As I have been doing my Bible readings each morning, I’ve been in the Book of Ezra. Hearing of the rebuilding of the Temple made me think of the wonderful story of Nehemiah and his plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. While the walls that stand today are not the same ones Nehemiah rebuilt, this event shows God’s faithfulness to those who are faithful to Him. (History tells us that there have been three or four subsequent destructions and rebuildings, culminating in the 1538 AD completion of the current walls by the Ottoman Empire)
This is the first of six-part series on Nehemiah and the Wall.
Nehemiah 1 New King James Version (NKJV)
1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.
It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, 2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
5 And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, 6 please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. 8 Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; 9 but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ 10 Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. 11 O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
For I was the king’s cupbearer.
About 12-14 years after Ezra first came back to Jerusalem to rule it as a Persian governor, Nehemiah comes to hear that the Holy City’s walls are destroyed. This is the end of the Time of Captivity for the Israelites, as they have been allowed to return to Judah. As always, however, there are enemies within and without whom they must contend with. The book of Nehemiah shows his great concern for his country, prompting the Biblical commentary of Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge to label him “the first patriot that ever lived.” The book itself, like the book of Ezra, was probably compiled at a later date from various memoranda of Nehemiah, like a journal of sorts that was found and put together into a cohesive book.
The Call & Prayer
Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the King of Persia. He had a duty in the citadel of Shushan and had not been permitted to leave to see his ancestral homeland. Clearly, he had a great longing to do so, because when Hanani returned from Judah, he began asking many questions. So, naturally, he weeps when he hears the sad news that, though the Jews have been freed and allowed to return, the city itself is in danger, having no defensive fortifications.
Jerusalem was, and is, in a prime territory in the Fertile Cresent. Much of the middle east is desert without arable land. So a land that is able to bear crops was much contested. Plus, there were those descendants of Ishmael who believed Jerusalem belonged to them. So knowing that enemies were all around Jerusalem, yet it had no walls to defend from, Nehemiah weeps and morns for days.
But he didn’t stop there. While he was distressed, he fasted and prayed. He prayed to LORD, admitting his sins, and the sins of his countrymen. He was learned in the scriptures, and in his prayer, he quotes from the Law that God said he would scatter the Israelites if they were unfaithful to Him, but we would restore them if they turned back to Him.
He knew He was in a position to possibly do something about the problem, because, being the cupbearer, he had the king’s ear. He didn’t just act without thinking or prayer. It says many days he prayed and fasted about it.
If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me… I will bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.
When God scatters us, because of our unfaithfulness, remember that He promised to bring us back, if we return to Him. The story of the Prodigal Son exemplifies this. That though the son asked for his inheritance (basically telling his father “you’re dead to me, so give me my money”) and squandered it all, when the boy returned, the father brought him back with open arms.
For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
If you feel like the Jews, scattered among the nations, because you know you have been unfaithful, then resolve to turn back to Him and keep His commandments. Start today, start small if you have to. Think of one thing that you can change about your daily walk, and work on it today. Do so with fasting and prayer. The fast doesn’t have to be some epic fast, but rather take the time away from something else to spend in prayer.