Nehemiah 1 – 2 part 2


Nehemiah 1:1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel,  2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.  3 And they said to me, "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."  4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.


This book claims that its author is Nehemiah and there is no reason for us to think otherwise. We learn that his father is Hachaliah, but this all that we know because we do not know for sure which tribe Nehemiah was from. The month of Chislev corresponds to our November – December and is the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes.


Nehemiah is at Shushan the citadel, which was where the Persians kings stayed at during the winter. This is the same place where Esther married the king and where Daniel saw a vision of a ram with two horns (Dan. 8:2ff).


Hanani, who may have been Nehemiah’s brother, came with some men from Judah. Nehemiah was concerned about his fellow Jews and the fate of Jerusalem, so he asked about them. I am sure he wanted to hear good news, instead he found out that the Jews were greatly troubled and were being shamed by their enemies and the walls of around Jerusalem were still lying in ruins and the gates were burned with fire.


As Nehemiah began to picture the condition of his people in his mind and the condition of Jerusalem it overwhelmed him and he sat down and he cried. As the tears rolled down his face he mourned for days. This caused him to fast and to pray to God for his people. This shows us how much Nehemiah cared for his people and for the condition of Jerusalem. He didn’t have the selfish attitude that many have today. If he had, he would have said something like, “I am glad that’s not happening to me. To bad for them.”


When I think about the concern that Nehemiah had for his people it reminds me of how Jesus wept over the spiritual condition of Jerusalem and how Paul was moved to tears over his concern for the churches. We need to have this same type of concern for brothers and sister in Christ. It should cause us to mourn and pray when we hear about our brethren being oppressed or when we hear about a church that has been broken down spiritually.


The rest of the chapter records Nehemiah’s prayer.


Nehemiah 1:5 And I said: "I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments,  6 "please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father's house and I have sinned.  7 "We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.  8 "Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations;  9 'but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.'  10 "Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.  11 "O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man." For I was the king's cupbearer.


This is a beautiful prayer and it shows how much Nehemiah believed in the power of prayer. In verse 5 – 7 Nehemiah proclaims God as being awesome and great. He understood that God keeps His covenant and grants mercy to those who love him and keep His commandments. This same principle is taught in the New Testament as well that is why John tells us, “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7).


Next, Nehemiah pleads for God to listen to his prayer and to open his eyes to what he has to say and he confesses that the children of Israel and his family have failed to keep the commandments of God and so they were all sinners. Nehemiah had confidence in God’s mercy and he knew that if he confessed his sins and he was willing to turn back to God that God would help him and the children of Israel.


The reason he had this confidence was because he believed in the Word of God, and this can be seen when he reminds God about what He said He would do when His people returned to Him and keep His Word in verses 8-9. Just as Nehemiah had stated, God promised that if His people turned their back on Him by following after idols and false God’s then He would scatter them and they would deserve it (Lev. 26:33). However, because of God great love and mercy, He is willing to bring His people back if they repent and follow His commands once again, which can be seen in Deut. 30:1-8.


In verse 10 – 11 he recognizes that it was by God’s power and His mighty hand that the children of Israel had been redeemed and allowed to return from their captivity and again he pleads for God to hear His prayer as he desires to fear His name. This shows Nehemiah’s desire to put the sin out his life and to serve God with all his might. He already knew that he was going to go before the King and ask him if he could go to Jerusalem and help them rebuild and he wants God to make this turn out for the good.


We need to realize that this would not have been an easy decision for him because this king could easily be offended by his request and put him to death or put him in prison. He was going to trust that God would answer his prayer.


A great lesson that we can learn from this is that God loves us and even when we find ourselves in a deep pit of sin, if we choose to confess our sin before God and we are willing to repent and start keeping God’s commandments once again, God will hear our prayer and He reach out with His mighty hand and help us out of that dark pit of sin by forgiving us our sins.


When we pray, we should have confidence that God will make things work out for the best as Paul said,


Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.


Nehemiah 2:1 And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.  2 Therefore the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart." So I became dreadfully afraid,  3 and said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?"  4 Then the king said to me, "What do you request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven.  5 And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it."  6 Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), "How long will your journey be? And when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. 7 Furthermore I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah,  8 "and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy." And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.


Around four months has passed since Nehemiah has received the news about the Jews and it around our March or April. Nehemiah had managed to keep a cheerful face while he was before the king during this time, but he could no longer keep his true feelings covered up. So, as he came before the king to serve him his wine as had done many times in the past, but this time he had a sad expression on his face.


The king took notice because this was the first time he had ever seen Nehemiah looking sad and asked him what was going. At this moment fear came over Nehemiah because a servant was not supposed to show sadness before the king and he knew that it could be the end of his life.


Nehemiah dug down deep and overcame his fear and let the king know why he was so sad. First, he let the king know that he respected him as said “May the king live forever.” Then he proceeded to tell him how his forefathers’ city was in ruins. The words that came out of the kings mouth would let Nehemiah know if the king was pleased or displeased with what he just told him. In can just imagine that Nehemiah’s heart was pounding hard in his chest as he waited for the King’s response.


Then King asked Nehemiah what his request was. This response must have brought great joy to Nehemiah and made him realize that God was answering his prayer and then we find Nehemiah praying to God again perhaps thanking Him or asking for courage to continue on. After his prayer he continues showing respect for the king as he makes his request known that he wants to go to Judah to help get his forefathers city rebuilt.


The king wants to know how long he would be gone and Nehemiah gave him a time. We are not told what that time was, but it took 3 to 4 months just travel to Jerusalem one way and then he had to have time to help rebuild. The king granted him his request and he became the new governor of Judah and Nehemiah gave God the credit for this happening. The set time he had given the king most likely changed because he ends up serving as the governor of Judah around 12 years.


Nehemiah also asked for a letter to pass through the land safely to Judah and for a letter to Asaph for building supplies for the city.


Nehemiah 2:9 Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.  10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.


Nehemiah had a full military escort and this did not make Sanballat or Tobiah happy because these men were opposed to the Jews and they did not want them to be successful, but now the king of Persia was on the Jews side and this would bring end to their ability to keep the Jews from rebuilding their city.


Nehemiah 2:11 So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.  12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode.  13 And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire.  14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King's Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.  15 So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.  16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work.


Here we can see Nehemiah’s wisdom at work. He had anticipated the resistance he would have received from Jews at Jerusalem, so he did not tell any of them what God had put into his heart do. So, he went out by night and began to survey the city with a few men. He wanted to see what had to be done and the best way to accomplish the task. At one point he had to get off his animal and walk because part of what he surveyed had to be done on foot.


Nehemiah 2:17 Then I said to them, "You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach."  18 And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken to me. So they said, "Let us rise up and build." Then they set their hands to this good work.


Now Nehemiah tells the people his plan. First he points out how they have been under great distress, which came from their enemies like the Samaritans. Since they had not been able to rebuild the city it became a daily reminder of their oppression. But Nehemiah calls for them end this oppression and show their enemies that they can rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore the burned down gates. Nehemiah knew that if the Jews could finish the city that it would change their outlook on life.


He lets them know how God had made this moment possible and told them of the support they have from the king. All these people needed to be refocused on rebuilding the city was a strong and encouraging leader like Nehemiah. In my mind, I can see these Jews listening to Nehemiah very closely and I can see the expression on their face changing from a defeated helpless look to a look of hope and strength. Then I can imagine them all shouting in unity over and over again, Let us rise and build! Our text says they set their hands to do this good work.


From this we can see exactly what is needed for the Lord’s church to be successful. First, we have to have strong leadership like Nehemiah was. We must learn to have faith in God that he will be there to help us. We must have an active prayer life like Nehemiah had. We must trust in the Word of God and believe what it says again as Nehemiah did. Then we must determine in our minds that we are going to serve God and work hard for Him. We must be willing to rise and build together in unity because little can be done by a few. Finally we must set our hands to do this good work.


Nehemiah 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, "What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?"  20 So I answered them, and said to them, "The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem."


Sanballat according external sources was the governor of Samaria and the Bible says that Tobiah was an Ammonite official and Geshem was Arab. This shows how these different enemies were working together to overcome the Jews. As one of their tactics, they laughed and scorned the Jews at their attempt to start rebuilding the city again and they apparently did not realize that the king was on the Jews side even though Nehemiah had been escorted by his military force. Nehemiah didn’t correct him on this, but simply said that the God of heaven himself will prosper us. After all, it was God that made all this possible in the first place.


Nehemiah’s words would have stung extra hard to Sanballat since he was the governor of the Samaritans because some them were part Jew, but just as Zeurbbabel would not allow the Samaritans to rebuild the temple, Nehemiah let them know that they did have any right or heritage in Jerusalem.


We need to have this same confidence in God today and when people try to ridicule us for what we believe or discourage us with mean words, we need remind ourselves that God will make us prosper. He will be our rock and refuge. As Jesus said,


Matthew 10:28 "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.   


And as Paul said, Romans 8:31  If God is for us, who can be against us?   


When we read OT books like Nehemiah it should encourage us and build us up knowing that God is always there ready to help and strengthen us in our time of need.