Nehemiah's name mean's "Yahweh Comforts". Nehemiah is the ultimate man! He worked hard, prayed harder and faced attacks head on. He didn't have time to play. He had a wall to build and a nation to guide - on his knees.
But first we need a little background...
When God brought the nation of Israel up out of Egypt he made a covenant with them. If they would be faithful to Him than he would bless them abundantly above every nation and if they didn't... well turn back to Deuteronomy 28 for a moment.
(Read Deuteronomy 28:1-13)
The blessings of course go on and they mount up higher and higher, but they also can come crashing to the ground...
(Read Deuteronomy 28:15-37)
This last event is what happened to the Israelites. A great start with the Red sea crossing ended in the rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea and 40 years of wandering. A Great start with the taking of the land by Joshua ended with the people of Israel failing to teach the next generation and the judgment of the judges. The great start with David as the penultimate king around the year 1000 BC spiraled down with the kingdom splitting in 931 BC (10 tribes in the north = Israel / 2 Tribes in the south = Judah) Both the northern and southern kingdoms were characterized with rebellion and evil kings despite a few bright blips on the map. The general rule of the day was Baal worship, sexual immorality and at times open rebellion against the Lord. God sent them prophet after prophet urging their repentance but like us the people of Israel failed to listen.
About 210 years after the split in the year 721BC King Sennacherib of Assyria swept down from the north and decimated the northern ten tribes of Israel. 116 years later King Nebuchadnezzar took control of Jerusalem and eventually razed it taking multiple thousands of her people captive. By the year 586 BC the nation of Israel had ceased to exist.
Seventy years after the initial assault and captivity in 605BC - now in the year 538BC as recorded in the book of Ezra (Ezra 1:1 ) a man named Zerubbabel led a group of Hebrews out of their foreign captivity back to Jerusalem. Through a period of great struggle, and with the urging of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1) they finally managed in the year 515BC to finish rebuilding the temple.
Ezra 7:1 records a second return to the land in the year 458 BC. When they got there they found the land in a state of Spiritual and moral decay. Ezra the scribe was a faithful and spirit filled teacher and he did much to set the people of Israel back on track.
In order to be a nation, you need three things: People, Law and Land. The PEOPLE began to return under Zerubbabel. Ezra records for Israel what is essentially their spiritual restoration in the land - the reestablishment of the LAW.
Fourteen years later in about the year 444 BC we encounter the book of Nehemiah, the last book of chronology in the Old Testament. Nehemiah's task will essentially be to secure the LAND by rebuilding the fortifications (and her government) around her capital city.
We know very little about Nehemiah - but we know enough.
1. We can guess that more than likely he was born and raised under Persian rule.
2. He had risen to a position of no little power and influence (Cup Bearer to the King Neh1:11). "This important position in the king’s court gives insight into Nehemiah’s life and character. A mighty monarch such as the king of Persia would select for that position a man who was wise and discreet, and consistently honest and trustworthy. Nehemiah’s position alone reveals much about his intellectual capabilities, his emotional maturity, and his spiritual status.1
3. That points me to my favorite indicator about Nehemiah: He was a man of prayer. Prayer flavored everything that he did. For Nehemiah prayer didn't appear to be just a crisis point event. Certainly he prayed in the midst of crisis, but there are also prayers sprinkled throughout the book which are mere whisperings for the Lord to remember Nehemiah's faithfulness - those brief snippets of prayer highlight something of an ongoing conversation with God. Nehemiah, more than any other old testament saint seems to embody Paul's much later admonition to "pray without ceasing"(1Th 5:17 ).
(Read Neh 1:1)
Twentieth-Year (of king Artaxerxes - as Persia's sixth king he began to reign in 464BC making this year 444BC) [There were three Persian Kings named Artaxerxes (name means Hebrew:A Great King/ Persian: A quiet Light) Artaxerxes I (465-425BC) Artaxerxes II (404-359BC) Artaxerxes III (359-338BC)]
This king then was Artaxerxes I Longimanus (long-handed)
Biblical historians have struggled over Esther's king finally determining that the Ahasuerus named in Esther also called Xerxes I was the father of this king. Xerxes ruled from 486-465BC.
I've always wondered in response to this, if this Artaxerxes is Esther's son?
If we piece together some of the events from Ezra we come away with an interesting set of circumstances.
Artaxerxes I was the ruler who brought the rebuilding of Jerusalem to a temporary standstill (Ezra 4:7–23), and who commissioned Ezra to visit the city in the capacity of secretary of state of Jewish affairs in 458 BC (Ezra 7:8, 11–26). In 445 BC Nehemiah went to Jerusalem as civil governor in the 20th year of Artaxerxes I (Neh 1:1; 2:1).2
Susa = the Winter capital of Persia.
(Read Neh 1:2)
Again we learn something else about Nehemiah. He has a position of responsibility in Susa but his heart is also with His people. He fulfills his duties well or he wouldn't keep his job (or his life) but he still was concerned for Jerusalem.
I think perhaps there is a bit of a message for us as well. We live in this world. Tomorrow morning all of the rules and requirements of your jobs (or retirements) will come upon you and you will have to live in this world. But this world is not our home, we're just passing through.
For me, when I'm confronted with my dual citizenship it's always a challenge. It's hard to live in one place and love another. But that is what we are called to do. In Philippians Paul wrote, "Let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Phi 3:16) ...For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ..." (Phi 3:20)
(Read Neh 1:3)
When Nehemiah asked they revealed something totally against what Nehemiah might have reasonably expected.
- The remnants are in great distress and reproach.
- The wall of Jerusalem is broken down
- They gates are burned with fire.
(Read Neh 1:4)
Nehemiah's response is instant and it mirrored our own responses when faced with bad news.
- He sat down and wept and mourned for days
- He began a period of ongoing fasting and prayer before the God of heaven.
Through his fasting and praying, Nehemiah's mourning will be transformed into a plan to act.
But before we get there, we have to be here.
We are surrounded by wars, economic upheaval. Dubious politics, bad judgment, an increasingly immoral society. Add to the national situation the many crisis' that come into our lives and we are confronted with Calamity.
We know this perhaps - but sometimes it get's forgotten. If God has determined to work through our prayers, than these crisis, calamity's and difficulties whatever else they may be, they are certainly calls to prayer.
Five times a day on loudspeakers all over the Muslim world, Muslims are called to prayer. The true and living God uses the circumstances of our lives also to call us to converse with Him in prayer.
Way back in 1985 some guy named Billy Ocean recorded a song called, "When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going." I suppose that means they either get going by running away; or get going by pressing on.
There for a while it was pretty common to see bumper stickers reflecting the theme:3
- “When the going get's tough the tough go fishing." (they run away from their problems? or just seeking distraction?)
- "When the going gets tough the tough go shopping" (satisfy your needs with instant gratification?)
- "When the going gets tough the tough lighten up" (Live in denial?)
I want to propose a new one: "When the going get's tough, the tough start praying."
Now then, my prescription for the week: Get on your knees and fight like a man!
1Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (1:674). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library (114). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
3See also: Stowell, Joe When the Going Gets Tough. Strength for the Journey. RBC. June 10, 2009. http://www.rbc.org/bible-study/strength-for-the-journey/2009/06/10/daily-message.aspx