The God Of Nehemiah

by Kenneth J Price

Nehemiah held the office of the royal cupbearer in Shushan the palace in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. This was a place of great honour in the Persian court, as he was daily in the presence of the king, and also seeing the king at his seasons of relaxation, the cupbearer had many opportunities of obtaining the goodwill of the monarch and of obtaining favours which may have been denied others.

The people were in captivity at this time and Nehemiah had a deep burden for his people and for the city of Jerusalem, so he made enquiries of those who came from Jerusalem regarding the situation there, not only of the Jewish people who had escaped, but also of the city itself. We read of this in the first chapter of the book that bears his name. The report was very clear: "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."

This news brought a reaction in the heart of Nehemiah which showed the depth of his concern for his people and for his city. "I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven . . . " It is clear that this weeping, mourning and fasting went on for four months, because we are told that "it came to pass in the month of Chislev" that Nehemiah learned of the state of Jerusalem and his brethren, that is, the ninth month, whereas it was not until the first month of the year, namely Nisan , that he made his request to the king to do something about the burden of his heart.

The Awesomeness of God

Nehemiah prayed: "I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, you who keep covenant and mercy with those who love you and observe your commandments . . . " Here we have a revelation of Nehemiah's concept of God, which firstly was one of awesomeness: "great and awesome God" , which made him realize that he was on holy ground in speaking to the Almighty. It reminds us of the words of the psalmist: "Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast" (Psalm 33:8,9). Also we read in Psalm 111:9: "He has sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant for ever: HOLY AND AWESOME IS HIS NAME."

This Godly man Nehemiah came into the presence of His God with the realization of the awesomeness of God, the great and terrible God who keeps covenant. As he came to open his heart with his deep desires towards the blessing of God's people and the rebuilding of the city there was no brashness, there was no boldness in an irreverent way, no irreverent familiarity; instead he came with the realization of the majesty and awesomeness of the great God of heaven.

The Faithfulness of God

Not only was Nehemiah's concept of God the great Jehovah one of awesomeness, but it was also one of faithfulness. " . . . the great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant . . . " God will never violate His promises and He will not alter His conditions, for He is a covenant-keeping God. Moses' words come to mind: "Therefore know that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love him and keep his commandments . . . " (Deuteronomy 7:9); also King Solomon's at the dedication of the Temple: "Blessed be the LORD . . . there has not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised through his servant Moses" (I Kings 8:56).

The Attentiveness of God

Nehemiah recognized God as a God of attentiveness. "Please let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, that you may hear the prayer of your servant which I pray before you now, day and night, for the children of Israel your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against you. Both my father's house and I have sinned."

Intercessory Prayer

There are two elements revealed in Nehemiah's prayer which was intercessory prayer. First there must be a right concept of God, and second, there must be a willingness of confession to God. The psalmist said: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear" (Psalm 66:18), and the prophet Isaiah: "But your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear" (59:2).

Nehemiah in his prayer of intercession makes it clear that confession itself is not only necessary, but we see the extent of the confession he made to God: confession of the sins of the people, confession of his personal sins and of the sins of his family: " . . . confess the sins of the children of Israel . . . both my father's house and I have sinned against you."

As he confessed the nation's sins we are reminded of his contemporary Ezra who did the same: "O my God: I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to you, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens" (Ezra 9:6). Jeremiah too exclaimed: "O LORD, though our iniquities testify against us, do it for your name's sake; for our backslidings are many, we have sinned against you" (14:7).

Daniel, "with fasting and sackcloth and ashes prayed to the LORD . . . and made confession, and said, 'O LORD, great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant and mercy . . . we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled . . . '" , and he comprehensively covered all the areas wherein he and his people had forfeited God's blessing through their sin (we read it in chapter 9), yet he pleaded with Almighty God to forgive them and restore Jerusalem, and the nation to the land.

Even Abraham Lincoln stated: "It is the duty of man and nations to confess their national sins in humility and sorrow."

Nehemiah not only confessed the nation's sins but he also confessed personal sins: "Both my father's house and I have sinned." "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). And his confession was an acknowledgement that the sin was against God Himself: "We have acted very corruptly against you, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which you have commanded your servant Moses." National sins were against God; family sins likewise, and personal sins, not only against others, but initially Nehemiah realized against God.

Sin certainly defiles man, but it also defies God, as there is a defiance in the heart of man when sin is committed, a defiance against the God of heaven. King David confessed: "Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight" (Psalm 51:4), and Achan, after the defeat of Jericho, when he had taken booty against the specific instruction of the Lord, confessed: "Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel . . . " (Joshua 7:20).

Nehemiah continued to open his heart before God as he remembered the past word of the Lord. He realized that the blessing had been withdrawn because of the nation's unfaithfulness and that the word of God through Moses had come to pass: "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations . . . " However, he also knew that God had promised that the blessing would return " . . . if you return to me, and keep my commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen for a dwelling for my name."

Nehemiah knew his God and had confidence in Him, so he concluded his prayer: "Now these are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power, and by your strong hand. O LORD, I pray, please let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayers of your servants who desire to fear your name; and let your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man (Artaxerxes). "

So Nehemiah was willing to humble himself before the great and awesome God, and in this way he signalled his return to a position of obedience and submission; he was ready to do God's will. He rose from cup-bearer in Shushan to governor in Judah, and was one of those great leaders of that day who was responsible for leading the returning exiles back to God. May God raise up a Nehemiah in our day!