Nehemiah wrote the same time as Ezra. It appears that they had access to the same records (cf. Nehemiah 7:64 w/ Ezra 2:62). And they conclude in a similiar way: with concern about intermarriage with non-Israelites.
This suggests to me that they were literally writing at about the precise time as each other.
I key distinctive to Ezra-Nehemiah – and one important to the study of the history and development of Israel into the first century – is that we have for the first time the use of the terms “Jewish” and “Jew” (Ezra 4:12 & Nehemiah 1:2).
I found the phrase “House of Heroes” fascinating (Nehemiah 3:16). I did not know that there was a place in Jerusalem called “House of Heroes”. I wonder what that was all about?
If you are want to know what a post-exile “worship service” looked like, read Nehemiah 8:5-6.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him becaue he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the peopel lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
One has to wonder where Stephen in Acts learned the art of narrative preaching? Maybe from right here in Nehemiah. It is becoming popular to preach, witness, evangelize and build solid theology on the narrative of God’s dealing with his creation, and not on proof-texting anymore (though the habit of proof-texting seems to die hard). This is Nehemiah’s approach in Nehemiah 9:5-37).
He starts off with creation:
You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. – Nehemiah 9:6
Then the story moves on to God’s call to Abraham as the new people of God:
You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him. – Nehemiah 9:7-8
Then we move on to Egypt:
You saw the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea. You sent miraculous signs and wonders. – Nehemiah 9:9
Then the covenant made a Sinai:
You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. – Nehemiah 9:13
Notice up to this point the emphasis is one who? “You… You… You…” God did all of this. People who divide the Scriptures between Law and Grace and think that the Old Testament was “Law” need to read this chapter as a shining example of Grace. Everything done here up to this point were by Gods gracious initial actions. But then the story turns to the new people (Israel) failing to remain faithful to God’s covenant:
But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands (Nehemiah 9:16)…. But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. they killed your prophets (Nehemiah 9:26)…. But as soon as they were at rest they again did what was evil in your sight (Nehemiah 9:28)…
And I could go on. But instead I want to draw your attention to how God handled the Israelites rebellion:
But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Nehemiah 9:17)… Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert (Nehemiah 9:19)… You warned them to return (Nehemiah 9:29)… By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets (Nehemiah 9:30)… But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them (Nehemiah 9:31)…
Nehemiah acknowledges that the exile was the end result of Israel’s consistent and unrepentant rebellion away from God. He acknowledges that by sending Israel into exile God was both “just” and “faithful”:
In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong. – Nehemiah 9:30
And then, just like Ezra, Nehemiah acknowledges that while they are back in their land they are nonetheless in some sense still in exile:
But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers. – Nehemiah 9:36 (cf. Ezra 9:7)
And one last random reflection I’d like to draw your attention to:
Now therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love.” – Nehemiah 9:32
I always blush just a little when the Scriptures use the phrase “Covenant of Love“.