The Old Testament book of Nehemiah, along with Ezra and Esther, covers the period after the Babylonian captivity when Israel had returned to Jerusalem and had begun again the worship of Jehovah in the restored temple. Ezra, the priest, led an early return to Israel and restored worship in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. Nehemiah, who was a contemporary of Ezra, led a later return. Nehemiah was a layman, a butler to the Persian emperor, Artaxerxes I. Persia is now the modern nation of Iran.
Nehemiah is the historic account of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, which took place in the fifth century before Christ. But Nehemiah did more than rebuild a wall. This book is also the story of restoring a people from ruin and despair to a new walk with God. Jerusalem is not only an historic city that for centuries has been the center of the life of the nation of Israel (and, in fact, the center of the biblical record), it is also a symbolic city. Jerusalem is also used in a pictorial sense throughout the Scriptures. What it pictures is the place where God desires to dwell. When God first designated to King David that Jerusalem was the place where He wanted him to build the temple, he was told that this was the place where God would dwell among His people. However, it is only a picture--it is not the actual place where God dwells--for, according to the New Testament, people are to be the dwelling place of God. God seeks to dwell in the human spirit. That is the great secret that humanity has largely lost today but which New Testament Christianity seeks to restore. Paul's great statement in the letter to the Colossians is,
Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). This is God's provision and desire for us.
Jerusalem-in-ruins, therefore, is a picture of a life that has lost its defenses against attack and lies open to repeated hurt and misery. The book of Nehemiah depicts the way of recovery from breakdown and ruin to a condition of peace, security, restored order, and usefulness.