“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. 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’ ” Nehemiah 1:4, 5
This week we study Nehemiah’s call to restore the walls of Jerusalem. Last week we saw that nearly 90 years after the first Jewish exiles left for Jerusalem, the walls of the city were still in ruins. So God raised up a man in faraway Persia to lead out in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
- Nehemiah Recognises the Need
It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, 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. 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.” Nehemiah 1:1-3
The Jews in Jerusalem were in great distress. In addition, the walls of the city were broken and the gates destroyed by fire.
‘Never was there a time when there was a greater need for men of passion, men of principle, men of Holy Spirit vision, in the service of the Lord. It is impossible for any of us to become any of these things unless we have first stood in the midst of the work which the Master has given us and seen the futility of everything that can ever come from our imagined strength. These are lessons most of us learn the hard way, and we learn them in a school from which we never graduate until we one day enter the presence of our Master Himself.’ Alan Redpath
- Nehemiah Has a Burden for the task because he cares for the things of God
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. (1:4)
Nehemiah knew the significance of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. They were spiritual symbols of salvation and praise (Isaiah 26:1, Psalm 100:4). The destruction of the walls were a symbol of spiritual failure; there was no great witness to salvation, no praise and no wall of separation from the world.
So he sat down and wept and mourned ‘for many days’.
As we look at our lives and at the church, do we see a failure of witness? A failure to be separated from the world? Are our lives and churches full of the joy of salvation and do we praise God continually?
Wherever we see failure, do we weep and mourn, fast and pray like Nehemiah?
The extent of change, transformation and the impact of one’s work is proportional to the sacrifice that a person is willing to make. Without that sense of sacrifice or self-giving, we won’t make any substantial impact in this world. Like King David, we must be willing to say, “…neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which costs me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24
- Nehemiah Intercedes
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, 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. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; 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.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. 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.” (1:5-11)
- He acknowledges who God is – the great and awesome covenant-keeping God.
- He acknowledges and confesses his sins and the sins of his people.
- He brings to mind God’s covenant with His people (Deuteronomy 28:1, 15, 16; 30:2, 3).
- He acknowledges God’s mercy in redeeming them.
- He asks God to hear and grant his specific request to go to Jerusalem.
- He asks that God’s mercy will prevail and make the King favourable to his requests.
Nehemiah’s prayer was grounded in the Word, founded on the promises of the Covenant and rooted in God’s past dealings with Israel.
- Nehemiah Waits
Nehemiah does not rush out immediately to respond to the need in Jerusalem. He waited. This is a lesson we must all learn. There is a period of nearly 4 months before he has a conversation with the King. But he has not been idle in the meantime; no, he has spent time waiting upon God, praying and seeking His will. Before working for God, we must learn to wait upon God.
- We need God to make it clear that He has called us to a specific need. The world and the church has many needs, but every need is not our call. Unless God has placed in our hearts a real burden and responsibility for a specific task and conviction by the Spirit that He has called us, we will not be fruitful in our endeavours.
- When God makes clear His will, then He will open the doors so that we can fulfil His call and will for our lives. He can use kings, as He did with Nehemiah. In every case, if it His will, He will make our way plain.
- Nehemiah Receives Permission from the King
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. 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, 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?” (2:1-3)
Then the king said to me, “What do you request?”
So I prayed to the God of heaven. 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.” 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. (2:4-6)
Even before making his request to the King, Nehemiah prays.
- Nehemiah Receives Protection from the King
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.” (2:7)
- Nehemiah Receives Provisions from the King
“…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. (2:8)
From the story of Nehemiah, we are assured that if God calls us to a task, He will open the way for us, He will provide protection and He will make full provision, for He ‘supplies all our need according to His riches in Christ Jesus’ Philippians 4:19
Dr Verghese Philip of Christian Medical College, Vellore calls this ‘the Law of Resources’…”when you have a passion for something, you will find that the all the forces of heaven and earth conspire to make your passion a reality. God moves people and resources to catapult you forward. Not only that – as your mind gets focused on the one thing, you will be given more and more of mental capabilities, stamina, energy and determination to make that happen.”
- Nehemiah Assesses the state of the Walls of Jerusalem and plans the Rebuilding of the Walls
So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 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. 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…(2:11-13; read also 2:14-17)
Leadership requires the presence of others – the people one is leading. And yet, a leader must embrace solitude – being alone as he honestly looks at the enormity of the task; and then being alone with God, seeking for wisdom to enthuse those he leads with the vision he has for the task God has given him.
- Nehemiah Receives Commitment from the Jews in Jerusalem
Then I said to them (the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, the others who did the work), “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.” 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.
Before asking for a commitment from his people, Nehemiah…
- Lays before them the enormity of the task (good leaders are honest with their people).
- Encourages the people that this is God’s will and that He has made provision through the King of Persia (a good leader reminds his people that their confidence is in God, not in themselves).
- Asks for their response.
So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work. (2:17-19)
All work that God asks us to do is ‘a good work’. When it is His will, He provides resources and protection.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8
And yet, God’s greatest desire for us is not the tasks He asks us to do for the church. His greatest desire for us is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). For this task, the greatest battle we have to fight is ‘self’; Satan uses our selfishness and self-centredness to make us fail and fall. But God has promised to provide protection from the Evil One and resources of righteousness through the mighty power of the Holy Spirit as we commit ourselves to Him each day.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24