Summary: As we study the book of Nehemiah, we’re going to learn things that will help us personally, we’ll discover principles that will guide us as we move into a time of building here at PBC, and we’ll end up understanding a critical part of Old Testament histor
Knowing How to Pray
I checked my notes and realized that it’s been a year since I gave you a Bible quiz. Here’s a new test for you. I’ll give you a hint all the questions have to do with the Old Testament.
Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
Samson. He brought the house down.
Who was the greatest male financier in the Bible?
Noah. He was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.
Who was the greatest female financier?
Pharaoh’s daughter. She went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little prophet.
Who is the greatest babysitter mentioned in the Bible?
David. He rocked Goliath to a very deep sleep.
Who is the shortest man in the Bible?
This morning we’re kicking off an 11-part series based on the book of Nehemiah that we’re calling, “A Time to Build.” Nehemiah is one of the great characters of the Old Testament, but perhaps not as well known as some others.
I’d like to give you an assignment at the beginning of the message today. I’d like you to read a tantalizing trilogy begin with the book of Esther, where you will discover how God first began to move in the midst of Israel’s captivity by raising up Esther, a young Jewish maiden, to the throne in Persia. It was her husband who is Artaxerxes in the opening chapters of Nehemiah. Then, read the book of Ezra, which in the Hebrew Bible is linked with the book of Nehemiah as the same book. When you’re finished with Ezra, then jump into Nehemiah and read it carefully. Because of the richness of this book, you will get more out of this series if you do some homework each week.
I’m excited about what God is going to teach us as we travel through this book. We’re going to learn things that will help us personally, we’ll discover principles that will guide us as we move into a time of building here at PBC, and we’ll end up understanding a critical part of Old Testament history.
A History Lesson
Let me briefly set the historical context. In Genesis 12, God called Abram to leave his country and to follow Him to another land. As Abraham obeyed, his descendents multiplied. The Israelites were later enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years until God called them out under the leadership of Moses.
Eventually they were allowed to enter the land God had promised them, Canaan. Hundreds of years passed during which the nation experienced struggles, faithlessness, and wrestling with God. The high point of Israel’s history came when David, a godly king, was called to sit on the throne. For forty years David expanded the nation in both breadth of influence and knowledge of God.
But things went downhill from there. After his son, King Solomon died; Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom had ten tribes and was referred to as Israel. The Southern Kingdom had two tribes and was referred to as Judah. Because of their disobedience, the Assyrians conquered Israel and the ten tribes were scattered and became known as the “ten lost tribes of Israel.”
Even though the southern tribes saw all this happen, they, too, continued to rebel against God. In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army captured the Jews, Jerusalem was destroyed, the walls were knocked down, and the temple was burned. The people were deported and were forced into slavery again. Their history had come full circle. The city was left in ruins. Here’s a picture of some of the devastation of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. I imagine Jerusalem looking a lot like this.
It must have been a traumatic thing for the Jews to see death and destruction and then be forced to leave their homeland and travel about 1,000 miles to a foreign country. Many of God’s prophets predicted that this captivity would not destroy the nation; it would eventually end and the people would be allowed to go back home. Daniel understood this truth when he was reading the book of Jeremiah.
God did not forsake His people. He allowed the Persians to take over the Babylonians and he moved King Cyrus to make a decree to let some of the Jews return. And in three stages, over about a hundred years, they were allowed to migrate back to Jerusalem, only to discover the city was still demolished and desolate. Living there was dangerous and difficult and sorrowful.
After the decree of Cyrus, 50,000 Israelites returned to Judah with Zerubbabel and began rebuilding the temple. Unfortunately, they got discouraged and quit. God then sent them the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage them to finish the project. Ezra was also sent to help restore their spiritual fervor.