I. The problem: disrepair (1-3)
II. Nehemiah’s prayer (4-11)
I. The problem: disrepair (1-3) – Discussion Questions
What is the month Kislev?
What does the twentieth year refer to? (Artaxerxes reign. 445 BC.)
Where is Susa?
Who came and talked with Nehemiah?
What news did he bring?
When had the first group of exiles gone back?
Where can we learn about that?
First wave under Zerubabbel (536 BC) is found in Ezra 1-6.
Second wave under Ezra (455 BC) is found in Ezra 7-10.
Third wave under Nehemiah (445 BC) is found in Nehemiah 1-3.
Susa: In Shushan the palace.—Susa, the capital of Susiana; where, after the capture of the Babylonian empire, a great palace was built by Darius Hystaspis, the ruins of which are still seen. It was the principal and favourite residence of the Persian court, alternating with Persepolis, the older capital, and Babylon. Shushan was one of the most ancient cities in the world; and is associated with the visions of Daniel, and with the feast of Ahasuerus. (https://biblehub.com/commentaries/nehemiah/1-1.htm)
Susa is in present day Iran.
Verse by Verse Commentary
Verse 2 – The Jews were scattered. They lived throughout the Persian Empire. Originally many had been taken captive by the Babylonian kingdom. Eventually the Persians conquered Babylon. In keeping with God’s promise to return the Jews to the land He had given them, God worked through the Persian kings to allow the people to return to the land. It’s unclear whether Hanani was a resident of Judah or if he was just visiting. Since he was brothers with Nehemiah and Nehemiah was the king’s cup-bearer it would seem likely that they were not born in Jerusalem. If so, it would have been very hard for Nehemiah to gain such a high position. It is likely that this group of men went to Judah specifically to investigate how things were going for the those who had returned almost 90 years before. It is even possible that Nehemiah commissioned them with this task and they were coming back to Babylon to give Nehemiah a report. In any case, it shows that Nehemiah cared a lot about his fellow Jews who lived in Judah.
Verse 3 – The report was not good. The remnant of people descended from those who had originally returned were not doing well. They were in “great distress.” The city was in disrepair. They lived with reproach, meaning their position was shameful. Other peoples around them looked down on them. All of Jerusalem’s ancient protections were gone. Over 150 years before the wall was destroyed by Babylon. Though the people had returned 90 years before, the wall was still not rebuilt. Even the gates were lying in ruin. Basically the people were living in the middle of ruins. We must understand that in the Old Testament God often physically and materially blessed those who were obediently following with, those whom He was pleased with. Since the Jews were living in a ruined city this visible picture of outward decay would seem to indicate that there were much worse spiritual problems as well. We can see some of those problems in Ezra and Haggai when the people intermarried with other nations and focused on paneling their own homes rather than building God’s temple. Though there was a remnant, the outlook for the country was not good.
II. Nehemiah’s prayer (4-11) – Discussion Questions
How did Nehemiah react?
What can we learn about Nehemiah from his reaction?
Have you ever mourned/fasted/prayed for days? Why or why not?
What can we see about Nehemiah’s view of God?
What does he request of God?
What do we learn about confession?
What point is Nehemiah making in verses 8-9?
What does Nehemiah remind the Lord of in verse 10?
What did a cupbearer do?
Verse by Verse Commentary
Verse 4 – Nehemiah’s reaction shows us a lot about him as a person.
He was empathetic. Here we learn that he mourned for days. Nehemiah himself didn’t face any of the problems the people of Jerusalem faced. He was an important official, one of the upper class. He could have kept on living and enjoying his life without dwelling on the problems of others. But he didn’t. From this we learn that Nehemiah was others-centered. He had a heart for others and hearing about the struggles others were having saddened him. Application: Do you have a heart for others? When you hear about other people’s struggles are you indifferent? Do you perhaps feel empathy with them for a few minutes and then forget it? We should mourn with those who mourn.
He was persistent. He wept/mourned/fasted/prayed for days. This was an important issue. He didn’t just offer up a 1 minute prayer and then move on. He spent a lot of time before the Lord praying about it and searching for God’s will about what he could do.
Application: Have you ever felt so strongly about something that you prayed about it for days a time? Many of us have not. But maybe we should.
He sought God and the wisdom that comes from God. He didn’t just weep. He didn’t just have a pity party. He turned to the Lord. He fasted. He prayed. He knew the only place real help could come from. He knew where help could come from. Nehemiah didn’t rush to the king to get help immediately. Neither did he start issuing orders. Neither did he immediately consult with Hanani and the others. He didn’t rely on his own wisdom to begin taking actions. From the world’s perspective he did nothing. He sat down and he prayed. But this was his best recourse. Application: Prayer should become this natural to us. When faced with challenges and difficulties our first instinct should be to pray. Don’t be in a rush to take action. Pray first.
Verse 5 – Nehemiah had a high view of God. Look at how Nehemiah describes God in this verse.
- God of heaven.
- Who preservers the covenant
- Preserves lovingkindness
Nehemiah had a high view of God. From this we can see Nehemiah’s humility. He didn’t approach God as an equal, as a peer. In his prayer, he recognizes that God is above everything else. He is in control of everything and everything good comes from Him. Our prayers should reflect the same exalted view of God. From this prayer we see Ezra’s humility. Humility is the first step of true confession.
3. Verses 6-7 – Starting in these verses we see one of the great prayers of confession in the Bible. We can learn from this prayer many important principles about confession.
Another thing I noticed is that Nehemiah uses many personal pronouns. He uses “I”, “we” and “our.” He says, “We have sinned against you; I and my father’s house.” He realized that all of them were guilty, himself included. He is one of the people. He is identifying himself as linked to the group. The prayer would also not seem nearly as genuine if he kept saying how evil the other Israelites were. We will learn later in the book that many of them committed a lot of sins which Nehemiah did not, but he still repented because he too was sinful. When one wants to confess to God there should be no blaming or pointing fingers. When people first sinned, Adam pointed to Eve and blamed her and Eve pointed to the snake and blamed it, but in fact they were both culpable for the sin they had done (although it was true that they had been influenced by others.
No one can make you sin. We are responsible for our own choices. It is not true confession if we seek to blame other people for the wrong that we have done. Your sin is NOT your parents fault (as much as psychologists try to tell you that it is.) It is not your bosses’ fault, your wife’s fault, or your friend’s fault. Each one of us has a choice. Other people may influence us, but the final choice is our own. True confession takes personal responsibility and doesn’t blame others.
4. Nehemiah realized that all sin is against God. He admits “We have acted very corruptly against You.” Every sin is a sin against God. Peter said that Ananias and Saphira’s lie was against the Holy Spirit. Every sin we commit is an instance of disobeying God’s law. Disobeying God is sinning against God. David also admitted that his sin with Bathsheba was a sin against God alone, showing that our sins are primarily against God. Since our sins are against God confession is not complete until we ask God to forgive us.
5. True confession doesn’t minimize the sin. Notice that Nehemiah doesn’t say, “We have sinned against you a little.” He says, we have acted very corruptly. Their sin problem was not a little problem. It was a big problem. I often ask people when sharing the gospel with them if they have sin. Most of them admit that they have sin. I then ask, “Is you sin serious.” Most answer, “No.” That is our problem. We think that our sin is not serious. But in fact, it is. Don’t minimize it.
6. True confession includes the offense. Nehemiah says “and have not kept the commandments…which You commanded Your servant Moses.” The problem wasn’t some vague mistake. It wasn’t vague at all. The problem was that they had as a nation specifically disobeyed many of the commands God had given to Moses. A real apology is not a vague “Sorry.” It is not insincere like, “Sorry if I offended you.” A real apology is clear. A real apology must include what you are apologizing for. Let’s make a habit to confess to others when we wrong them and when we do make it clear what you are apologizing for. Let’s go around the tabl