The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year…
What do we know of these walls previous to the time of Nehemiah? The city of Jerusalem passed into the hands of the Jews under David. He wrested the rocky stronghold of Zion, which commands Jerusalem, from the Canaanitish tribe of the Jebusites. He made it the capital of his kingdom. To secure his position David threw a wall round the entire city, including the fortress of Zion. In the reign of Solomon (B.C. 1016-976) this wall was greatly strengthened. Very large towers were erected at intervals upon it, and its height was increased. Probably also some outlying parts of the city were now comprised within its circuit. For nearly two centuries this wall remained intact. Jerusalem sustained several sieges; but it was only in the reign of Amaziah, in B.C. 826, that a breach was made in the fortifications. Jehoash, the king of Israel, " brake down the wall of Jerusalem, from the gate of Ephraim to the corner gate, four hundred cubits" (2 Kings 14:13). Through this gap in the wall, Josephus tells us, the victorious Jehoash drove his chariot into Jerusalem, leading Amaziah captive with him. Uzziah (B.C. 808) the succeeding king of Judah, was a prosperous and enterprising prince. He occupied himself for a large portion of his life in the improvement of his capital. He repaired the breach made by Jehoash, and built additional towers. Other portions of the walls that had been suffered to fall into decay were renewed. He was an artillerist; he equipped the walls and their towers with powerful engines for hurling stones and other missiles against besiegers. Jothan, his son (B.C. 756), also strengthened the walls by building new massive towers. The care which had been expended upon the fortifications of the city by successive kings, for so long a period, bore memorable fruit in the reign of Hezekiah. The tide of Assyrian invasion which then swept over Palestine, and which overwhelmed for ever the ten tribes of Israel, met with a check before the fortress of Jerusalem. In prospect of this invasion Hezekiah had repaired the walls wherever they had become dilapidated, and had erected an additional wall. While the city was invested the mysterious plague came upon the camp of the Assyrians, which swept off myriads of them in a single night. They were content to retire (B.C. 710) with a tribute paid by Hezekiah; the city itself, however, remained uncaptured. Manasseh, after his repentance (B.C. 677-642), paid attention to the fortifications of the city. "He did not only," says Josephus, "repair the old walls with great diligence, but added another wall to the former. He built, also, very lofty towers, and the garrisoned places before the city he strengthened not only in other respects, but with provisions of all sorts that they wanted." It was nearly forty years later that the series of calamities commenced which lasted for twenty years, and which culminated in the complete overthrow of this illustrious city. In B.C. 606 Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem, and after threatening Jehoiakim, the king, with captivity, left him in possession of his throne. He appeared before the city again nine years later; and Jehoiachin, who had succeeded his father Jehoiakim, surrendered Jerusalem to him with scarcely a struggle. Nebuchadnezzar carried him off with him to Babylon, and placed his uncle Zedekiah upon the throne in Jerusalem. Six years after this Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, and after a siege of a year and a half, the severest it had undergone since it had been a Jewish city, a breach was made in the wall of Jerusalem, through which the Babylonian army poured into the city. Zedekiah and most of the people were transferred to Babylon. The royal palace, the temple, and all the principal buildings were burned, and the stately and massive walls were levelled to the ground, their circuit being only traceable by the vast heaps of rubbish left by the devastators. To restore these famous walls, to perform once more the work of David and Solomon and their successors, to reproduce in a few weeks the labour of centuries, this was the task which lay before Nehemiah. But what was their size? What were the -particulars of the work undertaken by Nehemiah? The city of Jerusalem is not at the present time a great city. The circumference of the modern wails is two and a half miles; and while the ancient walls would not in many portions coincide with the present, nevertheless the total circuit of the old walls would not greatly differ in length from those of the present time. It has been stated by the eminent architect, Mr. Ferguson, in Dr. Smith's "Dictionary of the Bible," Smith's Bible Dictionary s.v. that the area within the old walls was never more than one hundred and eighty acres; and he remarks, by way of comparison, that the building known as the Great Exhibition of 1851 covered eighteen acres, or a tenth part of the area of ancient Jerusalem. From this estimate it will be seen that the city was one of moderate dimensions. We must remember also that here and there portions of the wall were left standing. The foundations, too, would remain, throughout the entire circuit, as they originally were. The object of the invaders would be to render the fortifications incapable of serving any longer as a defence to the inhabitants; and this object would be gained without disturbing the foundations of the walls. The stones and rabble of which they had been built were not carried to a distance, but lay in heaps ready to the hands of the builders. This material would not, however, be available in every case. The limestone around Jerusalem, which was used in the construction of the important buildings, when exposed to fire (as many parts of the wall had been) rapidly disintegrated. It resembled the granite of which Chicago was built, and which crumbled to dust in the great fire which destroyed that city a few years since. This is the point of the taunt uttered by Sanballat (Nehemiah 4:2): "Will these Jews revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?"
(A. J. Griffith.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace,