Nehemiah 1:1-2. 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, 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.
Nehemiah was in a high office in Shushan the palace of King Artaxerxes, but his heart was at Jerusalem. He therefore remembered the very date, “in the month Chisleu,” when some of his brethren came from Judah to visit him, for he was more interested in their coming than in any transaction of the court in which he was for a while employed. Observe the subject of this good man’s conversation: “I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.” Whenever Christian people meet together, they ought to make the subject of their mutual discourse an enquiry as to the progress of the Kingdom of God in the place where they respectively dwell. If you have come up from the country, we want you to tell us about the work of God in your village, or in the town to which you belong; are there many conversions there? We also will tell you about the work in London. Thus should Christian brethren commune with one another, and ask concerning Christ’s kingdom among men, and the progress that his gospel is making.
Nehemiah 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.
They gave a correct description of the real state of affairs in Jerusalem; they did not colour it, but they stated the actual facts. It is well, sometimes, to tell our Christian brethren about the low estate of Zion; where things are not prospering as they should, it is best to say so, and not to try to smother up the truth, and give a false report.
Nehemiah 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,
This good man was greatly affected by the sad news which he heard. He was not indifferent to, the condition of his countrymen; he did not say, “We are getting on very well here; I am a Jew, and I am in the palace of Artaxerxes, but I cannot do anything to help my brethren. You, who are away there at Jerusalem, must do the best you can.” No; Nehemiah said no such thing; he looked upon himself as being part and parcel of the whole Jewish race, just as every true believer should regard all Christians as being near akin to himself. We are not twenty churches, brethren, nor two hundred; our Lord Jesus Christ is the head, and we are members of that one body which is his Church. We ought to sympathize with all who are in Christ; and, especially, if the cause of God is not prospering in any place, we. should do as Nehemiah did, he wept, and mourned, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven. He tells us what he said in his prayer; these are, as it were, the shorthand notes of his supplication.
Nehemiah 1:5-6. 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: 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.
This is quite a model prayer. How earnest it is, and how truthful! Nehemiah recognizes the terrible side of God’s character as well as his mercifulness. He evidently had right views of God. Some people try to explain away all the passages of Scripture which represent God as a terrible God; whether they know it or not, they will find this course of action to be a great source of weakness to them in dealing with the ungodly. Nehemiah calls Jehovah “the great and terrible God;” but he adds, “that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him.” He tells us that he prayed before the Lord day and night. Of course, he had to attend to his daily duties, so that he could not always be upon his knees; but his heart was praying even while he was engaged with other matters; and as often as he could, he retired to his room, so that he might cry out unto God. Please to observe that he makes a confession of “the sins of the children of Israel.” It is our duty as Christians, as it were, to take the great lead of the sins of the nation upon ourselves, and to make confession of them before God; if the guilty ones will not repent, we must repent for them; if they will not, confess their sins, we must confess their sins as though we stood in their stead. Nehemiah very pathetically says, “and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee:” and then coming still more closely home, he adds, “both I and my father’s house have sinned.”
Nehemiah 1:7-9. 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. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: 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.
He quotes the covenant, and he pleads the promise of Jehovah. Now, there is no means of getting a man to do us a favour so powerful as this, to quote his own promise,” You said you would do it.” So, here, Nehemiah says, “Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses.”
Nehemiah 1:10-11. 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.
That is, in the sight of King Artaxerxes to whom he was about to speak.
Nehemiah 1:11. For I was the king’s cup-bearer.
He counts this as a high privilege, that he would be able to speak for his people to the great king who would give him the opportunity to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.