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Bible: What Does Nehemiah 1-7 Teach Us About Trust, Prayer, Courage and Perseverance?
A Righteous Man Prays
THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH
In Artaxerxes' twentieth year Nehemiah, the king's cupbearer (1:11), learns from Hanani and others about Jerusalem's sorry status as well as the suffering of the Captivity's survivors (vv. 1-3).
In his mourning Nehemiah fasts and prays, confessing the sins of the people and of himself (vv. 4-6).
First, however, he acknowledges the greatness of the LORD and the faithfulness of Israel's covenant-keeping God to forgive (v. 5).
After quoting Moses’ instructions about repentance and restoration, Nehemiah seeks mercy from the LORD as he plans to approach Artaxerxes (vv. 8-11; cf. Lev. 26:33; Deut. 30:1-5).
A man of tender heart humbles himself before the Lord; he knows and takes the only path possible in order to make things right.
Nehemiah Surveys the Walls
Nehemiah cannot help but be sad (v. 1).
However, for him to appear with such a demeanor before Artaxerxes may have become a grave mistake and a cause for great fear (v. 2).
[Strange as the custom may seem to Westerners, servants may lose their lives for wearing a sad countenance in the king's presence!]
Yet trusting in the LORD, Nehemiah broaches the question regarding Jerusalem’s status before the king (v. 3).
Once God "opens the door," Nehemiah continues to trust that He will permit his plans to stand (v. 4).
He asks the king for enough time to rebuild Jerusalem (vv. 5-6) and for the government to send letters that would allow him to pass through the land freely and to acquire timber for the repair work (vv. 7-8).
When God grants him the king's favor, Nehemiah acknowledges the LORD’s grace by repeating Ezra’s phrase: the "good hand of my God upon me" (v. 8).
Now Sanballat and Tobiah enter the scene as adversaries of Nehemiah and the Jews (v. 10).
In Jerusalem Nehemiah takes nightly surveys of the wall's condition, but keeps his purpose for doing so secret (vv. 11-16).
Finally, he encourages the leaders to rebuild, telling them of God's favor upon him before the king (vv. 17-18a).
These leaders respond positively (v. 18b), but the adversaries ridicule them (v. 19).
In response Nehemiah rebukes these enemies, just as Ezra had done (v. 20; cf. Ezra 4:1-5, 11-22).
[Wherever someone desires to do a work for God, there the enemy will be also. Nehemiah exemplifies great courage, wisdom and faith throughout this ordeal].
Nehemiah lists the names of people and the parts of the wall they repaired.
The gates of the city also had names: Sheep (v. 1), Fish (v. 3), Old (v. 6), Valley and Refuse (v. 13), Fountain (v. 15), Water (v. 26), Horse (v. 28), East (v. 29), and Miphkad (v. 31).
[It is interesting to note that everyone had a responsibility, and everyone completed it successfully].
Nehemiah, the Leader
Enemy/Enemies of the Jews
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The Jews' enemies—Sanballat and Tobiah—mock their attempt to rebuild the wall (vv. 1-3), so Nehemiah brings an imprecation against them, asking God to send them into captivity and not to forgive their sin (vv. 4-5).
The people have the strength to work hard and watch for long hours, as they anticipate their enemies’ attack (vv. 6-9).
In response to Judah’s lament about the failing strength of the laborers and their foes’ continual taunts, Nehemiah repositions men to fortify the wall, and encourages the workers to fight for their families (vv. 10-14).
He instructs them to carry a construction tool in one hand and a weapon for war in the other (vv. 15-18).
Throughout the building project, Nehemiah exhorts them to remain vigilant and to hope in God (vv. 19-23).
[When leaders anticipate a long, hard task, they should make plans to encourage their troops often and provide sound strategies to facilitate their work as much as they can].
Verses 1-5 record the outcry of the poor Jews whom the nobility force into slavery by various means.
Nehemiah stops this evil practice as well as usury (the cause of the problem), requiring the nobles to promise before priests that they would restore the property to the poor plus pay restitution (vv. 6-13).
Furthermore, the governor reports his deeds of generosity during those trying years, attributing his behavior to "the fear of God" (vv. 14-19).
Some of his good work includes avoiding the misuse of governmental authority (vv. 14-15), laboring with the common folk (v. 16), and feeding hundreds at his own expense (vv. 17-18).
He concludes this section with prayer, asking God to remember his deeds (v. 19).
[Why does Nehemiah (if indeed he wrote this book) record that he did these things?
Did he do so because he wished history to remember him as a great man, or because he wished to encourage others to fear God and thus be able to accomplish good works?]
Rebuilding the Walls
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Nehemiah's enemies, after hearing about his success in rebuilding the wall, send him four letters, requesting a meeting with him; each time they receive, in effect, a "No" answer (vv. 1-4).
Their fifth letter proceeds much further, however, because it attempts to coerce him into compliance by spreading false rumors about him.
It read, in essence, "Nehemiah intends to make himself king in rebellion against Artaxerxes" (vv. 5-7).
Of course, Nehemiah denies these rumors (v. 8), explains his enemies' deceit (v. 9a), and asks God to strengthen him as he deals with the opposition (v. 9b).
Shemaiah, a secret informer, also tries to trick him, suggesting that he hide himself in the temple (v. 10).
Perceiving him to be a hired conspirator, Nehemiah resists him, too (vv. 11-12).
He is particularly aware that the adversaries are trying to make him act out of fear instead of out of trust in God (v. 13), so he concludes this episode by praying that God would remember his enemies' evil deeds (v. 14).
[This action is reminiscent of his earlier prayer; see Nehemiah 5:19].
The Jews finish building the wall in fifty-two days.
Because Nehemiah’s combatants come to understand that God's power enabled their enemies to accomplish this task, they lose heart (vv. 15-16).
Nevertheless, Tobiah, one of their number, continues to send letters to Nehemiah to frighten him (vv. 17-19).
[One defeats enemies by (1) not cooperating with them and (2) putting out the fires they start; but most of all, one wins by (3) trusting the LORD for strength and protection].
After God’s people build the walls and hang the doors, Nehemiah gives control of the city to Hanani, his brother, and Hananiah, the leader of the citadel (vv. 1-2), advising them to take the following protective measures: (1) set guards at the gates, and (2) keep the gates closed until the afternoon (v. 3).
Then, at God's leading, Nehemiah decides to register everyone by genealogy (vv. 4-5a).
While performing this task, he finds the registry of the Jews' first return (vv. 5-73a; cf. Ezra 2:1-70).
[Nehemiah reasoned that he would solidify the covenant community by registering everyone by genealogy].
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