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ch. 1:1-11

My Commentary On The Book Of Nehemiah




This commentary is based on the New International Version of the Bible, 1984 edition.  Chapter titles in this commentary correspond with chapter titles in the NIV to make for easy study.


Ezra came from Babylon to Jerusalem about 458 B.C..  Nehemiah left Babylon in and around 444 B. C..  This is about 96 years after the Jews were allowed to leave  Babylon and return to Jerusalem.  He was the king's  butler, or to be more specific, the king's cup bearer.  A cup bearer brought the king his wine and his food and tasted it first to make sure everything was fine.  Nehemiah was not a priest as was Ezra, but did speak the word of the Lord.  This shows us that God uses people from all walks of life.       


Nehemiah's Prayer (ch. 1:1 -11)  


In verse 1 we see the "citadel of Susa" mentioned.  When Persia overthrew the Babylonian Empire, Susa became one of three capital cities.  What is spoken of here is actually the summer palace of the king that is located in Susa.


In verse 2 we see that one of Nehemiah's brothers named Hanani came to visit him.  Most Bible teachers suggest that Hanani was not a blood brother but a brother Jew.  Nehemiah asked Hanani how things were going with the Jews who had returned to their home land.  He also asked about the city of Jerusalem itself.  


The answer to Nehemiah's enquiry comes in verse 3 and is not very pleasant.  His brother told Nehemiah that those who survived the exile, meaning, those who lived through the Babylonian exile and returned to the homeland, were "in great trouble and disgrace."  The Jews who made the trip back in 538 B. C. had mingled themselves with their pagan neighbours and were no longer following their God.  This was the disgrace spoken of here.  This disgrace was manifested in the temple not being built as was the original intention.  It also manifested itself in what verse 3 speaks of, and that is the walls of Jerusalem were never completed and were in shambles.  This too is disgraceful for the Jews and to their God.


Ezra returned to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. and he was most interested in the state of the people and temple.  That would be reasonable since he was a priest.  Nehemiah wasn't a priest.  He was an ordinary man, a butler, and so he was disturbed to hear that that city walls had never been built and that which was built was in disrepair.  His calling was to fix this problem.  Ezra's  calling was more spiritual in nature, while Nehemiah's calling was more physical or civic in nature.


Verse 3 says that part of the wall was burned by fire.  This means that the enemies of the Jews had set it on fire.


It is interesting to see Nehemiah's response to this news.  It was the same as Ezra's.  He wept, mourned and fasted for days.  This tells us something about Nehemiah. He obviously was a man after the heart of God.  It saddened him to see the things of God in disrepair.  To me, this speaks volumes about this man.  I believe that the closer we are to our Lord, the more we feel burdened when the things of God are in disrepair.  If we do not have the same sense of anguish, it tells me that we are too worldly and not in tune with our God.  We need more Nehemiah's and Ezra's in our day, men who know the heart of God and want to see it implemented in His people. 


In verse 5 we see Nehemiah's prayer.  It is similar to Ezra's prayer.  These two men have the same thing in mind.  Nehemiah begins by saying "O Lord, God of heavenů"   You can sense the anguish in Nehemiah's words here.   You also see that Nehemiah knows who he is praying too.  He's praying to the God of heaven, and He is Lord, and He is God, and there is no other.


Nehemiah understands that "God keeps His covenant, but He keeps the covenant if His people love Him and obey Him.  God's covenant is conditional upon Israel's obedience.  To understand this you should read Duet. 28 through 30.  There are blessings and curses associated with the covenant, depending on Israel's obedience.  Yet in the end, as Duet. 30 says, God will bring Israel to repentance, and this we'll see at the end of this age. The covenant I'm speaking of here the Mosaic Covenant, that is, the Law of Moses.  This covenant is conditional.  God also covenanted with Himself to bless Abraham and his offspring.  This is a different covenant and is not conditional.  One needs to study the various Old Testament covenants to properly understand this. 


In verse 6 we see the prayer of a very repentant man.  We've already noted that Nehemiah began his prayer by stating that fact that God is a God of covenant.  He then begs for God's attention to his prayer.  Note that I use the word beg.  Nehemiah is not coming to God in arrogance.  He's coming to Him as a sinner who is in need of much help.  Also note that Nehemiah acknowledges both his own sin, the sin of his father's family, and the sin of Israel as a nation.  This kind of repentant prayer is often seen in the Bible.  When one prays in a spirit of repentance for a nation, or maybe for the church today, even though the one praying might well be a holy man, he comes to God as a sinner.


We also note that the sins committed here weren't necessarily against one another, but against God Himself.  In reality, even when we do sin against another human, in the long run, we sin against God.  Yet in this case, with Israel , they were directly sinning against God by idol worship, but neglect to do His will, and by their laziness in living a godly life.


In verse 7 Nehemiah gives the specifics in how they have sinned.  He said that they have not obeyed the Law of Moses as they were told to do.  The Law here can be related to the covenant the we saw in verse 5.  Nehemiah calls this "wickedness."  We might call it neglect, but not Nehemiah.


In verse 8 we see Nehemiah reminding what He told Israel in Deut. 28.  Part of the curses for not obeying God's law was that they'd be scattered throughout the world and not have their own place to live.  This is what Nehemiah reminds God of in this verse.


In verse 9 Nehemiah continues to remind God of what He said in Deut. 28.  God told Israel that if they obeyed Him, He would gather them from all parts of the world and bring them back to their homeland.  This is Nehemiah's prayer.  Many Jews had returned, but there were more that could come, but once they got their, they needed to do the work to rebuild their community, and in this case, Nehemiah's concerns were the walls of Jerusalem.


In verses 10 and 11 Nehemiah is asking God to grant him favour in response to his prayer.  He also reminds God that He has redeemed Israel with His great strength and mighty hand.  The word "redeem" always reminds me of the cross where the greatest redemption took place.  Yet in one real sense of the word, Israel was redeemed, or purchased out of the nations of the world to be a special reflection of who God is to those nations. 


In verse 11 Nehemiah also reminds God that he reveres the name of God, and based on this fact, he asks God for mercy on all of Israel.  This is interesting.  Here is a man that is standing in the gap between sinful Israel and their holy God.  Nehemiah himself has not gone the way of most of Israel.  He is still faithful to God, and because of this faithfulness he prays that God will have mercy on the whole nation of Israel.  So Nehemiah stands in the place of Israel before God on two counts.  First of all he is representing Israel as a sinner because of their great sin.  Secondly, he stands before God as a godly man as if Israel herself was godly, even though she wasn't.  The point is that Nehemiah took the sin of the nation on his own shoulders.  Then in reverse, because he was a holy man, he hoped his holiness could be sufficient to change God's mind.  He hoped his holiness could be placed on the nation's shoulder.

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