The Book of Nehemiah, considered a part of Ezra, really, is a tremendous book for the ministry minded. It reminds me of the Pastorals, in a sense, because of the focal character. Leaving behind a life of luxury, the Protagonist becomes a leader, and a prayer warrior, a pastor.
I thought that maybe during this week, I would spend some time on Nehemiah, not so much exegetical, or expository, but devotional – my thoughts. (Please feel free to add to them)
The book is set during the return from Exile, an exile imposed upon the Jewish people by God, using Babylon, and then Persia, as a tool of oppression for the sins of Israel. It takes place in the 6th century B.C., when Xerxes 1 was king of the great Persian Empire. The great King, Cyrus, had already allowed the Jews to start returning under Ezra, but troubling news started to reach the ears of a Jew in a high place, a food taster to the king. He had to have had the absolute trust of the king, and further, to be a brave and willing man to daily drink a cup that could have been laced with poison.
The story, highlighted in my NLT, is told in the first person.
In the 2oth year, Nehemiah’s brother arrived at the king’s palace. Most likely, Hanani and his friends from Judah was seeking to gain an audience with the King though Nehemiah, but Nehemiah took it one step further. Instead of hearing the news and being political about it, Nehemiah dropped to his knees and began to weep for Jerusalem, for the fallen walls, and the burned gates. He mourned, fasted, and prayer to God (his first prayer)
“O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’
“The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”
Nehemiah felt the pain of the disgrace of Jerusalem himself. The broken walls were his fault, the gates swung open, his choice. It was because of his sin – even though he had been born in Babylon – and he claimed that right and asked God’s forgiveness for the sins that he has committed to bring Israel so low.
He reminded God of the divine promises. He was bold, even to God, but not arrogant. He reminded God of the promises but did not assume them answered. Honestly, once you are bold to God, what is a king?
From the start of his service, Nehemiah built his ministry upon God through prayer. He saw the need, a city far away, in abysmal conditions, filled with poverty, crime, and destruction; yet, this was his city, that he had never seen. He was in anguish over this city, and sought God’s help in getting to it, to help it, to protect it.
Nehemiah was not trying to be Moses, or Ezra for that matter, just trying to get home to work on the wall. He had no thoughts of leading Jerusalem, but of being a servant. And he began to pray.