When it comes to the stories of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, Nehemiah's account is far more readable than Ezra's, I think. It's got more narrative to it, a better flow, a better conversational style than the more official tone taken by Ezra, and there's a very good reason for that.
Nehemiah isn't really a history; it's a prayer. And prayer is, well, conversational.
I can't tell you how many times I've read Nehemiah and missed this, taking the narrative style for what it appears to be - a guy telling a story about how the rebuilding of Jerusalem went. About a people dedicated to the Temple and its work. About men building the wall around their homes with swords slung on their waists for defense. About enemies coming against them and obstacles in their way.
And every now and then, a line or two about Nehemiah's own faithfulness, his dependence upon God, his passionate heart for the people and their work. He's certainly a good and skillful leader, it seems. And why shouldn't he be? Back in exile, he was the king's cupbearer; he had a front-row seat to leadership.
But when you read Nehemiah, you keep coming across these sentences that seem like interruptions to the narrative. They seem like interjections. Again and again, Nehemiah says things like, "God, remember this about me" or "God, when the time comes, remember this."
Almost like he has some kind of prayer Tourette's syndrome. Like he just keeps tic-ing into prayer. Like some breaths just blurt out as prayer and then, well, back to the story like nothing ever happened.
That leaves us with two options. We can read Nehemiah as though he's a bit of a weirdo, occasionally interjecting these weird, random, one-line prayers into the narrative he's sharing. OR we can read Nehemiah as though it's the fullness of a prayer in itself.
Now, wait a minute. How can a history be a prayer? Nehemiah is clearly telling us the story of what happened in Jerusalem at that time. Is he?
Or is Nehemiah telling God a story about what happened in Jerusalem at that time?
Isn't that what prayer is? Prayer is us telling God our story from our perspective, from what things look like down here, from a heart that is aching for a little something more. From eyes that see Him and want to see more of Him, from hands that work for Him and feet that depend on Him. Prayer is our saying, "This is what my story is right now, Lord" and often, "here's where I'm looking for You."
And we already know there's a paradigm for this. We've seen other prayers in the Bible that recount God's history among His people, that start with Abraham or Jacob and go through the exodus and the wilderness, that remind His people, while they are praying, about all that He has done - that tell His story even while writing it. It's the same thing in Nehemiah - he's telling his story even while writing it in prayer, reminding the people of what God has done and how to continue to expect Him and to look for Him.
It really changes the way we read this book. It does. If you get some time, pop open your Bible and take another look at Nehemiah. Read it as a prayer and see what you find. It might just be the kind of conversational, story-sharing, narrative language you need to help your own heart connect to God in a new way.