THE REBUILDING OF THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM, 1:1–7:73
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A. The Broken Heart of Nehemiah Over Jerusalem: A Man of Deep Concern and Prayer, 1:1-11
(1:1-11) Introduction: people with needs are all around us, people with desperate needs. Now think of the great diversity of these needy people around the world, even within our very own communities, neighborhoods, and churches:
⇒ the single mothers who are destitute
⇒ the children who are physically, mentally, or sexually abused
⇒ the poverty-stricken who are hungry, thirsty, or homeless
⇒ the unemployed who have lost their jobs and cannot find adequate employment to support their families
⇒ the widows, widowers, and divorced who must face a new life on their own
⇒ the masses who are lonely, empty, and without purpose
⇒ the masses who are diseased, injured, or dying
Men and women of compassion must step forward, men and women who have a genuine and deep concern about meeting the needs of others. Nehemiah was such a man. In fact, he was so gripped with concern for others that it is the first fact he mentions about himself in his great book. The entire first chapter focuses upon his tender heart and his concern for those in desperate need. This first chapter is, The Broken Heart of Nehemiah Over Jerusalem: A Man of Deep Concern and Prayer, 1:1-11.
1. Nehemiah’s distress at hearing the news from Jerusalem: a man of tender heart and genuine concern (vv.1-4).
2. Nehemiah’s prayer: a man who illustrated Christ’s intercession (vv.5-11).
1. (1:1-4) Heart, Tender, Example of—Concern, Example of—Care, Example of—Compassion, Example of—Nehemiah, Heart of—Jerusalem, Concern for—Returnees, Jewish, Condition and State of—Jerusalem, Condition of, at the Return of the Exiles: while serving in the palace of the Persian king, Nehemiah received some alarming, distressful news from Jerusalem. From Nehemiah’s reaction, we immediately see that he was a man with a tender heart and deep concern for his people, the Jews. What happened is briefly described by Scripture:
1. Nehemiah was in the palace fortress at Susa, the capital of the great Persian Empire. Because of the warmer climate there, the kings of Persia spent their winter months at Susa. They spent their summer months at Ecbatana. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes I. As the cupbearer, his primary responsibility was to always taste the wine being served to the king in order to protect the king from an assassination attempt by means of poison (v.11). The cupbearer was a very prominent, honored, responsible, and influential position within the kingdom. Furthermore, the cupbearer had to be an honest and trusted man, a man in whom the king could put his complete confidence. A king placed his very life in the hands of his cupbearer. Because of this, the cupbearer sometimes became a trusted advisor to the king, which was apparently true with Nehemiah (2:1-8).
The present event took place in the month of Kislev (November–December), the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes I. Artaxerxes I ruled from c.465–423 B.C., which means that this event occurred in 445 B.C.
2. While serving in the palace at Susa, Nehemiah was visited by his brother and a number of other men who had just made a trip to Judah (vv.2-3). With keen interest, Nehemiah questioned them about the Jewish captives who had returned to Jerusalem from their exile. In response to Nehemiah’s question, the men painted a dark, dismal picture of the returned exiles. They were in deep trouble and severe distress and were bearing terrible afflictions. They were being reproached and disgraced by the surrounding people and nations. In addition, the wall of Jerusalem had been torn down and the gates had been burned. Other Scriptures reveal the dreadful hardships the returned exiles were suffering:
⇒ They were suffering an economic depression due to famine (5:1-3). Famine naturally causes hunger, disease, and eventually starvation, unless relief comes. It also brings loss of income and jobs, decreased sales for businesses, and in some cases bankruptcy.
⇒ A large number of people were suffering oppression due to the greed of certain wealthy farmers and businessmen (5:4-5). In order to buy food, some of the people had to mortgage their homes and fields. Others had to borrow money in order to pay their taxes. The wealthy loaned money to the people, but they acted greedily in their own self-interest. They were forcing the adults and their children into some form of servitude or slavery in order to pay off their debts. In essence, the wealthy were not only amassing all the property of the less fortunate, but they were also enslaving them unjustly.
⇒ The people were suffering persecution in the form of anti-Semitism, ridicule, and harassment from their neighbors and other nationalities who surrounded them (Ezr.4:1-24).
⇒ Above and beyond all their personal suffering, the people were defenseless against enemy attacks since the wall of Jerusalem had been torn down and its gates burned with fire (v.3).
3. Hearing this bleak and discouraging news about his homeland broke Nehemiah’s heart (v.4). Grave concern gripped the inner recesses of his soul. He began to weep and mourn over the severe distress of his people. Utterly broken, Nehemiah began to fast and pray for many days on their behalf. Just how many days is not stated by Scripture. But day after day he sought the Lord, begging the Lord to help his people through these dire circumstances.
Thought 1. Nehemiah’s tender heart and deep concern for others were evident in his life by his actions. When others suffered, he was gripped by compassion for their welfare. So it must be with us. When we see or hear about people in need, we must feel empathy, identifying with their need. But even more important than just feeling for others, we must act. We must be benevolent in meeting the needs of others both at home and abroad. On a larger scale, think of these very real and very desperate needs around the world…
The list could go on and on. Countless numbers are hurting in countless ways. Like Nehemiah, we must arouse ourselves to show tender concern for the hurting and suffering of this world. We must reach out in compassion to help all we can. Listen to what God’s Holy Word says:
"For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Mt.25:35-40).
"But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him" (Lu.10:33-34).
"I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Ac.20:35).
"Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head" (Ro.12:20).
"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Ro.15:1).
"Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Ga.6:2).
"As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Ga.6:10).
"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering" (Col. 3:12).
"Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body" (Heb. 13:3).
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
"But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 Jn.3:17-18).
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" (Isa. 58:6-7).
2. (1:5-11) Prayer, Example of—Humility, Example of—Nehemiah, Prayer of: day after day Nehemiah knocked at the door of heaven, seeking the face of the Lord on behalf of the Jews who had returned to Judah. According to the model that Jesus Christ later taught His followers, Nehemiah asked, sought, and knocked at the door of heaven. Scripture will reveal that he received what he asked for, found what he sought, and the door was opened to him by the Lord (Mt.7:8). Nehemiah became an intercessor, seeking the Lord on behalf of his people. Twelve prayers are recorded in his book, nine of which were offered up by Nehemiah himself (1:5-11; 2:4; 4:4-5, 9; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 9:5-37; 13:14, 22, 29, 31). In the present Scripture, his prayer is spelled out point by point:
1. First, Nehemiah began his prayer by acknowledging God, praising Him for who He is and what He has done (v.5).
⇒ Nehemiah acknowledged God’s supremacy over all by addressing Him as the "Lord God of Heaven." As the God of heaven, He is supreme, sovereign over all the universe, all that is in heaven and earth. He rules and reigns over all, controlling all events, including the affairs of men.
⇒ Nehemiah addressed God as the "great and terrible [or awesome] God." This refers to the power and majesty of God. As the great God, He possesses all power and might. As the awesome God, He is the Supreme Being who possesses all the glory and majesty of perfection and holiness. He is totally set apart from all other beings.
⇒ Nehemiah also addressed the Lord as the "One who keeps His covenant with all who love Him and obey His commandments." God always keeps His Word, His promises to those who choose to love and obey Him. Nehemiah praised the Lord for His faithfulness.
Emphasizing God’s love for those who seek after Him, Nehemiah indicated that he was going to be crying out for the mercy of God upon his people. The only question remaining was whether or not the people would turn to the Lord and obey Him. Would they truly repent of their sins and keep His commandments?
2. Second, Nehemiah identified with the people by confessing both their sins and his own before the Lord (vv.6-7). He became an intercessor for the people before God, asking God to forgive the sins of Israel and of his own family. Note that Nehemiah did not make this request only once. He sought God’s forgiveness day and night (v.6).
Yet Nehemiah did not ask God to forgive his and Israel’s sins in general. Rather, he spelled out their sins (v.7). They had lived extremely wicked and corrupt lives, defiantly disobeying God’s Word, His Holy Commandments, His statutes and laws.
3. Third, Nehemiah pleaded for God’s mercy and help (vv.8-11). He asked God to remember His Holy Word, the covenant He had made with His people (vv.8-9; see De.4:25-31; 28:15-68, esp.58-68; 30:1-10). The covenant concerned sin and judgment. If the people sinned, they would suffer the hand of God’s judgment by being scattered among the nations, which is exactly what had happened. But the covenant also concerned repentance and obedience and the wonderful experience of God’s mercy. If the people returned to the Lord, they would be returned to the promised land. This was the eternal promise of God. Accordingly, if the people of Nehemiah’s day would return to the Lord, the blessings of God would fall upon them. They would be delivered from their deep distress and trouble.
Nehemiah then asked God to remember their relationship: they were God’s servants, the very people He had redeemed by His great power and mighty hand (v.10). Thus he begged God to hear his prayer and the prayers of other servants who feared and revered his name (v.11).
Lastly, Nehemiah made a very practical request of the Lord. He asked the Lord to make an opportunity for him to approach the king because he wanted to request the king’s help (v.11). This was a prayer Nehemiah had apparently been offering up for several months (1:1; 2:1). Now, at last, the door was opened for him to approach the king. This was the day. Thus, Nehemiah asked the Lord to give him success in this critically important matter. King Artaxerxes needed to be aroused or stirred by God to grant the special request Nehemiah was going to make. The actual details of Nehemiah’s appeal to the king will be covered in the next chapter. For now, the point to observe is that Nehemiah closed his prayer by asking God for specific help in dealing with the king. Bear in mind Nehemiah’s prominent and influential position in the royal court. He was the cupbearer to the king (v.11).
Thought 1. In his prayer, Nehemiah illustrated the coming intercession of Jesus Christ. That is, Nehemiah stood in the gap between his people and the Lord. Nehemiah became the intercessor, the representative of the Jewish exiles who wished to plead their case before the Lord. This is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us. Jesus Christ is our Intercessor, our Representative, our Advocate who presents our case before God. When we turn to the Lord Jesus Christ with any distress or trouble, Christ presents our need to the Father. And the Father hears the plea of Christ on our behalf. Through Jesus Christ we can receive forgiveness of sins and be given a victorious, triumphant life. The power to conquer all the trials, hardships, and distressing circumstances of life can be obtained only through Jesus Christ. As stated, He is our Intercessor, Advocate, and Representative before God. Listen to what the Holy Word of God says:
"But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Lu.22:32).
"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots" (Lu.23:34).
"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever" (Jn.14:16).
"Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Ro.8:34).
"Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17).
"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:14-16).
"For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee" (Heb. 5:1-5).
"Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb. 6:19-20).
"Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself" (Heb. 7:25-27).
"Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Heb. 8:1).
"But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:11-14).
"And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 10:21-22).
"Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12).
Thought 2. Nehemiah was a man who believed in prayer and who prayed often and much. This is clearly seen in the present Scripture. His prayer life stands as a strong example for us: we should pray, pray often, and pray much. Listen to what God’s Holy Word says about prayer:
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Mt.7:7-8).
"Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mt.26:41).
"And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Lu.18:1).
"And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it" (Jn.14:13-14).
"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (Jn.15:7).
"Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" (Jn.16:24).
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Ep.6:18).
"Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).
"Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds" (Col.4:2-3).
"Pray without ceasing" (1 Th.5:17).
"Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (Ja.5:13-14).
"And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment" (1 Jn.3:22-23).
"Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually" (1 Chr.16:11).
"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chr.7:14).
"He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him" (Ps.91:15).
"When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them" (Isa. 41:17).
"Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity" (Isa. 58:9).
"And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (Isa. 65:24).
"And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Je.29:13).
"And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God" (Zec.13:9).