Today in our study we will be in the book of Nehemiah. Contained within our scripture text is a man who found God’s highest priority for his life. We will never be at peace unless we live in God’s highest priority for our life.
Let’s start with a quick history lesson. As the book of Nehemiah opens it has been 90 plus years since King Cyrus made the original decree allowing the children of Israel to leave the land of their captivity and return to their home land. The book of Ezra records that only a fraction of the children of Israel heeded the call, 42,360, and were led by a man named Zerubbabel. Upon their arrival they went right to work restoring the altar and laying the foundation for the temple walls. When God’s people get serious about serving and honoring God it is only a matter of time before Satan comes calling. The neighboring communities, stirred up by Satan, assemble the lawyers and went to work trying to stop the children of Israel from building the Temple. A temporary injunction was obtained and the work stopped. Ultimately a search of the official records was performed and the original decree from Cyrus was found granting permission for Israel to go and rebuild. Well great, the good guys win! While it is true the injunction was overturned the children of Israel became their own worst enemy. The prophet Haggai informs us the people put themselves first and God was offered leftovers. Poor choices allowed the work of God to languish for many years leading up to the scripture text in Nehemiah. People lived and died around them never knowing the one true God because Israel was busy collecting this world’s goods.
In Neh. 1:1 we get a year and a month for the setting of our scripture text. The month is December and the year corresponds to the reign of the king, in this case Artaxerxes, who ruled from 465-425 B.C. That makes the year 446 B.C.
News from Home
Ezra had gone to Jerusalem 12 years earlier so there is no doubt all Jews who cared for the homeland knew some details about all the trouble stirred up by the neighboring residents. In verse 2 Nehemiah gets a chance to talk to “one of my brethren” who had just come from Jerusalem. Nehemiah saw a chance to hear first hand how things are going. The official government reports, assuming there were any, would not likely tell the whole story. Nehemiah asks two questions: how are the people doing and what is the state of Jerusalem?
Unfortunately, as we see in verse 3, the news was just about as bad as it could be. The people are struggling and the city is in ruins.
A Broken Heart – Personal Revival
Our key verse is 1:4 where we clearly see Nehemiah’s broken heart over the news. I picture him, as he hears the news, collapsing into a chair, hands over his face with tears streaming down his cheeks. He mourns for days like one would mourn the death of a loved one, he fasts and prays to God. At such a moment in time we might question “what can one man do”? The answer to that question is “nothing”. Does that surprise you? We cannot do anything in and of ourselves. The fact is we are asking the wrong question: “what can God do using one man who is submitted to Him”? That is the question we should ask. It is the question Nehemiah will ask.
It is pretty clear by the reaction that Nehemiah wasn’t prepared for what he heard. What did he think was going on? We have no way of knowing but now he knows their true state.
Let’s throw something else out here; why wasn’t Nehemiah’s father / grandfather part of those who went back some 90 years before? Any Jew who wanted to return was free to do so. Did Nehemiah inherit the mindset of concerned but not concerned enough to truly sell out and commit to God?
Springtime is normally revival time. Pastors everywhere are preaching in preparation for revival services. In the church where I attend my pastor called the congregation out stating we are more concerned about our comfort then we are the afflictions of those who don’t even know why they hurt. The lost don’t know why they are so empty inside. When congregations get called out do we think the pastor went off the deep end or do we stand guilty as charged? While you ponder that let us learn something from Nehemiah when he truly saw God’s priority.
Back to the Palace
Nehemiah had a pretty good life; he was cup bearer to the King. He had the fancy clothes and was at all the official functions. Nehemiah by the world’s standards was a success. I am in no way trying to paint Nehemiah as a bad guy. He was no doubt concerned about his brethren and sought the delegation out as we have already stated. With the news Nehemiah comes face to face with God’s priority; once that happened nothing else mattered but the work in Jerusalem.
The first thing we need to get is a clear picture of God’s priority for us and our local church.
There is a verse which I am sure is familiar to you: Psalms 34:18 The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. To have revival we will need a broken heart. When God’s people clearly see themselves on the wrong side of God’s priority a broken heart and contrite spirit will follow. This isn’t a bad thing, it is a lifeline thrown by a merciful God. If serving God consists of a few rituals and we are leaving the real mission of the local church undone we should pray that God would open our eyes to His priority. Only then will our heart be broken. Only then will we seek revival.
Nehemiah’s heart was broken. Verses 5 – 11 records Nehemiah’s prayer. Much of it is confessing personal and national sin. For God’s children confession is the natural reaction when we see clearly that we are not where God wants us to be.
Nehemiah, after praising God’s greatness, starts with confession rather than petition. I have sinned, my brethren have sinned and our fathers have sinned. You didn’t forsake us; we are the ones who left you. In verse 8 Nehemiah points to the scattering of the Jews to what God said would happen if they turned away from Him. In verse 9 Nehemiah also rests on another promise that God would help them and gather them in if they would repent and keep His word.
In verse 11 Nehemiah submits himself to God’s priority. I am the Cup Bearer to the King. He readily acknowledges that he can only offer obedience; God would have to make the way for him. Nehemiah, within himself, could do nothing. So I will pose this question again… “What can God do using one man who is submitted to Him?”
God Makes a Way – Chapter 2:1-8
Notice the month “Ni’-san”. It’s been four months! So now we have God’s priority as well as God’s timing. No doubt Nehemiah, after his prayer, was ready to head to Jerusalem on foot if need be. After we see God’s priority and repent of our sin we must also wait for God’s timing; being delivered from his post as Cup Bearer didn’t happen the next day. After four months most today would say “I guess this wasn’t God’s will”, or, as Abraham and Sarah did, help God out by coming up with their own plan. Nehemiah waited for God to provide the way.
It is obvious reading the first few verses of chapter 2 that in the king’s court you were to be cheerful. Nehemiah, with a true understanding of God’s priority, was sad he couldn’t go and be part of the work. The king noticed and challenged him to explain. Nehemiah, verse 2b, was afraid knowing he was breaking the rules. Nehemiah was not pouting; he was burdened now seeing the true priority of God. Boldly Nehemiah explains which we read in verse 3. The king asks what would you have me do about it? (Read 4b) He prayed a very quick prayer.
I want to go to Jerusalem and be part of the solution. This same challenge awaits us today. Do we really want to see God’s priority for us, to repent of our sin, to wait on God to make a way and finally, become part of the solution? It will be there for the taking if we say yes.
Nehemiah, after seeing God’s priority, and being made free to pursue it, embraced the honor and privilege to serve Almighty God. Many challenges and heartaches await him in Jerusalem but this one thing we know; when we are pursuing God’s priority for our life we will be at peace with our God. In the center of God’s will is the best place to be.