Nehemiah was the son of Hachaliah of Judah. He was among the Jews caught up in the exile to Babylon. After the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians, Nehemiah found himself as royal cup-bearer at the palace of Shushan, under king Artaxerxes Longimanus. The king appeared quite fond of Nehemiah, a relationship that would have profound impact on Jerusalem history.
One day, his brother Hanani and a few friends came to visit him. They had just returned from Judah and Nehemiah pressed them for news about the city of his birth.
They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire."
Nehemiah appeared devasted by the news. For many days he prayed and fasted, until at length, the king noticed his sadness and asked him for the reason for it. Nehemiah explained it all to the king, who asked him if there was any way that he could help. Nehemiah said that there was:
"If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it."
The king gave Nehemiah his permission, and Nehemiah set out to Jerusalem accompanied by Persial cavalry. He quickly made a survey of the fallen city, and set about organizing its restoration. Despite opposition from people such as Tobiah the Ammonite, Sanballat the Horonite and Geshem the Arab, he had the walls rebuilt in the short span of 52 days, and completed the remaining work in about six months.
He remained in Judea for thirteen years as governor, carrying out many reforms, after which he went back to Persia. He was soon thereafter compelled to return to Jerusalem to enforce the Law of God after people reverted to their sinful and idolatrous ways. He vigorously set himself the task of rectifying the flagrant abuses that had sprung up, and restored the orderly administration of public worship and the outward observance of the law of Moses.
Of Nehemiah's subsequent history we know nothing.