Summary: We see the hearts of Godly men - Ezra and now Nehemiah - mourning with the people for their sin and praying for the restoration of Jerusalem and the glory of God.
Let me paint the BIG PICTURE again:
• First group of returnees came back with Zerubbabel in 538BC (50K).
• After much opposition from the Samaritan locals in the land, they managed to rebuild the Temple.
After a gap of 57 years, Ezra came back with 2nd group (5K).
• Found out that the people had intermarried with pagan neighbours and were practicing idolatry.
• Ezra led them to repentance and they made right what was wrong.
12 years later Nehemiah returned with a 3rd group (42K).
• He guided the people in rebuilding the city’s walls and helped them re-order their lives aright.
• That’s what we will be looking at over the next 6 mth through the Book of Nehemiah.
We are going to read how it all started in Neh 1:1-11.
Nehemiah was at the citadel of Susa when he heard the news of the situation in Jerusalem. Citadel of Susa was the winter palace of the Persian Kings.
• Excavations revealed that this was a huge palace situated on a mountain top overlooking the river. It was a poise and grand place.
• Why was Nehemiah here? He was the cupbearer to the King. Chapter 2 tells us that’s King Artaxerxes.
• In ancient times, that was a very high-ranking position, similar to chief of staff in an army.
As the cupbearer, he tastes and tests wine before the King drinks it.
• For a Jew to be chosen for such a position tells a lot about Nehemiah. He must be attested to be trustworthy, loyal, dependable, and intelligent.
• He is a man the King trusts with his life. And that probably explains why the King was able to trust him and grant him leave to go back to Jerusalem (in Neh 2).
We do not have much information about Nehemiah’s background except the names of his father and a brother mentioned here.
• But from his prayer, we could see that Nehemiah clearly knows his identity.
• He belongs to the people of Israel. He knows the covenant God made with them, he knows about the commands, decrees and laws given through Moses.
• He knows his God - the “God of heaven, the great and awesome God” and that they are all “His servants”, the people of Israel.
The NEWS of Jerusalem broke him. The wall had remained broken down and the gates were burnt with fire.
• This could be a reference to the ruins caused by the Babylonian attack back in 586BC (some 140 years ago) but this not be a surprise toe Nehemiah.
• His reactions could be a reference to a more recent incident in Ezra 4:6-23.
• Remember Ezra placed an insert in Ezra 4 to tell us that they had attempted at rebuilding the wall but faced fierce oppositions from the local Samaritans and Rehum the commanding officer.
• They would pose a threat to the Persian King and King Artaxerxes reacted nervously and issued a stop work order. 4:23 says they were compelled by force to stop.
Nehemiah’s reaction to this bad news was passionate and telling.
• 1:4 “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
• His response was very similar to Ezra’s in Ezra 9 when Ezra first heard that the people had intermarried with pagan foreigners and indulging in pagan practices.
Both mourned and cried, and unburdened their griefs to God in confession of sin.
• We see the HEARTS of Godly men, standing in the gap for the people, praying intercessory prayers on BEHALF of the people and WITH the people.
• WE sinned, they said. We sinned as the people of God. Neh 1:6-7 “I confess the sins WE Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. 7 WE have acted very wickedly toward you. WE have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.”
This was the first thing Ezra and Nehemiah did in the crisis, because it was a crisis of faith. What they were looking at are the consequences of sin, the symptoms of a disease.
You can clearly sense Nehemiah’s concerns in this prayer.
• It wasn’t about physical state of Jerusalem, although its wall was broken down and the gates burnt, and they were defenceless against external enemies.
• His concern wasn’t just humanitarian, although the people faced great trouble and disgrace living in a wall-less city, unprotected.
Nehemiah’s concern was something BIGGER. It’s SPIRITUAL. They had shamed the Name of God as the people of God!
• Jerusalem was to be the place God has chosen as a dwelling for His Name (1:9).
• The people living in this place “are Your servants and Your people, whom You redeemed by Your great strength and Your mighty hand.” (1:10)