Nehemiah 1-3 Let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant

From Nehemiah 1-3

16 Neh Rebuilding

Introduction

In 445 B.C. the Persian King Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah, an Israelite who was a trusted official, to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. With Nehemiah went the third wave of returning Jewish exiles. There was intense opposition from the other peoples in the land and disunity within Jerusalem. Despite this opposition, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls. He overcame these threats by taking wise defensive measures, by personal example, and by his obvious courage. Nehemiah did what God had put into his heart (2:12; 7:5) and found that the joy of the Lord was his strength (8:10). When the people began once again to fall into sin, Nehemiah had Ezra read to them from the Law. Nehemiah served twice as governor. The author is unknown, although parts come from Nehemiah’s own writings. (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ne). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

We have just read through Ezra. Some of the people who were allowed to return to Jerusalem have come back and given a report of its state to Nehemiah. They tell him the wall is still broken down with the gates destroyed.

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Neh 1.4)

We might think little about these events. But they deeply affect Nehemiah. They signify the LORD’s punishment of Israel and continued disapproval. At times Judah and Israel were blessed by the LORD, but this has all changed.

5 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, (Neh 1.5)

Nehemiah brings attention to Israel’s covenant relationship with the LORD, noting how faithful God is to those who maintain their covenant obligations. Generally these people are called ‘the righteous’ in the Old Testament. But Israel over the years has walked away from the LORD and committed idolatry. They have been unrighteous and that is why the LORD has punished them.

6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. (Neh 1.6-7)

Nehemiah with sincerity includes himself in the sin of Israel. He humbles himself before the LORD. By doing this he has implicitly justified the LORD’s actions in punishing Israel and himself for their failure to keep the law of Moses.

8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples (Lev 26.33; Dt 28.64), 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them (Lev 26.39-42; Dt 4.29-31; 30.2-3), though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven (Dt 30.4), from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen (Dt 12.5), to make my name dwell there.’ (Neh 1.8-9)

Nehemiah knows his Torah. His prayer reflects the covenant agreement the LORD has made with Israel. If Israel breaks the covenant, as she has, the LORD will scatter them, and he has. But also. If Israel returns to the LORD, keeping the covenant law, then the LORD likewise is obligated to restore Israel to the place he has chosen. The temple.

10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Neh 1.10-11)

Nehemiah has recognised why the people have been put in exile. Now he is renewing the covenant and obligating himself and those he leads to keep the law of Moses. Relying then on the LORD’s faithfulness to his covenant obligations he hopes the LORD will bless him. The key issue Nehemiah wants is to see the wall of Jerusalem rebuilt and new gates put up. This forms the main premise of the book.

Following this prayer the LORD grants Nehemiah success in being able to return to Jerusalem with materials and funding to restore the wall and gates of Jerusalem.
In the Book of Nehemiah (as with a few other books in the Old Testament) the LORD works behind the scenes and that is how we are meant to think. When good or bad things happen it is at the LORD’s command and for various reasons. The LORD has blessed Nehemiah and Israel by allowing the wall and gate to be restored. Nehemiah will secretly inspect the wall. He does this because there are people hostile to the purposes of God living in the land. Nehemiah will then begin its restoration.

Story of Israel

00 OT Story Israel Jesus
Psalm 89 is a great Psalm which recalls the history of Israel in terms of the covenant she has with the LORD. It recalls the LORD’s faithfulness to his obligations in rescuing Israel her enemies, his promises to David and like Nehemiah above it acknowledges Israel’s sin and failure to keep the commands of Moses and consequent punishment. The Psalm ends with a plea for mercy grounded in the LORD’s steadfast love. His covenant love.
46 How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? 
47 Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! 48 What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah 
49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David? 50 Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, 51 with which your enemies mock, O LORD, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed. 
52 Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen. (Ps 89:46–52)
Both Nehemiah and this Psalmist know the LORD who keeps covenant is both forgiving and righteous. Forgiving in the sense that Israel has broken the covenant and the LORD is gracious and merciful in atoning for her sin (in this case through her own punishment) and forgiving them. He is also righteous in the sense that the LORD is still committed to honour his own covenant obligations. The LORD has promised to restore Israel.

Story of Jesus

The LORD reveals his faithfulness to his covenant promises supremely in Jesus. In Jesus the wrath of God has been satisfied, the LORD has forgiven his people and is committed to restore them.

18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Cor 1:18–22)

The LORD has done all this through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.


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