Nehemiah 1: 1 – 11 NLT
“These are the memoirs of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah.
Nehemiah’s Concern for Jerusalem
In late autumn, in the month of Kislev (likely November or December), in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa.
(Hebrew In the month of Kislev of the twentieth year. A number of dates in the book of Nehemiah can be cross-checked with dates in surviving Persian records and related accurately to our modern calendar. This month of the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar occurred within the months of November and December 446 B.c. The twentieth year probably refers to the reign of King Artaxerxes I)
2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. 5 Then I said,
“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, 6 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! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
8 “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 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 honoured.’
10 “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honouring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favourable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”
In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.”
Before we begin looking at this chapter, I want to take a look at an idea that may be floating in the back of your head. You may be thinking Nehemiah is about a person with great influence who is going to take on the leadership role in fixing the problem in Jerusalem. I am not that kind of important person. I am just an ordinary person who is willing to help, but anyone could do what I am able to do. It’s not that big a deal.
You may be a leader, or you may be just an ordinary volunteer, but … no matter how important, or unimportant, you think you are – you are an ‘influencer’. You make an impact on the people in your family, the people you meet, the people you work with, your neighbours. And what we can learn from Nehemiah’s experience is how to be that person who influences those around him/her in a positive way.
One of the first things Nehemiah asked his brother and friends was how the people in Jerusalem were getting along. Then he asked how things in the city of Jerusalem were going. When he heard things were not going well, he was devastated. To be an effective, caring person, we need to be aware of the problems. Sometimes it’s actually easier to ignore problems. You hope someone else will fix the problem. You avoid things that might lead to an argument. You hope it will just go away. But to really know what is happening, we may have to ask questions. And the answer may not be what we want to hear.
So, did Nehemiah rush to King Artaxerxes? No. He prayed and thought about it for days – not just for an hour or so, but for days. As he did that, what thoughts seemed to have been impressed on him? That verse about praying for days really struck me. How much do I consistently pray about something?
First, he recognized that God was great and awesome. That is so important when we face situations that need to be fixed. So many times as I face a problem, I get all wound up in the fact that I’m not sure how to deal with it. I go over and over several solutions in my mind, and worry about making the right decision. I need to stop and comprehend that God cares about me, and that God is great and awesome. My life is in his hands, and as I pray, the Holy Spirit prays for me and helps me to understand what God wants. Yes, there are problems on this earth, but God is with us; we are his children. He cares. Stop and let that sink into your mind and heart when you become aware of a problem.
Next, Nehemiah confesses he hasn’t been following God’s commands given through Moses. Not Nehemiah, nor his family, nor the Israelites. He understands that God disciplines those who don’t follow God. It’s not that God abandons us. He doesn’t! Even Nehemiah, whose religious practices in the Old Testament made a big deal about obeying the laws, knew that God was willing to forgive. But Nehemiah realizes he must confess and make his relationship with God right again. When life hands us some big problems, sometimes we need to stop and figure out if we’ve been ignoring God, putting him aside in our busyness. Do we need to stop and confess? There are some verses in 1 John that talk about our need to confess when we have been putting God aside in our lives.
“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practising the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1: 5 – 9)
Finally, Nehemiah asks God to help him in the plan he has figured out. “Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” (v. 11) King Artaxerxes is not Jewish; he does not follow any Jewish practices. In fact, he may think they are a small people, easily conquered, and not really worth much concern. It’s OK if they are allowed to go back to their home country, but not worth much more attention than his permission. Nehemiah feels that God is calling him to go to Jerusalem, so he asks God to make the king agree to his requests.
That is something we also need to do. When we feel God calling us to step into some situation, to volunteer for some project – whatever we feel God is calling us to do – we need to ask God for help in making it happen. If the ‘door slams shut’, then we know it was not in God’s plan. But we can be reassured that God will change the most difficult situations if that is God’s plan.
As LSA reopens, and as our new pastor, Brian McGiffin, arrives, we have many new opportunities coming. Church will not likely be the same for a long time – if ever. How as Christ followers can we continue to spread God’s love and concern to our community and among church members? You may have a particular concern in your mind – something you think should be done, something you think would be effective, something that could be improved. Do what Nehemiah did. Pray and think about it for a while. Be willing to confess any sin to God. Pray and ask God to make people receptive to your suggestion. Know that God is great and awesome.
Our song for today is You Say by Lauren Daigle