Nehemiah or Nechemya means "Comforted of/is the LORD" or "Comforted by Jehovah." He is a major figure in the Babylonian history of the Jews as recorded in the Bible. He is the primary author of the Book of Nehemiah. He was the son of Hachaliah, (Neh. 1:1) and probably of the Tribe of Judah. His family resided in Jerusalem before his service in Persia. (Neh. 2:3).
Nehemiah lived during the period when the Kingdom of Judah was a province of the Persian Empire, having been appointed royal cup-bearer at the palace of Shushan. The king, Artaxerxes I (Artaxerxes Longimanus), appears to have been on good terms with his attendant, as evidenced by the extended leave of absence granted him for the restoration of Jerusalem.
Primarily by means of his brother Hanani, (Neh. 1:2; 2:3) Nehemiah heard of the mournful and desolate condition of Jerusalem, and was filled with sadness of heart. For many days he fasted and mourned and prayed for the place of his fathers' sepulchers. At length the king observed his sadness of countenance and asked the reason of it. Nehemiah explained this to the king, and obtained his permission to go up to Jerusalem and there to act as tirshatha, or governor of Judea.
He arrived in Jerusalem in the 20th year of Artaxerxes I, (445/444 BC) with a strong escort supplied by the king, and with letters to all the pashas of the provinces through which he had to pass, as also to Asaph, keeper of the royal forests, directing him to assist Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was the last of the governors sent from the Persian court. Judea after this was annexed to the satrapy of Coele-Syria, and was governed by the high priest under the jurisdiction of the governor of Syria, and the internal government of the country became more and more a hierarchy.
The rebuilding of Jerusalem
On his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah began to survey the city secretly at night, and formed a plan for its restoration; a plan which he carried out with great skill and energy, so that the whole was completed in about six months.
He remained in Judea for thirteen years as governor, carrying out many reforms, despite the opposition that he encountered (Neh. 13:11). He built up the state on the old lines, "supplementing and completing the work of Ezra," and making all arrangements for the safety and good government of the city. At the close of this important period of his public life, he returned to Persia to the service of his royal master at Shushan or Ecbatana. Very soon after this the old corrupt state of things returned.
Malachi now appeared among the people with words of stern reproof and solemn warning; and Nehemiah again returned from Persia (after an absence of some two years), and was grieved to see the widespread moral degeneracy that had taken place during his absence. He set himself with vigour to rectify the flagrant abuses that had sprung up, and restored the orderly administration of public worship and the outward observance of the Law of Moses.
Of his subsequent history we know nothing. Probably he remained at his post as governor till his death (about 413 BC) in a good old age. The place of his death and burial is, however, unknown.
Book of Nehemiah
The book, which may historically be regarded as a continuation of the book of Ezra, consists of four parts. (1.) An account of the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, and of the register Nehemiah had found of those who had returned from Babylon (Neh. 1 - 7). (2.) An account of the state of religion among the Jews during this time (Neh. 8 - 10). (3.) Increase of the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the census of the adult male population, and names of the chiefs, together with lists of priests and Levites (Neh. 11:1 - 12:26). (4.) Dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the arrangement of the temple officers, and the reforms carried out by Nehemiah (Neh. 12:27 - Neh. 13). This book closes the history of the Old Testament. Malachi the prophet was contemporary with Nehemiah.
Ezra-Nehemiah, A Commentary, pp. 212-213, 140, Joseph Blenkinsopp, 1988, The Westminster Press, ISBN 0-664-21294-8