of Nehemiah (not with Ezra) “… from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks …” The background of the events in Nehemiah is “… the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times” (Dan. 9:25).
The following dates, suggested by Sir Robert Anderson, seem to be a satisfactory solution to the problem of the “seventy weeks” of Daniel:
Decree of Cyrus, 536 B.C.—Ezra 1:1–4.
Decree of Artaxerxes, 445 B.C. (twentieth year of his reign)—Nehemiah 2:1–8. “Seventy weeks” begin.
The first “seven weeks” end, 397 B.C.—Malachi. (For details see Sir Robert Anderson’s The Coming Prince.)
The word so occurs thirty–two times. It denotes a man of action and few words. Mark this word in your Bible and notice how this ordinarily unimportant word stands out in this book.
The key verses for this book are: (1) “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Neh. 1:4) and (2) “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?” (Neh. 6:3).
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 15: Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)