Book of Nehemiah, part one

I came to study this book in a pretty random way. I wanted to do something different, and decided to just pick something Old Testament that I’d never read before. What’s funny is, a few days later, I was watching this fantastic worship session on youtube and in the middle of it one of the musicians gave this rousing speech that was based in the book of Nehemiah. I know not every coincidence on planet earth is some divine situation set up by God, but it did feel like a confirmation that it wasn’t just random that I ended up studying Nehemiah.

History of the Book

In my studies I’ve found two different schools of thought on who wrote this book. Many say they believe Nehemiah himself wrote the book, while others say it’s written by Ezra. The date of writing seems to be around 430 b.c.

The book of Nehemiah centers around Nehemiah, a servant of a Persian king. When Nehemiah learns about his fellow Jews who have returned to the destroyed Jerusalem, he feels led to go there and oversee the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s great defensive wall. After getting permission from those who are in charge, Nehemiah does indeed go to Jerusalem and gets the wall rebuilt really quickly. He then assists in some bookkeeping type duties as they work on legal lists and population lists and things like that. The thing that jumps out in the book is the incredible effectiveness of Nehemiah as a leader, as he motivates others and gets things done quickly.

Verses that jumped

The first verse from the book I wrote down came really early on as Nehemiah is learning about the hardships the Jews in Jerusalem are having and of the broken down wall.

Nehemiah 1:4 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.

Man, the people in the Bible sure knew how to get upset, didn’t they? The people in the Bible get upset over the real things, and when they get upset they dive into it with abandon. Nehemiah didn’t just get sad and cry, he wept and mourned for days and prayed and fasted. You especially see this in the really holy people of the Bible, don’t you? They just fall on their face before the Lord when they get upset. I’ve written several times about my tendency to try to solve my problems on my own, to internalize my problems instead of taking them before God. Reading examples like this reminds me just how wrong my instinct is when I’m upset or having troubles. I should be like Nehemiah, and just immediately bring it before the Lord. God’s word backs this up so many times as it teaches us what to do with our troubles.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Continuing from the verse above, Nehemiah starts to share his troubles with the Lord in a prayer. I love how he starts off this prayer.

Nehemiah 1:5 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,

What a gorgeous way to start a prayer! There are just so many incredible truths about the nature of God captured in this one simple sentence. Like a lot of people, I’ve matured in the way I pray a lot over the years. I used to have this really formulaic prayer I’d do. I’d start off by asking for forgiveness for my sins, and then I’d jump right into my needs. “Forgive me of my sins today, protect me as I drive out of town in the morning, help me with my finances, heal my sore throat…” and so on and so forth. It was my blessings shopping list that I’d just rattle off to God before I fell asleep. These days, I try to start my prayers like Nehemiah. Just like calling up a dear friend on the phone, I don’t jump straight into asking for favors and help, I like to take a little time and say hello. I like to take a moment and recognize who God is, let Him know how much I appreciate who He is, to just lift Him up.

I’m not a perfect prayer by a long shot. I recently had the good fortune to be taught by Pastor Bob Willhite about prayer. He’s spent a lifetime learning about the subject and sharing what he knows, and one thing he spoke about is taking time to listen in prayer. It’s a conversation with God, but too many of us never let Him get in a word. We talk, and we may say all the right things for all the right reasons, but do we ever stop and just get quiet before Him? So many believers I talk to and myself included, we’re desperate to hear God speak in our lives. But do we give Him opportunities to speak? Or do we call Him up, rattle off our blessings shopping list, and then hang up the phone? I know I’m guilty of it far too often, and it’s something I need to remember to work on every day.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

With permission to rebuild the wall and to have all the materials needed to do it, Nehemiah set out to Jerusalem to get started. He keeps his true purpose of rebuilding the wall to himself for a while, and goes out and inspects the ruined wall and gates. Then he speaks to those who will help him rebuild and told them of the mission he felt God had called him to do and that the king had signed off on, delivering my favorite moment from this book.

Nehemiah 2:18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

Man, I get so pumped when I read this. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” How incredible is that? These people had been back in Jerusalem for years, and the wall still laid in ruins. But this man on a God mission comes onto the scene, and they sense it. Have you ever been around a leader who you can just sense the presence of the Lord on? I have, and when you meet that kind of person you’ll follow them just about anywhere into just about anything. Let us rise up and build. What an incredible attitude to have, and it’s one that I’d love to see the modern church embrace. Christians are on the defensive too often, I think. We cower, and that’s not the stance a victorious people should ever take. Like this verse in Nehemiah, we should adopt this two step process. First is the decision in your heart, Let us rise up and build. And then there’s putting it into action. “So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” I got a lot of good things out of this book of the Bible, but I’m pretty certain this verse was the main one I was meant to discover. I want it at the core of my being, I want it to represent who I am as a true follower of Jesus. I want to adopt the attitude to rise up and build, and then I want to strengthen my hands for the good work ahead.

CLOSING AND PRAYER

For prayers today, I want to ask for a simple prayer of health.  Just pray health and healing over your family members, your loved ones, and yourselves.  One day I’ll write about praying for healing and why I struggle with it, but for today I just want to keep it simple.  Just health and healing in the lives of those we love, let’s make that our prayer together today.

I’ll be closing out my look at Nehemiah tomorrow before jumping to a new subject on Thursday.  Then next week we’re heading inside the belly of the great fish as I start my study of the Book of Jonah.  I sure do love you guys.  Early voting started today, so if you’re so inclined I’d encourage you to go vote in your local election.  Here in Texas there are a lot of State propositions on the ballot too, so it’s good to study up on those before heading to vote.  God loves each and every one of you!

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