Summary: Nehemiah's contemporary, Ezra, had taken some of the exiles back to their homeland and rebuilt the temple. But the walls had been broken down and the gates had been burned. This is where Nehemiah comes in. Let's see how prayer factors into this endeavor.
In 586 b.c. Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. He captured the Jews and exiled them to Babylon. Nehemiah’s time is 141 years later in 445 b.c., when the Persians ruled the land. Nehemiah's contemporary, Ezra, had taken some of the exiles back to their homeland and rebuilt the temple and settled there. But the walls had been broken down and the gates had been burned. How would this problem be resolved? This is where Nehemiah comes in. Let's see how prayer factors into this.
1) Nehemiah's prayer.
Neh. 1:1-11, "The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 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. 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.”
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 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, 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. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 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.’
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 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."
Much like what we saw Daniel do in last week's sermon, when Nehemiah learns of his people's situation and what that could potentially mean he was distressed. He wept over the circumstances invading his beloved people and the great city of Jerusalem. What was his response? He fasted and prayed.
In fasting we go without food or something else significant in our lives to show God how important something is to us and also to show how important God is to us as we urgently call upon him to act favorably toward our cause.
There are some similarities between how Nehemiah starts out his prayer with how Daniel started his prayer in Daniel 9. Both start out by acknowledging that God is great and awesome and that he keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands (5).
So both Nehemiah and Daniel understood the importance of love and obedience. In the scriptures you'll often see this combination. Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love me you will obey my commands." Love for God means obedience to God. So one of the ways we can determine the level of our love for God is how well we are doing at obeying his commands.
Notice in vs. 6 that Nehemiah states that he has been praying day and night on behalf of his people. Not that he prayed 24/7 but that he frequently, whether night or day, went into prayer mode regarding this dire situation. He wasn't obsessing about it but this shows how committed he was to this cause. Along with fasting his frequent prayers declared the seriousness by which he approached this situation.
This can be true for us too. Sometimes when there's a serious situation in our lives we can't seem to get our minds off it. Perhaps it's a timely or urgent matter so we find ourselves frequently in prayer about it. That doesn't mean we're worried about it but that we're very serious about God doing something in it.
Next we see another similarity between Nehemiah's and Daniel's prayer-confession. Nehemiah does the same thing Daniel did-acknowledge his and his people's sin (6b-7). Nehemiah humbly admits that it's his and Israel's fault since they went outside of the covenant commands and the end result was being taken captive to Babylon.