These are the words of Nehemiah, Hacaliah’s son. In the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in the fortress city of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came with some other men from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had escaped and survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They told me, “Those in the province who survived the captivity are in great trouble and shame! The wall around Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire!”
As we begin Nehemiah, we are around the time of 444 BC, approximately 1,000 years after Moses died and some 400 years before Christ would be born. The Jews have lived in exile in Babylon for more than 100 years and have just been allowed to return home to Jerusalem. Two groups of exiles have already returned to Jerusalem, but one group still remains. Here enters Nehemiah, the Jewish cupbearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes. In this passage, Nehemiah asks his brother Hanani about the welfare of his people back in Jerusalem. The news is not good-- Jerusalem’s gates have been destroyed. As you read this text, think about a time in your life when it was hard to see the future you had imagined and hoped for. Can you relate to the way Nehemiah must have felt as he heard about the burning of Jerusalem?