Contemporary English Version
4 When Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, heard that we were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he became angry and started insulting our people. 2 In front of his friends and the Samaritan army he said, “What is this feeble bunch of Jews trying to do? Are they going to rebuild the wall and offer sacrifices all in one day? Do they think they can make something out of this pile of scorched stones?”
3 Tobiah from Ammon was standing beside Sanballat and said, “Look at the wall they are building! Why, even a fox could knock over this pile of stones.”
4 But I prayed, “Our God, these people hate us and have wished horrible things for us. Please answer our prayers and make their insults fall on them! Let them be the ones to be dragged away as prisoners of war. 5 Don’t forgive the mean and evil way they have insulted the builders.”
6 The people worked hard, and we built the walls of Jerusalem halfway up again. 7 But Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people from the city of Ashdod saw the walls going up and the holes being repaired. So they became angry 8 and decided to stir up trouble, and to fight against the people of Jerusalem. 9 But we kept on praying to our God, and we also stationed guards day and night.
10 Meanwhile, the people of Judah were singing a sorrowful song:
“So much rubble for us to haul!
Worn out and weary,
will we ever finish this wall?”
11 Our enemies were saying, “Before those Jews know what has happened, we will sneak up and kill them and put an end to their work.”
12 On at least ten different occasions, the Jews living near our enemies warned us against attacks from every side,[a] 13 and so I sent people to guard the wall at its lowest places and where there were still holes in it. I placed them according to families, and they stood guard with swords and spears and with bows and arrows. 14 Then I looked things over and told the leaders, the officials, and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of your enemies! The Lord is great and fearsome. So think of him and fight for your relatives and children, your wives and homes!”
15 Our enemies found out that we knew about their plot against us, but God kept them from doing what they had planned. So we went back to work on the wall.
16 From then on, I let half of the young men work while the other half stood guard. They wore armor and had spears and shields, as well as bows and arrows. The leaders helped the workers 17 who were rebuilding the wall. Everyone who hauled building materials kept one hand free to carry a weapon. 18 Even the workers who were rebuilding the wall strapped on a sword. The worker who was to blow the signal trumpet stayed with me.
19 I told the people and their officials and leaders, “Our work is so spread out, that we are a long way from one another. 20 If you hear the sound of the trumpet, come quickly and gather around me. Our God will help us fight.”
21 Every day from dawn to dark, half of the workers rebuilt the walls, while the rest stood guard with their spears.
22 I asked the men in charge and their workers to stay inside Jerusalem and stand guard at night. So they guarded the city at night and worked during the day. 23 I even slept in my work clothes at night; my children, the workers, and the guards slept in theirs as well. And we always kept our weapons close by.[b]
Nehemiah’s Concern for the Poor
5 Some of the men and their wives complained about the Jews in power 2 and said, “We have large families, and it takes a lot of grain merely to keep them alive.”
3 Others said, “During the famine we even had to mortgage our fields, vineyards, and homes to them in order to buy grain.”
4 Then others said, “We had to borrow money from those in power to pay the government tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 We are Jews just as they are, and our children are as good as theirs. But we still have to sell our children as slaves, and some of our daughters have already been raped. We are completely helpless; our fields and vineyards have even been taken from us.”
6 When I heard their complaints and their charges, I became very angry. 7 So I thought it over and said to the leaders and officials, “How can you charge your own people interest?”
Then I called a public meeting and accused the leaders 8 by saying, “We have tried to buy back all of our people who were sold into exile. But here you are, selling more of them for us to buy back!” The officials and leaders did not say a word, because they knew this was true.
9 I continued, “What you have done is wrong! We must honor our God by the way we live, so the Gentiles can’t find fault with us. 10 My relatives, my friends, and I are also lending money and grain, but we must no longer demand payment in return. 11 Now give back the fields, vineyards, olive orchards, and houses you have taken and also the interest you have been paid.”
12 The leaders answered, “We will do whatever you say and return their property, without asking to be repaid.”
So I made the leaders promise in front of the priests to give back the property. 13 Then I emptied my pockets and said, “If you don’t keep your promise, that’s what God will do to you. He will empty out everything you own, even taking away your houses.”
The people answered, “We will keep our promise.” Then they praised the Lord and did as they had promised.
Nehemiah Is Generous
14 I was governor of Judah from the twentieth year that Artaxerxes[c] was king until the thirty-second year. And during these entire twelve years, my relatives and I refused to accept the food that I was allowed. 15 Each governor before me had been a burden to the people by making them pay for his food and wine and by demanding forty silver coins a day. Even their officials had been a burden to the people. But I respected God, and I didn’t think it was right to be so hard on them. 16 I spent all my time getting the wall rebuilt and did not buy any property. Everyone working for me did the same thing. 17 I usually fed a hundred fifty of our own Jewish people and their leaders, as well as foreign visitors from surrounding lands. 18 Each day one ox, six of the best sheep, and lots of chickens were prepared. Then every ten days, a large supply of wine was brought in. I knew what a heavy burden this would have been for the people, and so I did not ask for my food allowance as governor.
19 I pray that God will bless me for everything I have done for my people.
Plots against Nehemiah
6 Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and our other enemies learned that I had completely rebuilt the wall. All I lacked was hanging the doors in the gates. 2 Then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message, asking me to meet with them in one of the villages in Ono Valley. I knew they were planning to harm me in some way. 3 So I sent messengers to tell them, “My work is too important to stop now and go there. I can’t afford to slow down the work just to visit with you.” 4 They invited me four times, but each time I refused to go.
5 Finally, Sanballat sent an official to me with an unsealed letter, 6 which said:
A rumor is going around among the nations that you and the other Jews are rebuilding the wall and planning to rebel, because you want to be their king. And Geshem[d] says it’s true! 7 You even have prophets in Jerusalem, claiming you are now the king of Judah. You know the Persian king will hear about this, so let’s get together and talk it over.
8 I sent a message back to Sanballat, saying, “None of this is true! You are making it all up.”
9 Our enemies were trying to frighten us and to keep us from our work. But I asked God to give me strength.
10 One day I went to visit Shemaiah.[e] He was looking very worried, and[f] he said, “Let’s hurry to the holy place of the temple and hide there.[g] We will lock the temple doors, because your enemies are planning to kill you tonight.”
11 I answered, “Why should someone like me have to run and hide in the temple to save my life? I won’t go!”
12 Suddenly I realized that God had not given Shemaiah this message. But Tobiah and Sanballat had paid him to trick me 13 and to frighten me into doing something wrong, because they wanted to ruin my good name.
14 Then I asked God to punish Tobiah and Sanballat for what they had done. I prayed that God would punish the prophet Noadiah and the other prophets who, together with her, had tried to frighten me.
The Work Is Finished
15 On the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul,[h] the wall was completely rebuilt. It had taken fifty-two days. 16 When our enemies in the surrounding nations learned that the work was finished, they felt helpless, because they knew that our God had helped us rebuild the wall.
17 All this time the Jewish leaders and Tobiah had been writing letters back and forth. 18 Many people in Judah were loyal to Tobiah for two reasons: Shecaniah son of Arah was his father-in-law, and Tobiah’s son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berechiah.[i] 19 The people would always tell me about the good things Tobiah had done, and then they would tell Tobiah everything I had said. So Tobiah kept sending letters, trying to frighten me.
- 4.12 against. . . side: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
- 4.23 And. . . by: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
- 5.14 Artaxerxes: See the note at 1.1.
- 6.6 Geshem: Hebrew “Gashmu” (see verse 1 and 2.19).
- 6.10 Shemaiah: Hebrew “Shemaiah son of Delaiah son of Mehetabel.”
- 6.10 was. . . worried, and: Or “wasn’t supposed to leave his house, but.”
- 6.10 holy place. . . hide there: Only priests were allowed to enter the holy place; anyone else could be put to death.
- 6.15 Elul: The sixth month of the Hebrew calendar, from about mid-August to mid-September.
- 6.18 Shecaniah. . . Berechiah: Jews who had helped rebuild the Jerusalem wall (see 3.4,29,30).