Background information on Nehemiah
In chronological order, the book of Nehemiah is the final book of the Old Testament. Many scholars have called Nehemiah the sequel to the book of Ezra. Ezra is the priest who is referenced numerous times throughout Nehemiah’s account. One scholar said the two books were placed together until the Geneva Bible was published in 1599.
Nehemiah was a descendent of the tribe of Judah and many believe we was of the line of David. It is very possible that Nehemiah could have been the king of Judah if one existed in this era.
Nehemiah’s name means “compassion and comfort of Jehovah”. Nehemiah was the cup-bearer for the King of Persia, which gave him high levels of stature and influence throughout the region.
Nehemiah took a huge risk when he chose obedience. Ezra 4 takes place in 458BC – thirteen years before Nehemiah 1 – and provides key information to understand the fullness of Nehemiah’s risk. A bunch of guys got together and wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes.
11 To King Artaxerxes,
From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:
12 The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.
13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer. 14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition (riots). That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.
17 The king sent this reply:
18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?
For 130 years, the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed. The foundations of the city had been left as rubble. There was no protection or security. Enemies could roam as they pleased and the remaining residents of Jerusalem could do nothing about it. None of them lived in the glory days of Jerusalem. None of them knew what it was like to be successful. None of them knew what it was like to be a city with purpose and momentum. When they tried to rebuild their city, they were stopped by the reigning King of Persia. Any momentum that may have been present was quickly deflated.
Fast forward thirteen years to 445BC and Nehemiah chapter 1.
1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
In the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes reign. Chislev is the 9th month of the year on the Jewish calendar and parallels the US calendar in late November-early December. Chapter 2 begins in the month of Nisan, which is the first month of the Jewish calendar. We know that Nehemiah 1 covers four months of time. We also know that it took Hanani and his traveling companions 45 days to get from Jerusalem to Persia (show map).
When Hanani talked to Nehemiah about Jerusalem and the people living there, he used four specific words. Remant. Escape. Exile. Shame. The remant is the leftover group of people; the ones who survived the agony of the previous chapter of Jewish history. As you read through the Old Testament, you will find different occasions when the Jews were taken into exile. Those exiles were regarded as extremely shameful periods in their history. The exiles were embarrassing to Jewish history because Jerusalem wasn’t great any longer. The exiles meant the Jews were slaves to another country’s agenda. In a moment of redemption, they returned to Jerusalem to escape the pain and the shame of the exile. The return had more to do with their emotions than with their home. Isn’t that true of us? When we’re embarrassed and ashamed of a previous chapter of history, we try to escape the pain associated with that chapter.
God uses all things and all situations and I believe he used the remnant in Jerusalem to reveal his greatness throughout the province. The remnant had to choose God’s purpose and glory over their own. The same can be true of the remnant at First Baptist Church in Warren, Indiana. You need to answer these questions: Do you believe God desires to reveal his greatness to First Baptist Church? Will you choose God’s purpose and glory over your own?
“The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are destroyed by fire.” The remnant was powerless over the enemy. The enemy was able to come and go as it pleased. That sentence is true about this church. For many years, sin has been tolerated and prayer has been diminished to nothing more than a transition.
If you believe God desires to reveal his greatness to this church, you will reclaim your power over the enemy that runs freely through this building. Let me define the enemy for you. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I engage in spiritual warfare almost every day I am in this building, but God is calling the remnant to rebuild so the enemy can be defeated.
4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer to the king.
When finished the conversation with Hanani and began talking with God, he used four specific words. Wept. Mourned. Fasted. Prayed. Over the four months that Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted and prayed, four attributes are revealed about God.
- God is great and awesome – verse 5
The title that Nehemiah prays is O Lord, God of Heaven. Nehemiah uses this language 14 times throughout his book. This prayer uses the specific name of Jehovah as he cries out to God. In addressing Jehovah as the God of Heaven, he declares that he is crying out to the God of all gods. The Persian Empire had many false gods and Nehemiah wanted to make it clear to those around him who needed to offer restoration. The Hebrew dictionary associates the word awesome with frighten, afraid, intimidate, revere, respect and honor. Nehemiah humbly came before God in these days. He used every manner possible as he sought God’s intervention with Jerusalem. Nehemiah needed God’s power to change the mind of King Artaxerxes if Jerusalem was to be rebuilt. You probably know that God is great and awesome, but do you believe it? There is a huge difference between knowing something and believing something. Knowing never leaves your intelligence, while believing effects the core of who you are.
- God hears the prayers of repentance – verses 6-7
Nehemiah pleads with God to allow his ears to hear the prayers of confession. Nehemiah confesses sin on behalf of the entire Jewish community. Nehemiah confesses his own sin. Nehemiah confesses the sin of his family line. Nehemiah is specific in his language that Israel has acted corruptly against Jehovah. By using the word corrupt, Nehemiah takes responsibility for wounding and injuring God’s plan for Israel. How have you wounded or injured God’s plan for First Baptist Church? Let me throw in here that delayed obedience is disobedience. Are you willing to take responsibility for your actions?
- God always keeps his promises – verses 8-9
In verses 8-9, Nehemiah makes reference to Deuteronomy 4:25-31 and Deuteronomy 30:1-10. Any of the Jewish community that might have been with Nehemiah would have recognized these verses because boys were required to memorize the Torah before the age of 10. Nehemiah reminds us that God keeps his promises for good or bad. Spiritual prosperity is dependent on our faithfulness. Please do not confuse the word faithful with longevity. There are many churches who have been faithful to a church building and church name, but stopped being faithful to the mission of God. Those churches expect to last forever and have spiritual prosperity even though they aren’t doing anything for their communities. I don’t remember where I ran across this quote, but it’s powerful. God often removes his hands from churches before humans can no longer afford the bills.
The promise of verses 8-9 is two-fold. If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you. If you return to me and become faithful, I will bring you together and I will dwell there. That’s the goal. That’s Romans 15:5-6. Nehemiah falls on his face before God because he wants God to bring Israel together and dwell with them there.
- God’s power redeems and restores – verse 10
When there is severe weather strong enough to bring electrical lines to the ground, the power company comes to the scene. They work through whatever situation necessary to put the electrical lines back in place. Every person without power doesn’t want electrical lines back in place only. They want the electricity restored. We know live is better when the power comes through the outlets correctly.
God doesn’t redeem situations for the sake of redemption only. God redeems so power can be restored. Spiritual restoration is when the Divine Presence of God falls upon and dwells among a community of believers. When was the last time the Divine Presence of God fell upon you? When was the last time this building experienced a tsunami of God’s Divine Presence?