By Kevin Ivy
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tullahoma
Focal Passage: Nehemiah 1:1-11
Nehemiah, as the cupbearer for the King of Persia, was confined to the capitol of the Persian kingdom. One of his brothers, and some other men from Judah, came to report to Nehemiah on the state of the Jews and the city of Jerusalem. Their report was not what Nehemiah had hoped to hear. The men reported that the remnant who survived the captivity were in great distress and reproach, the wall of the city was broken down, and its gates were burned with fire. The vulnerability of the city could lead to another destruction of the newly rebuilt temple! Nehemiah was deeply concerned about the people and the city. He saw the need, felt compassion, and took action: he prayed. This is exactly what Jesus did in His ministry as well (Matthew 9:36-38).
Nehemiah’s prayer is one of Scriptures’ most moving confessions and intercessions before God (Nehemiah 1:4-7). He fasted and prayed literally day and night on behalf of the Jews, confessing their sin. It is possible that he believed that the sins of the returnees (Ezra Ch. 9-10) had prompted God to withhold His favor from the Jews. He confesses that the people of God had acted corruptly and had failed to keep the commandments, statutes, and ordinances of God. The emotion which flows from Nehemiah’s prayer is evident of what it means to truly confess our sin. Confession is more than simply admitting that we have sinned. Many of us confess our sin with no real determination to forsake our sin. We might feel bad for our sin, or the consequences of our sin, so we make a confession to God. But our appetite is still for the things of the world, so we go right back to it (Proverbs 26:11). True confession is to see our sin as God sees it and therefore forsake it (Proverbs 28:13) This is the type of confession Nehemiah offers, and the type of confession we must offer if we expect God to be faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from our sins (I John 1:9).
In his prayer, Nehemiah turns to — and appeals to — God’s Word (Nehemiah 1:8-11). He says, remember the Word you gave to Moses, Lord! Nehemiah was not reminding the all-knowing God of anything. He was simply pleading with Him to act upon His promise that He would restore those who returned to Him and who were obedient to Him (Leviticus 26:39-42, Deuteronomy 4:29-31, Deuteronomy 30:2-3). Nehemiah was looking to God’s Word, appealing to God with His Word, and declaring His faith in God’s faithfulness and power to deliver His people. God had brought them out of bondage once before and He could do it again by His great power (Nehemiah 1:10).
Nehemiah pleaded with God to hear his prayer by giving him favor with the king. God gave a Jewish Joseph favor with a Gentile Pharaoh in order to deliver His people from famine. He gave a Jewish Daniel favor with Gentile Cyrus to deliver them from Babylonian captivity. He gave a Jewish Esther favor with a Gentile Ahasuerus to deliver the Jews from Haman’s plot to annihilate them. As we will see, God used this relationship between a Gentile king and Jewish cupbearer to deliver His people yet again. We see the mystery of prayer as God sovereignly works through those who are His people, and even those who are not, to bring about His will. Let us pray with this assurance today!