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21 June 2016
Study of Ezra & Nehemiah
WEEK ONE: Nehemiah 1
We start our study by taking a look at the man, Nehemiah.
The very first chapter of the book of Nehemiah gives us a good insight into the character of this man.
It also tells us what he did. The last sentence of the first chapter tells us his role – the cupbearer to the king. So, is this job like being a royal butler or is it more about being a disposable slave? Sampling each cup of wine for poison so the king does not fall victim to such intrigue? The second chapter will give us a hint at the answer. But let us first observe what chapter one says about Nehemiah.
The central focus of this chapter is the prayer.
It is a prayer that is uttered in response to bad news.
Nehemiah’s brother, Hananai, along with a few other men had come from Jerusalem where the rebuilding of the temple had been in progress for some time. These people were the remnant of the southern Israelite tribes who had been exiled to Babylon. Now in the time of the Persian Empire, permission had been granted to the conquered nations to return to their original lands and once again practice their religious customs openly. It was a cunning strategy that intended to keep the peace.
However, conflict and strife came in other forms.
When Nehemiah hears of the “great trouble and disgrace” in Jerusalem he expresses his distress.
“I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed.” 1:4
It was actually quite a few days – 4 months according to the Jewish calendar.
Here is a guy very serious about his prayer life.
Although he is in ‘exile’, under the influence of the Persian king, in contact with the centre of Persian culture, surrounded by the might of the Persian Empire, Nehemiah looks to the God of heaven. He shows that his allegiance is still with “the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love”. 1:5
There are many things that can distract us from being devoted to God. There are many things that happen to us, and to those closest to us, that can make us question the covenant love of God. This wasn’t the case for the Jewish cupbearer.
Nehemiah’s commitment and devotion to God sustains and directs him.
His position to the king does not interfere with his faith.
The fact that he is still in Susa, and not in Jerusalem, has not stopped him from being faithful.
His prayer tells us that he understood that Israel had breached the terms of the covenant.
He confesses this in a personal and corporate way.
His prayer tells us that he knew that the God of Israel would seek to repair the broken covenant.
He intercedes for the straying exiles and longs for them ‘to return’.
He prays for God to act. To do something about the trouble and distress that the Jews are suffering as they rebuild and restore Jerusalem.
He prays because he knows that God is gracious and faithful and powerful.
He prays because he is sure that God can use him through the job he does for the king.
As cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah was in a position to speak to the king and get involved in the solution. Nehemiah was where he needed to be to help those in distress.
Nehemiah’s prayer would be answered. [stay tuned…]
Now, it’s your turn to think through and comment on what you have read and learnt about Nehemiah. What does this scripture say to you about prayer; about the covenant of God; about resisting the lures of the world; about the great and awesome God we serve?
Below there is a place to message any comments or questions or insights you have on the first chapter of Nehemiah. Please join in!