1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
The twentieth year of King Artaxerxes I ( approx. 464-424 b.c.) Nehemiah is probably writing midway through the reign of the king. The magnificent city of Susa was rebuilt under king Darius I then Cyrus who preceded Artaxerxes I. Nehemiah, familiar with the story and influence of Queen Esther before him, is positioned by God as the king’s cup bearer when he hears the troubling news from Jerusalem.
We’re immediately given a glimpse into Nehemiah’s devotion to God’s kingdom purpose and his own love for his city. The news of the walls being broken down and gates burned with fire leaves the inhabitants of the city vulnerable to enemy attack. This certainly is disgraceful and no doubt the people are in trouble.
Broken hearted over the condition of the city and the plight of his fellow Israelites, Nehemiah weeps. He mourns for the city and sets himself to fast and pray. I wonder how the Church in our country is responding to our own nation’s distressful situation? Those who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, have too much of the heart of Christ and the love of the Spirit to be indifferent. Listen to Nehemiah’s heart when he prays.
5 Then I said: “LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.
7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Here we see the Spirit of prayer and travail resting on Nehemiah as he pleads the promises before God on behalf of his people. Notice how Nehemiah identifies with the sins of his people instead of distancing himself from them. Just as Christ took our sins as his own making intercession for us, so to Nehemiah, showing he has God’s heart in the matter.
8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ 10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah continues to call to rememberence God’s instructions (praying God’s Word) reminding Him of His promises, and that His people who are in dire straits need His help. He doesn’t gloss over their sometime ugly history and God’s corrective measures, yet, he reminds God that they are redeemed by God’s great power.
We see in verse 11 that Nehemiah secures God’s favor for his undertaking a response to the situation in Jerusalem. As usually is the case, God tends to use those who seek Him most to be His instuments in answering their own prayers. I’m reminded of the admonishion of James to be careful “not to be hearers only” but doers of the word.
Appointed For Such a Time As This
Ultimately, the fate of our nation rests in the hands of God. Yet, God’s decisions many times are influenced by the response of His people, or, the lack of it. I’m encouraged by the national response of the Church by fasting and praying and calling for a season of repentance.
My own paraphrased word of encouragement to pray from Jeremiah 29:7, 11-13 for our nation;
Seek the peace and prosperity of the nation in which I have you living. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. For I know the plans I have for you and this nation, declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. When you call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart!
May your heart be with God’s heart for all the nations, for they are Christ’s inheritance (Psalm 2) and we the Church are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). So, we the Church have a vested interest in the blessing of the nations. We are commissioned to disciple them (Matthew 28:19-20) and blessed to share in that inheritance.
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