Book Review–The Message of Nehemiah (Raymond Brown)

The volumes in the Bible Speaks Today series generally fall somewhere between being an expository sermon series and a commentary. This one definitely tends more towards the sermon side of things. With 260 pages at his disposal, Brown has time not only to give us a good explanation of what is going on in the book of Nehemiah, but to explore some of the related issues that each chapter raises. For example, he uses Neh 2:11 as a springboard to discuss the importance of taking rest.

Naturally, Brown picks up on the great leadership example of Nehemiah, but I was pleased to see that this was by no means the only or even primary message he draws out of the book. He draws just as much attention to Nehemiah’s prayer life, love for the Scriptures and commitment to holiness as to his leadership acumen.

Interestingly, Brown attempts to draw parallels between our present society (he is writing in 1998 in the UK) with that of Jerusalem at the time of the return from exile. Whilst this may seem a little far-fetched, he identifies forces of secularism, materialism and pluralism as being the common link between our contexts.

Brown is helpful in the way that he helps to put Nehemiah’s story in the context of biblical books of a similar era – Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah and especially Malachi, noting that the book of Nehemiah does not have a contrived “happy ending”, but shows the beginnings of spiritual decline that Malachi would have to address in the years to come.

He attempts to draw out principles from the various moral reforms that Nehemiah promoted, rather than arguing for either Christian adherence to Sabbath observance and tithing (for example), or for the irrelevance of these OT laws to believers under the New Covenant.

Overall I would recommend this to those wanting to explore the contemporary relevance of the book of Nehemiah for us today. Brown touches on a broad range of topics as he goes through the story, and there will be plenty of helpful ideas for those wanting to teach through the book of Nehemiah.

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