Bible Survey on Nehemiah – Lesson 1

Nehemiah includes a building project but it not really about a building project.

I have been thru preaching series on Nehemiah many times.  When we were teaching children’s classes it came up in the lessons we were given every few years.  And I have heard preachers do a series on it maybe 3 times.  And always in connection with a building project.  They key in on how the people had a heart to work.  Every one of them that I sat thru mostly ignored the many other lessons that the book teaches and none of them ever finished the book.

Their purpose was to stir people up for a building project and so after the wall is finished in Nehemiah they stop the series.  The end of Nehemiah is one of those neglected parts of the Bible as far as pulpits are concerned.

So we are going to go thru the entire book and not look at it thru the lens of a building project.  I trust that we are all ready to learn from this book and yes be challenged some by the truths that it teaches.

Nehemiah is about God keeping His promises and about God working in the hearts of men.  It is more about building people than it is about building a wall. 

Neh 1:1  The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, 

Chisleu is the 9th month of the Jewish year.  In our calendar the last part of Nov and part of Dec.   That fits.  Shushan was the winter palace of the kings of Persia.

Nehemiah is in Shushan the palace.  He is a servant there, but even so luxury is all around you.  If you had to serve in the empire somewhere, Shushan was one of the nicest places to do it.

Neh 1:2  That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 

Neh 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. 

Nehemiah was concerned about his fellow Jews that went back to Jerusalem.  He did not know them personally.  But he still cared about them.

Just this week someone brought up the fact that Christianity is not about getting credit or getting noticed.  And that is correct.  It is about following and loving God and it is about others.  Giving and caring for others.  Jesus taught this.

Mar 12:29  And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 

Mar 12:30  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 

Mar 12:31  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. 

I think Nehemiah let his heart enter into the plight of his brethren in Jerusalem.

Have you ever done that?  Think about what someone else is going thru and think on what if that was me.  What would I want someone else to do?  What would it be like if no one cared?

Caring what someone else is going thru and then doing something about it is a very solid biblical principal.   That is why almost 20 percent of what we do goes to the fatherless and the poor.  And the rest goes to caring about the eternal future of people.  Getting the gospel to the lost is caring about their greatest need.

The next thing recorded after Nehemiah hears the bad news is Nehemiah’s prayer.

Neh 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, 

Right away you can tell.  This is not a halfhearted prayer.  He let the need affect him personally.  He let it affect his heart.

And please take note of who he goes to about this.  The God of heaven.  Nehemiah does not just try to go out and fix this in his own power.   He is a cup bearer.  He is a servant.  Nehemiah does not have any power.  He has no resources or ability to fix the problem.

So Nehemiah goes to the one who does have the power, resources, and ability to fix it.  He goes to God.  And he does this privately.  He is not doing it in the palace court.

This is something deeply personal.  And it was not a quick one time 10 min prayer.  Verse 4 says and mourned certain days.  Plural.  How long.  We will find out a few verses later.

The prayer is recorded in verses 5 thru 11.  Nehemiah prayed for days and from the heart.  I do not think that he prayed a repeated prayer saying the same words over and over for days.  This is either the actual words he prayed on one of those days, or it is a summary of what Nehemiah prayed over all of those days.

The actual words that Nehemiah prayed.  Absolutely.   Every single word Nehemiah prayed over all of those days.  No.  I personally think it is one of the prayers from one of the days that he prayed.

And this prayer is beautiful.  One of the reasons that it is recorded is for us to learn from.

Neh 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: 

Nehemiah starts by bringing up some of God’s attributes.  He is the LORD God of heaven.  He is the almighty one.  He is the creator.  He is the one over all.  He is the LORD God.  He is the master.  He is the one who has the right to make the rules.  He has a right to be obeyed.

Nehemiah prays the great and terrible God.  This is referring to His great power.  This is not terrible as in bad or horrible as far as His character.  His character is holy and pure and true.    It is referencing His power like the plagues of Egypt.  And those could strike terror into the hearts of the lost.

And in the same sentence Nehemiah brings up how God has mercy for them who love him and observe his commandments.  He also brings up how God keeps the covenant that He makes.

It is good when starting to pray to remind yourself and acknowledge just who it is that you are praying to.  And every single thing that Nehemiah started his prayer with is Bible truth.  It is all grounded in scripture.

Neh 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 father’s house have sinned. 

If you want to get anywhere with God, you need to be totally honest.  Just be totally open and lay it all out there.  And don’t make excuses.  Don’t say I have sinned, but….   Or I have sinned, however it’s my stepfathers fault.

Accept total responsibility.  Nehemiah prays, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.

That is honest, truthful, and open.  No excuses no reason given.  No blaming someone else.  This is how you confess your sins to God.  Fully admit it.

After straight forward admitting that both he and the other Jewish people have sinned, he now gets more specific.

Neh 1:7  We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. 

They did not keep the commandments (Plural) they did not keep the statutes (Plural) and they did not keep the judgments (Plural) that God commanded and gave Moses.

Which were all written down by Moses and they all had them.  So there was no excuse and Nehemiah offers no excuse.  And that is a lot that they did not keep.  A lot.  It is not like they messed up on just one or two of them.

Nehemiah is like we broke them all.

So on what basis is Nehemiah going to ask for help.  Well two things.  One he already mentioned and that is mercy.  Nehemiah knows that God delights in showing mercy.

The second one is based on God’s word.  It is based on the promises of God.

Neh 1:8  Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: 

That has already happened.  They transgressed and they were scattered.  That is the state they are in now.  Then Nehemiah brings up the promise that God made.

Neh 1:9  But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there. 

Nehemiah knew his scripture.  God chose to set his name in Jerusalem.  God promised to gather them back one day.

Nehemiah is praying based on the promises of God.  This is the same way that George Muller prayed.  He would read his bible and find a promise there and then pray based on that promise.  Nehemiah is about to make a specific request.  And before he does he one more time brings up the fact that they are God’s people and that God has great power.

Neh 1:10  Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. 

It is important when praying to have faith in the one you are praying to.  You need to believe that God has the power to fix your issue and that He wants to fix it because you are one of His precious children.  Praying in doubt is not the way to do it.

Now comes the specific request.  After acknowledging who it is he is praying to.  And in a way praising who God is.  When Jesus taught how to pray He said to start with Hollowed be thy name.

Nehemiah does some of that in the beginning of his prayer and then admits their sin, and then shows faith that he believes they are God’s children and that God has the power to fix it.

After all of that comes the specific request.

Neh 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. For I was the king’s cupbearer. 

Nehemiah’s general request was for help for his brethren in Jerusalem.  His specific request is for God to work in the heart of the king of Persia to have mercy upon Nehemiah.

In what way.  The implication would be that the king would let Nehemiah do something to fix the walls in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was not praying that God would use someone else to do something.  Nehemiah was praying that God would use Nehemiah.  He was praying that God would let Nehemiah do something about this.

And Nehemiah understood something important about how God works.  And that is often God uses His almighty power thru the circumstances of life.

God uses people.  God works in hearts.  Even in the heart of worldly kings.  So Nehemiah asks for God to work in the heart of the king of Persia about this matter.

And Nehemiah understood that God uses people.  He understood that it is a privilege to be used by God.  He understood how wrong it would be to pray for this and not be willing to do something.

He understood the hypocrisy of praying for this while at the same time not willing to lift a finger himself.

One more thing to understand about this prayer.  Remember Nehemiah started praying in the 9th month, which is about Nov – Dec.

Neh 2:1  And it came to pass in the month Nisan,

Nisan is the 1st month of the Jewish calendar, which is about March.  So Nehemiah prayed for about 4 months.

The Bible teaches us to keep praying until we get an answer. 

God has His reasons for not always answering in 5 minutes.  Having a delay teaches us patience.  It also gives us an opportunity to exercise faith and trust.

Now we will start to see God answer Nehemiah’s prayer.

in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.

Neh 2:2  Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid, 

After 4 months of prayer and sorrow of heart about this issue, it appears that Nehemiah can no longer keep it from showing on his face.

And when the king notices Nehemiah is very afraid.  Why?  It is against the rules to be sad in the presence of a Persian king.  Keep in mind this is a powerful worldly ruler.

But even thou he was afraid, Nehemiah show courage and with great boldness gives an answer.

Neh 2:3  And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? 

Neh 2:4  Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. 

You can pray silently and God hears you.  You can even pray silently while you are talking.  Nehemiah’s first response is I need you God.  Right now.  Help me give an answer.  God answer my earlier prayers and work in this kings heart.

Neh 2:5  And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it. 

Neh 2:6  And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,)

This is a side note, but I don’t want to skip it.  Where is the queen sitting?

This is new.  Before Esther the queen was called to be shown off.  Esther changed that.  By the end of Esther you see the queen being treated with respect and even asked for her advice.

Esther was this king’s stepmom.  She had some influence upon him.  Now you see the queen sitting next to the king.  Everywhere Christianity gains influence, the position of women gets better.

We have learned that in Paupa New Guinea women are still thought of as possessions.  Marriages are business deals.   As people get saved, and as they learn the Word of God, one family at a time the position of women is raised.

Go to a country with zero Christianity and look at the plight of women.  Not good.  And as this country gets less and less Christian we are seeing things go downhill for women.

Women can no longer have women only sports.  And they can no longer have women only bathrooms.

Why is it that Christianity elevates women and why are women treated so bad where there is no Christianity?  Several reasons.

1 is because the savior was promised to come thru a woman and that came true.  Satan has hatred for women.  So the more Satan rules over a society the worse things will be for women.

There are more reasons but let’s get back to Nehemiah.  I just did not want to pass over that truth because we see it today all around us.

The king then asks Nehemiah some questions.

For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.

Neh 2:7  Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; 

Neh 2:8  And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me. 

After praying for about 4 months you see Nehemiah being bold and not afraid to ask for some large things.  The timbers to fix the gates and the walls would cost a lot of money.  Both to purchase and to move.  He asks for a considerable amount of time to go and oversee this.  And he asks for letters of authority.

These are big bold requests.  And God moved, the king approves it all.  And notice who Nehemiah gives all the credit to.  The end of verse 8  And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.   This only happened because God worked.  He worked in the heart of the king.

And because of going thru the book of Esther first we know that God had been working ahead to grant this request for decades.

God had Shushan the palace purged of 800 Jew haters.  God elevated the status of the Jews in Shushan the palace where the king that now sits on the throne would be raised.  So when Nehemiah asks these requests there is a respect in the heart of the king for it.

So God worked way ahead of the request and then God also worked in the heart of the king at that moment when the request was made.

We learn a lot from the first two chapters of Nehemiah.

We learn about caring for others.  And not in a selfish or hypocritialy way.  But really caring and wanting to do something about it.

We learn a lot about biblical prayer.  Prayer with faith and based on the word of God and it’s promises.  And prayer that does not stop until the answer comes.

And we see how God works ahead preparing for what He knows will come.  And we see God working in the moment in the hearts of men to accomplish His will.

And we see an example of a man who understood the importance of prayer, a man who depended upon God, and who gave all the credit to God when the prayer was answered.

See more lessons on Nehemiah