“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and [certain] men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province [are] in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also [is] broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned [certain] days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou may hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commanded thy servant Moses.
Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commanded thy servant Moses, saying, [If] ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: But [if] ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, [yet] will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
Now these [are] thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer. – Nehemiah 1”
The book of Nehemiah offers us a fresh glimpse of God’s heart and his provision for his people.
Background: Nehemiah is a jew, in captivity in Babylon. He held the title of “Cupbearer to the King”. In our postmodern American mindset this seems to be a small detail, but actually it was not. I turned to Wikipedia for clarity of this title:
“A cup-bearer was an officer of high rank in royal courts, whose duty it was to serve the drinks at the royal table. On account of the constant fear of plots and intrigues, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold this position. He must guard against poison in the king’s cup, and was sometimes required to swallow some of the wine before serving it. His confidential relations with the king often gave him a position of great influence. The position of cup bearer is greatly valued and given to only a select few throughout history. Qualifications for the job were not held lightly but of high esteem valued for their beauty and even more for their modesty, industriousness and courage.”
His job was one that put his life in danger every day. But apparently with the job came the thankfulness and recognition from the King, as well as financial reward. Later in the book of Nehemiah we will see how he had resources at his disposal, and capabilities that were beyond the ordinary.
Nehemiah is one of the jews held captive in Babylon. He would have been a contemporary of Daniel and Ezra, remembering being taken from Jerusalem by force, and held by the conquering forces of Babylon. Like Daniel, he found his way in this foreign culture.
Meaning of the Name: In the bible when a name is mentioned often there is a deeper meaning to the name itself. Nehemiah comes from two Hebrew words – Nechem means to sign, to feel deep emotional connection, the comfort. Jah is the title of God as Lord. Putting them together his name means The comfort (or sigh) of God. Fascinating that as we read through the book over and over again we see how God offers comfort, and provision for Nehemiah and the Jews who return to rebuild Jerusalem.
Chapter one opens in the Jewish month of Chisleu (also written Kislev), roughly equivalent to November/December of our calendar. Nehemiah was in the palace when men of Judah came. He was eager to learn news of his home. Can’t we all relate to being away from home and hungry to hear about our home town, how things are going and what the latest news is.) That is when Nehemiah hears of the destruction and the people are living in deplorable conditions in Jerusalem. It is his reaction that is important to note:
A, He grieved and mourned. – The news was personal, affected him deeply
B. He fasted – The news affected his desire to eat. Perhaps it was just being overcome with grief, or perhaps it was for spiritual purpose.
C. He prayed – He spent days before God, bringing his concern to God first
Recognize who God is.
- Lord God of heaven
- great and terrible God
- Keeper of covenant
- Keeper of mercy
State the purpose
- Pray for the children of Israel
- Confess the sins of the people
- Reflect on promises of scripture
- Praise God
Remind God who his is praying for
- God’s servants
- God’s people
- Redeemed by God’s great power and mercy
Ultimate purpose – To desire to fear God’s name: and prosper
Nehemiah was moved by the news that his home, and his people who are living there were in desperate straights – walls broken down, gates burned, people being persecuted. We begin to see the character of Nehemiah . He is a powerful man with access directly to the king, and he could have easily just approached the king about this on his own but his choice was to first grieve and mourn for the news, then take it to God knowing God would work out the details and provide for the restoration of the city and the safe provision of his people. Nehemiah identified with the situation, clearly understanding it, and clearly communicating it back to God.
- When I hear of something that demands action do I first go to God?
- How do I allow news to affect me? Do I grieve when bad news is given?
- Do I recognize how powerless I am on my own to change things?
- Am I willing to bring the situation to God and wait for his provision and timing?
Nehemiah had clear understanding of the situation – He was given good intelligence, was well informed of the situation, so he could pray
Nehemiah realized that before he could ask God for help he must confess the sin of the people, his people, to God. Confessing takes courage to agree with God on what is wrong. All of us fall short of being obedient to God – whether it is fear, doubt, ignorance or indiscretion – we each make choices that head in the wrong direction. Nehemiah took the time to confess sin – the sins of his people to God. In our day these might be corruption of government, violence, crime, abortion, lack of love for or care for one another, and a sharp turn from honoring God in our culture. It is painful to identify yourself with sin of a culture… but in confessing the sin, Nehemiah reaches back to scripture and reminds God of the promise that as we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us of these sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It is a work of God, a response to honest confession.
Nehemiah also confesses sins of generations – not just his generation’s sin, but those of previous generations.
Generational Sin – The bible speaks of the idea that sins can be passed down from one generation to the next. A real example might be a family where alcoholism is present, and dad models this to his children. The children grow up believing that abusive drinking is normal, and they continue the pattern, model it to their children, and on and on. Generational sins and patterns are attitudes, actions, beliefs, behaviors, and/or habits that we have inherited from our family or relatives. We then “enter into” the same sin pattern and make it our own. It is usually repeated throughout our life as well as by individuals in successive generations. I found this quote on a website that gave more clarity to the idea:
“When a person has sinned, that sin stands in need of being confessed. If the person doesn’t confess it, then his children must confess it in order to break the generational pattern. Like an “outstanding” debt, the person’s sin “hangs out there,” impacting his descendants, until it is addressed through confession and cleared away. We are not required to take responsibility for our ancestors’ sins, but we are to acknowledge and confess their sin. (We agree with God that they were wrong and that God was right.) God asks us to accept responsibility for our own sin and to repent and be humbled. Understand that the passing down of iniquity (sin) is just that – the passing down of iniquity (sin). My parents’ sin does not become my sin, until I have made the choice to sin myself in the same way.” http://www.restoringyourlife.org/
- How often do I look at our nation and the world and confess the sin that is apparent?
- Am I willing to tell God how we as a people have strayed from his ways, precepts, laws?
- Have I taken a careful and prayerful look at my family history? Is there something that is unconfessed, or a pattern of sin that needs to be broken?
- Do I believe God’s word, and accept the truth that if I confess sin it will be forgiven by God?