I have been studying Nehemiah chapter one today as I prepare a lesson for our Connect Groups this coming Sunday morning. We are continuing to walk through the entire Bible over a three year period and we have arrived at the end of the Babylonian captivity. God is stirring among His people because, just like He had promised, they were going to return to Israel after seventy years of captivity. We know that God always does His part because He has bound His existence to His Holy Word. He must keep His Word or He would cease to exist. That does not negate our part in the process. God is seeking to use a leader to motivate the people back to a right relationship with Him. Nehemiah is the man. He has a heart for God and because of his heart for God, he has a heart for the people of God. Chapter one opens with Nehemiah living a very comfortable life. He lives in a very metropolitan area. In fact, the book opens with him living in the capitol of the world empire. He is in Susa, the capitol of Persia. Not only that but, he has a nice job, serving the king of the world’s most dominate empire at the time. But, Nehemiah is not satisfied with his comfy, cushy life.
2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1)
Nehemiah receives some bad news from a fellow Jewish man who has come from Jerusalem. Even though Nehemiah lives in Susa, his heart is with his people in the Promised Land. They are suffering and he feels their pain. This leads Nehemiah to seek the Lord and pray. What do you do when you receive bad news? Do you immediately think to run to the Lord or, do you do something else? Nehemiah is a man of God so he runs to the Lord for help in his distress.
I. Character of God
The prayer of Nehemiah opens up with him appealing to the character of God.
I said, “I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, (Nehemiah 1:5)
Nehemiah knows the names of God. Nehemiah refers to God as Jehovah. This is the Hebrew name that means “the Self-Existing One“. God has life in Himself and He does not need anything. In this relationship between Nehemiah and God, Nehemiah is the beneficiary. God does not need Nehemiah but, Nehemiah needs God. Nehemiah knows his place. Nehemiah also refers to God as Elohim. This is the Hebrew name that means “all powerful Creator“. Nehemiah acknowledges that he is the created being and that his Creator is God. God created Nehemiah so that Nehemiah could connect with God and benefit from the relationship. Nehemiah is the sole beneficiary in this relationship. Nehemiah also acknowledges the fact that God keeps His promises, always. How does Nehemiah know all of this about God? Where did he learn all of this information from?
8 “Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples;
9 but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ (Nehemiah 1)
Nehemiah is a student of the Word of God. He is familiar with the writings of Moses. These would be the first five books of the Bible. Nehemiah knows the promises of God that are found in the Word of God. Nehemiah believes those promises and prays according to those promises. Are you a student of the Word of God? Do you search the Scriptures because they are the Words of Life? The psalmist tells us to “meditate on the Law of the Lord day and night“. (Psalm 1:2) The Lord tells Joshua not to let “the words of the Law depart from him but, he is to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night“. (Joshua 1:8) Nehemiah is a man who is obedient to this charge. He is a student of the Word of God and that is why is able to stay connected with God even while surrounded by people who are far from God. Not only that, but, his relationship with God motivated him to leave his comfy life so that he could serve his people who were in dire need.
As Nehemiah reflects on the state of his nation and remembers the teachings of the Word of God, this leads him to acknowledge the root of the problem, sin.
6 let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.
7 “We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1)
Jerusalem is in shambles because of the sin of the people. Many of the Jews are in captivity and exile because of the sin of the people. Nehemiah confesses his own personal sin and the sin of his family. To confess means to agree with God. It means to stop blaming others for your current situation. It means to take ownership in the fact that you messed up. This is a far cry from what people do today. We are trained to blame others for our problems. It was our parents’ fault. It is society’s fault. It’s a certain race of people’s fault etc. Nehemiah confesses his own sin and then he confesses the sin of the people of his society. Societal sin begins with the individual. Confession must also begin with the individual. As Nehemiah takes the lead in being an example, others will begin to follow him. Change does not start with someone else. Change begins with me! Nehemiah understands this eternal truth. Does the state of our society bother you? What are you going to do about it? When are you going to stop making excuses? When are you going to stop blaming others? When are you going to own up to your part in the overall problem? I need to confess my sins. You need to confess your sins. If and when we do, God will move in a mighty way in our individual lives and in our nation. Nehemiah is the proof of this amazing truth.
III. Culmination: God’s Glory
Nehemiah ends his prayer with admitting the reason why he feels the way that he does.
“O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.” Now I was the cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:11)
Nehemiah is not doing this because he wants to make a name for himself. He is not trying to sell his brand. He is not trying to profit from this endeavor financially. He is actually going to sacrifice comfort and stability to lead his people back to the Promised Land. Nehemiah is motivated to act for the glory of God. Nehemiah wants the Name of God to be manifested to the watching world. He wants people to know who the God is whom he serves. The way he does this is by doing what the Lord requires. God wants Nehemiah to step out of his comfort and invest in the people. Nehemiah is ready to sacrifice all to teach the people how to follow God to the Promised Land. This echoes what Jesus teaches in the Gospel of John chapter fifteen.
“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:8)
Do you want to live for the glory of God? What does that look like in a practical sense? Jesus tells us that it means that we bear fruit. The fruit is teaching others to be disciples of Jesus Christ as we are disciples of Jesus Christ. This is exactly what God is calling Nehemiah to do and this is exactly what Nehemiah wants to do. This chapter in Nehemiah only has eleven verses in it but, look at how powerful this is! We have so much to glean from this. We need to run to the Lord. We need to be good students of the Word of God. We need to confess our sins. Finally, we need to teach others how to follow the Lord as we do. This is how we live for the glory of God! Are you ready to live for the glory of God?