Published February 12, 2009
Related Sunday School Lesson, Bible Studies for Life, Mar 1
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (present-day Iraq), attacked Judah and carried off most of the inhabitants in 586 BC. Jerusalem was burned and the walls and gates destroyed. Some exiles escaped and tried to rebuild their city on several occasions. However, after failing they were very distraught.
Nehemiah (The LORD comforts) was willing to step up to the plate and through the leadership of God rebuild the walls and gates. Nehemiah is an example of a godly man whom todayís church leaders may learn basic leadership principles.
According to Jewish tradition, Ezra and Nehemiah was originally a single book in the Talmud (Hebrew Bible). It was believed that Ezra, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, composed the writing from historical sources, and his and Nehemiahís personal memoirs. Church history tradition reveals that Origen (184-254) was the first to separate the two books during the third century and was reinforced by Jerome (345-419/20) during his translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible during the fourth century.
The background of Nehemiahís prayer - Neh. 1:1-4
On the month of Chislev (November/December), during the twentieth year (reign of Artaxerxes, 445 BC) while Nehemiah was residing in the palace (citadel) in Shushan (Susa; location of modern-day Iran, also where the story of Esther took place), Nehemiahís brother Hanani (later governor of Jerusalem, Ezra 7:1) arrived from Judah. Nehemiah was concerned for the Jews (what the Israelites from Judah were called after the captivity) who had escaped from captivity and were now residing in Jerusalem (vs. 1-2).
Hanani declared there was a remnant of Jews left in great affliction. This remnant probably was some Jews whose forefathers were left in Jerusalem, many who either escaped or were children of those who had escaped previously. Many were there who followed Ezra the scribe from Babylon in the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:1; 458 BC). They were afflicted because the walls were broken down and the gates burned (3).
Without walls and gates the people would have no defense against their enemy. This may be a reference to Ezra 4:6-12, when Rehum and Shimshai destroyed what was previously rebuilt.
Nehemiahís heart was so moved when he heard the report that he wept, mourned, fasted (signs of humility), and prayed. He loved his people and he knew something had to be executed before restoration could be accomplished.
Through his fasting and praying Nehemiah was focused on his determination to seek Godís guidance. Nehemiah, as a leader, was a man of prayer, as you count nine prayers in this book.
The body of Nehemiahís prayer - Neh. 1:5-11
Nehemiahís prayer provides Christian examples of the awareness needed to be a successful leader. He was aware that he could unburden his heart to God through his frequent praying. He was aware that no one but God could accomplish what was needful for his people.
Nehemiah begins his prayer with adoration for God and an awareness that He keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him and keep His commandments (v. 5). Nehemiah was aware that a person or people group had to come clean before God if they expected to experience His mercy, therefore, he admitted unto God, while representing his people, their sin of corruption and disobedience against Him (v. 6-7).
Nehemiah approached God empty-handed, with nothing deserving the Lordís favor or attention. He was aware of the Mosaic covenant (Deut. 28:20; 29:24-25), which was conditional: The Lord would keep His promises if Israel obeyed His command. Israel failed to obey, resulting in captivity and exile.
Even todayís true believers will experience chastisement when they stray from His Word (Heb. 12:3-11). According to this same Scripture it is a sign that a person is not saved if he or she continues to live outside Godís will and never experiences chastisement.
Because of his awareness of Godís word Nehemiah reminds God of His promise of restoration of a remnant after the exile (Deut. 30:1-5) if they turn away from their iniquity and turn back to Him (vs. 8-9). He was aware that God would gather His people back on the basis of the covenant made by Abraham (Deut. 4:25-31).
Nehemiah was aware that God had fulfilled much of His Word (Deut. 30:1-10) with the partial restoration during the last thirteen years. However, his people still needed to return to God.
Nehemiah challenges us to base our prayers upon an understanding of Godís purpose and His will found in His word. He also reminds us that we may rekindle our relationship with God if we return to Him in a spirit of humility and repentance (also 2 Chr. 7:14). Nehemiah was aware of the history of his people as he reminds God that they are the same people He redeemed from Egypt many generations prior (v. 10).
Nehemiah ends his prayer by asking God to hear the servants who desire to ďfearĒ His name (v. 11). To fear God is to obey Him (Prov. 3:7), trust Him (Ps. 34:11, 22), know Him (Prov. 9:10), and to pay Him reverence.
After praying Nehemiah was aware God would use him to accomplish His work in restoring his people. Being the kingís cup bearer (v. 11) would place him in a position, which no other Jew would have, to speak to the king about this matter.
As a leader he had an awareness of his peopleís past and present, Godís Word, Godís will, and his own abilities to accomplish the task for his people.
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