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, 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. 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.” (Nehemiah 1:1-3)
When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they moved most of the Jews to foreign lands as a way of controlling them and preventing them from organizing themselves with any significant power. Many were relocated to Babylon where they became settled and began new lives. They still followed the God of their Fathers, but not in the Promise Land that God had provided for them. Some of the Jews established themselves in important positions within these new kingdoms.
When they were given the opportunity to return to the Promised Land after 70 years in captivity, only 50,000 of the two to three million that were taken away in captivity took advantage of the opportunity to return to their homeland. Many of the Jews had been born in captivity and didn’t know anything about their homeland other than stories that were shared by the older generations.
The record of Nehemiah begins about 100 years after the first captives began to return to the Promised Land. The walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed when the city was captured and had not been rebuilt, despite an earlier attempt, after 100 years of the Jews beginning to return to the city.
When we look around us at our world today… we don’t see a pretty picture. In many ways, our country and our world today lies in distress and reproach. When we watch the news today and talk with people around us, we see a world fractured along numerous fault lines. The United States resembles a “shattered target clay” more than it resembles “one nation under God”. Too many, including Christians, have found ways to become comfortable in this fallen world that is ruled by the enemy of their savior.
We look at our world today and ask ourselves… what can I do to fix it? We look at our country today and ask ourselves… what can I do to gather the people together again? We often come to the same conclusion time and time again upon pondering these questions… I don’t even know where to begin.
Nehemiah knew where to begin…
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.
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, 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. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; 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.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. 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. (Nehemiah 1:4-11)
It’s just as important to point out what Nehemiah “did not do” as it is to look at what he “did do”. Nehemiah did not begin placing blame on others for the current situation nor did he place the responsibility on others for what needed to be done. Transferring blame and responsibility to others is not in the teachings of the Bible nor included in the great character traits of biblical role models.
Nehemiah allowed his heart to be broken and he humbled himself before the Lord. Nehemiah confessed the sins of his nation of Israel, his family, and himself. Nehemiah recognized, and confessed, that the judgment that had befallen Israel was a direct result of Israel’s actions in rejecting God’s commandments, statutes, and ordinances. Nehemiah also recognized that in turning back to God, not only in word but also in action, that God would restore the nation His power according to His own plan.
Nehemiah made the condition of Israel and the condition of Jerusalem personal. He took ownership of the current condition and he took ownership of the path to restoration.
Every great victory for biblical leaders and for ourselves begins with a humble surrender to the will of God. Humble yourself. Fast and pray before the God of heaven.
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
(2 Chronicles 7:14)