Nehemiah was having a bad day:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, 2that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. 3They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.”4When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days–Nehemiah 1:1-4
Look at those words: distress, reproach, broken, burned. Can you identify with that? This kind of reminds me of how I felt when I first returned to New Orleans to see my old school, college, church, and former home left in ruin by Hurricane Katrina. It can overwhelm you with emotion.
When we begin to read Nehemiah it can be easy to get caught up in observing what Hanani says, what Nehemiah does, and the grieving over the condition of Jerusalem. But we must not forget to ask this question: What was God doing?
Does the first verse give us a clue? Is there a mystery waiting to be searched and revealed? It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.–Proverbs 25:2. God enjoys creating mysteries, challenging us to think with parables, and concealing matters for us to search out. So, let’s start digging!
Nehemiah 1:1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol
Nehemiah? Hachaliah? In the Hebrew culture, it was believed that names had meaning and prophetic implications. There was a sense where names were thought to be spiritually empowering. What could these strange names mean, and what message might they convey? Could God be saying something through them?
As we look in the Hebrew Dictionary, we find that Nehemiah means “Jehovah comforts”, and Hachaliah means “Jehovah enlightens”. Whether intended by Nehemiah or not, it is interesting that the meanings of these names in the first verse may appear to give us clues for the tone of the book.
Let’s look at the first verse again with the meanings of the names included.
Nehemiah 1:1 The words of Nehemiah (Jehovah Comforts) the son of Hachaliah (Jehovah Enlightens). Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol
What was Susa? Susa was the grand Winter Palace of Persian Kings. Look at the picture below and ask yourself this question: What lasted longer? Was it the Winter Palace, or the words of Nehemiah? The words of Nehemiah would outlast empires.
(The ruins of the Palace when it was first excavated)