A. Who wrote it?
1. Some think it was Ezra and Nehemiah, others think it was some mastermind Scribe, but I think it is safest to just go with the traditional idea that Nehemiah wrote the book of Nehemiah. In reading it you get the sense that it is autobiographical, he inserts prayers and comment throughout the book. Perhaps he had some other sources such as the writings of Ezra, or even the help of Ezra at times, and maybe some of it was originally a report Nehemiah wrote to the king then later turned it into this book, but I like to just keep things simple, we can leave that debate to the scholars. For the purpose of this study we are going to go with the assumption that Nehemiah is the author.
B. When did he write it and what’s the historical background?
1. It is safest to assume he completed it around 425 BC or later.
2. This book takes place during the roots of spiritual and national revival, at a time when Israel is still a subjected people under the authority of the Persian Empire. Under Babylon the people had been removed and exiled from their land, when the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon the Israelites were allowed to return to the land and allowed to begin construction on their temple, though opposition had caused much of the repairs in Jerusalem to cease, and it took 20 years just to rebuild the temple. It is a time of change, yet still of uncertainty, discouragement and danger for the remnant living in Israel and Jerusalem.
3. Nehemiah, our hero in the story, is a cupbearer to the King of Persia living in the capitol city and winter palace of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. This was a life of prestige and comfort, as well as influence. The cupbearer of the king was a position of great trust, being that he was in charge of protecting the king from poison and was often in the presence of the king himself. This was an official government position, and his position required that he would make a good counselor, be cultured, handsome, and wise. At the end of the day though, this was still the position of a servant, however important of a position. Nehemiah may have lived in comfort and security in Susa, but he knew how to be a servant to a king, a valuable skill when serving the King of Kings and when being a leader.
4. Nehemiah ends up leading the third group to Jerusalem, a little over 100 years after the first group returns. The first group was led by Zerrubabel, the second by Ezra and the third by Nehemiah. Nehemiah accomplishes in one year what had been left undone and considered as impossible for over 100 years. How did he do it? And what can we learn from him as a leader?
C. Nehemiah is a book of both physical healing and rebuilding as well as Spiritual healing and rebuilding. We must do both to be righteous as James speaks of in the NT.
III. 1:1-3 Nehemiah was a man of inquiry.
A. V1, Nehemiah was probably born in Persia and had never personally been to Jerusalem. Yet, we find out from the content of his prayers and his actions later that he was a man that loved and knew God’s Word well. He knew that Jerusalem was special to God, and so it was special to him. He would have known about the attempts to rebuild Jerusalem and he wondered how it was going. Nehemiah, as far as we know, was not a priest or a man of nobility; he was just a man who asked.
B. V1 tells us the date and month, this important because when compared to the date that Nehemiah asks we see he waited and prayed to the Lord for four months before doing anything. Also, remember that the Bible is actual history, and it is things like this that show it as a historical record.
C. V2, Hanani, the brother of Nehemiah, came back from Jerusalem with men, perhaps they had grown weary of the constant danger and decided the citadel of Persia was safer. We later see that Hanani returns with his brother to Jerusalem to help in the work. Nehemiah is a man that people will follow, even if it means back into the danger they just escaped from.
D. V2-3, “escaped, survived, captivity, survivors, great distress, and reproach”. This describes to us the condition of the city and it’s people in a nutshell. They were escapees, survivors, former captives and continued to be in great distress and reproach (shame) amongst other people. Hanani identifies the main cause of this as “The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
1. In ancient times walls and gates in a city was the difference between life and death. If your city had walls and gates it was a city, if it didn’t it was a backwater town with no security or protection. Imagine living in Ecuador without a wall or fence around your house, imagine not having a door that locked or windows that would shut. Anyone could walk into your house and rob you or abuse you or kill you. Without the wall Jerusalem was a laughing stock of its enemies, more so it was vulnerable.
E. We need to know the facts of situations before we can do anything to help. We need to know the condition of things in order to pray correctly and then do something about it. Sometimes we don’t want to know the facts of things because the truth hurts. But we need to know the truth sometimes of things if we ever want things to change. It starts with asking and it starts with giving the facts.
1. This is not a license for gossip. You do not see Hanani pointing fingers and blaming anyone for it, he is just telling the condition of the city.
IV. V4, A man broken over a broken wall and a broken people.
A. This is how a compassionate heart reacts to bad news. He was broken, and he was broken because he cared. He lived in safety, security, and prestige, yet he was broken over a city he had never been to and cared for people whom he likely had never met.
1. If you think you are different, imagine hearing the news that someone you love was in a car accident and is in critical condition in the hospital. What is your reaction? First you are stunned and fall to your knees, second a godly person seeks God in prayer.
B. Fasting and praying.
1. Fasting and praying must always go together. If you are not praying while your fasting then your fasting means nothing. The whole point of fasting is to free up time that you would have used for eating and to use it for praying. Part of the culture meant that lunch was a long slow ordeal, much like Ecuador, and to give up lunch meant you would have 2-3 more hours to spend in prayer.
a) I personally believe fasting doesn’t always have to be with food. Fasting is just freeing up time to pray. Don’t say I don’t have enough time to serve God, or enough time to pray, or enough time to read His Word, because you can make time, even if that means fasting from the news or your favorite TV show once in a while.
b) Isaiah 58:1-12, I used to fast twice a week and more sometimes so that way I would have more spiritual power, or so I thought it would do and to be closer to God. But I wasn’t necessarily spending any extra time with God in prayer, I thought fasting from food would just somehow make me stronger spiritually, until God gave me this verse and rebuked me. I have hardly fasted from food since then, now my fast is serving the Lord with my life. These verses is a good summery of what Nehemiah goes and does in Jerusalem, he goes to share his bread with the hungry and break the yoke of the oppressed, to undo heavy burdens and loose bonds of wickedness. If you do fast from food, its ok and biblical to do so, just make sure you do it correctly, to spend more time with God in prayer making sure that only you and Him know you are fasting.
C. Many days, four months to be exact he prayed and mourned and fasted.
V. V5, Nehemiah directs His prayer to the God of heaven, noting that God is able and powerful enough and reminding God and himself of God’s faithfulness, love and mercy.
VI. V6, Nehemiah repeatedly calls himself a servant here, which is the correct attitude of humility to have before God in prayer as well as in service (leadership). Pride is the most dangerous of sins, since God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
A. He says we have sinned, he does not think of himself as more highly then he ought to and includes the blame on himself. This is the mark of good leadership, not only that it is intercession and he is no doubt recalling 2 Chronicles 7:12-22. God had been faithful to keep His promise to chasten the people in disobedience, Nehemiah realized that God would also be faithful to keep His promise if His people humbled themselves and prayed for God’s mercy and returned to Him, that He would return them to the land.
VII. V8, Remember. Nehemiah does not demand God to keep His promises, he reminds God of His promises and there is a big difference between the two. It is wrong to demand the King of the universe to do anything, but the King of the Universe asks us to ask and encourages us to remind Him of His promises, this is a great way to pray and it is a humble way.
VIII. V11, Nehemiah was a man to hear the truth, then pray and wait on it (4 months of doing so) then was willing to do something about it.
A. So often we see a need and think, “Someone should do something about that” then stop right there. Others, slightly better will pray for the need but never lift a finger to do anything about it. But the most righteous thing to do is to hear of something, commit it to pray and then be willing to actually do something about it and should the Lord allow you to do something, then do it.
B. James 2:14-26, Faith without works is dead.
A. Nehemiah wanted to know the truth of things, not for gossip’s sake but because he cared.
B. Nehemiah was a man of compassion, when he learned of the sad truth he was broken and wept.
C. Nehemiah took this burden to the Lord in prayer, and waiting on the Lord before he did anything for four months. Fasting and praying and seeking the Lord day and night, interceding for the people and confessing both his sin and the sin of his nation.
D. Nehemiah knew the Word of God and applied it prayer, never demanding God to keep his promises but reminding God of His promises, knowing God was faithful, merciful and loving and would keep His promises.
E. Nehemiah not only cared and would pray, but he was willing to do something about it. Even if that meant stepping out of comfort and security into danger and uncertainty.