The book of Nehemiah begins by setting the stage for his return to Jerusalem to rebuild the people of Judah. We are introduced to three people: Nehemiah, the speaker or writer, Hacaliah, and Hanani. We are informed of the geographical places involved in the story. They are Susa and Jerusalem. We then learn about the time of the event. The first two verses read, “The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.”

Nehemiah is identified as the son of Hacaliah of whom we know nothing. This is the only place in the Bible where he is mentioned. We can assume that Nehemiah is telling us about his inquiry of Hanani about the well-being of those who escaped captivity and possibly remained in Israel while others were taken off as prisoners to Babylon. We don’t know much about him either. Still, Noss says that Hanani is one of Nehemiah’s physical brothers, as cited in Nehemiah 7:2. “Hanani the governor of Jerusalem is identified as a brother of Nehemiah. The other men in the group referred to here are not included in the designation as brothers although they were fellow Jews. Thus, Hanani must have been a blood brother of Nehemiah.”[1] Nehemiah also asks Hanani about the current state of the city of Jerusalem. According to our calendar, the time of year that is referred to by the month of “Chislev” would be mid-November to mid-December. Nehemiah places himself in Susa. According to the Handbook for Translators, “Susa, the ancient capital of Elam, was a seasonal residence of the Achaemenian kings in the winter months. It was one of four Persian capital cities. It was located 200 miles southeast of Babylon in the southwestern part of modern Iran.”

Nehemiah’s name in Hebrew literally translates “The Lord Comforts” or “Comforted by God.” Modern Baby Name books suggest it means “God has comforted.”[2] Another site gives us a modern devotion based on his name. It says, “Nehemiah is a masculine name of Hebrew origin meaning “God comforts.” Composed of the Hebrew word nacham, meaning “to comfort,” the name finds its true substance in the Jewish leader, Nehemiah. This revered biblical figure is long celebrated for rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls after the Jews return from Babylonian exile. Embodying the very essence of his name, Nehemiah would go on to restore the Jewish community and the Law of Moses within it. Celebrated for his soothing of turmoil within a disconnected community, Nehemiah will surely encourage future namesakes to find solace in the nurturing of their nearest and dearest.”[3]

[1] Noss, Philip A., and Kenneth J. Thomas. 2005. A Handbook on Ezra and Nehemiah. Edited by Paul Clarke, Schuyler Brown, Louis Dorn, and Donald Slager. United Bible Societies’ Handbooks. New York: United Bible Societies.