1I am Nehemiah son of Hacaliah, and in this book I tell what I have done.
During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year that Artaxerxes ruled Persia, I was in his fortress city of Susa, 2when my brother Hanani came with some men from Judah. So I asked them about the Jews who had escaped from being captives in Babylonia. I also asked them about the city of Jerusalem.
3They told me, “Those captives who have come back are having all kinds of troubles. They are terribly disgraced, Jerusalem's walls are broken down, and its gates have been burned.”
4When I heard this, I sat down on the ground and cried. Then for several days, I mourned; I went without eating to show my sorrow, and I prayed:
5Lord God of heaven, you are great and fearsome. And you faithfully keep your promises to everyone who loves you and obeys your commands. 6I am your servant, so please have mercy on me and answer the prayer that I make day and night for these people of Israel who serve you. I, my family, and the rest of your people have sinned 7by choosing to disobey you and the laws and teachings you gave to your servant Moses.
8 Please remember the promise you made to Moses. You told him that if we were unfaithful, you would scatter us among foreign nations. 9 But you also said that no matter how far away we were, we could turn to you and start obeying your laws. Then you would bring us back to the place where you have chosen to be worshiped.
10Our Lord, I am praying for your servants—those you rescued by your great strength and mighty power. 11Please answer my prayer and the prayer of your other servants who gladly honor your name. When I serve the king his wine today, make him pleased with me and let him do what I ask.
The Story of God seems to have faltered. The promise of the return of God’s people after the exile of judgment and all the glory to follow which predicted that Jerusalem would become the centre of world salvation seems to have been shipwrecked on the shore of reality (Jeremiah 31:16-40). A few of the exiles have returned, and the temple has been rebuilt. But some of the walls of the city have not been repaired, and others have been destroyed. The city of God is in danger.
When Nehemiah, one of God’s people living in Persia, holding a high ranking position, hears about his homeland, he is devastated. He begins to weep and mourn. If the kingdom is not prospering, then how can he prosper? But though broken he is not despairing; he brings his concern to a sovereign God, whom he addresses as “the God of Heaven.” This is not the god of another-worldly realm. He is deeply involved with this world. Nehemiah is reminded of his own unworthiness and his people’s unworthiness and their history of sin. He does not try to hide it but confesses it all openly, but in the midst of that confession he recalls the promises of God, that God would restore his people no matter how much they sinned – if they repented (2 Chronicles 7:14). Finally he asks God specifically for favour as he seeks to be part of the solution: “When I serve the king his wine today, make him pleased with me and have him do what I ask” (v 11).
When we hear about the problems besetting the church in our world, do we feel sorrow and pain? Or, are our emotions and well being tied more to our own personal success? Nehemiah offers a pattern for our lives. Our utmost priority must be the kingdom of God, Jesus said the same thing, “But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33).
Oh God of Heaven, teach us what it means to have kingdom priorities, and as a result, to weep with those who weep, but never to despair. Help us to take our concerns to you in prayer, in praise and confession and also in specific petition. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.