Lord's Day Evening Meditations March 2, 2003

Nehemiah 1:5-2:4

Nehemiah's Prayer

The last time we mentioned how Nehemiah had a lot of zeal for the Lord, and a great love for the Lord's people. Those are two things that should characterize every one of us. It was that love that caused him such sorrow when he heard that they were in much affliction and reproach. It was that love for them also that caused him to weep, and mourn, and pray. His prayer begins in verse 5. Notice how Nehemiah had a problem, and the first thing that he did was he prayed. How often, when we have a problem, we set about solving it, and when things don't work out, then we think of praying. We went about it just backwards!

Though Nehemiah lived in a different time from us, yet he prayed with the intelligence of faith, and we can learn and follow certain things in his prayer. After addressing God in a way that was suitable for that time (not for our time), he recognized that God kept "covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments." In other words, he justified God. He recognized that God is right in all that He does-He is always right-faith acknowledges that. The Lord Jesus said, "Wisdom is justified of her children."

The next thing he did was that he confessed the sins of the people. This is an important matter; there must be the confession of that which is not right before making requests. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." 1 John 3:21, 22. Notice also that Nehemiah didn't say, "They have sinned," but he said, "We have sinned against Thee: both I and my father's house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly, etc." He identified himself with the sin and failure of the people. Faith identifies itself with the people of God and with all their failures. We saw Ezra do this same thing when he prayed.

After his confession, Nehemiah prepared to make his requests; I say "prepared" because he was going to give reasons and motives why God should grant his requests. The first was, "Remember, I beseech Thee, the word that Thou commandest Thy servant Moses, etc." God had said it; now He must do it, for God is ever true to His Word. God had said that if His people disobeyed Him He would scatter them among the nations, but He also said that if they repented and turned back to Him, He would have mercy on them and bring them back to their land. Remember how Daniel prayed with his window open toward Jerusalem. Why was that? Because it was written in the Word, that if when captives in a distant land they prayed toward the house of God in Jerusalem, then God would hear. It was faith in Daniel and in Nehemiah that rested on the faithfulness of God to His Word.

In the Old Testament, God made promises to His people Israel. We might think that those promises have never been fully accomplished, and that is true. Most of them have only had partial fulfillment. However, not one of them will fail; they will be fulfilled entirely, every one, in the glorious kingdom of Christ. "For all the promises of God in Him (the Son of God, Jesus Christ) are yea, and in Him Amen." 2 Cor. 1:20. It is in Christ, and by Him, that every promise of God will be fulfilled. The Word of God contains many promises for us also, not for earthly blessings, but spiritual blessings. Every one of those blessings will be fully realized in Christ.

The next thing Nehemiah did was that he reminded God, as it were, that the people he prayed for were "Thy servants and Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed." He was praying for God's own people in whom He had a special interest. It is interesting, in this respect to follow the interview between God and Moses, on Mount Sinai, concerning those same people. Read Exodus 32:1 - 11. During Moses' absence on the mount, Aaron and the people made the molten calf and said, "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." What an insult to God, calling Him a calf! Well, God said to Moses, "Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves." That is, God disowned them, and called them Moses' people. But Moses wouldn't accept that. He answered, "Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against Thy people, which Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt?" He handed them right back to God, for they were His people.

We said that Nehemiah loved God's people; well, Moses did also. In his intercession for them he said, "If thou wilt forgive their sin-; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written." This reminds us of Paul who wrote, "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Rom. 9:3. That is very strong language. Is there any one here who would be willing to go to hell, if that would mean the salvation of someone you love very much? I don't think so. However, God has a people today - all the redeemed, and if there were such bonds of love for God's people in the Old Testament, how much stronger should they be in the New, where the love of God has been fully revealed!

Nehemiah's prayer concluded with one final plea - mercy; "And grant him mercy in the sight of this man." God is a merciful God, and Nehemiah asked for mercy in presenting himself before the king, for he says, "I was the king's cupbearer."

The position of "cupbearer" was one of great favour and honour, but also of great danger. The life of a king was often in danger from those who hated him, and what easier way to get rid of a king than to poison him. Chapter 2:1 says, "I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king." We are told that the cupbearer had to taste it first and thus verify that it was safe to drink. Besides, those kings were despots who got rid of their subjects as they pleased, if they suspected them of treachery, so the cupbearer could be in a very precarious position.

Chapter one began "in the month Chisleu," whereas chapter two begins "in the month Nisan," that is, 4 months later. Nehemiah prayed, and waited, and prayed four months before he got his answer. This reminds us that when we pray, we don't always get what we ask for right away. Col. 4:2 says, "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving." A sister in the Lord prayed for her unsaved brother for 40 years before he was saved.

These things which had troubled Nehemiah for so long could not but show on his face, and the king noticed it, and asked him about it. "Then I was very sore afraid," says Nehemiah, but he answered truthfully, and explained the reason for his "sorrow of heart." "Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchers lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?" For every faithful Israelite, Jerusalem had a very special significance which stemmed back to the law in Deut. 12. There God told His people that when they went into the land of Canaan, they must not do like the people who had been before them. "Upon the hills, and under every green tree," they had practiced their wicked idolatries. God's people were to destroy all of that, and then there would be a place-one place-in contrast with the innumerable places of the heathen, which God Himself would choose. In that one place only were they to seek their God, and worship Him. Twenty-one times (3 x 7), from Deut. 12 to the end, God repeated, in one form or another, those words, "The place which the Lord your God shall choose." That place that God eventually chose was Jerusalem, and that is why that city was so precious to the faithful Jew then, and also why Jerusalem is still a bone of contention today. The fact that it is God's choice of where and how His people meet with Him, is a very important principle still today. S.L.