I’ve always been told and taught that the events of Nehemiah took place around 1000 years after the time of Moses, around 400 years before Jesus physically comes on the scene, around 15 years after the events we read of in the book of Ezra, and around 100 years after the exiles had returned. Around 50,00 of them had (apparently) returned: something like 2%. At this point in time, Nehemiah is living in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire (evidently a reasonably important man to be living inside the citadel itself, cf. v.11), and he receives a report.
The people in Jerusalem are, by way of the report, in great trouble and shame because the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire (vv.1-3).
Nehemiah hears the report and feels a need, despite being over 800 miles away (v.4). He hears the need, he is moved to care, and then turns to prayer,
“Please, O Lord God of heaven, great and awesome God, who keeps his loving covenant with those who love him and obey his commandments,
6 may your ear be attentive and your eyes be open to hear the prayer of your servant that I am praying to you today throughout both day and night on behalf of your servants the Israelites. I am confessing the sins of the Israelites that we have committed against you—both I myself and my family have sinned. 7 We have behaved corruptly against you, not obeying the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Please recall the word you commanded your servant Moses:
‘If you act unfaithfully, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 But if you repent and obey my commandments and do them, then even if your dispersed people are in the most remote location, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen for my name to reside.’
10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your mighty strength and by your powerful hand. 11 Please, Lord, listen attentively to the prayer of your servant and to the prayer of your servants who take pleasure in showing respect to your name. Grant your servant success today and show compassion to me in the presence of this man.”
So Nehemiah heard the need, was moved to care, and then turned to prayer.
His goal is one that is too big to accomplish alone. Nehemiah simultaneously is calling on God to gather [His people from dispersion] and bring them to the place [He has] chosen for [His] name to reside, and for himself to find success today and [be shown compassion…in the presence of this man (vv.9, 11). ‘This man’ is the king, to whom Nehemiah was the cupbearer, a position of trust, advice, and counsel that needed immense character.
For you and for me, we would do well to observe and apply the principles of Nehemiah’s prayer;
- Works of God often start with a work in someone – v.4
- Nehemiah prays to God the attributes of God – v.5
- Nehemiah prays in humility – vv.4, 7
- Nehemiah prays to God the covenantal promises of God – vv.8-10
- Nehemiah prays with action in mind – v.11
For what would be a project lasting only a few weeks, Nehemiah prayed over this for four months (1.1, 2.1). Perhaps that is a point to ponder today – am I praying like Nehemiah? Do we have the same attitude? Do we saturate decisions and directions that we are to make and take with prayer? Think about a decision or direction in your life, and pray like Nehemiah!