Today we start a new sermon series on the book of Nehemiah. It is providential that we begin this series as we are kicking off our new Refocus emphasis. Our mission is Helping People Experience Life Transformation and we shall spend the next few months seeing how God used a man named Nehemiah to accomplish great things for the good of the Jewish people and the glory of God. As we begin this sermon series on Nehemiah, we need to make sure we approach this book correctly. The book of Nehemiah does not record for us great things that Nehemiah did for God; it records for us great things God did through Nehemiah.
Nehemiah (Yahweh Comforts) was a Jewish man who lived in the Persian fortress city of Susa during the reign of King Artaxerxes I. Artaxerxes reigned from 465-425 BC. Nehemiah was in Persia because the Jews were sent into exile by the Babylonians. The Persians later conquered the Babylonians and assumed control over Israel. During Artaxerxes twentieth year (445 BC) Nehemiah was the kings’ cupbearer. Let us see what God did through Nehemiah and submit ourselves as instruments in God’s hands.
Nehemiah Hears & Mourns (1:1-4)
Nehemiah was in Susa when he received troubling news from Jerusalem. When his brother Hanani arrived from Jerusalem, Nehemiah inquired about the people and the city. Hanani answered, “The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down” (1:3). Nehemiah was concerned enough about his people to inquire about them and heartbroken when he learned they were in great trouble. God was at work to bring Hanani to Nehemiah and make sure Nehemiah was aware of the trouble in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah wrote, “When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (1:4). Notice the impact this news had on Nehemiah. He genuinely cared about his people and it showed in his reaction. What was his first reaction? It wasn’t to rally a group of people to action. It wasn’t to be disappointed. It wasn’t to angrily demand God do something about it. His first response was to mourn. Nehemiah’s mourning is the result of the burden that God placed on him.
Nehemiah Prays (1:4-11)
Nehemiah knew that something had to be done to address this situation and rather than immediately spring into action, he sought the Lord in prayer. Warren Weirsbe said, “The Book of Nehemiah opens and closes with prayer. It is obvious that Nehemiah was a man of faith who depended wholly on the Lord to help him accomplish the work He had called him to do.” Let’s consider it more closely:
Praise. Nehemiah’s prayer begins with praise. He said, “Yahweh, the God of heaven, the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps His gracious covenant with those who love Him and keep His commands, let Your eyes be open and Your ears be attentive to hear Your servant’s prayer that I now pray to You day and night for Your servants, the Israelites.” Nehemiah does not immediately petition God, but remembers God’s character and goodness.
Confession. Nehemiah moves next to confession of sin. “I confess the sins we have committed against You. Both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted corruptly toward You and have not kept the commands, statues, and ordinances You have Your servant Moses.” Notice that Nehemiah includes himself in the sins of the nation of Israel. Daniel prayed similarly, “We have sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, and turned away from Your commands and ordinances” (Dan 9:5).
Covenant. Before Nehemiah brings his petition to the Lord, He reminds the Lord of His covenant promises to Israel. “Please remember what You commanded Your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples. But if you return to Me and carefully observe My commands, even though your exiles were banished to the ends of the earth, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place where I chose to have My name dwell.’ They are Your servants and Your people. You redeemed them by Your great power and strong hand.” It’s not that God has forgotten what He promised, it is that God delights in us remembering His promises and believing that He will be faithful to His word.
Petition. At the end of the prayer, Nehemiah gets to his petition: “Please, Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to that of Your servants who delight to revere Your name. Give Your servant success today, and have compassion on him in the presence of this man.” Nehemiah prays for success with his meeting with Artaxerxes. He knows that God is powerful and is able to give Nehemiah success in his meeting with the King.
Nehemiah Waits & Acts (2:1-8)
What did Nehemiah do after he prayed? If you said, “Talk to the King” you are partly correct. He did talk to the King but not immediately. Chislev is the Jewish month that corresponds to our November-December and Nisan corresponds to our March-April. Four months passed between chapters 1 and 2. What did Nehemiah do during those four months? He prayed (day and night) and waited for God to provide the right timing. Warren Wiersbe once said, “True faith in God brings a calmness to the heart that keeps us from rushing about and trying to do in our own strength what only God can do. We must know not only how to weep and pray, but also how to wait and pray.” The king granted his request and prepared to go. He asked the king to send letters ahead in preparation. Why did the king grant his request? Because Nehemiah was “graciously strengthened by my God” (2:8).
As we launch our Refocus emphasis, all of us need to prayerfully discern whether or not we are holy dissatisfied with what is going on around us. Great movements of God begin with God’s people being burdened about the great trouble around them. Have you gotten to the point where you are weeping and praying for those around you who are lost and hurting? If we are to see God move mightily among us, we must surrender to Him and ask for wisdom and favor as we do the good work He has prepared for us to do (Eph 2:10).