Nehemiah Chapter 1
Memory verses for this week: Isa 9:6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the
government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The
Prince of Peace.
We begin a new study this week on the book of Nehemiah.
The book of
Nehemiah is the historical successor to Ezra., Jews traditionally
have viewed the book of Nehemiah as “the second book of Ezra.” It
continues the history of the restoration of the remnant of God’s
people back to the land of promise. The events of the book cover
approximately twelve years based on the chronological indicators of
Nehemiah 1:1 and 13:6.
The essence of the book is how Nehemiah, a Jewish court official of
the Persian king Artaxerxes, is allowed to return with the king’s
blessing to rebuild the wall and city of Jerusalem. (Zerbubbabel and
Ezra had been granted permission to rebuild only the Temple.) Though
having official permission to rebuild the wall, there immediately
came opposition from adversaries displeased to see God’s people
There also is record of the internal problems of selfishness,
discouragement and the difficulty of the work along with further
external troubles. Nevertheless, the work of rebuilding the wall was
The remainder of the book presents how God’s Word was preached to
the people by Ezra. There was repentance and revival and how the
problem of separation was once again addressed. Nehemiah also
presents genealogical details of the Jews of the remnant who had
returned over the years.
On a broader spiritual
level, the book of Nehemiah, like Ezra, presents how that the enemy
will always seek to oppose God’s work. No sooner had they endeavored
to serve God than the adversary sought any way possible to stop
them. To one degree or another, that remains true to this day. It is
never easy to do a work for God, then or now.
Overview of Nehemiah 1:
Chapter 1 of Nehemiah presents Nehemiah’s determination to help his
people and their homeland. Over ninety years had passed since the
first group of the remnant Jews had returned. Though the Temple had
been rebuilt, the rest of Jerusalem was still largely destroyed. The
rubble and desolation of the earlier Babylonian conquests remained.
As Nehemiah obtained word of the continuing desolation, he asked and
received permission to return.
I. Setting in Shushan the Palace
Neh 1:1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to
pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in
Shushan the palace,
Nehemiah presents the setting for the events to be recorded. God
always provides the essential information for us to understand about
a book. Normally we are told who is writing and the setting in
which the writing took place. If not, we can draw solid
conclusions by study of the chapter and the writings. In the
beginning of this book, it was the twentieth year of the rule of
Artaxerxes and about December (the Hebrew month Chisleu).
Nehemiah was employed at the palace of the king at Shushan (in
modern archaeology, called Susa) which was the winter palace of the
Persian empire. In modern geography, Susa is in southwestern
Iran. Apart from his father’s name, little else is known about
the background of Nehemiah.
Neh 1:2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men
of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped,
which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
Neh 1:3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the
captivity there in the province are in great affliction and
reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates
thereof are burned with fire.
Neh 1:4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat
down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed
before the God of heaven,
In verse 2, Nehemiah refers to Hanani as one his brethren. Based
upon comments made in 7:2, it seems he was his literal brother in
distinction to the more generic reference of other Jewish
brethren. Evidently, he and other Jews had returned from a trip to
Jerusalem. Nehemiah, as a Jew, was very much interested in the
welfare of his homeland and the Jews who had been living there now
for over ninety years.
His brother and associates bore bad news. They reported how “the
remnant of the captivity there in the province are in great
affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down,
the gates thereof are burned with fire.” The city of Jerusalem
lay much as it had since the final destruction by the Babylonians in
586 B.C. The Jews who had returned earlier apparently had fallen
upon hard times from the hostility of the surrounding peoples.
Upon hearing such discouraging news, it says in verse 4 that
Nehemiah “sat down and wept and mourned certain days.” He began to
fast and he went to prayer “before the God of heaven.”
There is a tremendous lesson that when there seems to be no recourse
for God’s people, there always is room at the throne of grace.
II. Nehemiah's Great Prayer
Neh 1:5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great
and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love
him and observe his commandments:
Neh 1:6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that
thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee
now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and
confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned
against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
We find in this chapter one of the greatest prayers in the
Bible. Nehemiah prayed with great intensity and fervency. We
just studied about the important of being serious with God and to be
fervent in our prayers in our study of James.
James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for
another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a
righteous man availeth much.
In his prayer, there is confession on behalf of his people. There
is intercessory pleading by him on behalf of his people. Finally,
there is a direct request for God’s help.
Nehemiah evidently already had in mind to approach Artaxerxes the
king with a request to return and rebuild Jerusalem. He first
asked God to intercede on his behalf and prosper his request before
the king. Notice the eloquence, yet fervent reverence in how
Nehemiah approached God. “I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the
great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them
that love him and observe his commandments.” In effect, he began
his prayer by praising God. He then begged God to hear his prayer.
Though God certainly can hear our prayer, He is under no obligation
to answer it.
Matthew Henry said this about Nehemiah's prayer.
We have here Nehemiah’s prayer, a prayer that has reference to all
the prayers which he had for some time before been putting up to God
day and night, while he continued his sorrows for the desolations of
Jerusalem, and withal to the petition he was now intending to
present to the king his master for his favour to Jerusalem. We may
observe in this prayer,
I. His humble and reverent address to God, in which he prostrates
himself before him, and gives unto him the glory due unto his name,
v. 5. It is much the same with that of Daniel, ch. 9:4. It teaches
us to draw near to God, 1. With a holy awe of his majesty and glory,
remembering that he is the God of heaven, infinitely above us, and
sovereign Lord over us, and that he is the great and terrible
God, infinitely excelling all the principalities and powers both
of the upper and of the lower world, angels and kings; and he is a
God to be worshipped with fear by all his people, and whose powerful
wrath all his enemies have reason to be afraid of. Even the terrors
of the Lord are improvable for the comfort and encouragement of
those that trust in him. 2. With a holy confidence in his grace and
truth, for he keepeth covenant and mercy for those that love him,
not only the mercy that is promised, but even more than he promised:
nothing shall be thought too much to be done for those that love
him and keep his commandments.
Neh 1:7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not
kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which
thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
Neh 1:8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst
thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you
abroad among the nations:
Neh 1:9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do
them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of
the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them
unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
As he continues in prayer, Nehemiah, knowing the sin of his people,
was acutely aware of this. Notice that he was already in the
practice of praying for his people “day and night.” In fashion
quite similar to Daniel and Ezra, he proceeded to intercede on their
behalf and confessed their collective sin before God. (See Daniel 9
and Ezra 9:5.)
Dan 9:3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and
supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
Dan 9:4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession,
and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant
and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his
Dan 9:5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done
wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and
from thy judgments:
Dan 9:6 Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets,
which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers,
and to all the people of the land.
Dan 9:7 O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us
confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the
inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and
that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven
them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against
Dan 9:8 O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to
our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against
Ezra 9:5 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness;
and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and
spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,
Ezra 9:6 And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my
face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our
head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.
Nehemiah then reminded God of His promises. In reminding God of
His Word, Nehemiah alluded to Deuteronomy 28:63-67 and 30:1-5.
Deu 28:63 And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over
you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice
over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be
plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.
Deu 28:64 And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the
one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve
other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood
Deu 28:65 And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither
shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee
there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind:
Deu 28:66 And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou
shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life:
Deu 28:67 In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and
at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of
thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine
eyes which thou shalt see.
Deu 30:1 And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come
upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee,
and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the
LORD thy God hath driven thee,
Deu 30:2 And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his
voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy
children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
Deu 30:3 That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and
have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all
the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
Deu 30:4 If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of
heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from
thence will he fetch thee:
Deu 30:5 And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which
thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do
thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
Neh 1:10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast
redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
Neh 1:11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to
the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who
desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this
day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the
Nehemiah reminded God that He had promised to restore His people to
their land if they would return to Him and obey Him. He reminded
God that He had already allowed some to return. Notice how he
referred to them as “thy servants and thy people, who thou hast
redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.”
God had allowed them to return. To that degree He had redeemed them
by His power which indeed He had.
Finally, Nehemiah got down to the heart of His prayer. He asked
God to prosper and grant mercy to him as he approached Artaxerxes.
For the first time, it is noted that Nehemiah was the cupbearer for
the king. It was a position of high degree. It was his job to
sample all drink before the king drank it to verify there was no
poison therein. He therefore held a position of high trust and
personal contact with the king. He accordingly intended to
approach Artaxerxes with a plan to rebuild Jerusalem. He besought
the Lord for his divine intervention and prospering in the matter.
J. Vernon McGee said this about the end of Nehemiah's prayer.
Nehemiah said to the Lord, “You said that You would scatter us if
we disobeyed You, and we have disobeyed. You also said that if we
turned and came back to You, that even though we be ‘cast out unto
the uttermost part of the heaven,’ You would bring us back to the
land.” Nehemiah believed that the Jews would return to the land. He
counted on it and that is why he prayed this way.
Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed
by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
O Lord, I beseech thee,
let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to
the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and
prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in
the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer [Neh.
Nehemiah is willing and wants to be used of God. But he is not
running ahead of God; he prays about it. He says, “If You want to
use me, I am making myself available.” When Nehemiah spoke about the
king in his prayer, he called him “this man.” We will see him going
to ask the king if he may return to the land. Nehemiah does not want
to run ahead of God, and so he goes to Him first in prayer.
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