Week of March 1, 2009
Bible Verses:† Nehemiah 1:1-11.
Lesson Focus: You will be challenged to be aware of and begin pursuing opportunities to step up and serve the Lord.
Look for the Need: Nehemiah 1:1-3.
† The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in
Nehemiah treasured no greater ambition than to be a loyal
servant of God; the noun is deliberately repeated throughout the bookís opening
narrative [6,7,8,10,11]. This introductory section of his memoirs sets the
scene and explains how Godís servant was prepared for new work in far-off
As the story begins, Nehemiah is identified as a man of deep concern, with clear priorities. First, the narrative illustrates Nehemiahís concern. Anxious for the welfare of the returned exiles, he inquires about the condition of the city where they lived. Throughout Christian history, men and women with a deep love for others have been used to transform the face of society. Evident need constituted their call. Secondly, the narrative identifies Nehemiahís priorities. People mattered more than things. He was naturally troubled about the physical condition of the city. Broken walls meant frightening insecurity, negligible commercial development and serious economic deprivation, but the depressed people within the city were infinitely more important than its shattered walls. The history of Christian work and witness across the centuries is an inspiring record of sacrificial people who did not think primarily about their own well-being but gave top priority to Godís will and the needs of others.
Look for the Reason: Nehemiah 1:4-7.
† 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.† [ESV]
Nehemiahís immediate reaction to the news of his peopleís troubles was to go into the presence of God. Throughout the book this gifted leader is vividly portrayed as a man of earnest prayer, and this, the first of his nine recorded prayers, offers several perspectives on the quality of Nehemiahís prayer-life.
He was committed to prayer. For Nehemiah, prayer was natural, immediate and spontaneous . He turned instinctively to God. In Nehemiahís life, far from being a conventional religious exercise, prayer was a vital daily experience. Nothing mattered more than entering the Lordís presence to express his anguish about his peopleís needs, confess his inadequacy, reflect on his personal response to the news from Jerusalem, and seek for guidance about what might and must be done.
Nehemiah was genuine in prayer. Deeply grieved to
learn such distressing news, he identifies with the dejection of
Nehemiah was sacrificial in prayer. He believed there was nothing better he could do for his people than pray for them so, in order to give undisturbed time to his intercessions, he denied himself food for several days: he continued fasting. In ancient near-eastern countries, meals were not the hurried affairs of busy contemporary life. Normally, they were relaxed and extended opportunities for social contact and leisurely conversation. Missing a meal released an hour or two for undisturbed prayer.
Nehemiah was persistent in prayer. For days he continued to seek God; day and night  he poured out his soul to the Lord. Nehemiah knocked repeatedly at Godís door because there was no one else to whom he could turn for help. Prayer is the most eloquent expression of our priorities. It confesses our total reliance upon God, exercises our personal faith and demonstrates our love for others. As he approaches God, Nehemiah divests himself of every distracting thought so that he can concentrate his mind entirely on the one who has promised to listen to everyone who calls upon Him.
Nehemiah was encouraged in prayer. Dependent believers of earlier generations have entered the holy place before him, and phrases and themes from their prayers inspire, inform and shape his own. If by prayer these intercessors had received cleansing, found peace, obtained strength and gained confidence, so could Nehemiah. He is not simply inspired by their example; his prayer is enriched by their language. The words they used, preserved in Scripture, became the inspiration of his heart and mind as he entered the divine presence. The great prayers of Scripture ought to be incentives and models for our own.
He was confident in prayer. As Nehemiah exalts God,
he focuses on eight highly relevant aspects of God's nature. The prayer becomes
an adoring octave of divine omnipotence. Although
Nehemiah also enters the presence of an awesome God, believing that He is not only powerful but holy. Nehemiah is especially conscious of the divine holiness and comes before God with adoring reverence. It is the holiness of God which identifies and exposes sin as sin. Confronted by a holy Father, we see sin for the offensive thing it is, recognize its malevolent and destructive power, and beg an awesome Godís forgiveness.
Nehemiah rejoices that his holy God is also compassionate. He identifies his needs in the presence of a God of infinite grace who has made a covenant of love with His people. Further, Godís love is not fickle and changeable but constant and reliable. He is a faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him. His people have not been what they ought to have been, but God has never acted unlovingly towards them. His chastisement has always been purposive, corrective and remedial. He has stood by them during long periods when they were far too preoccupied with marginal things to love him and keep his commandments. During the demanding and dangerous assignment which lay ahead, Nehemiah found himself constantly fortified by the faithfulness of a loving God who would never let him down.
Godís servant also worships a vocal God. He is not a silent
deity like the gods of the surrounding nations. He has spoken eloquently,
patiently and persistently through His servants, as men like Moses faithfully
transmitted Godís commands to His people. A God who has spoken so relevantly
and persuasively across the centuries is not going to leave Nehemiah without
direct and relevant commands concerning his future work. This compassionate self-revealing
God did not only speak; He listened.
Nehemiah offered this prayer knowing that he was addressing a merciful God. His own sins and those of both his rebellious forefathers and disobedient contemporaries must be acknowledged and forgiven before he could embark on any enterprise of God. His servants must be cleansed before they are used. Quiet reflection on Godís character intensified His servantís awareness of unforgiven sin.
Godís servantís exaltation of Godís nature prompts a
sorrowing acknowledgment of sin. The words of his prayer reveal the intensity,
honesty, realism and urgency of Nehemiahís confession. Overwhelmed by the
rebelliousness of human sin, Nehemiah gives himself to prolonged petition and
intercession; day and night he
poured out his soul to God. Since he heard of
It was vital to seek Godís face, for in the commandments, the statutes, and the rules of Scripture he had been taught that sin is not merely a stubborn refusal to obey certain rules which harm the life of an individual or community. It is a defiant act of aggressive personal rebellion towards God. In Nehemiahís eyes sin is not regarded primarily as a failure to meet standards, but as a breaking off of personal relations with God. Nehemiah was sensitive to the fact that all sin, things blatantly or carelessly done, or things selfishly or heedlessly left undone, need to be identified, acknowledged and pardoned. He knew that all such sin can be fully, immediately and eternally forgiven. The Lord is always more eager to forgive our sins than we are to confess them.
Look for the Possibility: Nehemiah 1:8-11.
† 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 dispersed be under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there 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.† [ESV]
[8-9]† Nehemiah recalls the realistic words of Moses
about the danger of
[10-11] †But, however inspiring and reassuring, words alone are rarely enough. God demonstrates the reliability of His Word by the excellence of His deeds. To the great theme of revelation is added the complementary truth of redemption. Nehemiah recalls that his contemporaries are Godís servants: They are your servants and your people. For all their undoubted failings, the Israelites are a redeemed community. God acted decisively in their history, doing exactly what He promised. At the burning bush He told Moses that He was going to deliver them, and did everything He said. Uncertain of the future, Nehemiah remembers the past. He looks back to the great exodus-event as an undeniable demonstration of Godís pledge to keep His promise and demonstrate His power. Nehemiahís prayer moved from the recollection of what God had said and done to the contemplation of what He will say and do in a new situation. Encouraged by the Lordís former mercies he is assured of present grace.
Now Nehemiah reveals his position in the court. He held the important position of cupbearer in the royal palace. The cupbearer was a man of recognized dignity in court circles, entirely trustworthy, the kingís confidant and next in rank to princes. Nehemiah knew the protocol which surrounded an eastern court and realized that a huge responsibility now lay on his shoulders. He was to ask King Artaxerxes to change his mind about† Jerusalemís wall-building program. At this crucial moment in his life, Nehemiah was in urgent need of Godís specific direction. Whatever could he do about Jerusalemís need? His immediate response was to pray. He cast himself utterly upon God, believing that, however great the obstacles, he would be clearly led and given all the resources necessary for total obedience to Godís will.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† What do we learn about Nehemiah in verses 1-4? What does Nehemiahís reaction to the news about Jerusalem tell you about the man?
2.†††††††† Analyze Nehemiahís prayer in verses 5-11. What do we learn about his prayer life? His view of God? The effect of sin on oneís relationship with God?
3.†††††††† What do you learn from Nehemiahís prayer that you can use in your own prayer life?
Nehemiah, Mervin Breneman, NAC, Broadman.
The Message of Nehemiah, Raymond Brown, Inter-Varsity Press.