Chapter 1.
Responding to Bad News from Home

Nehemiah 1

Around 430 b.c., about 2400 years ago, the book of Nehemiah was penned. The practical insights recorded from Nehemiah's life are still up-to-date and applicable for us even today. It is a book that deals with a variety of relevant subjects:

1. What does God want me to do and what are the steps to take in order to fulfill His will?

2. Recognizing problems and responding to them by praying and acting upon the problems.

3. Leadership: It shows us that in order to lead others, you need to get direction from God in your own life.

4. Dealing with problems such as criticism, ridicule, slander, discouragement, fear, and conflict with people. It shows how to overcome these obstacles and properly handle them.

5. Nehemiah reveals how to have revival in your own life.

6. How to relate to a touchy boss.

As we move through this book, we will see how Nehemiah was a man of action. He took problems that he was encountering in his own life, faced them, and did not run away from them.

In this book, Nehemiah will be presented in three different roles.

Before we open the doors to the book, it will be helpful to know the events leading up to this book to form a foundation from which we can build. Under Saul, David, and Solomon, the nation of Israel prospered. At the end of Solomon's reign, however, he compromised with the world to invoke God's judgment.

When Solomon died, Israel was divided and civil war erupted in the nation. The northern ten tribes, known as Israel, sided together against the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. God judged the northern tribes when the Assyrians invaded Israel in 722 b.c.. The ten tribes were finished and taken off into captivity.

It was in 605 b.c. when Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah for the first of three key invasions. He took the people captive. This is known as the "Babylonian Captivity." In 586, the Temple was destroyed and the vessels of the Temple were carried off to Babylon.

2 Chronicles 36:18-19—... And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylon. [19] And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof

This invasion is the key to understanding the background of Nehemiah. The fall of Jerusalem helps us to comprehend the events of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. The Temple and the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins during this time of captivity which was a period of seventy years. Psalm 137 was written during this time. One of the key verses was, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" In captivity, many of the Jews became slaves.

In 539 b.c., Babylon fell to King Cyrus of Persia. Cyrus was gentle and humane with the people he conquered. The Persian empire was composed of the large kingdom of Persia under Cyrus and the smaller kingdom of the Medes under King Darius. Cyrus was concerned for the welfare of the Jewish people. He was not a believer, but God can work in the minds of unbelievers. God stirred the spirit of Cyrus. In fact, Isaiah prophesied and called Cyrus by name about 150 years before he ruled. He would issue the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.

Isaiah 44:28—That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

The Jews went back to Jerusalem under the leadership of three men.

  1. Group 1: Under Zerubbabel in 538 b.c.
  2. Group 2: Eighty years later under Ezra in 458 b.c.
  3. Group 3: Thirteen years later under Nehemiah in 445-444 b.c.

The Temple was completed around 516 b.c. after sixteen years of wasted time. It was in 538 b.c. that they were resisted by their enemies. The people quit as soon as they started. They lacked the determination to do the job they came to perform and face their obstacles and opposition. In 520 b.c., it was Haggai and Zechariah who rebuked the people for their lack of resolve. They finished the Temple four years later after being rebuked by these prophets. The city, however, remained deserted because it was unprotected by walls. The Jews refused to migrate back to Jerusalem.

In 486 b.c., Xerxes (Ahasuerus) took the throne. He chose Esther as his queen around 479 b.c. After having a part in killing his father, Artaxerxes I Longimanus ruled from 465 to 424 b.c. He allowed Esther to beautify the Temple, but forbade the rebuilding of the walls at that time. It was in 445 b.c. that Nehemiah finally arrived in Jerusalem, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. With this background now, we will begin to dig into the meat of this book. We look at first, a response to bad news from home. In this chapter, we will see the importance of character and the traits of a good leader.

I. THE REPORT OF THE MEN OF JUDAH—1:1-3

As the light of this book breaks the horizon, we are introduced to Nehemiah. His name means "comfort." He lived up to his name for he was a comfort to many. The time is the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I which is somewhere around 445 b.c. We are not dogmatic about this date. He was the sixth king to rule Persia since the fall of Babylon to the Persian empire. The other five kings were Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius I, and Xerxes I, who was the husband of Queen Esther.

It was in the month of Chisleu which is equivalent with our December. It is winter time. Shushan or Susa was the capital of Media-Persia. You could say that it was the Washington D.C. of that day. It was recognized as the capital of the world at that time. It was located about 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf and about 250 miles east of ancient Babylon. This beautiful palace was constructed by Darius I. One of its impressive features was its central banquet hall which was bigger than a football field. It was about 350 feet long and 250 feet wide.

Nehemiah is visited by his brother Hanani and men of Judah. He wants to know what is going on back home and enquires about his homeland. The true Jew never completely forgets Jerusalem. The report was not a good one. Nehemiah is informed of three matters which are found in verse three.

Nehemiah is informed that the people are in "great affliction." This means they were in great misery and calamity. The people were also "reproached." This word is from the Hebrew word cherpah {kher-paw'} which means "to scorn, taunt, disgrace." These folks bore the brunt of cutting words as they were mocked and criticized by their enemies. The needs back home were great. The problems were overwhelming. How would respond to this situation? How do you respond now when you see the overwhelming problems of others? Do you do nothing or do you get involved and do something? Notice Nehemiah's response.

II. THE REACTION OF NEHEMIAH—1:4

Nehemiah is brokenhearted. He sat down abruptly, wept, mourned, and prayed. The walls were in shambles. So was the character of the people. The Jews neglected to finish the task of rebuilding them. They have had 150 years to do this, but lacked the resolve and dedication to complete the task. This was the main problem for when they made up their mind to rebuild them, they completed the task in 52 days (6:15).

It is interesting to note that a city with broken down walls is used to illustrate a person who lacks discipline or self control. What a description of many of God's people at this time.

Proverbs 25:28—He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

A person who lacks self control is easily defeated. He is open to Satanic attacks and temptations and encounters difficulty in resisting temptation because of a lack of discipline and control. Israel demonstrated a lack of discipline and character in not having the walls rebuilt after a number of years.

Beloved, our lives are like walls. The walls of our lives will lie in ruin through neglect. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit helps us to rebuild the brokenness and damage in our life and keep it in repair. Some are living with broken walls and surrounded by ruins. Their lives are in shambles because they have not founded their life on Jesus Christ and have resisted His strength and stabilizing power.

1 Corinthians 3:11—For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Psalm 27:1—The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When people's walls or lives spiritually crumble, it is usually a process that takes place slowly one step at a time.

First, it is a loose piece of stone or mortar. They sinned and did something wrong.

Next, a crack appears in the wall of their life. A habit with sinning has developed.

Third, the wall is broken in pieces and a hole has formed. The habit has turned into an addiction.

Last, the weeds of carnality begin to grow through the wall and Satan gains ground in the person's life to the point that the sinner influences others to do wrong.

Selfishness, lack of discipline, bitterness, greed, covetousness, procrastination, immorality, compromise with evil, rebellion, and a lack of time for the Lord will destroy the walls of your life.

Nehemiah fasted and prayed. The news from home was burning in his heart. The burden began to burn in his soul. This is one of the purposes of a burden. When we look at the Bible, we find a number of ways that burdens effect our lives.


The Effects of Burdens

1. They Summon us to Action

God uses our burdens to motivate us to action. Many times burdens give birth to leaders who want to correct heavy problems. Nehemiah is such a leader.

2. They Steer our Heart toward the Lord

Burdens reveal our need for the Lord in our life. They minimize our own abilities and maximize our dependence upon God. They direct our thoughts upon the Lord and our need for Him.

Psalm 42:6—O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.

3. They Soften our Heart

God uses burdens to bring us to a point of repentance.

2 Corinthians 7:9-11—... Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. [10] For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

Beloved, the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from our sinful living. There is no regret for this kind of sorrow. On the other hand, worldly sorrow which lacks any kind of repentance leads to spiritual death.

4. They cause us to Seek our Satisfaction in the Lord and His Strength

Burdens leave us feeling empty and weak. It is the Lord that encourages us and restores hope and joy in our heart.

Jeremiah 31:13—Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.

Psalm 119:28—My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.

5. They cause us to Search for God's Direction and Guidance

Burdens leave us asking, "Lord, what do I do? Where do I go? How do I solve this?"

Jeremiah 31:9—They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

The burden motivated Nehemiah to action and to take steps to fill the need in Jerusalem. He was a man who had great leadership qualities. I dare say that his abilities and wisdom were a great asset to the king. Good leaders usually do two very important things.

  1. They establish their priorities.
  2. They manage their time effectively and efficiently.

What should be the priorities of a leader? Some leaders put relationships with people first. Others stress personal thought-time and time for planning. What did Nehemiah do? His first priority was prayer. He unloaded his heart to the Lord. The mark of a serious leader is he goes to the Lord first with his problem.

Our first response is usually, "How can I work this out? What did so and so do to make this happen?" The problem will not be 100% solved, however, until you take it to the Lord in prayer. This was the first thing that Nehemiah did. In fact, 11% of the verses in this book are filled with prayers. If you have difficulty loving or relating to a person, take him or her to the Lord.

Prayer made Abe Lincoln. Lincoln said, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of those about me seemed insufficient for the day." Nehemiah was a man of courage, action, and prayer. He learned to pray!

C.J. Barber said, "The self-sufficient do not pray; they 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." Beloved, a wise leader is not self-sufficient, self-satisfied, or self-righteous.

III. THE REQUEST OF NEHEMIAH TO THE LORD—1:5-11

Nehemiah asked for the Lord's attention to his request, "Lord, let thine ear now be attentive." When I read this statement, it triggered a question. What are some things that grab God's attention? The Bible reveals some interesting insights.


What Grabs God's Attention?

1. A Sincere Search for the Lord

Proverbs 8:17—I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.

Jeremiah 29:13—And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

Deuteronomy 4:29—But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.

2. A Sorrowful, Softened Heart

Psalm 51:17—The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Psalm 34:18—The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

3. A Sacred reverence for the Scriptures

Isaiah 66:2—For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

4. The Sobs or Shouts of the Afflicted

Psalm 22:24—For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

Psalm 102:17—He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.

5. A Submissive, Serving, Surrendered Attitude toward the Lord

2 Chronicles 7:14—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.

1 John 3:22—And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. God is impressed by our obedience to Him.

6. The Saint's call to the Lord

Psalm 4:3—But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him.

Psalm 34:17—The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.

7. Steadfastness in our Walk with God

John 15:7—If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8. Steadiness and Sureness in our Faith

Hebrews 11:6—But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Mark 11:24—Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

1 Kings 18:36-38—... And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. [37] Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. [38] Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.

9. Sacrificial Giving

Luke 21:2-4—... And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. [3] And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: [4] For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.

Do you have some of these elements in your own life?

Nehemiah was out to get God's attention. He pours out his heart to the Lord. There is an acrostic for prayer found in Nehemiah's prayer: A.C.T.S. These four letters stand for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Let's look at these.

A. Adoration—1:5-6

Nehemiah expresses his adoration for the Lord who is great, terrible or awesome. The Lord keeps His word with those that love Him and obey His commands. He prayed this with consistency both day and night. Do you have a daily prayer time?

B. Confession of Sin—1:6-7

Nehemiah confessed his part in the problem at hand. He uses words like WE and I. When we are in conflicts, we tend to blame others and not ourselves. He confessed that he was not only part of the answer, but also part of the problem. He told the Lord, "We have dealt very corruptly against thee." He is indicating the hardness of their hearts with these words. These words "dealt very corruptly" are from the Hebrew word chabal {khaw-bal'} which have the meaning "to bind, to twist." The idea is that of a rope or knot being twisted together and becoming very tight or hard." The Lord's people had a knotted, hard heart toward God. Their concrete heart got them into trouble.

Nehemiah took responsibility for his attitude and actions. He dealt with the source of the problem. This is necessary if you are going to rebuild your life. There is no benefit in asking God to put your life back together if you do not deal with the source of the problem first. Are you facing problems with your wife or husband? Stop blaming him or her and look at yourself to see where you might be at fault. Are you having problems with your kids? Don't blame the school or the church for the behavior of your children. Take responsibility for your family. The secret of true leadership is a true leader realizes he is as weak and capable of sin as anyone else. When leaders forget their sinfulness, they tend to fall into sin and lose their ability to lead.

C. Thanksgiving—1:8-10

Nehemiah is thankful for God's redemption, power, and promises. He pleads with the Lord to not forget His promises.

D. Supplication—1:11

Nehemiah prays specifically that God would listen to his prayer and grant him success with the king's favor. The Lord would be the one to change the king's heart. Hudson Taylor said, "It is possible to move men through God by prayer alone."

Proverbs 21:1—The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

The basis of his prayer was to honor the Lord. Nehemiah was concerned about God's reputation. With Jerusalem in ruins, he did not want other nations saying that his God was less powerful than theirs. This chapter is a blend of prayer and action. It shows us why prayer is important. Prayer makes us wait. It leaves our circumstances with God. It clears our vision by clearing away the fog and smoke that cloud our situation. It also quiets our heart. It replaces worry with a calm spirit. Your knees don't knock when you kneel upon them. Prayer also activates our faith. It sets faith on fire.

The Cupbearer

Nehemiah mentions that he is the cupbearer of the king. This position reveals much about Nehemiah, his character, and his standing in the palace. Persian kings lived in complete isolation. The king was considered so sacred that not even his wife or children could approach him unless summoned. To approach the king without his summons could result in execution. The king had many enemies. No one could be trusted including his own family.

The cupbearer was carefully selected among the most faithful men. They protected the king by tasting his food and drinks for poison. Poisoning was common and is still practiced. Our word "assassin" is derived from a Persian word "hashashin." An assassin was an eater or smoker of hashish, the drug cannabis. At the time of the Crusades, there was a sect of fanatical Muslims who pledged to kill Christians. They committed their murders under the influence of cannabis. The hashashin or hashish-eater came to have the reputation of a murderer.

The traits of trustworthiness, loyalty, and faithfulness were absolutely essential in the cupbearer. Men would attempt to bribe these cupbearers in order to poison the king. If he was not loyal, then the king would be a dead duck. The cupbearer was the most trusted person in the palace and the only one who could come into the presence of the king freely. He would talk and joke with the king. Thus, this position was a powerful and influential one because he had direct and frequent access to the king. He was the man who had the king's ear.

Nehemiah's character was used by God to put him into this strategic position. When Nehemiah makes his bold request to the king, it was speedily granted and he was given great power, authority, and provisions to finish the task. God placed him in this position. His position was a tool to do God's work and be a great leader for God.

Leaders are influencers. Nehemiah had influence with the ruler of the world and with his own nation. As a good leader, Nehemiah had a clear recognition of the needs before him. Good leaders do this. Good leaders are realistic. They ask the hard second questions. Good leaders get involved to meet needs. This is what Nehemiah did. He felt the pressure in his soul. He could have said, "The walls are down? Who messed up? Whose fault is it?" He did not do this. Nehemiah sacrificed by leaving the comfort and position of the palace to go to the ruins and rubble of Jerusalem. He made himself available to solve the problem. Let me ask, "What kind of leader are you?"