The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.”
4 When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 I said, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and loving-kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 6 let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; 9 but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ 10 They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. 11 O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.”
Now I was the cupbearer to the king.
• It has been said that history is getting to know the context. So what is the context of the book of Nehemiah?
• Nehemiah is at the end of the section of the OT commonly called the books of History. The larger groups of the OT are:
- The Book of the Law (Pentateuch)  Gen – Exodus
- The Books of History –  Joshua – Nehemiah
- The Books of Poetry or Wisdom –  Job – Song of Solomon
- The Major Prophets –  Isaiah – Daniel
- The Minor Prophets –  Hosea – Malachi
- Ezra and Nehemiah lived at the same time, in fact you find Ezra quoted in Nehemiah in chapter 8.
• Nehemiah was not a priest or a prophet. He has a pretty good job I suppose, if you like to think that being the first one to drink the poison intended for the King is a good job. The text tells us he was the son of Hacaliah. No clues are given to tell us who that was. But it tells us that you don’t have to have pedigree to be used by God.
• The people of Israel were in captivity in Babylon. People were starting the head back to Israel. Zerubbabel led the first wave in 536 BC and he brought people with him. Ezra led the second wave and his focus was the temple in 455 BC. Nehemiah led the third and he was to rebuild the wall in 445 BC. This captivity began in 586 BC. It is interesting to note that Esther lived in this time frame of 486 – 465. So the people of Israel have been held captive for about 140 years. Nehemiah has never know anything but captivity. It might be hard to visualize for us, but remember that for the Jews, the land signified a promise, a relationship. They couldn’t see God but they knew only His blessing got them into the land and only His blessing could get them back. What are the words you remember most from the Wizard of Oz? For me, there are a few quotes but what did Dorothy say while she clicked her heels together?
• Judi and I were in a foreign land for about 10 years. I still remember going to the first ballgame after we got back, and when they sang the National Anthem, we both had tears in our eyes. And our ties to this land are nowhere near as strong as an Israelite’s ties to their land. To capture a little bit of the heart of an Israeli who feels the pain of being held captive in a foreign land, read Ps 137closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST': 1-6.
That is the introduction –
The Text – This is like Nehemiah’s diary. He is making notes of how it all happened, and although he is not a prophet, God deems this record important enough to:
- One inspire it, and
- Two preserve it.
- The first thing that is noticed in this text is what isn’t there. Most of the writers of the Old and New Testament books are clearly identified. Particularly in the Old Testament, we get see who they are and who they are related to. In the case of Nehemiah, we learn who his father is, but we have no clue who Nehemiah is or who his father is. Nehemiah was not a Levite; he was not a member of Israel’s priestly tribe. He did not have royal blood in his veins; he had no rich heritage, no physical strength or leadership experience. In fact you will not even find his father’s name anywhere else in the Bible. “. . . Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah. . . .” is another way of saying, “He was just an ordinary, run of the mill human being; nothing special or spectacular; just common clay.” This is great story of God using an anybody to do something, His thing and it should interest us to realize that God is still to this day looking for His people to accomplish His tasks. It also leaves us without excuse – read the story of the man on George Street.
- Nehemiah listened to the news of the day. What did he hear about (1:2-3)? There are two topics that are brought up. (1) The people of God and (2) the city of God, Jerusalem. So when he heard about the condition of his people and Jerusalem and what was his response? Remember that most believe that Nehemiah had never been to Jerusalem. He was most likely born and raised in Babylon. Notice his response: He was broken, he wept and mourned for days. So this really brings a few questions to mind.
- What has moved you to tears in the previous past?
- What is broken around you that you are or are not seeing? What lies in ruin around you that needs to be restored?
- The next part of this chapter is a revelation about the man Nehemiah. Before God shows us what Nehemiah did, He will show us who Nehemiah was. In several ways, Nehemiah shows the depth of His concern for the people of God and the purposes of God. Nehemiah goes about trying to get God’s attention about something that effects the depth of his heart. What does that look like, crying out to God? What does it look like to really plead your case to God? This is a great example of getting to watch a sincere heart do just that. How are we to get God’s attention with our prayers – and keep in mind you will never wrap God around your finger or tell Him what to do. You can’t trick Him or fool Him – remember He knows your heart.
- His name means the Lord comforts – according to a note in my NASB. And he was the cupbearer to the King – so most likely he had a lot of contact with the King, who was the son of the King that was saved by Mordecai in the book of Ester. So I would imagine that this family had a history of trusting their Jewish servants.
- He has an interest in the people and the city (verse 2) and that is how he got this report. And the news breaks Nehemiah’s heart. He has five responses to this
- He sat down –
- And wept –
- And mourned for days
- And fasted
- And prayed
- So what is learned from all this – how are we to get God’s attention? First, let your heart be broken by the things that break God’s heart. Note how deeply Nehemiah was touched by the situation that he had learned about. Next, Give God your full attention if you want God’s attention on those things that are breaking your heart.
In Nehemiah’s case, we are going to find that when God chooses to answer his cry, He chooses Nehemiah to be the answer. That is exactly why many of our church members don’t want to pray too much for the church to grow, they are afraid that God might reveal to them that they are the answer, they are the solution.
Next, we’ll look at the prayer of Nehemiah
Illustrations from History
In an old book entitled “Touching Incidents and Remarkable Answers to Prayer” by S. B. Shaw, printed in 1893. Rev. Shaw collected a great number of truly remarkable stories, including this one: Many years ago, James Rogers of the Alabama Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church told the story of Annie Clayton of San Jose, California. As a child, she and her sister Vanie took a long walk one Saturday morning to collect some scraps of wood as fuel for heating their family’s home. As they returned, Vanie collapsed from the lingering effects of cholera and was unable to proceed.
Annie, who was only five years old, was helpless and they sat beside the road not knowing what to do. Finally Vanie said, “You know, Annie, that a good while ago mother told us that if we ever got into trouble, we should pray, and God would help us. Now you help me get down upon my knees, and hold me up, and we will pray.” So there on the sidewalk, the two sisters prayed earnestly for someone to come along to help them. Then they resumed sitting on the curb waiting to see how God would answer their prayers.
Far down the street, they spotted a man who walked out of a factory and looked curiously up the street, and the girls thought perhaps he was the one God would send. But the man went back into the factory. Presently he came out again, looked up the street again, and reentered the factory. Then man walked out of the factory a third time, wear his hat and walking toward them.
Approaching the children, the man said in a broken German accent, “O children, what is the matter?” When they explained the situation to him, the German hoisted Vanie up in his brawny arms and carried her all the way home.
Once the girls were safely delivered, the gentleman told his story. He was the proprietor of an ink factory, and he had been working hard on payroll checks for his men. Suddenly as he was pouring over his books his eyes had clouded up and his vision had blurred. He had a plain impression that someone on the street wanted to see him, so he stepped outside and tried to focus his eyes up and down the street. Seeing no one, he returned to his desk and tried to work.
The darkness in his vision was even worse, and the impression was even greater. So he walked outside again, puzzled. Then he returned to his work again, but his fingers would not grasp the pen. He found himself unable to write a word; moreover the impression on his mind was urgent. So he fetched his hat and walked up the street in bewilderment until he saw the girls who had prayed earnestly for someone to come along and help them.