The son of Hachaliah was born at Babylon during the captivity. He was, according to some, of the race of the priests; according to others, of the royal family of Judah. He sustained the office of cupbearer to the Persian king Artazerzes Longimanus. Touched with the calamitous state of the colony of Jews, which had formerly returned to Jerusalem, he besought the king of Persia to permit him to go to Jerusalem and aid in rebuilding it. He was accordingly sent thither as governor, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, about 444 B. C. He directed his attention chiefly to rebuilding the walls of the city.
The enmity of the Samaritans, under which the colony had formerly suffered, was now increased; and under Sanballat, the governor of the country, they cast all possible hindrances in the way of the Jews. They even went so far as to attack the laborers at their work; so that Nehemiah had to cause them to labor with arms in their hands; yet in one year their task was completed. In this great work and in his whole administration, his pious zeal and disinterestedness, his love for the people and city of god, and his prayerful reliance on divine aid were crowned with success. He had the cooperation of faithful friends, especially of Ezra, Nehemiah 8:1,9,13 12:36, and instituted many excellent civil improvements. About 432 B. C., though perhaps not for the first time, he returned to his post at the court of Babylon, Nehemiah 2:6 5:14 13:6; but after a few years, was recalled to Jerusalem to reform certain growing irregularities neglect of the temple service, breaches of the Sabbath, marriages with the heathen, etc. He required of those Jews who had married heathen wives, that they should either abandon them, or else they quit the country. This voluntary exile of a number of discontented priests may have given occasion to the building of the temple on Mount Gerizim, and the establishment of the Samaritan worship. See SANBALLAT.
The book of Nehemiah contains the history of all these transactions, written by himself near the close of his long life, B. C. 434. It is a sort of a continuation of the book of Ezra, and was called by some of the fathers the Second Book of Ezra. Some portions of it, Ezra 8:1-9:15 10:44, appear to be compilations from public registers, etc. With it the historical books of the Old Testament close.