The book of Nehemiah and the man Nehemiah are inseparably wedded to each other. This story may have had a different outcome had this great burden fallen upon the shoulders of a lesser man. His experience touches all of us, particularly as we face the more difficult challenges of life.
Nehemiah models for us:
•How to pray when there seems to be no human solution to our problems.
•How to blend the human and the divine when facing life’s predicaments.
•How to keep God’s sovereignty and our human responsibility in their proper balance.
•How to plan our work and work our plan, and at the same time rely on God as our divine resource person.
•How to handle discouragement in ourselves and others.
•How to set goals and achieve them when everything and everyone around us seems to be thwarting our efforts.
•How to motivate others when morale is rapidly deteriorating.
•How to cope with personal anger and other negative emotions.
•How to accept promotion and success without abusing or misusing our privileges.
•How to respond to those who make false accusations against us and malign our motives.
•How to help others develop God’s perspective on life.
•How to face and solve the toughest problems in our own lives first.
•How to continue to work and fend off the enemy at the same time.
Nehemiah encountered every one of these problems, then God recorded them for our benefit. 1 Corinthians 10:11 NLT, “These things happened to them (The Old Testament saints) as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”
Every believer can identify with these practical problems. The Holy Spirit gives us solutions to all of life’s difficulties, through the life of Nehemiah.
I. Nehemiah the man: Nehemiah 1:1, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.”
He was born of Jewish parents in exile, and was given the name “Nehem Yah,” meaning “The comfort of Jehovah.” We gather from this that his home was a godly one. He was not a priest or a prophet, but a Jewish leader whom God raised up for a crisis hour in the history of his people. Like Queen Esther, perhaps God has placed him in “the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). God always has a man to meet the need of the hour! He was the right man, in the right place, doing the right thing and God used him. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
At the time of this writing Nehemiah is a young man, a cupbearer to Persian King Artaxerxes.
II. Shushan the Palace: 1:1 TLB, “In December of the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, when I was at the palace at Shushan.”
Shushan, also known as Susa (various Bible translations render the city name as either Shushan or Susa) was a capital of Elam, in what is today western Iran, about 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf. The modern Iranian town of Shush is located at the site of ancient Susa.
The outline of the palace can still be seen. Unger writes, “It was a magnificent palace made of cedar wood from Lebanon, silver from Egypt, designs in relief of winged bulls, griffins and the famous spearmen of the guard.
•This was the summer palace of Persian monarchs.
•This was the home of Queen Esther.
•Daniel was there.
•The famous “Code of Hamurabi was found in Shushan in 1901.
III. Nehemiah the cupbearer: 1:11, “I was the king’s cupbearer…” (Wine steward). The Persian cupbearer was more than just a butler for royalty, he was more like a prime-minister, and a personal servant to the king. History tells us that he was probably selected because he had demonstrated discretion and was honest and trustworthy.
His duties were to guard the king’s sleeping quarters, washing the royal cup, pouring a few drops of wine into his palm, tasting it then presenting it to the king in a prescribed fashion.
He was more than likely consulted by the king often for advice and counsel. So Nehemiah’s position alone reveals volumes about his intellectual ability, his emotional maturity, and his spiritual acumen.
IV. The author of the book: 1:1, “Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.” Most likely, it was personally written by him. Some translations title this, “The memoirs of Nehemiah.”
V. The time of the book: 1:1, “It came to pass in the month of Chislev, (November/December) in the twentieth year,” about 420 BC. There was a period of 12 years after the Book of Ezra closed, the Book of Nehemiah begins. Nehemiah records the events of the next 20 years.
The book fits into the canon of Scripture during the time of Malachi. The prophets who ministered during this time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther were Jeremiah, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
VI. Nehemiah’s response to the situation at Jerusalem, 1:1-11:
Verses 2,3, His brother Hanani brings him a distressing report: “Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
Please note that Israel was both a nation and a belief system, it is a sacred nation representing the kingdom of God on earth. So this Scripture involves sorrow over the whole family of God. We believers have an obligation to be concerned about the condition of the whole family of God. If one church is in trouble all churches are in trouble. There is only one true church!
This story involves prayer. Pray for all of God’s children everywhere! I admit that we have some theological differences with some churches. We differ about the mode of baptism, communion, the church, spiritual gifts, music, and Bible translations, etc. But if you are a child of God, we are one in Christ.
Ephesians 4:1-6, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Nehemiah should give believers the determination to help all of God’s family whenever possible. Every believer should make himself available to help any church or believer that has a need. And, not only other believers, we should also be determined to find a hurt and heal it, even among those who do not know our Savior.
Verse 4: Nehemiah’s initial response: This is the key verse to the whole book…Nehemiah 1:4 NLT, “When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.”
Look at his sensitivity regarding his own people. The Apostle Paul echoes this sentiment, “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1,2). “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them’ (Romans 9:3 NLT).
Nehemiah wept over the condition of the people and the city. Listen to Israel in Babylonian captivity: Psalm 137:1, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”
When was the last time you wept over something more important than a sad movie or television show? How about the condition of your nation? When we look at the condition of the world today…It’s weeping time! When Jesus looked at the hard-heartedness of Jerusalem, He lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Matthew 23:37 NLT).
Nehemiah mourned over the condition of his people and city. How many times we read of the great preachers of old mourning over the sins of their city, their country and their church. Martin Luther said, “If I fail to pray for one day, I suffer. If I fail to pray for two days, my church suffers. If I fail to pray for three days, all Germany suffers.”
Nehemiah fasted: He determined that he would not eat until God answered him about the condition of his people. He was willing to sacrifice personal comfort just to let God see how determined he was to correct the situation in Jerusalem.
VII. Nehemiah’s Prayer, Verses 5-11:
“O Lord God,” I cried out; “O great and awesome God who keeps His promises and is so loving and kind to those who love and obey Him! Hear my prayer! Listen carefully to what I say! Look down and see me praying night and day for Your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against You; yes, I and my people have committed the horrible sin of not obeying the commandments You gave us through your servant Moses. Oh, please remember what You told Moses! You said, ‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me and obey My laws, even though you are exiled to the farthest corners of the universe, I will bring you back to Jerusalem. For Jerusalem is the place in which I have chosen to live.’ We are Your servants, the people You rescued by Your great power. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Heed the prayers of those of us who delight to honor You. Please help me now as I go in and ask the king for a great favor—put it into his heart to be kind to me” (Nehemiah 1:5-11 TLB).
He was a person of courage and bold action. We need to remember that an Oriental king in Nehemiah’s day was all-powerful. He commanded swords and flaming furnaces to be swiftly used for the slightest infraction of protocol.
He was a powerful and influential leader in Syria, but his attitude was humility.
“The self-sufficient do not pray, they merely talk to themselves. The self-satisfied will not pray, they have no knowledge of their need. The self-righteous cannot pray, they have no basis on which to approach God. A true leader is one who is not self-sufficient, self-satisfied, or self-righteous, on the contrary, he knows his need and is ready to humble himself before the all-sufficient One” (Cyril Barber, Nehemiah and the dynamics of leadership).
His prayer shows adoration, Verse 5: He acknowledges God’s greatness! “O great and awesome God…” Nehemiah is approaching the absolute Sovereign of the universe. He doesn’t approach in a flippant manner, ie: “Lord, it’s me, Nehemiah, the one you’ve heard so much about!” He understands, “Hallowed be Your name,” so he humbles himself, James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
His prayer is a prayer of confession, Verses 6: He prayed, not just for his sins but for the sins of his people! “Please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned.”
Verses 8,9: He reminds God of His covenant with Israel. “Oh, please remember what You told Moses! You said, ‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me and obey My laws, even though you are exiled to the farthest corners of the universe, I will bring you back to Jerusalem…” (Verses 8,9 TLB).
Did Nehemiah have to remind God? No! God is the omniscient One needing no reminder of His promises. “But Zion said, I don’t get it. God has left me, My Master has forgotten I even exist. Can a mother forget the infant at her breast, walk away from the baby she bore? But even if mothers forget, I’d never forget you—never” (Isaiah 49:14-18 MSG).
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you. ’So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5,6).
He remembers God’s redeeming power, Verse 10: “Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand” 1:10 AMP. “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord…” (Psalm 77:10,11).
He asks God for personal help, Verse 11: “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
There is only one person, humanly speaking who can help, King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah was not only willing to approach God in prayer for the people, but he was willing to take an extremely dangerous, personal risk to go to the king on behalf of his people. It’s one thing to go to God, it’s quite another to put yourself in a precarious position to help others. He could very well have stayed “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:6), but he was willing to sacrifice even his personal safety for his people. Jesus said, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was Me—you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40 MSG).
It is not enough just to see a need, we must do something more than praying for them about their need. Prayer is important, but “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-17).
Nehemiah chapter one is a good example of prayer and action. A praying knee and a going foot both grow on the same leg!
Nehemiah prayed day and night from the Nissan (November-December), until the month of Nissan, (March-April), four to five months of prayer and fasting for his city and its people. And God answered his request! A great example of the fact that God hears and answers every prayer. The answer may be “Yes, no, or wait, but He always answers, there is an exception: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18). “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
But just listen to the superlatives in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us…”
Six stages of God’s ability:
1. God is able to do: He is not idle, neither is He dead or impotent. “Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1).
2. God is able to do what we ask: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9,10).
3. God is able to do what we think: he reads our thoughts. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23,24). “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile” (Psalm 94:11).
4. God is able to do all: He is all-sufficient. He is, “El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One, Lord God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1). “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (1 Corinthians 3:5).
5. God is able to do more: God is not limited by our frailties. “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19).
6. God is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all.” We will learn as we study the book of Nehemiah that God answered his prayer, and sent men, provisions, building materials, protection and letters to the leaders along his way to Jerusalem.
Conclusion: Three very important lessons from Nehemiah chapter one:
1. Real godliness is not incompatible with earthly success. Good Christian character, coupled with good business sense will always bring success.
2. We should use any influential positions we may have in this life to further the kingdom of God.
•Money, we are God’s stewards (managers).
•High position, we are God’s undersecretaries.
3. We should always be aware of the well-being of God’s people.
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19,20 NLT). “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?” (Galatians 5:13-15).
Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains you cannot tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible
And He does the things that others cannot do
Oscar C. Eliason
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).