Utawala Baptist Church
Scripture reading Neh 1:1-3
Nehemiah was a layman, cupbearer to the great “Artaxerxes Longimanus,” who ruled Persia from 464 to 423 B.C.
He is identified as the son of Hachaliah to distinguish him from other Jews of the same name (Neh. 3:16; Ezra 2:2).
Nehemiah means “The Lord has comforted.”
A cupbearer was much more than our modern “butler” (see Gen. 40).
It was a position of great responsibility and privilege. He tested the king’s wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.
A man who stood that close to the king in public had to be handsome, cultured, knowledgeable in court procedures, and able to converse with the king and advise him if asked (Gen. 41:1–13). Because he had access to the king, the cupbearer was a man of great influence, which he could use for good or for evil.
It my have been was just another routine day when Nehemiah met his brother Hanani (Neh. 7:2).
Who had just returned from a visit to Jerusalem, but it turned out to be a turning point in Nehemiah’s life.
It was just an ordinary day when Moses went out to care for his sheep, but on that day he heard the Lord’s call and became a prophet (Ex. 3).
It was an ordinary day when David was called home from shepherding his flock; but on that day, he was anointed king (1 Sam. 16).
It was an ordinary day when Peter, Andrew, James, and John were mending their nets after a night of failure; but that was the day Jesus called them to become fishers of men (Luke 5:1–11).
You never know what God has in store, even in a commonplace conversation with a friend or relative; so keep your heart open to God’s providential leading.
1. He cared enough to ask!
Why would Nehemiah inquire about a struggling remnant of people who lived hundreds of miles away?
After all, he was the king’s cupbearer and he was successfuly secure in his own life.
Certainly it wasn’t his fault that his ancestors had sinned against the Lord and brought judgment to the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah.
A century and a half before, the Prophet Jeremiah had given this word from the Lord: “For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? (Jer. 15:5, NKJV)
Nehemiah was the man God had chosen to do those very things!
Nehemiah asked about Jerusalem and the Jews living there because he had a caring heart.
When we truly care about people, we want the facts, no matter how painful they may be.
Aldous Huxley an author has said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Closing our eyes and ears to the truth could be the first step toward tragedy for ourselves as well as for others.
What did Nehemiah learn about Jerusalem and the Jews?
Three words summarize the bad news:
remnant, Instead of a land inhabited by a great nation, only a remnant of people
ruin, Instead of a magnificent city, Jerusalem was in shambles;
reproach. There was now nothing but great reproach.
Of course, Nehemiah had known all his life that the city of his fathers was in ruins, because the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem’s walls, gates, and temple in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:1–21).
Fifty years later, a group of 50,000 Jews had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city.
Since the Gentiles had hindered their work, however, the temple was not completed for twenty years (Ezra 1–6),
AS well the gates and walls never were repaired.
Without walls and gates, the city was open to ridicule and attack.
Psalms 48, 79, 84, and 87 to see how much loyal Jews loved their city.
Are we like Nehemiah, anxious to know the truth even about the worst situations?
Is our interest born of concern or idle curiosity?
When we read missionary prayer letters, the news in religious periodicals, or even our church’s ministry reports,
Do we want the facts, and do the facts burden us?
Are we the kind of people who care enough to ask?
2. He cared enough to weep! (Neh 1:4)
What makes people laugh or weep is often an indication of character.
Sometimes weeping is a sign of weakness; but with Nehemiah, it was a sign of strength, as it was with Jeremiah (Jer. 9:1), Paul (Acts 20:19), and the Lord Jesus (Luke 19:41). Joeph wept at least SEVEN times in the Book of Genesis
In fact, Nehemiah was like the Lord Jesus in that he willingly shared the burden that was crushing others. “The reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon Me” (Ps. 69:9; Rom. 15:3).
When God puts a burden on your heart, don’t try to escape it; for if you do, you may miss the blessing He has planned for you.
I Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
The Book of Nehemiah begins with “great affliction” (Neh. 1:3), but before it closes, there is great joy (Neh. 8:12, 17).
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
Fasting was required of the Jews only once a year, on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29); but Nehemiah spent several days fasting, weeping, and praying. He knew that somebody had to do something to rescue Jerusalem, and he was willing to go.
Are we willing to go? Wherever it may be? Jonah and Niniveh Moses and pharoh?
3. He cared enough to pray! (Neh 1:5-10)
This prayer is the first of twelve instances of prayer recorded in this book.
(See 2:4; 4:4, 9; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 9:5ff; 13:14, 22, 29, 31.)
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.
Speaking about the church’s ministry today, the late Alan Redpath said, “There is too much working before men and too little waiting before God.”
This prayer begins with ascription of praise to God (1:5).
“God of heaven” is the title Cyrus used for the Lord when he announced that the Jews could return to their land (2 Chron. 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–2).
The heathen gods were but idols on the earth, but the God of the Jews was and IS Lord in heaven.
Ezra often used this divine title (5:11–12; 6:9; 7:12, 21, 23), and it is found four times in Nehemiah (1:4–5; 2:4, 20) and three times in Daniel (2:18–19, 44).
To what kind of a God do we pray when we lift our prayers to “the God of heaven”?
We pray to a “great and awesome God” (Neh. 1:5,4:14, 8:6, and 9:32), who is worthy of our praise and worship.
If you are experiencing great affliction (v. 3) and are about to undertake a
great work (4:19; 6:3), then you
need the great power (1:10),
great goodness (9:25, 35),
and great mercy (v. 31) of a great God.
Is the God you worship big enough to handle the challenges that you face?
He is also a God who keeps His Word (1:5).
The Lord had made a covenant with His people Israel, promising to bless them richly if they obeyed His Word, but warning that He would chasten them if they disobeyed (Lev. 26; Deut. 27–30).
The city of Jerusalem was in ruins, and the nation was feeble because the people had sinned against the Lord.
Note that Nehemiah used the pronoun “we” and not “they,” identifying himself with the sins of a generation he didn’t even know.
When one Jewish soldier, Achan, sinned at Jericho, God said that “the children of Israel committed a trespass” and that “Israel” sinned and transgressed the covenant (Josh. 7:1, 11). Since the sin of one man was the sin of the whole nation, it brought shame and defeat to the whole nation. Once that sin had been dealt with, God could again bless His people with victory.
Nehemiah asked God to:
forgive His people,
regather them to their land,
and restore them to His favor and blessing.
This humble prayer closed with an expression of confidence (Neh. 1:10–11). To begin with, he had confidence in the power of God.
Too often, we plan our projects and then ask God to bless them;
but Nehemiah didn’t make that mistake.
He sat down and wept (Neh. 1:4), knelt down and prayed, and then stood up and worked because he knew he had the blessing of the Lord on what he was doing.
4. He cared enough to volunteer! (Neh 1:11)
It has well been said that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven but getting God’s will done on earth.
However, for God’s will to be done on earth, He needs people to be available for Him to use.
God does “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (Eph. 3:20, NKJV, italics mine).
If God is going to answer prayer, He must start by working in the one doing the praying!
He works in us and through us to help us see our prayers answered.
While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer.
Real prayer keeps your heart and your head in balance so your burden doesn’t make you impatient to run ahead of the Lord and ruin everything.
As we pray, God tells us what to do, when to do it, and how to do it; and all are important to the accomplishing of the will of God.
Nehemiah planned to volunteer to go to Jerusalem to supervise the rebuilding of the walls.
He didn’t pray for God to send somebody else, nor did he argue that he was ill-equipped for such a difficult task.
He simply said, “Here am I—send me!”
The king’s cupbearer would have to sacrifice the comfort and security of the palace for the rigors and dangers of life in a ruined city.
Luxury would be replaced by ruins,
and prestige by ridicule and slander.
He would leave behind the ease of the palace and take up the toils of encouraging a beaten people and finishing an almost impossible task.
And with the help of God, he did it! In fifty-two days, the walls were rebuilt, the gates were restored, and the people were rejoicing! And it all started with a man who cared.
Abraham cared and rescued Lot from Sodom (Gen. 18–19).
Moses cared and delivered the Israelites from Egypt.
David cared and brought the nation and the kingdom back to the Lord.
Esther cared and risked her life to save her nation from genocide.
Paul cared and took the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. Jesus cared and died on the cross for a lost world.
God is still looking for people who care, people like Nehemiah, who cared enough to ask for the facts, weep over the needs, pray for God’s help, and then volunteer to get the job done.
Do we care enough to say as Nehemiah did?
“Here am I, Lord—send me!”