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Nehemiah: A Man of Character and Prayer

Nehemiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  54:17
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Today we are starting a study in the book of Nehemiah.
Thank you to Adam for reading it for us, and for Micah and his family for leading us in worship. Now, let’s open our Bibles to Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is a great study of a regular guy, who accomplished great things for the Lord. He did this in the face of great adversity.
If I had to summarize what the book of Nehemiah is about in one word, I would say,

Nehemiah is about Restoration!

Through him, people were restored. Their hope and homes were restored. They were restored to the Lord. And their society was restored.
In these days, we have the same needs, do we not? Restoration of Hope and home. Restoration of relationships with the Lord. And restoration of societal relations.
God used a regular man, to do this back in Nehemiah’s day. Which shows that He can use you and me today!
We can learn a lot from Nehemiah about who God uses, and how God can use us to bring restoration to others.
As we study Nehemiah, I want us to pay special attention to two things:
What is his character?
What did he do?
We want to see who Nehemiah is, what his character is like, and what he did that God could use him to bring restoration to others.
Then, we should ask the Lord to give us that same character, and to work in us to do what Nehemiah did, so that He will use us today, like he used Nehemiah back then!
To understand the theme of restoration, we need to know the

Background and Setting

What needed restoration? Why did it need restoration?
We can only know that if we step back in time to see what was lost, and the condition of the people.
We saw some of the background as we looked at Daniel’s life over the past few weeks. Daniel likely lived and died almost 100 years before the events in Nehemiah took place.
Let’s look at the history again to understand what we are looking at in Nehemiah.

605 BC - Nebuchadnezzar Conquers Jerusalem

Because the king of Judah—and almost all of the people of Judah—were not worshipping God, but rather turned away to false gods, the Lord allowed Nebuchadnezzar to defeat Jerusalem and take some of the people captive—including Daniel—in 605 BC.
Nebuchadnezzar still allowed a Jewish king to rule in Jerusalem, as long as he was subject to Nebuchadnezzar.

597 BC - Nebuchadnezzar Re-subjugates Jerusalem

Jehoiachin rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. So, Nebuchadnezzar returned, retook the city and captured Jehoiachin. He took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon, and carried off treasures from the temple and the royal palace. He also took a lot of the people of Jerusalem captive, leaving the poorest of the land behind, and made Zedekiah king.

586 BC - Nebuchadnezzar Destroys Jerusalem

Years later, the final Jewish king, Zedekiah revolted, and would not pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. So, Nebuchadnezzar returned and this time, after laying siege to the city for a year and a half, he broke into the city and destroyed it.
Ezra records a brief summary of this in 2 Chronicles 36. 2 Kings 24-25 have more details, if you want to look them up.
Because of their rebellion against Him, the Lord allowed Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem. The walls were torn down and broken. The gates were burned. The temple destroyed. Everything of value was taken.
Only the poorest of the poor remained.
Psalm 137 was written by some of those carried off into exile around this time.
Listen to the words, and think about the heart of the people who wrote this.
Psalm 137:1–6 NIV
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Everything was destroyed. They had likely lost family, and were separated from other survivors as they were carried into captivity.
The people were hopeless. The people were distressed. They lost everything. They could not sing. They longed for home, and all that they had lost.
Have you ever felt hopeless like that? I worry especially for business owners and employees of businesses that are closing due to this crisis. I bet hey know this feeling.
Well, this drug on for decades, literally. They were settled in new locations, and had to make new lives for themselves. But that longing for home did not go away. The loss was still felt.
Then, after many years, as 2 Chronicles 36 tells us...
2 Chronicles 36:21–23 NIV
The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah. In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “ ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.’ ”

538 BC - Cyrus Commands Rebuilding

At last! There is a glimmer of hope. They can go home! How could this be? How did this happen?
Over the past few weeks, we were studying the life of Daniel. He lived during this time period, and through the rest of the Babylonian Empire, and on into the Persian Empire.
We learned how the Lord allowed Cyrus the Persian to conquer the Babylonians.
Why? Because Cyrus was the ruler chosen by God to advance his plan to restore Jerusalem.
Isaiah, prophet to Israel, prophesied about Cyrus over 150 years before he conquered Babylon.
Isaiah 44:28 NIV
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” ’
Isaiah 45:13 NIV
I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.”

According to God’s Plan to Restore

All along, God had a plan to bring His people back to Himself. They had rebelled against Him. So, he allowed them to be conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. He allowed them to suffer greatly to bring them back to their senses. He allowed them to suffer so they would repent and return to Him.
Then, God worked out his plan to bring blessing through Cyrus. He worked out His plan to restore His people to the land.
God prophesied this, so that the people might know He is the One who was working for them. They did not deserve it, but He was graciously giving them back their land, and the temple so that they could return and worship Him once again. They might once again be His people, and He would be their God!
God was walking with them through the trials to bring them to Himself.
So, what happened when they returned?
Here is a timeline to bring us from that first return of exiles, up to the time of Nehemiah.
in 538 BC, the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem and the surrounding area under the leadership of Zerubabbel. Actually, this was the first group to return, because many did not return.
Can you imagine? They finally get to return, but what are they going back to? There are no homes. There is no city. There is no family. There is nothing but ruin.
It will be months of travel to get back, and then what will they do?
I imagine some of the younger generations especially felt no desire to return to a land they never knew. They had grown up in these ‘foreign’ lands. To them, the ‘foreign’ land was Judah and Jerusalem.
I’ll bet that tore at the hearts of those who did return, especially those who had family that would not go back with them.
Yet they went.
Ezra records all of this history if you would like to read the details.
They returned to a city that was destroyed, and no temple.
After they returned and got settled, they started working on the temple, and got the foundations laid. However, there was opposition from surrounding people groups, so the work stopped.
In 520 BC, under the direction of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, they started working on the temple again.
When opposition arose again, they sent a letter to King Darius, who searched and found the command of Cyrus that the temple should be rebuilt. So, he ordered that the work continue uninterrupted.
The temple was completed in 515 BC. However, when they tried to rebuild the city, the opposition from the neighboring peoples arose again, and after they sent a letter to the king, the work was halted by order of King Artexerxes.
Ezra records this in Ezra 4:17-22
Ezra 4:17–22 NIV
The king sent this reply: To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates: Greetings. The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?
Pay attention to that. The current king, Artexerxes commanded that they NOT rebuild the city.

Temple Restored, but no City or Walls

They now had a temple, but no city walls and gates. They were under the thumb of the people around them.
They could not defend themselves. They were open to bandits and thieves at all times. There was nowhere for them to be safe.
they were living in the midst of rubble from the destroyed city. Imagine it in your mind. Broken down houses. Broken down walls. Charred remains of homes and gates. Broken up streets. Rocks everywhere. It would not have been easy to get around. It would have been a depressing situation to live in. And, they were in constant fear from their enemies who could come and go as they pleased.
Ezra returned with more exiles in 458 BC under the authority of Artexerxes to teach people the ways of the Lord, and to intercede with the Lord for the king.
Finally, that brings us to Nehemiah about 444 BC.
The book of Ezra has the details on this if you would like to read about it.

Do you see the need for restoration?

Knowing the background, do you understand how the people needed restoration?
They needed restoration of hope and peace. They needed restoration of their homes. They needed restoration of the city, and security. And, though they had the temple, they needed restoration to the Lord. They were still not living in relationship with Him, and following His commands. Ezra was trying, but his book is filled with how the people were not following the Lord.
So now, seeing the need of the people for restoration, let’s jump into Nehemiah 1. How is Nehemiah going to be used to bring restoration?
Nehemiah 1:1 NIV
The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa,

Who is Nehemiah?

What is interesting here is that if you look up Hakaliah, you won’t find anything. The Bible dictionaries just list him as Nehemiah’s father.
Essentially, Nehemiah was a common man. He was not from royalty, as was Daniel. He was not trained or educated. He was not from an important family. He was just Nehemiah, son of Hakaliah, who nobody knows.
Nehemiah 1:2 NIV
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.
Nehemiah was not just concerned for himself, or his family. He questioned these men about how the people in Judah were doing. He asked about the city of Jerusalem. He was concerned for others.
Nehemiah 1:3 NIV
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 1:4 NIV
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
What was Nehemiah’s Response?

What did Nehemiah do?

Again, we want to learn from Nehemiah so we might see God work through us to bring restoration.




Let’s look at his prayer.
Nehemiah 1:5 NIV
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,

Prayer: Exaltation

Nehemiah 1:6–7 NIV
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.

Prayer: Confession

Nehemiah 1:7 NIV
We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Nehemiah 1:8 NIV
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations,
Nehemiah 1:9 NIV
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.’

Prayer: Claiming God’s Promise

Nehemiah 1:10 NIV
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.
Nehemiah 1:11 NIV
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.

What was Nehemiah’s Character?

Genuine concern for others. Not self-centered. Caring.
Humble. Willing to admit when he was wrong. Not afraid to be identified as part of the problem. He was also humble in asking God to work. He did not expect to be able to do this on his own. He knew he needed the Lord to work.
Trustworthy. He was the cupbearer to the king.

What about me?

Do we live in a world that needs restoration?

Who am I?

What is my character?

Caring for others or self-focused?
Humble or proud?
Willing to confess, or only seeing the failures of others?
Understanding my need for the Lord to work, or wanting to do it on my own? I have the skills. I have the knowledge. I have the ability.

What will I do?

Will I mourn?
Will I fast?
Will I pray? Confessing and Claiming
Read Isaiah 44:28, 45:13; Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10-14; 2 Chronicles 36:21-23. Isaiah lived from 740-680 BC. Jeremiah from 627-585 BC. Both prophesied (declared the word of the Lord) well before Cyrus was even born. Isaiah prophesied long before Jerusalem as defeated in 605 BC, and before its destruction and final exile in 586 BC. What do these passages, and the fulfillment of the word of the Lord show you about God working in the events of history? Even the not so pleasant events? How does this encourage you today?
Read Nehemiah 1:1. Who was Nehemiah? Why did God use him? Read Deuteronomy 7:6-9. Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Why did God choose you and me? What can God do with weak and foolish things when we yield to him? Read Acts 4:13, and 17:6 (try to find the ESV or NKJV). What can God do with you and me?
Read Nehemiah 1:1-4. What do you see about Nehemiah’s character in this passage? What is mercy and compassion? God is compassionate and merciful, Deuteronomy 4:31, Matthew 9:36. He desires that we be merciful and compassionate like he is: Zechariah 7:9, Luke 10:29-37, Ephesians 4:32, Jude 22-23. What would it look like for you to be merciful and compassionate to those around you? Are we more concerned about our sports teams, or movies than we are the real suffering in the world? Let’s pray and ask God to give us compassionate hearts like Nehemiah’s.
What did Nehemiah do? Nehemiah 1:4. What is mourning? What is fasting? Do they have any place in our lives today? Read Matthew 6:1-18. Pay attention to verse 16. What is the first word? Is that significant? If you are not physically prohibited by some condition, set aside a day or time to fast and pray this week.
Read Nehemiah 1:5-11. How can you model your prayers after this prayer? What are the parts of his prayer? What is the progression of his prayer? How is this similar to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6? Map the parts of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6 to the parts of Nehemiah’s prayer. Write your own prayer to the Lord, using the same model/parts/topics as seen in Matthew 6, and Nehemiah 1.
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