PASSAGE TO READ: Nehemiah 1:1-11 & 2:1-8
A Selected portion:
1:3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. 1:4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, 1:5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: 1:6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my fathers house have sinned. … 1:11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. … 2:4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. … 2:8 … And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of the rebuilding of the physical protective walls of Jerusalem and of the moral protective walls of the Hebrew people against all opposition, both subtle and overt. Nehemiah is displayed as a man in continuous communion with and acknowledged dependence upon the Lord. His repeated interjections of prayer gives this book the appearance of a selection of entries in his own personal diary. The walls of Jerusalem stood for five centuries as a monument to this mans prayers and the work which he directed.
(1:1-4) Nehemiah may have supposed that Jerusalem was flourishing under Ezra after the rebuilding of the temple, for he appears to have been shocked to learn about their affliction and reproach and disrepair, and that the city and temple were without protection.
(1:5-11) Nehemiahs prayer resembles the prayer of Daniel 9:4-19. He acknowledges his own sins and his peoples sins; he argues the Lords promise of restoration if the people returned to the Lord, which it appears many of them had done; he praises the Lord for His mighty deliverances of Israel in the past; and he pleas for the Lords mercies upon him personally, for Nehemiah was about to request the pagan kings indulgence in fortifying Jerusalem.
(2:1-8) Though a cupbearer may go without notice, yet he holds a position of confidence and influence. Nehemiahs opportunity finally comes, and though Nehemiah is visibly disturbed, yet he does not depend upon himself, but prays to God, he maintains his composure, and he courageously pursues the Lords cause, then he acknowledges the Lords good hand in his success.
If we have heard positive things, should we assume all things are well, or should we do as Nehemiah, and make inquiries to determine the true condition of affairs? May it please the Lord to awaken us to our duties of vigilance.
Nehemiah prayed regularly, day and night, for Gods people. Is there anything which prevents us from doing the same? Do we grieve over the disrepair of the affairs of the Lords people out of a concern for the Lords honor? May it please the Lord to move us to continual prayer for His cause.
Nehemiah confessed how the Hebrew people had corrupted the Lords commandments and His ways. What sins do we participate in which may invite Gods chastisements upon His people? Can we not confess our own sins and the sins of others, and ask the Lord to forgive us and cleanse us? May it please the Lord to sanctify His people.
Should we wait for others to repent and amend their ways before we follow their example, or should we set aside the material or social costs and make ourselves an example for others? May it please the Lord to awaken us to our duties of individual and mutual responsibility, and to confess our faults and to forsake them.
Nehemiah was willing, even eager, to spend his riches and risk the advantages of his high position, and to expose himself to much trouble, self-denial, and peril, in order to protect the Lords people. What prevents us from following Nehemiahs example and taking the necessary steps in order to protect the Lords people today? May it please the Lord to move us to protect His cause upon earth.
All of us are called to pray, and some of us are also placed in a position to act. Nehemiah was given discernment to see what was needed to be done, and he saw his position to do it. Will we be bold to act at a critical time in order to protect the Lords people? May it please the Lord to grant us discernment and discretion that we neither squander nor abuse the opportunities which He appoints for us.
The character of Nehemiah was put on trial. The Lord tests us in order to purify and strengthen us. Will we pass the test and move forward in His cause, or will we limit our own usefulness for the Lord? May in please the Lord to grant us strength to stand for the cause and spirit to fight for the right.
Nehemiah did not place his confidence in himself, but gave the credit to the Lord Whom he served. Do we give the Lord the credit for His mercies and graces, his providences and deliverances? May it please the Lord to move us to acknowledge the good hand of the Lord.
PASSAGE TO READ: Nehemiah 2:9-20
A Selected portion:
… 2:10 When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel. … 2:12 … neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem … 2:13 And I went out by night … and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. … 2:16 And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews…. 2:17 Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. 2:18 Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the kings words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work. 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king? 2:20 Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.
(2:9-11) Nehemiah reported to the governors, among whom were Sanballat from Horonaim (a Moabite city, Isaiah 15:5) and Tobiah the Ammonite. When Sanballat and Tobiah read the letters which Nehemiah brought, authorizing him to pursue the interests of the Israelites, they targeted him as a threat to the interests of the Moabites and Ammonites and to their own dominating power. Yet the Jews apparently took no immediate notice of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, discerning his enemies, waited three days to determine his course before beginning to move.
(2:12-15) Nehemiah detected the character of Sanballat and Tobiah and anticipated that they would throw out discouragements and obstructions to his purpose. In order to baffle these enemies and thereby to delay their opposition as long as possible and to give his mission viability, Nehemiah avoided drawing attention to his initial actions and kept his ultimate purpose between himself and God, thereby buying time for necessary preparations to set things in motion. Nehemiah made a full and honest assessment of the condition of Jerusalems protection its walls and gates. Some parts would need to be repaired, others would need to be wholly removed before rebuilding could begin, all the gates would need to be rebuilt, and the heaps of rubbish, which were so great that Nehemiah could not pass, must be removed.
(2:16-18) Nehemiah followed the wise policy of not going to authorities until after the facts were established, some plan for action was determined, and the character, attitudes, and abilities of the authorities had been appraised. To do otherwise would have invited preemptive political manipulations. Nehemiah collected those who would be involved in his plan, laid out to them the full picture of how Jerusalem was exposed to its enemies, then declared to them the only responsible course open to them to rebuild the walls of defense. Nehemiah encouraged them with his report on how the providential hand of God had favored him, then displayed his commission from Artaxerxes to rebuild the wall, which moved the representatives of the people to embrace the plan with enthusiasm and to begin to strengthen their hands for good. Apparently he did not at first show them the kings commission, perhaps anticipating that such knowledge would provoke the opposition to some desperate action.
(2:19-20) When Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem heard the news that the Israelites were preparing to defend themselves, they scoffed at the apparent impudence of the Israelites in not relying upon their benevolent protection, even to the point of suggesting that this looked like rebellion against the authority of the king. Instead, Nehemiah boldly responded that Israel relied upon the authority of the God of heaven Who would protect and prosper His servants, and that the interests of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Arabians did not necessarily serve the best interests of Jerusalem, nor had they any authority and calling to interfere with Jerusalem, nor did their history support any expectation that they would respect Jerusalems best interests, so it was best for them to mind their own affairs…, and not trouble themselves about [Israels affairs] (Gills Commentary).
The Lords people are often much slower than their enemies at recognizing their own true and best interests and at recognizing threats to those interests. The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8; cf. Philippians 2:21; 3:18,19; Romans 6:18). We must be wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil (Romans 16:19; cf. Matthew 10:16; First Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 5:15-17; Colossians 1:9; 4:5). May the Lord open the eyes of His people to recognize their true and best interests, and may He move them to uncover threats to those interests.
Some err on the side of depending upon hearsay and speculation than upon facts, while others err on the side of relying more upon good intentions than upon ample data. There is no more reliable source of information than a first-hand inspection. If we make judgements before we actually and honestly search out and verify the facts, then we leave ourselves open to be guided by the misinformed opinions, mistaken notions, or misled intentions of others. Work well done must first be well considered. May it please the Lord to grant His people an honest and diligent spirit to pursue a real and thorough appraisal of how things are.
Before a defensive wall can be rebuilt, an honest and thorough assessment must be made of its condition. Some parts may serve as they stand, some parts may need repair, and some parts may require replacement. May it please the Lord to grant us the honest candor to assess the true condition of our affairs in order to construct a truly effective defense.
One man may lead by asserting his authority and requiring the personal loyalty of his followers while he actually pursues his own interests with no accountability. Another man may lead by pursuing a course which invites and deserves the loyalty of others whose interests he truly and responsibly represents. The first is a potentate. The second is a patriot. May it please the Lord to grant His people the discernment to follow those who truly and responsibly represent their interests.
The notables of Jerusalem knew that the walls must be rebuilt, but none undertook the work. Why? Willing hands will move to support great and noble tasks when enough persons are awakened to the need and a truly representative leadership is allowed to emerge and initiate the movement and draw its force together. May the Lord keep His people from being divided among various causes and agendas, but awaken them to their true and best interests under God so as to generate a patriotic leadership which will pursue those interests.
Those who have other than the best interests of Gods people at heart will urge Gods people to concede some of their liberty and to bring themselves under alien authority for the sake of some security. If we are moved away from our principles, our compromises will be our losses. May the Lord move us to stand firmly upon Him and the principles of His Word.