Nehemiah: Pray and Take Action!
(1:1-11, 6:15-16, 8:8) Pastor Heo
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. 8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ 10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.
6:15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
8:8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
As for the Bible, one thing we need to know is that in the OT, 39 books are NOT chronologically arranged, but according the their writing style:
- Genesis-Deuteronomy (Law),
- Joshua-Esther (History),
- Job-Song of Solomon (Poetry),
- Isaiah-Malachi (Prophecy)
Chronologically, Nehemiah (and Malachi) are the LAST books of the OT – they happen 400 years before the NT and the birth of Christ.
Judah = 586 BC destroyed by Babylonia and Nebachadnezzar – but it was prophesied that they would be restored and return 70 years later (Jeremiah). This is the Second Exodus (smaller than that from Egypt originally). Only a remnant chose to return – not the full population.
- Return 1: Jerubabbel = 538 BC – rebuild the temple
- Return 2: Ezra = 457 BC – restore worship, spiritual revival
- Return 3: Nehemiah = 444 BC – rebuild the city walls (Jerusalem)
Before the destruction in 586 BC, there were 3 deportations:
- Deport 1: 606 BC
- Deport 2: 597 BC
- Deport 3: 586 BC – and destruction of Jerusalem – if you think about this, 586-538 = 48 years only – so why did Jeremiah prophesy 70 years? Because it’s actually counting from the FIRST deportation in 606 BC.
Final destruction = 586 BC
- First return = 538 BC Jerubabbel – rebuild the temple
- Second return = 457 BC Ezra – restore worship (these two are told in the book of Ezra)
- Third return = 444 BC Nehemiah – rebuild the walls (will study today in Nehemiah)
- From 606 BC – 538 BC = 70 years of Babylonian captivity
- From 606 BC – 586 BC = overlapping years of Exile
Ezra and Nehemiah were actually closely associated with each other – they worked together.
- Ezra was a priest, Nehemiah was a governor.
- Ezra led spiritually, Nehemiah led politically.
So, who is Nehemiah?
It means “comfort from God” – peace of heart of Yahweh. He was born in Babylonia during the 70 years of captivity. He is from the Babylonian Captive Generation. He was a cupbearer to the king (he tasted the wine and food before the king ate it to prevent the king from being poisoned). This meant he was in a VERY HIGH position – absolutely trusted by the king. Yet, he chose to give up his life of luxury to bear the hardships with his people.
Nehemiah has 13 chapters and 2 parts.
Chp 1-7 = Mission: Reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s great concern for his people leads him to take BOLD action.
The walls were destroyed in 586 BC, but they had almost been rebuild again in 566 BC when Artaxerxes took the throne. Yet, the opposition went and destroyed the walls a second time. So, he (1) Prayed and then (2) went to the king to get permission and provision from the king to return and rebuild.
This third return was 13 years after the 2nd return and 94 years after the first return.
- He returned and examined the walls.
- He challenged the people to rise up and build.
- Work began immediately with the people and their surrounding areas
- Opposition arose – mockery and conspiracy
- Nehemiah overcame this by setting half the people on military watch and half on construction – the builders carried swords all the time
- Yet, internal strife and opposition arose as well. Rich became richer, poor became poorer. The rich oppressed the poor by forcing them to mortgage their property and selling their children into slavery.
Nehemiah = 1) PRAY, 2) TAKE ACTION
He leads by example. He sacrificed his own salary as (appointed) governor in Jerusalem.
Finally, this rebuilding of the walls was finished in an incredible 52 days!
Survey of the chapters:
- In the 20th year of the king, Nehemiah heard the news from his brother. He wept, fasted, and prayed (v. 4-11). How to pray? 1) Worship “You are great and awesome”; 2) Confess sins (and those of his people); 3) Prayer for supplication (ASK for something now – not at the beginning)
- Artaxerxes said, “Why are you so sad?” He explained. The king said, “What do you want?” He did not say it exactly, but 1) PRAYED and 2) TOOK ACTION – got permission from the king to go – and examined the walls
- A list of workers on the wall
- Opposition arose from Sanbalid – so, Nehemiah posted men day and night – half to work, half to watch. “Do not be afraid! Remember God!”
- Internal opposition: he helped the poor (big gap between rich and poor). He scolded the nobles and officials and told them to stop charging interest. He also did not take his own salary.
- Despite the external opposition, the wall was completed in 52 days. Even the enemies recognized that this job was done with the help of God. 6:16 “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.”
- The list of exiles who returned to Jerusalem
— Mission: Rebuild the walls
Part 2: Chp 8-13
— Mission: Spiritual revival
The reconstruction of the walls is immediately followed by consecration of the people – Ezra led the reforms which he began 13 years earlier. He stood on a special wooden podium and gave the people a marathon reading of the Word of God – from AM to late PM – translating the word from Hebrew to Aramaic (many of them could not even understand their own mother tongue due to captivity). They responded immediately and loudly – with confession, repentance, obedience, and rejoicing.
He then led the people in a great prayer for all the people and they magnified God’s attributes of holiness, mercy, and love. The Covenant was renewed as the people committed themselves to remove themselves from all ungodliness.
After this, they determined who would stay in Jerusalem and who would return to their other homelands. 1/10 stayed in Jerusalem and the others returned to the other portions of the country.
But, the revival was short-lived.
Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes after rebuilding the walls. Then he got permission to go back a second time, and he cleansed the temple and required the people to NOT marry pagan women.
Survey of the chapters:
- All the people (v. 6 “Amen, amen”) gathered together in the square to listen to Ezra read the Word of God from AM to noon without stop. They responded with hands in the air and said, “Amen, amen” and bowed down to worship with their faces to the ground. 8:5 “Ezra opened the book and all the people could see him because he was standing above them… Ezra praised God and all the people lifted their hands and all the people cried out ‘Amen, amen’ and bowed down with their faces to the floor.”
- Continually, all the people gathered and fasted and wore sackcloth to repent and put dust on their heads to confess their sins. They remembered their history retrospectively.
- They made an agreement with a seal – at least three things they promised:
- Not to marry pagans;
- Keep the Sabbath holy;
- Respect the temple by giving regular offerings and tithes.
- The list of new residents of Jerusalem from the descendants of Judah, Benjamin, priest, and gatekeepers.
- The list of gatekeepers who returned with Jerubabbel long ago, and there was a dedication of the wall with great thanksgiving.
- Nehemiah’s final reforms. He returned to the king in the 32nd year of the king, but was given permission to return later and gave them more reforms again.
Nehemiah is one of the BEST examples of Christian, servant, leadership.
Nehemiah is a type of Christ. He portrays Christ in his ministry of restoration – EVERYTHING is restored.
- People were reformed
ALL was restored and reformed by Nehemiah – likewise, ALL can be restored in Christ (our joy, peace, life, etc).
Nehemiah illuminates Christ by giving up his HIGH position (he could have enjoyed his close, regular, personal meeting with the king) – but he abandoned his right to be identified with the troubles of his people.
We can learn 2 things:
1) From his HIGH position to his LOW position (Nehemiah), Christ likewise left the riches of heaven to take on the poverty of humanity – he took a human body which was subject to weakness, limitation, sickness, temptation. He willingly chose not to use his right of deity (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence) to make his life easier. He was often tired, lonely, thirsty. He grew in wisdom, knowledge and understanding. He was born in a stable – with no room and he also had nowhere to lay his head when preaching and teaching abroad
- 2 Cor 8:9 – “Though he was rich, he chose to become poor so that we might become rich.”
- Phil 2 “Though being the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. He humbled himself, becoming obedient up to death, even death on a cross. Your attitude should be like that of Christ.”
2) Nehemiah’s priority #1 was always PRAYER.
- Chp 1: He heard sad news about Jerusalem: PRAY
- Chp 2: The king asked what he wanted: PRAY
- Chp 4: Confronted with opposition: PRAY
- Chp 13: 4 Prayers – Remember me for this, remember them, Oh, God.
- 13:14 “Remember me for this, Oh my God.”
- 13: 22 “Remember me for this also, Oh my God.”
- “Remember them for they refused the covenant of the priesthood.”
- Last verse: “Remember me with favor, Oh my God.”
What is the last sentence? Let’s read.
“Remember me with favor, my God.” (favor = grace – without grace we can do nothing – let us pray like this as well)
Like this, as he lived a prayerful life, we also must have prayerful dependence on God.
Jesus also lived a life of prayerful dependence on God. Though he WAS God, he spent long seasons in prayer – sometimes the WHOLE NIGHT in prayer, sometimes early in the morning, always before big tasks – before entering Galilee, before choosing the 12, before the cross – after great success he prayed – after feeding the 5,000. Finally, he finished his earthly ministry on the cross with prayer. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”
Still now, Jesus is praying for us.
- Romans 8:34 “Who is it that condemns? Jesus Christ who died for us was raised to life for us, and is praying for us.”
- Hebrews 5 “During his days on earth, Jesus offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to intercede for us.”
- Hebrews 7:25 “Jesus Christ is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for us.”
Our application in our daily Christian life = the basic and fundamental message given to us = PRAY. This is communication with God.
- Before talking to man, talk to God.
- Kneel before God and you can stand up before man.
- Be humble before God and you can be bold before man.
- Cry to God and smile to man.
- Be blessed by God to be a blessing to man.