The temple has been built for fifty years, but little has been done with it. Ezra was a righteous man who knew the law, but he lacked the motivational ability to set everything in order as it should be. Additionally, even if the temple was rebuilt, few people lived in Jerusalem. It wasn’t a habitable place, mainly because it lacked the security of a proper city.
Nehemiah, through his commanding presence, righteous example, and political authority accomplishes in fifty-two days what no one else has been able to do in over sixty years. I don’t want to leave out here the success insuring power of God, but that same power has been present in the lives of Zerubbabel and Ezra – but this sort of success has not been their’s.
This is worth considering. Sometimes, accomplishments are delayed because their completion must be on God’s timetable, not man’s. I realize Paul’s statement that in his own weaknesses he was made strong because of the presence of God, but it is nevertheless true that God chose Paul separate from the twelve apostles, and that the gospel never went anywhere as well as when Paul took it. Sometimes God uses what He has. Sometimes, God raises up who He needs. For whatever reason, success has been delayed in Israel until the days of Nehemiah, but as we shall see, these successes are only cosmetic.
It remains to populate the city of Jerusalem, which will occur in chapter eleven. But Nehemiah wants to be sure the city is populated with God’s people, not Canaanites. And so, he begins with the genealogical record of the first returnees. From there, he will look for volunteers to live in Jerusalem from their descendants. This is why the bulk of chapter seven is but a repeat of the list in Ezra 2.