Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah 1

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Report from Jerusalem

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. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

Nehemiah’s Prayer

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Now I was cupbearer to the king.


Nehemiah 1 Commentary

by Hank Workman

Brokenness surrounds us.  Many times it is overwhelming.  Marriages are in disarray.  Addictions drive the addict to things they never dreamed where their hopes that once were there for their own future are shattered.  Attitudes and hurtful behavior run rampant as people strike out and hurt those they love.  People stand defiant in owning their mistakes.  Financial crisis hit person after person where finances are on the ropes and those ropes have become a thread.  Devastation is left in the wake.  Many stand in the wreckage of their own choices and see no hope, no reprieve.

As prophesied by the prophets, the exiles were taken captive and held for 70 years.  And just as prophecy had spoken, they were then able to return to their land – which was completely devastated.  The first wave of returning people came under Zerubbabel.  Ezra led a second group some 90 years after.  The third wave would be led by Nehemiah.  But it was more than likely a surprise assignment on some levels for Nehemiah, as God had appointed and gifted him for the divine purpose of rebuilding the ruins, specifically the walls surrounding the city of Jerusalem.

What began as a conversation led to one of the most amazing stories of God-honoring and directing Nehemiah to leave his post as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes.  In time he would organize people to rebuild the walls of the city, face tremendous opposition from those who were against him, inspire the people to stand strong in God, and bring about a wave of revival spiritually that had been missing.

The story of Nehemiah is not just a book that reveals a calling beyond a person’s ability but one that challenges on every level of actually acting on that call and organizing through key leadership the end result.

As the story opens Nehemiah meets up with friends who had just returned from Jerusalem and inquires of how things are back at his homeland.  The devastation drives him to his knees. The city still stood in ruin, the walls broken down.  Brokenness of people’s spirit is evident.

Nehemiah’s response always to crisis was one of seeking God and acting when He said to.  As we will see, his actions were God-driven, living in His calling even, following and making the hard calls he had to.  He stood firm again and again for He knew only God could deliver.  Only God could bring hope through the tasks set before him.

And here is where I circle back to my opening thoughts.  Nehemiah’s first response in this news was not to brood about it, not to figure out how to make changes, dictate from afar even what must be done for the walls to be rebuilt.  He mourned and fasted and wept for several days and then he prayed.  He poured out his heart before God.  But it wasn’t just a prayer for “deliver us” it was a reflective prayer that went to the heart of the matter – the spiritual condition that had brought the brokenness of Jerusalem in the first place: The sinful nature of the people.  He pleaded for guidance, favor and was ready to step into whatever role God had for him to rebuild the ruins.

As brokenness surrounds us, many times we being fixers want to solve the issue.  We want to see these who have been so hurt be relieved.  But as Nehemiah’s response shows, the first step is going in prayer, serious prayer over the matter.  It is a reflection of the sin even that has driven the situation to the place it is.  It’s owning our own sin in the matter.  Confession is required.  Reliance on the Holy Spirit is needed to direct us toward what role we would potentially play and then act upon it.

Where is there brokenness in your own life or the lives of others that have become a burden for you?  What wreckage do you stand in?  Nehemiah’s broken heart led him to God who began a tremendous work in him and then others.  Yes, things may seem hopeless in whatever these questions have triggered in your mind.  But there is a God who knows these things in far more detail than we ourselves do.  Nothing truly will change without the movement of God.  Seek that.  Be relentless in your requests.  Be obedient to what He asks of you.

Nehemiah 1 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

Back in the minor prophets, we learned that very few Jewish people left Babylon to return to their own land when they were granted permission. Out of approximately 2.5 million Jews, only about 50,000 came back. This small remnant would be the people charged with the task of rebuilding the temple. However, it would take much longer than expected. The people returned during the days of Ezra and they actually tried to rebuild it at that time, but they were overrun by their enemies. It would be over 100 years later during the days of Nehemiah that God would stir His people to finally get moving.

The rubble of the temple mirrored the people’s spiritual condition. They had opened themselves up to their enemies’ gods and they carelessly welcomed all kinds of sin into their hearts. In ancient times, the walls that protected the city were vital. Without that protection, everything they considered valuable would be quickly and easily plundered.

Consider that when we leave ourselves in such a state spiritually we are prone to even minor attacks on our hearts and minds. We live in a state of continual anxiety and fear because we have no ability to protect ourselves in our own strength.

And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7 HCSB

The people had stopped meeting with God and just like the walls of their temple, their lives were destroyed.

“Paul’s choice of a military term implies that the mind is in a battle zone and needs to be “protected by a military guard.” Since the purpose of such a guard in a wartime situation is either to prevent a hostile invasion or to keep the inhabitants of a besieged city from escaping, the peace of God operates in the same way: to protect the mind from external corrupting influences and to keep the mind focused on God’s truth.”

Nelson’s Commentary

Is this how we view our relationship with God? Do we consider that when we continue to abandon Him we leave ourselves in a completely vulnerable position? With all that said, let’s look at Nehemiah’s prayer to open the chapter.

I said, LORD, the God of the heavens, the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps his gracious covenant with those who love him and keep his commands, [6] let your eyes be open and your ears be attentive to hear your servant’s prayer that I now pray to you day and night for your servants, the Israelites. I confess the sins we have committed against you. Both I and my father’s family have sinned. [7] We have acted corruptly toward you and have not kept the commands, statutes, and ordinances you gave your servant Moses.

Nehemiah 1:5-7 CSB

I confess the sins we have committed against you – both I and my father’s family have sinned. This was the repentant attitude that was missing among the Israelite people at the time they were taken into captivity. It is a vital step in the reconciliation process for any believer. Humility was exactly what was needed in order to bring restoration and forgiveness.

Political Instability

Nehemiah held an important position in the Persian court (the king’s cupbearer) during a time when political uprisings were becoming increasingly common. Historically, the revolts that occurred in the 400’s BC demonstrated the instability of the Persian empire during Nehemiah’s time. This was especially true regarding the land around Egypt. From a political standpoint, it made sense for Artaxerxes to cooperate with the Jews since their land was situated so close to Egypt.

“In comparison with Ezra, who was a priest and secretary, Nehemiah’s position among his own people must have been difficult. The odds were against him, but in spite of this, by will power, a strong personality, and a deep-rooted devotion to the Lord he was destined to play an important role in the history of his people and in the history of the revelation of God.”

New International Commentary – Old Testament
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