GRIEF OVER THE SHAMEFUL STATE OF GOD’S KINGDOM PROGRAM MOTIVATES SPIRITUAL LEADERS TO PETITION GOD FOR REVIVAL WITH CONFESSIONAL PRAYER
How concerned are we for the state of the Church of Jesus Christ and its progress? We discuss and debate the various problems facing the church in our culture today; the sad state of affairs as various trends continue to weaken the impact of the church. Let’s just mention some of those negative trends:
1) Holiness no longer seems the goal
– we do not discuss behavior problems in terms of sin and repentance
– we have a generation that thinks it is OK to look the other way when you see sin
– we shrink back from anything confrontational
– we do not exercise discipline in the church – shallow believers
– the distinction between believers and non-believers is blurring; we measure ourselves against ourselves rather than against the holy character of Jesus Christ
– more concerned with trying to shore up our horizontal relationships and achieve personal fulfillment
2) our Church Methodology is market driven – catering more to the felt needs of the unsaved
– we are impressed with numbers and lots of programs and activities
– we are driven more by expediency than conviction and principle
– we are dominated by impressive charismatic personalities
3) the Bible is losing traction as the objective authoritative source for what we believe and how we live; we want to relate to Jesus Christ more as a buddy than as our Lord who should be in control of every aspect of our lives.
We can agree about these trends and others as well; we like to analyze …
But how concerned are we for the state of God’s Program?
How does our concern motivate and energize us to seek revival and commit ourselves to a rebuilding process?
GRIEF OVER THE SHAMEFUL STATE OF GOD’S KINGDOM PROGRAM MOTIVATES SPIRITUAL LEADERS TO PETITION GOD FOR REVIVAL WITH CONFESSIONAL PRAYER
I. (:1-3) THE SHAMEFUL STATE OF GOD’S KINGDOM PROGRAM
A. (:1a) Discernment of Nehemiah –
“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah” (10:1 only other reference to father = “wait for Yahweh”)
Debate Over Authorship inconsequential – memoirs; parts written by Neh in 1st person; parts refer to him in third person – question is who was the compiler
J Vernon McGee: The use of the first person pronoun gives the impression that Nehemiah was the writer. If Ezra was the writer, he was copying from the journal of Nehemiah. This book, as was true in the Book of Ezra, has copies of letters, decrees, registers and other documents.
The same man wrote both books — Ezra and Nehemiah are one book in the Hebrew canon.
Name Nehemiah = “the Lord consoles” – God’s people needed strengthening and encouraging
God granted to him special understanding of the time and conditions in which he lived and how he could have a positive impact on God’s Kingdom Program
God gave him a particular vision of specific work he could oversee that would be of strategic importance
B. (:1b-2) Details Surrounding the Background of the Book of Nehemiah
1. Time Reference – Nov / Dec — 446/445 B.C.
“Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year”
David Wheeler: About 13 years after Ezra’s return to Jerusalem. About 93 years after the first exiles’ return under Zerubabbel. About 142 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
2. Place Reference
“while I was in Susa the capitol” – of the kingdom of Persia under King Artaxerxes
MacArthur: Also known as Shushan, this city was situated E. of Babylon, about 150 mi N of the Persian Gulf. Susa was one of the Medo-Persian strongholds, a wintering city for many officials, and the setting of Esther.
[intolerably hot in summer months]
3. Occasion: Eyewitness Reporters Returning from Jerusalem
“that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came”
“Yahweh is gracious”
7:2 – Nehemiah granted his brother a position of responsibility in governing the work
4. Primary Issue of Concern
“and I asked them”
Wiersbe: A century and a half before, the Prophet Jeremiah had given this word from the Lord: “For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? Or who will bemoan you? Or who will turn aside to ask how you are doing?” (Jer. 15:5, NKJV). Nehemiah was the man God had chosen to do those very things! Some people prefer not to know what’s going on, because information might bring obligation.
a. Status of the People of God
“concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity”
Fensham: the exiles who had returned and escaped further captivity. Exile was regarded as a great shame for the Jewish people. If they returned to the Holy Land, it was interpreted as an escape from shame.
b. Status of the Work of God – centered around the prosperity of Jerusalem
“and about Jerusalem.”
Our lives need to be aligned with God’s purpose for this point in history; what is important to God should be important to us
C. (:3) Distressed State of God’s Kingdom Program
“They said to me” – Report of Devastation and Shame
1. Problem #1 – God’s People Need Reviving / Rebuilding –
“The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach,”
2. Problem #2 – God’s Work (The Walls / Gates) Needs Reviving / Rebuilding –
a. The Walls of the City of God
“and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down”
b. The Gates of the City of God
“and its gates are burned with fire.”
MacArthur: The opposition had successfully thwarted the Jews’ attempt to reestablish Jerusalem as a distinctively Jewish city capable of withstanding its enemies’ assaults, which could possibly lead to another destruction of the newly rebuilt temple.
Yamauchi: Most scholars, however, do not believe that Nehemiah’s distress was caused by the condition of walls torn down 140 years before his time but rather by the episode of Ezra 4:7-23. According to this passage Jews had attempted to rebuild the walls earlier, in the reign of Artaxerxes I. But after the protest of Rehum and Shimshai, the king ordered the Jews to desist.
II. (:4) THE CONCENTRATED GRIEF OF GOD’S CONCERNED SERVANT
A. Emotional Response of Intense Grief – not just analyzing the situation but disconnected
1. Attentive to kingdom priorities
“When I heard these words,”
2. Shocked into interrupting normal activities – takes a lot to interrupt some people
“I sat down” — are we more interested in our own agenda or God’s agenda??
Kidner: Since Nehemiah’s natural bent was for swift, decisive action, his behaviour here is remarkable. It shows where his priorities lay.
Yamauchi: Custom of mourners being seated (cf. Ps. 137:1; Job 2:13)
3. Overcome with intense grief – this should be an emotional message
“and wept and mourned for days;”
Weeping not a sign of weakness – Jer. 9:1; Acts 20:19; Ps. 69:9; Rom. 15:3
Swindoll: I am deeply impressed with the fact that, though he possessed a high-ranking position in the world, he had a heart that was very tender toward God. It is rare to find these combined strengths in a person.
Psalm 30:5 “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
James 4:9-10 “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
Application: What does God want us to be weeping and mourning about right now?
Are we content to just look the other way and go on about our business??
B. Spiritual Response of Seeking the Lord
1. Concentrated Approach
a. Shutting out Distractions by Fasting – denying normal human appetites
“and I was fasting” (Esth 4:16; Dan 9:3; 10:3; Zech 7:3-7; 8:19)
b. Focusing on God in Prayer
2. Covenant Access to a Sovereign King
“before the God of heaven.”
Privilege to have a personal relationship with the majestic ruler of the universe;
Special covenant relationship enjoyed by Nehemiah
Where do we turn for help?
Psalm 3:4 “I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain.”
Psalm 5:1-2 “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning. Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.”
Psalm 11:4 “The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven”
Just because you have the Vision and feel the Burden doesn’t mean that you always take action immediately; might be some necessary preparation time
David Derry: A vision rarely requires immediate action. But it always requires patience.
– Joseph reviewed his vision from an Egyptian dungeon.
– Moses spent years following sheep.
– David, the teenage king, spent years hiding in caves.
– And Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king whose ancestors had destroyed the very city he longed to rebuild.
Be encouraged. God has you where He has you for a reason.
III. (:5-11) THE REPENTANT PLEA FOR COVENANT RENEWAL
A. (:5-6a) Calling on the Covenant God for Merciful Attention — Invocation
“I said, I beseech You,”
1. Appeal to the Majesty of God
a. Majestic Sovereignty
“O Lord God of heaven,”
Kidner: appeal to God’s majesty “puts man, whether friend or foe, in his place.”
b. Majestic Greatness
“the great and awesome God,”
Yamauchi: “Awesome” is a Niphal participle from the verb yare (“to fear, revere”). He is the one to be feared (cf. Deut 7:21; Dan 9:4).
Breneman: God’s awesomeness is the impression his total character and person leaves on all who encounter him.
Like the overall impact of a brand; when someone mentions MAC computers what comes to mind? The cool dude on the TV commercials taking on the stuffy PC exec; innovation; creativity; reliability; graphical utility; etc.
When someone mentions God … what should come to mind ..
c. Majestic Covenant Loyalty
“who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,”
Yamauchi: hesed means the quality that honors a covenant through thick and thin; steadfast love
2. Appeal to the Privilege of Intercession
“let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night,”
– God’s servants have access to the throne of grace
– God’s servants have the expectation that God listens and hears
– God’s servants persevere with fervent intercession
3. Appeal to the Covenant Relationship with Israel
“on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants”
God’s people threatened once again with extinction
Transition: The Covenant needs to be renewed because it has been badly broken
B. (:6b-7) Covenant Breaking — Humble Confession of Sin
1. Confessing Sin as Both Corporate and Individual
a. General — Corporate Sins
“Confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You;”
b. Specific — Personal and Immediate Family Sins
“I and my father’s house have sinned.”
We have lost the discipline of confessing sin; we just want to move on and forget anything happened
Yamauchi: A true sense of the awesomeness of God reveals the depths of our own sinfulness (Isa 6:1-5; Luke 5:8)
2. Confessing Sin as Wickedness against a Holy God
“We have acted very corruptly against You”
We don’t take sin seriously; we don’t see it for the corruption that it is
3. Confessing Sin as Disobedience = Law Breaking of known requirements
“and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.”
C. (:8-10) Covenant Renewal – Reviewing Conditions for Scattering vs Regathering
1. Covenant Obligations Remembered For Scattering vs Regathering
a. For Scattering
“Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples;”
Not that God could ever forget or be unfaithful – but this key word “Remember” recurs frequently in the book (4:14; 5:19; 6:14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31) — Yamauchi
[Quoting Slotki – The original does not include if and is more forceful: “you will deal treacherously, I will scatter you,” expressing an inescapable sequel]
b. For Regathering
“but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ “
2. Covenant Investment Historically of God’s Sovereign Grace and Power
“They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand.” (restatement of Deut. 9:29)
Former Redemption from Egypt is the grounds for making a case that God must continue to guard and nurture His investment in His people
Redpath: Nehemiah’s prayer was grounded in the Word, founded on the promises, rooted in God’s past dealings.
D. (:11) Closing Request for Gracious Success
1. Success of God’s Servants is Consistent with Glorifying God’s Name
a. Intercessory Prayer Humbly Offered by God’s Servant Nehemiah
“O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant”
b. Intercessory Prayer for the Benefit of God’s People Glorifying God’s Name
“and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name,”
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”
2. Success Only Comes as a Gift of God’s Grace
a. Goal = Quick Success
“and make Your servant successful today”
Consider what Nehemiah was contemplating; what type of success he was requesting; he was putting his life on the line; he was seeking to leave the security and comfort of his posh kingdom position to go labor in isolation and danger for the kingdom of God
Ezra 4:21 – success would involve the overturning of this former edict
Stedman: In this passage, we see that Nehemiah is aware of the limitless power of God to change circumstances that are beyond human control.
b. Tactic = Stirring up the compassion of the king
“and grant him compassion before this man.”
This famous and influential king was only a man under the authority of the king of the universe
Prov. 21:1 “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (plaque on the wall as you enter our house)
3. Success Involves the Providential Dispensation of our Circumstances
“Now I was the cupbearer to the king.”
Nice dramatic surprise that Nehemiah springs on us here – he is in a position to have access to the king.
Not just a lucky thing that Nehemiah was in such a position of prominence with access to the King of Persia; God had Providentially directed his life journey and prepared him for this crucial moment in history
Not some minor position like present day butler; a lot of responsibility and a lot of danger involved
MacArthur: As an escort of the monarch at meals, the cupbearer had a unique advantage to petition the king. Not only did the king owe him his life, since the cupbearer tested all the king’s beverages for possible poison, thus putting his own life at risk, but he also became a close confidant. God sovereignly used this relationship between a Gentile and Jew to deliver His people, such as He did with Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai.
Gene Getz: A mighty monarch such as the king of Persia would select for that position a man who was wise and discreet, and consistently honest and trustworthy. Nehemiah’s position alone reveals much about his intellectual capabilities, his emotional maturity, and his spiritual status.
Wiersbe: While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. Real prayer keeps your heart and your head in balance so your burden doesn’t make you impatient to run ahead of the Lord and ruin everything. . . The king’s cupbearer would have to sacrifice the comfort and security of the palace for the rigors and dangers of life in a ruined city. Luxury would be replaced by ruins, and prestige by ridicule and slander. Instead of sharing the king’s bounties, Nehemiah would personally pay for the upkeep of scores of people who would eat at his table. He would leave behind the ease of the palace and take up the toils of encouraging a beaten people and finishing an almost impossible task.
Transition — 2:1 – Four months had passed from the time of the bad report until Nehemiah took action
Wiersbe: Does Anybody Really Care?
“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernard Shaw put those words into the mouth of the Rev. Anthony Anderson in the second act of his play The Devil’s Disciple. The statement certainly summarizes what Jesus taught in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37); and it rebukes all those who fold their arms complacently, smile benignly, and say somewhat sarcastically, “Ask me if I care!”
Nehemiah was the kind of person who cared. He cared about the traditions of the past and the needs of the present. He cared about the hopes for the future. He cared about his heritage, his ancestral city, and the glory of his God.