Some teach that Nehemiah is an object lesson in good planning and project management. That may be true. I believe that there is an even more profound lesson here for everyone. ◊
The Book of NEHEMIAH in the Old Testament is one of those books in the Bible that many people know about but only remember in general terms.
If asked, Who was Nehemiah? some might respond as follows:
- “Nehemiah was a prophet.” (He was not.)
- “Nehemiah was a Jewish king.” (He was not.)
- “Nehemiah rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem.” (He did not.)
- “Nehemiah was the one who led the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem.” (Correct.)
But there is much more to the story than that.
It asked why, or when, or how, or what happened before and after Nehemiah orchestrated the rebuilding of the broken down walls encircling the devastated city of Jerusalem, most would be hard-pressed to supply details.
In and of itself, the context of this very real and documented historical event that took place over 400 years before the birth of Christ is a fascinating history lesson of the Middle East.
Beyond that, some currently teach that the Book of Nehemiah is an object lesson in any or all of the following:
- Good Planning
- Project Management
- Power of Prayer
This may be true. But I believe there is more.
A More Profound Lesson
I believe there is an even more profound lesson here that has implications for the daily life of all of us – believers with low or high levels of devotion, and non-believers on the outside looking in but with interest and curiosity.
Beginning here in this chapter by chapter coverage of the Book of Nehemiah, I will frame the 13 chapters with a ongoing theme that Nehemiah, the central character, is an uncanny picture of the Holy Spirit of God coming alongside each of us to rebuild, defend, and sustain the spiritual structure of our lives that can arise out of our own sin and brokenness and the rubble around us.
I first heard this idea, holding Nehemiah as a picture of how the Holy Spirit helps us rebuild our broken lives, in a late-1970s sermon series in Los Angeles by Pastor Jack Hayford. My sister gave me the tape series as a gift and I used to listen to it over and over again in the early years of my marriage in the 1980s. Hayford’s teaching (and additionally Frank Peretti’s book, This Present Darkness) really helped shape my initial grasp of the Holy Spirit as real and powerful in the practical life of a surrendered Christ-follower.
I’ve actually never heard this teaching about Nehemiah outside of that experience years ago. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to do my own written study of the Book of Nehemiah and will attempt to highlight and reconfirm that thematic thread in a weekly write-up here in Biblical Viewpoint.
The Sorrow of Nehemiah in Chapter 1
Around 445 BC, a Jewish man named Nehemiah, born in Persia, held an esteemed and trusted job as the cupbearer to the King of Persia, Artaxerxes. Nehemiah’s own journal records make up the early chapters of the Book of Nehemiah.
In the opening chapter, though almost 800 miles away, Nehemia is very troubled by the news report he receives about his fellow Jewish kinsmen in and around the fallen city of Jerusalem:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:1-3)
Nehemiah is devastated. He mourns and prays and fasts for several days. He records his very specific prayer to God:
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:
“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:4-7)
Nehemiah knows well his Jewish heritage and the Law of Moses passed down to his fellow people of Israel almost 1000 years earlier. He knows that the northern Kingdom and its capital city of Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and how more recently the southern Kingdom of Judah and its capital city of Jerusalem was initially captured in 605 BC, then sieged and fully destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians.
The people of Israel were scattered and in exile for 70 years before being allowed to return to their homeland by Cyrus, the Persian King. Now, some 90 years later, Nehemiah has a notion of how he can help his people.
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:8-11)
In his prayer, Nehemiah reminds God of His faithful promises. As cupbearer with trusted access to the current Persian King, Nehemiah’s prayer is for “favor in the presence of this man.”
He is going to ask for the King of Persia’s support..
Do you know God’s faithful promises?
“Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.” – Nehemiah 1:11