Nehemiah 1:1–11comment (0)
February 26, 2009
By Thomas Fuller
Related Scripture: Nehemiah 1:1–11
Bible Studies for Life
Director of Ministry Leadership Development, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
This month’s lessons focus our attention on God’s call to all believers to step up to serve Him in the world. Nehemiah serves as an example of one who moved beyond preoccupation with his own needs to embrace the opportunity to help meet the needs of others. God gave the exiled Nehemiah a burning passion for the restoration of Jerusalem and its people, made a way for him to respond to the needs and sustained him at every turn as he gave himself to the Lord’s work through many difficulties. We can learn from Nehemiah’s experience in several respects. This week’s lesson emphasizes his awakening to the need that existed in Jerusalem.
Look for the Need (1–3)
As the book begins, Nehemiah is far removed from the plight of Jerusalem and its people. He was cupbearer to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I (465–c. 424 B.C.), in the royal city of Susa. Jerusalem had been laid to waste by King Nebuchadnezzar more than 140 years earlier. King Cyrus had allowed some Jewish exiles to return to Judah almost 100 years earlier. Ezra initiated a rebuilding effort in Jerusalem, but that work suffered opposition and attack. It was not until Nehemiah’s kinsman Hanani gave a firsthand account of the sad state of affairs in their homeland that Nehemiah’s heart was burdened for the people’s need. The suffering in Jerusalem was nothing new; it was a fact of the world into which Nehemiah was born. Furthermore he lived far from the need in different, more secure circumstances. At the right time, however, God challenged him with the distant need, refocusing the eyes of his heart to see needs beyond his own circumstances. Jesus, likewise, challenges us to see the needs beyond the boundaries of our lives (John 4:35).
Look for the Reason (4–7)
All too often, we seek to explain away the needs around us, citing political circumstances, socioeconomic forces, irresponsible behavior and more. Between the lines, we are justifying why we should not act to help or, at least, why our doing so would be a “drop in the bucket” of what it would take to change things. Nehemiah could have engaged in the same self-justifying behavior concerning Jerusalem’s need. He did just the opposite.
Nehemiah’s heart was broken by what Hanani told him. He grieved a situation that was far from his sight but close to the heart of God. Nehemiah did not speak to others about what he was feeling and thinking; he spoke to God. Prayer was not a last resort, nor was it a token event. Nehemiah gave himself to a season of heartfelt petition before the throne of God. Most importantly, he did not locate the problem “out there,” “back then” or “with those people.” Rather he identified himself with the corporate guilt of the rebellious people of Israel whose sin had merited God’s judgment so many years earlier. Confession and repentance began with Nehemiah. The Lord honors a heart that sees its own sins first, that is broken for the sin and suffering of others and that willingly takes the first step toward seeking reconciliation (John 8:1–11).
Look for the Possibility (8–11)
Verse 8 begins with Nehemiah pleading with God to “remember.” God is not forgetful so this was not an effort to jog His memory. It was, however, Nehemiah’s appeal to the trustworthiest thing in all creation — God’s word (Heb. 6:13–18). His word to Israel through Moses (Deut. 9:29; 12:5; 28:64; 30:1–4) promised judgment for unfaithfulness but restoration for those who repent. Hope for the future was rooted in the past, in God’s past faithfulness and in His pledge to keep His word through all time. Going forward required going back — to God’s word, the only solid foundation on which a new work could be established. Nehemiah resolved to approach Artaxerxes concerning the plight of Jerusalem, yet he recognized that the hope for change did not rest ultimately in the hands of the Persian king but in the hands of the King of kings. As we respond to needs and opportunities today, we do well to “remember” God’s Word. It is the bedrock for all our efforts and the blueprint for God’s grand project of redeeming the world to Himself.