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David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible

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Chapter 2
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Additional Resources
 • Adam Clark Commentary
 • Gill's Exposition
 • Geneva Study Bible
 • Matthew Henry Complete
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 • Treasury of Scripture
 • Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Nehemiah 1 - Nehemiah's Prayer

A. Nehemiah hears of Jerusalem's sorry state

1. Some one thousand years after the time of Moses; some four hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people were in a desperate state

a. Their nations had been destroyed - first, the northern Jewish nation of Israel, then the southern Jewish nations of Judah. The city of Jerusalem had been completely conquered by the Babylonians, and once-glorious temple of Solomon had been destroyed

b. When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they deported almost everyone from the city and the region - for some seventy years, Jerusalem was a ghost town, with the potential to end up like many ancient cities - completely forgotten except to history

c. When the Jews were deported to Babylon, they began to make homes for themselves there - they settled down, and many still followed the God of their Fathers, but they did it from Babylon, with no desire to return to the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

i. Some of these faithful Jews were raised up to places of prominence in the governments they were deported to. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego became leaders in Babylon; Esther was made queen in the courts of a Persian king

d. But after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, they were given the opportunity to return to their homeland, the promised land. Out of the some two or three million Jews deported from the land, only 50,000 decided to return to the promised land. That's only something like 2%! But they did return, and in the days of Ezra, they rebuilt the temple and laid a spiritual foundation for Israel once again

e. But fifteen years after the book of Ezra ended; almost 100 years after the first captives came back to the promised land; some 150 years after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were still in rubble

i. It wasn't that people before hadn't tried to rebuild the walls. In Ezra 4:6-23, we see that some 75 years before, they had tried to rebuild the walls, but were stopped by their enemies. No one thought this obstacle could be overcome, so the walls lay in ruin and the people stayed in trouble

2. (1-3) Nehemiah hears of Jerusalem's state

a. Nehemiah lived in Shushan, the capital city of the Persians, and he lived in the citadel - that is, the fortified palace of the Persians. Right away, we know Nehemiah is someone important, living in the very palace of the king of Persia

b. Nehemiah's body was in Persia; but his heart and his interest were in Jerusalem - eight hundred miles away! He wanted to know from those returning how the people and the city were doing

i. One might think an important man like Nehemiah would have more important things to think about than a distant city he had never been to, and a people he had mostly never met. Yet, because his heart is for the things of God, his heart is not on himself, but on others

ii. Nehemiah has the heart of Psalm 137:5-6: If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy. If Jerusalem was special to God, it was also special to Nehemiah

c. The news he gets is not encouraging. The people (called survivors - not a hopeful title!) were in great distress and reproach, and the walls of the city itself was broken down and its gates are burned with fire

i. The bad state of the people and the bad state of the city walls were intimately connected. A city without walls, in the ancient world, was a city completely open and vulnerable to its enemies. They had no defense, no protection at all

ii. An unwalled city was always a backwater town, with nothing valuable in it - because if there were anything of value, it could be stolen away easily, because there was no defense to stop it

iii. Those living in an unwalled city lived in constant stress and tension; they never knew when they might be attacked and brutalized. Every man lived in constant fear for his wife and children. The temple could be rebuild, but never made beautiful, because anything valuable would be taken easily

iv. No wonder the people lived in constant distress, in constant disgrace (reproach), living only as survivors. God has more for us than to be mere survivors! God not only wants us to be conquerors, but more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37)

3. (4) Nehemiah's reaction to the news about Jerusalem and its people

a. Nehemiah's immediate reaction is extreme. He doesn't just feel bad for Jerusalem and its people; right away, there is no strength in his legs (I sat down), and he begins to weep, and mourn

b. God is going to use Nehemiah to do something about this situation; but first, God must do something in Nehemiah. Any great work of God begins with God doing a great work in somebody

i. God prepared this long ago, with Nehemiah's important position in Persia, with a heart curious about the welfare of Jerusalem and its people; now, with a heart that breaks over their needy state

ii. God saw the need in heaven, but little would be done until the right man also felt the need - and now, God is going to do something great to meet that need through Nehemiah

iii. But there is no way Nehemiah can do this alone. He must be a leader - one who influences other people - to get this job done. Nehemiah is a book all about leadership; an obviously crying need in our world today

iv. Since leadership is influence, leadership applies to everyone. Everyone has an area of leadership. You are a leader; are you a good leader or a bad leader?

v. Leaders must prepare themselves for difficult work. It won't be easy. Deal with it! "There is no winning without warfare; there is no opportunity without opposition; there is no victory without vigilance. For when ever the people of God say, 'Let us arise and build,' Satan says, 'Let me arise and oppose.'" (Redpath)

vi. Leaders must have a big vision; and Nehemiah one. "Through me, God is going to correct a problem that's been around a hundred and fifty years. Through me, God is going to do something that was completely shot down before." Is your vision - your goal - big enough?

c. Nehemiah's reaction went beyond an immediate emotion; for many days he mourned, and he was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Many times a concern will come over us in a flush, and then quickly pass. But if it is from the Lord, it will abide, and grow in us, and the burden will remain till it is done

i. We should note as well what Nehemiah did not do: complain, whine, or "see who could fix this problem." He immediately did what he knew he could do - pray, and intensely seek God in this situation

d. Nehemiah also had a clear understanding of Whom he was fasting and praying towards: the God of heaven. There are many "gods" people trust in; but only the God of heaven can really meet our needs

B. Nehemiah's prayer

1. Prayer is essential to leadership; if you have a vision big enough that it can only be done by God, you obviously must pray. If you don't need to desperately pray to accomplish your vision, your goal isn't big enough

a. It appears that Nehemiah prayed for four months before he did anything. Later, when the work of rebuilding the walls actually begins, it only takes 52 days to finish the job. But that 52 day project had a four month foundation of prayer

b. Nehemiah took his pain and stress to God in prayer - and seemingly, was able to leave it there. Prayer will relieve your stress. You may be trying to relieve stress through entertainment, but all that does is divert your attention. Entertainment doesn't give any solutions to stress. Prayer will give you strength; when you wait on the Lord in prayer, He will renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31)

2. (5-7) Nehemiah comes to God in humility

a. Humility begins by simply understanding there is a God enthroned in the heavens, and I am not Him! Nehemiah recognizes exactly who God is: Lord God of heaven . . . great and awesome God . . . who keep Your covenant . . . and mercy . . . with those You love

b. Humility also understands my complete dependence on God; when Nehemiah desperately asks God to hear the prayer of Your servant (let Your ear be attentive . . . Your eyes open), it reflects his complete dependence on the Lord - only God can help, and if God will only hear, I know He will help!

i. God will allow you to be fruitless to expose your need for total dependence

c. Humility will also confess sin openly: confess the sins . . . which we have sinned against You. Both my father's house and I have sinned. Nehemiah plainly and simply confesses sin, without any attempt at excuse

i. God save us from excusing ourselves in the confession of sin! May we never say, "Lord, if I sinned . . . " or "Lord, I'm sorry, but You know how hard it was . . . " or other such nonsense. What freedom there is in open, honest confession, with any attempt at excuse or wondering "if" I sinned or not

d. Humility identifies with the needy. Obviously, Nehemiah was a godly man; but he openly and passionately puts himself with his father's house, and prays with the we

i. "You never lighten the load unless first you have felt the pressure in your own soul. You are never used of God to bring blessing until God has opened your eyes and made you see things as they are." (Redpath)

3. (8-10) Nehemiah comes to God looking to God's promises

a. Remember: what a powerful way to come to God! To ask Him to remember His promises! Nehemiah is saying, "Lord, You made a promise to Moses and this nation, I ask you now to make good on it!" (Nehemiah is quoting from both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30)

i. This, no doubt, is the secret to great power in prayer: to plead the promises of God. We may be a bit annoyed when one of our children comes to us saying "Daddy, you promised"; but our Father in heaven delights in it - and often demands it before prayer becomes effective

ii. God will not open His storehouse until we open our mouths in asking Him to perform His promises!

b. Nehemiah is quoting a conditional promise; the condition was returning to God, and keeping His commandments. How could he know the nation was keeping these conditions? He really couldn't; but he knew that he was keeping them, and because he had identified himself with the nation in their sin, the nation could identify itself with Nehemiah in his godly fulfillment of these conditions

4. (11) Nehemiah prays with a heart ready to do something

a. Nehemiah concludes by asking God's blessing when he speaks to the king of Persia about this matter. Nehemiah was going to do something about the sorry state of Jerusalem's walls and people, and he knows without God's intervention, he can do nothing

b. This is a prayer of a man of action, not a sideline critic. Nehemiah does not pray "God, make it all better" or "God, get someone moving on this problem"; instead, his prayer is "God, use me to make it better."

Copyright Statement
David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible are reproduced by permission of David Guzik, Siegen, Germany. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Guzik, David. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1". "David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible". <>. 1997-2003.  


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