Nehemiah 1 English Standard Version (ESV)
Report from Jerusalem
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.”
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.
Accompanying Ray Stedman sermon: Don't Despair - Begin to Repair
Accompanying David Legge sermon: The Man for the Hour
Accompanying Matt Chandler sermon: Empathy and Human Flourishing and Rebuilding With Prayer
The book of Nehemiah is, of course, about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. But it is so much more than that. As Stedman points out:
This book is also the story of the restoring of a people from ruin and despair to a new walk with God. Jerusalem is not only an historic city which has for centuries been the center of the life of the nation of Israel (and, in fact, the center of the biblical record), it is also a symbolic city. Jerusalem is also used in a pictorial sense throughout the Scriptures. What it pictures is the place where God desires to dwell. When the city was first designated to King David as the place where God wanted him to build the temple, he was told that this was the place where God would dwell among his people. Jerusalem therefore, throughout the Old and New Testaments, has pictured the place where God seeks to dwell. However, it is only a picture -- it is not the actual place where God dwells for, according to the New Testament, man is to be the dwelling place of God. God seeks to dwell in the human spirit. That is the great secret that humanity has largely lost today, but which New Testament Christianity seeks to restore. The Apostle Paul's great statement in the letter to the Colossians is, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," (Colossians 1:27). This is God's provision and desire for man.
Jerusalem in ruins, therefore, is a picture of a life that has lost its defenses against attack and lies open to repeated hurt and misery. If you are at all acquainted with the world in which we live today, you will know that every time you turn your television on you are exposed to the hurt and misery of people whose walls have been broken down. Jerusalem in ruins is a vivid picture of their danger and despair. The book of Nehemiah depicts the way of recovery from breakdown and ruin to a condition of peace, security, restored order, and usefulness.
The book of Nehemiah is truly a step by step process of what to do if your life is in ruins.
The first step is seen in v4 - being willing to face the ruin in your life and bring it to God with a broken and contrite heart.
In Nehemiah's prayer he recognized the character of God, he repented of both personal and corporate sins (with no attempt to make excuses or shift blame), he reminded God of His promises (not because He needed reminding, but to remind him/us what God promised), and asked for help in the process of rebuilding.
And, of course, the only hope for change, the only hope to rebuild a ruined life, is not through our own self-will or effort or determination - but rather by the strength of God alone.
What I loved about Chandler's sermon is that he pointed out how intensely Nehemiah empathized with his people who were living in such horrible conditions - even while he was living in the lap of luxury, utterly removed from anything they were experiencing, and without Facebook to provide him pictures of the devastation. He experienced intense compassion and was moved to do something about it.
Nehemiah's reaction is how God desires for us to react to the suffering around us. If we want to truly love the body of Christ around us, we need to keep our own personal preferences secondary to God's, and focus on joy instead of the fleetingness of happiness. When we do life with that mindset, that is when compassion and empathy can flourish.
Chandler: Our motivation for compassion and empathy can't be a drive-by guilting sermon. Our motivation for compassion, empathy, belonging, community, rebuilding walls, pouring ourselves out for others has to be the compassion we were shown in God rescuing us while we were sinners.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Nehemiah 2
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