Nehemiah: Beginning Restoration
Nehemiah: Restoring A Nation:
Beginning the Restoration Process
This morning I would like to begin a series of lessons on the book of Nehemiah. This series follows our previous series on the church well. The book of Nehemiah is a book about Nehemiah leading a restoration among the remnant who returned from captivity. He, with the help of the LORD, helps the people to rise above their fears and their shame to do a great work for the LORD. He, along with Ezra, also help the remnant to see the changes that needed to be made so they could be revived spiritually also. We closed our series on the church last Lord’s day looking at the responsibilities that we have to one another. We talked about our need to bring restoration, our need to build each other up, and our need to even help one another physically as the circumstances in life can leave us discouraged and downcast and in need of the help of God’s people. All of these ideas fit into this topic of restoration.
Before we get into the text, let’s review the historical context of this book. As we saw in our final three lessons on the Minor Prophets in the beginning of the year, the people had returned from captivity by the decree of Cyrus, the king of Persia. They returned to the land under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Jeshua and rebuilt the altar, and they also began building the temple. They got the foundations built, and then they got discouraged by enemies and stopped the work. The work on the temple was abandoned for over 15 years, but then God sent two prophets to them. As we saw in our study of Haggai and Zechariah and as we reviewed the historical information in the beginning chapters of Ezra’s book, the remnant repented and returned to the work during the reign of Darius and finished the temple with the LORD’s help during the 6th year of Darius’ reign.
THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH
We are introduced to Nehemiah during the 20th year of King Artaxerxes of Persia — around 445BC. About 70years has passed since the temple was finished. At this point, things were not going well for God’s people, especially those in Jerusalem. There were problems among the people physically and spiritually that are mentioned in the book. Here is what we are told in verse 3 of ch1.
“The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (1:3, ESV)
According to , Artaxerxes had earlier stopped the Jews as they were building the walls of the city. They were almost finished with the walls at the time, but after the decree is given by Artaxerxes to stop the work until further notice, the enemies of GOd’s people came and undid much of the work that was done. They broke down sections of the wall, leaving heaps of rubble. So God’s people are now without protection, and are in shame because the circumstances made it seem like God’s hand was not with them.
TITLE SLIDE FOR LESSON 01
So God’s people needed help. They needed restoration and revival. There were some reformations that Ezra had brought about, but there was still much work to do by Ezra, Nehemiah, and others to get God’s people where they needed to be.
For our lesson today, I would like to consider how to begin the process of restoration once it is seen that it is needed.
This concept of restoration is well-known by those who like to restore automobiles. What is the purpose of restoration? It is to get a vehicle that has suffered the consequences of time — a vehicle that looks it’s age — and to make it look as good as new — like it was when it was first designed and built. Years are spent on one vehicle, and after the care is restored, it is continually cared for by the owner to keep it in tip-top shape. The main is touched up. It is washed and waxed multiple times per year, and the interior is cleaned up often. It is kept spotless. It is constantly being prepared for the time in which it will before the eyes of others in a show, where judges will examine it to see just how well the work has been done, and hopefully rewards will be given for a job well-done.
This is what we are aiming for as God’s people — to be restored to what God first intended at the creation of mankind — that we would be individuals who submit to His role as those who are made in His image. We are being transformed into the image of Christ, and it is safe for all of to say that we have not achieved this goal yet. There is still work to do for all of us in being restored to what God originally intended for us. It is a life-long process for us. And it is a life-long mission for God’s people to help others be restored to God.
Hopefully this series will help us in aiming for and achieving restoration in our lives so we can be prepared for the Judge of Judges to examine our lives and the work we have done.
Let’s go ahead and get into the text of Nehemiah. . For our lesson today, I would like to begin by sharing with you three things that are needed in our lives if we are going to begin and continue the process of restoration.
1. A CONCERN FOR OTHERS
The first thing — or better — character trait that is needed in our lives if we are going to begin restoration is a concern for others — a concern for souls.
We see Nehemiah’s concern for his people in verses 1-2:
“1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.” (, ESV)
Nehemiah’s brother Hanani (cf 7:2) (pron. Ha-nan-eye), comes along with some other Jews to Susa and visits Nehemiah. It is encouraging to see that one of the first things on Nehemiah’s mind is what? The condition of his people and the city of Jerusalem. He cared about the people of God. And the reason will be clear as to why as we go through this book: Nehemiah had a zeal and passion for God and His word. We see his concern for his people even more so once he finds out how they are doing. He learns that they are in distress and the walls of Jerusalem are in bad shape, and he is moved by this. He mourns for them. He weeps and fasts for days while he prays for God’s people.
Do we ever respond this way whenever we meditate on the fact that there are thousands of people around us on a daily basis that are lost — people that are dead spiritually? No matter where we look, we see dead people. People that are on their way to an eternal judgment of anguish? Are we ever moved by this fact? Are we ever made to weep or cry for the state of these people?
Do we ever respond this way whenever we hear that our brothers and sisters in Christ are not doing well? Do we even respond this way when a brother or sister we care about falls away from the Lord? Do we weep? Do we fast? Do we pray for them?
I believe we see this type of attitude in Jesus as He mourned over the city of Jerusalem. I believe we see this in Paul also. He speaks of how he had deep, daily concern for the churches of God that he had worked with, and he often talks about how he is praying for God’s people and how he “did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” Do we do this when we consider the state of the lost or our brethren around us? Do we even do this when we see sin in our own lives? Do we see how big a deal sin is? Are we moved by it? Are we concerned?
Those who have a restoration mentality are concerned when they see the state people are in.
2. WE NEED GOD’S HELP
The second thing that is needed in our lives if we are going to begin restoration is help — we need help and a lot of it!
We need to be humble enough to see that, no matter the work that needs done — even if it seems simple, the truth is that we have more than we can handle on our own. Nehemiah understood this. In chapter 1, we begin to see that Nehemiah was a man of prayer. This is the first of many prayers that are recorded in this book. Nehemiah often sought the LORD for help as He served. Let’s read most of this prayer: verses 5-10.
“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, 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. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.” (, ESV)
You see here that this man knows the LORD and His law. He also understood how unworthy he and Jerusalem was because of their sin. Whenever you contrast how great, holy, and awesome God is to Nehemiah and the state of the people at this time (as Nehemiah does here), you see how desperate you are for God’s help. This problem could only be solved through the help of God. The nation would not be able to fix anything by their own power. They needed God’s mercy. They needed God to continue to fulfill His promises as they sought Him. God had scattered His people because of their sin, and He had been faithful in bringing them back to the land. Now, they needed God’s mercy in protecting them from their enemies and by helping them do the rebuilding the nation needs.
If we want to be people of God who bring restoration, we will be people of prayer. No matter how big the job is, we need the help of the Lord. We depend on God for everything, and we cannot fight the enemy on our own. He is so much more powerful than us. In the work of restoration that we do for the Lord, there are souls on the line. There are eternal consequences.
But one thing we need to see in Nehemiah is that he didn’t just pray. He wanted to do more than this. This brings us to our third and final point:
3. WE NEED A DESIRE TO DO SOMETHING
If we are going to begin restoration, we need a desire to do something to help — we need a desire to do something. He needed God to be with him because, in verse 11, we see that Nehemiah wanted to do something about the condition of the walls of Jerusalem. Here is what he asks the Lord to do: “give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (ESV). This is a reference to king Artaxerxes, the king who Nehemiah served as a trusted cupbearer.
We see here that, not only did Nehemiah have concern for the people, he wanted to do something to help. We also see in chapter 2 that during all this time he was praying, he was preparing himself to talk to the king while he put together a list of all that he would need to get the job done. He wasn’t praying for God to send other workers to Jerusalem to help God’s people rebuild the walls and be revived spiritually. He was praying that he could have a role in making this happen! Night and day, his prayer was: “God, please use me to help your people!”
Nehemiah is a good example for us in this. We may often ask God to fix our problems or the problems that other people have. We may ask God to save someone, but do we ask the Lord to give us a way to help them? Do we say, “Lord, here I am, send me?”
How we would answer this question may show how concerned we really are about the state people are in because of their sin. We may like to point out all of problems there are among God’s people and complain about all of the sin in the world, but we don’t desire enough to be part of solving the problem and helping to fulfill the need of bringing restoration to souls.
THE BLESSING ()
Blessing comes to those who desire to be restorers. Four months after Nehemiah began praying for the opportunity to help bring restoration to God’s people, God answered his prayer. God gave him an opportunity to talk to the king, and Nehemiah received courage from the Lord to speak up in spite of it being this king who had stopped the work on the walls.
The king saw that Nehemiah was sad, and questioned him about it, and Nehemiah opens up to the king and tells him of how the city of Jerusalem is in distress. And because he planned ahead for God to answer His prayer, he knew what all to ask for. He asks the king in verses 5-6:
“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” 6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.” (, ESV)
The king also gives Nehemiah everything he needs to get the job done. He is given letters granting him safe passage into Judah and granting him all of the timber needed to make the needed repairs to the wall of Jerusalem.
The king granted all he asked for, and Nehemiah tells us exactly why this was the case. In 2:8, he says “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” God blessed this man who had a concern for His people and His city. He blessed this man who desired to act for the good of His people in bringing restoration.