The covenant the Jews entered into after Ezra the scribe read the book of God’s laws to them specifically stated that they would “observe and do all the commandments of the LORD” (Nehemiah 10:29). Sometime after his first term as governor had ended, Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and found that the Jews were doing things they had promised God they wouldn’t. Nehemiah was frustrated by the people’s lack of commitment and prayed, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof” (Nehemiah 13:14). Nehemiah probably felt that his effort to revive the relationship between God and his chosen people had been wasted, but may have hoped that the LORD would at least give him credit for attempting to get the Jews back on track.
More than a hundred years had passed since the first wave of exiles had returned to the Promised Land. In some ways, the circumstances in Jerusalem were no better than they were before God’s people were taken into captivity in Babylon, but there was one major difference. The political structure that existed before the Jew’s captivity was gone. There was no king or even an official leader of the nation. The governor role was primarily established by Artaxerxes to oversee the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem and to ensure that the resources he provided were used appropriately. After the building project was finished, the governor role may have continued so that the Jews would have a representative of the Persian government to consult with, somewhat like the role of an ambassador today.
The lack of leadership in Jerusalem seemed to have both positive and negative effects on the people. The kings of Israel and Judah were for the most part a bad influence on the Israelites. There were only a few exceptions to the list of kings that “did evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 14:24). While Nehemiah did do a lot to improve the situation in Jerusalem while he was there, things seemed to deteriorate pretty quickly after he went back to Sushan the palace. On the positive side, in spite of their other infractions of the law, the Jews stopped practicing idolatry, the main reason God had sent them into captivity. It could be that their leadership was at fault for this problem. God’s people had demanded a king so that they could be “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). Perhaps, they realized afterward that they were better off not having someone to lead them into sin.