One of my favorite Old Testament books is about Nehemiah. He lived 2,500 years ago. He wasn’t a prophet or a preacher. Actually, he was like many of you reading this meditation. He was a civil servant. He was an ordinary guy, living in a foreign country, taken there as a captive, and serving as a cup-bearer to the king.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been ruled by a series of wicked kings and in 722 BC the Assyrian army conquered them and carried them away into captivity. They never recovered from this defeat.
There is a real lesson here for us and our nation. The people of Israel were chosen by God to be a special people and live with and for Him in a covenant relationship. Again, and again they broke that trust and God allowed them to be conquered by one of the most wicked people groups that ever lived. One has to wonder what is ahead for our nation — one of the most favored nations that has ever existed. It seems to me that we are in many ways forsaking God. HE WILL NOT HOLD HIS WRATH FOREVER.
In 586 BC the Southern Kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians. Jerusalem, the Holy City was disseminated and the temple destroyed. The destruction was comprehensive in that the temple was destroyed, the wall of the city broken down and the gates of the city were burned. The cream of the crop, of the Jewish people, were carried off to Babylon.
Nehemiah, in time became cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. He served honorably in this role and it is obvious that he gained the trust of the king. In the first chapter of the book, we see that some people came from Judah and Nehemiah quizzed them about things back home. He was told that “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.” (1:3)
Nehemiah’s reaction is very important. He tells us, “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.” (1:4) Then he did something we all should do when we are distressed — he prayed. In fact, we see in the book that there were at least eleven times when Nehemiah went to prayer.
Perhaps you wonder how effective prayer really is. In Jeremiah 33:3, God says, “Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” John of Antioch, also known as Chrysostom, talks about the benefits of prayer:
“The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire; it has bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine that is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by clouds, a heaven unruffled by storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings.”
(I get the impression he believed in the potential and power of prayer.)
Nehemiah was a Jew in exile but Jerusalem was in his heart. In chapter 2, we read that the king saw he was sad and distressed and wanted to know why. Nehemiah already had a plan formulating in his mind and he said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my father’s tombs, that I may rebuild it.” (2:5)
In Nehemiah 2:6-8, we see that the king granted each of his requests and sent him to complete the mission. In 2:8, this man of God recognized where the kings favor came from and he said, “… and the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.”
From this point on, the rest of the book is about ‘Rebuilding’ and the challenges we face as we seek to rebuild. The other afternoon I took members of my family to visit some of the burned-out areas of our city. Many projects are underway, but the challenges for rebuilding are enormous. The lots have to be cleared. Perhaps new plans have to be drawn. Permits have to be secured. There may be new ordinances that have to be met.
Nehemiah found many challenges as he set about rebuilding the wall and restoring the city. But he followed a carefully thought-out plan.
1. He surveyed the entire situation and evaluated what it would take to do the work.
In Luke 14:28, Jesus said, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it.”
Maybe you need to rebuild some area of your life —
· It could be a friendship
· A marriage
· Your family
· Your business
· Your career
· Your health
The first thing you must do is correctly assess the situation and decide what it will ‘cost’ to complete the mission.
2. Nehemiah identified with the entire situation.
3. He took charge of the situation. He knew he was responsible for the project that had been entrusted to him.
4. I see him frequently operating outside of his personal comfort area, but he was faithful to the charge.
You may need a new beginning in some area of your life. Perhaps it is time to rebuild. If you will follow the four principles Nehemiah presents to us and take the first step by a total reliance of your LORD and seeking His face and His favor you too can rebuild that area of your life that needs attention. Your testimony can be like the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
God bless you as you rebuild that area of your life that is suffering today.