The Babylonian Empire had conquered Judah as well as the majority of the then-known world, bringing captives to its capital city. After the death of its king Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon fell to the rising Medo-Persian Empire. Their more lenient government allowed exiles to return to their homelands. The book of Ezra (which was once bound together with the book of Nehemiah) recalls this edict and describes the progression of the Judean reconstruction. At this time, we find Nehemiah did not return back to his homeland. Instead, he served in the royal courts of Susa.
The books of Ezra, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and possibly others, also called post-exilic, take place after the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the Babylonian Exile. Be mindful that these books do not appear in chronological order. By the time of Nehemiah, reconstruction and rebuilding had already occurred in Jerusalem, but due to opposition and internal conflicts, the work was not finished.
In the opening of the account of the book, Nehemiah is found to be in the Medo-Persian winter citadel palace of Shushan, or Susa (the same place as the Ahasuerus’s great feast in Esther 1 and the vision of Daniel 8). The year is the twentieth into the reign of King Artaxerxes and the month is Chisleu, around December/January. Though these background details seem unimportant, they are crucial in understanding the narrative and extracting principles of leadership for our individual spheres.
Read This Week’s Passage: Nehemiah 1