The Book of Nehemiah is a sequel to the Book of Ezra. The book covers a period of approximately 25 years (445-420 BC). Two main actions occur- the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem and the recommitment of the returning exiles to fulfill their covenant obligations to the Lord.
It is the book that covers the last events in the Old Testament before the coming of the Messiah. In many ways, it has instruction for us in the church age who await the second coming of the Christ.
The book begins in the 20th year of the Persian King Artaxerxes I, 445 BC. At this time, Nehemiah, the King’s Jewish cupbearer, learns from Hanani, a Jewish brother, that the Jerusalem walls still lie in ruins and the gates have been destroyed by fire.
Why does he weep? Jerusalem was revealed to be the city that would bear the Lord’s Name and be the Lord’s holy habitation, according to the will of God. What would distinguish it and make it recognizable to the outside world as your approached it would be its walls.
Nehemiah is particularly upset that the walls are broken down. Not only do the walls provide protection, security, and a platform for defense, it is what those approaching from the outside see that sets it apart from its surroundings. In this regard, ‘the walls of Jerusalem’ speaks of the testimony of the city to the outside world. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set upon a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) The walls symbolized strength and peace.
He intercedes for his people and confesses the sins of the nation. Why has it taken almost a century after the first remnant returned from captivity to put this city back together after it was ransacked by the Babylonians?
Nehemiah reminds the Lord of his promise to Israel- that He would regather His people and bring them to a place where His Name will dwell if they return to a spiritual posture of faithful obedience.
Nehemiah must have been a witness to the joy and contentedness that comes from knowing the Lord, for when his countenance changed to sadness, the King noticed it and inquired to know the reason. Nehemiah lets the King know of his burden for the ruined condition of his city, Jerusalem.
Nehemiah, by this time, has a God-given burden to see God’s purposes advance in the holy city of Jerusalem. He is not afraid to go before the king with a BIG ASK.
As Nehemiah makes conversation with the king, He is also in prayer with the King of Kings.
There is a three-way conversation that goes on. Nehemiah is silently talking to the Lord and listening to Him while he is speaking to his employer, the King of Persia. He makes a BIG ASK. He asks the King to give him a leave of absence and deployment to Jerusalem to see the city rebuilt.
This should encourage us not to be afraid to go to the Lord with a BIG ASK when we know it is in accordance with His will.
Nehemiah is a man of prayer. We have many references to his prayer life in this book. (2:4, 4:4-5; 5:19; 6:14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31).
Nehemiah not only asked for time off work but for letters from the King to the governors of the provinces to secure his safe passage. He also asked for Asaph, the keeper of the King’s forest, to give him timber to make beams for the city’s fortress and the house to which he planned to go.
The king obliged, not only giving Nehemiah what he requested but sending him with officers of the army and horsemen.
For such divine favor, Nehemiah gave glory to God.
Nehemiah 2:8b and the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
Nehemiah’s forward movements in this mission were not without opposition:
Nehemiah makes careful surveillance of the city’s condition when he arrives. Only after careful investigation and gaining factual first-hand knowledge does Nehemiah address the people. He defines the present reality, spells out the preferred future, and tells the people what should be done.
This is a good example of leadership and effective vision-casting.
Nehemiah 2:17 17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned (DEFINING THE PRESENT REALITY). Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem (TELLS THEM WHAT SHOULD BE DONE), that we may no longer suffer derision (THE PREFERRED FUTURE).” (CAPS-mine)
Sanballat and Tobiah are busy mocking Nehemiah’s efforts. Nehemiah lets them know that they have no business to tell them what to do, and they are to have no part in this work.
Chapter 3 records how the rebuilding of the city walls was a team effort. Each one worked on the part of the wall that was close to their neighborhood. They had some skin in the game. They would be building the part of the wall that would be protecting their families.
Underline the repetition of the phrase “Next to him.” These workers knew their co-workers, who they were working next to, and they worked as a team.
The names of the workers are recorded, reminding us that our works, no matter how small, are not forgotten.
Hebrews 6:10 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.
TODAY’S READING FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT – 1 CORINTHIANS 7:1-24
Paul delivers important instruction on sex and marriage. The Corinthian culture was sexually promiscuous and immoral. Many had been involved with the temple prostitutes and perversions. The church members were confused and needed specific instruction. Some Greeks, rejecting the immoral culture around them, rejected sex and marriage altogether. The Corinthians wondered if they should do the same.
Paul tells them to be content in the situation in which God has placed them. If you are married now, don’t seek to be single. If you are single, recognize that as your present blessed state. Live with a view to pleasing God, one day at a time, and He will show you what to do.
We sing the themes of verses 19 and 20.
Psalm 31:19-20 19 How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, Before the sons of men! 20 You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues.
Verses 23 and 24 gives us instruction relevant to each day that we live:
Psalm 31:23-24 23 O love the LORD, all you His godly ones! The LORD preserves the faithful and fully recompenses the proud doer. 24 Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.
TODAY’S READING FROM THE BOOK OF PROVERBS – PROVERBS 21:4
Proverbs 21:4 4 Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
God gives grace to the humble. Pride illuminates a path that leads to destruction.
PRAY FOR THE NATIONS: (from “Operation World”)
Area: 10,230 sq km
A fertile, mountainous state in the East Mediterranean. Rests between Israel and Syria. The site of ancient Phoenicia.
Population: 4,254,583 Annual Growth: 0.83%
Official language: Arabic; French, and English are widely used Languages: 9 All languages
Largest Religion: Muslim
Answer to Prayer
Openness to spiritual things and a growing number of converts from other religious communities continue. Praise God for the grace shown by Christians to those uprooted by the 2006 Israeli invasion. Evangelicals are showing vision and commitment to loving outreach.
Challenge for Prayer
Lebanon’s tragic history over the last 70 years, with communal wars, foreign interventions and hostage-taking. With adequate political stability, Lebanon has demonstrated great resilience and potential to rebuild. Pray specifically for:
a) The government and its leaders. There is a lot of disillusionment with the traditional political elite. Pray for a government that rules for the common good, balancing traditional values and demographic realities.
b) Full political freedom to be gained and religious freedom protected. Lebanon, for all its troubles, remains unique in the Middle East for its freedom.
c) The healing of deep hurts in communities, families and individuals. Over 80% of the population were displaced at one time or another during the wars. All have lost loved ones; many lost homes and jobs.
d) A spirit of forgiveness. All have suffered and there are countless opportunities for bitterness and hatred. Pray that the Holy Spirit might do His work of reconciliation.
e) The rebuilding of the South after multiple wars and occupations. Many unexploded munitions from 2006 make rebuilding dangerous.
PRAYER: Father, with You all things are possible. Thank You for encouraging us with the example of Nehemiah’s faithful pursuit of Your purposes in his generation. Our hearts break for the condition of our world and the need for Your testimony to be magnified in the church so all would see Jesus. We ask that You will provide all that is needed to repair and strengthen the relationships that Your people have with You and with each other. You have shielded us with Your favor, and we ask that You deal with all those enemies who would hinder the work You have called us to do. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.