Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah:  Rebuilding the Walls

I recently read a book by Thomas Friedman entitled:  “ That Used to Be Us: How American Invented the World and then Fell Behind and How it Can Get Back”.  The author is an editorial writer for the NY Times.  I would consider his politics different from mine. I would disagree with his solutions to the problem in some cases and agree in others. I do agree with the problems he has defined. But what is evident is this man loves his country, America, and is concerned about the state of our country. Surely you recognize how our country has fallen in so many categories where we used to lead.  And that many of us are anxious as a people to restore our country and rebuild what has fallen into disrepair.

I tell a story often when I lecture and speak to groups to illustrate a point.  It is the story of a farmer and his wife who have been married over 60  years. Their observation of a young married couple parked across from them in the church parking lot on this particular Sunday morning leads the old farmer’s wife to remark about how close the young lady is sitting next to her young man. And she remembers…(Remembering is an important part of this story in Nehemiah; it is an important part of the Thomas Friedman’s book about this beloved country of ours.) The farmer’s wife remembers how she and her husband used to once sit close together. And so she asks him..’ we used to sit together that close…what happened to us?’, as she sits next to her door and he is seated underneath the steering wheel. He replies – as he looks at her- “ Well, I haven’t moved.” If we are not careful in our relationships we will drift apart.

I then tell the audience the number one reason people will quit doing business with them is they perceive they or someone on their staff is indifferent to their needs. It seems to us sometimes we do business with people, interact with people and they are completely indifferent to our needs. Indifferent is defined as ‘ showing neither interest or dislike; mediocre’. Indifferent is a word that describes the attitude of many people today. Indifferent is an uncomfortable word.

Today we see our nation in trouble, our communities in trouble, our churches in trouble our family and lives in trouble in disrepair and we seem to be either indifferent or ignorant. The story of the Good Samaritan is a story of indifference.  Why bother to ask- if you don’t really care. Or if you ask – then you might find out something you would feel obligated to do. Ignorance, indifference and apathy go hand in hand to create a deadly combination which adds up to a lukewarm believer, a lukewarm church and a lukewarm nation. Do you know how something that was once hot gets lukewarm?  Very simple- it gets away from the source which made it hot. Do you know what makes Our Lord sick at His stomach?  Lukewarmness.

When America was not yet 50 years old in 1831, it was already being recognized by the world as a great nation. It was for this reason a young French philosopher, named Alexis De Tocqueville came to America  with one burning question.  What makes America a great nation? Listen to these observations he makes as recorded in his book-“ Democracy in America.”

He writes:  “ The greatness of America lies not in her being more enlightened, but in her ability to repair her faults.”

“They( Americans) combine the notions of Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds, they cannot conceive one without the other.”

“ I sought for her genius and greatness in her commodious harbors and ample rivers, it was not there. I sought for it in her fertile fields and boundless prairies and it was not there, nor was it in her rich mines and commerce. It was not until I went into her churches and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness that I found the reason for America’s greatness. America is great because she is good. If she ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

“In the end the state of the union comes from the character of the people.”

That used to be us.

So we begin this study we will see clearly the application to us individually, as a  church, and as a nation. We will see what needs to happen to rebuild our lives, our churches and thus our nation. It is a story of rebuilding what has fallen. It is a story of concern that prompts one to action and keeps you determined and focused. It is the story of one man who was not indifferent. He wanted and was determined to make a difference.


1:1- The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah:  ( Originally in the Hebrew Bible, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were one book- later divided into the two titles we now have.)

1:2 In the month of Kislev ( November/December) in the 20th year ( 20th year of King Artaxerxes’ reign), while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile and also about Jerusalem.

Here is the first step in rebuilding the walls: Nehemiah was not indifferent, he cared enough to ask. Sometimes, especially, if you are suffering you wonder if anybody really cares.  In this study, we will see what Nehemiah cares about.

Nehemiah cared about others. His first question was about the Jewish remnant in Jerusalem.

He also cared about the traditions of the past. ( West Jackson cares and talks about its history and tradition.)

He also cared about the needs of the present. ( Here we have to ask ourselves do we care about the needs of the present?)

He also cared about their hopes for the future. ( Now faith is being sure of what we hope for- what do you hope for?  What you hope for- will tell you a lot about what your passions, concerns and issues are- what’s important to you.)

And last but not least, in fact, most important- Nehemiah, we will see cared about the glory of God.


Nehemiah cared enough to ask about the remnant and the city, which was known as God’s city, His dwelling place. He was a cupbearer for the King. A very important position. He tasted all that the King drank before he drank it in order to assure it was safe and not poisonous. God had placed Nehemiah in an important, strategic position. He could have returned to Jerusalem as many others had since the Babylonians had been defeated. But he had not returned. God has a reason for the time and place in which we were born ( Acts 17) and He has placed us where we are for such a time as this. We see it in the story of Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel, Joseph and many others through out history.

God is always at work and prepares His workers and puts them in the right place at the right time. Then comes a turning point and a door swings open and you turn aside, as Moses did one ordinary day when he was tending sheep on the backside of nowhere to see about a burning bush and his life was never the same.  It was an ordinary morning when Peter, James and John after a night of fishing were cleaning their nets when this young rabbi, they had met six weeks before came along and asked to use their boat as a pulpit from which to teach. Afterwards Jesus said to them – push out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch. Peter’s first instinct was to say to the Lord, we have fished all night and caught nothing….nevertheless at your word we will push out and drop our net.  A turning point- for such a time as this you have come into the kingdom, said Uncle Mordecai to Esther and she opens to the door to enter into the king’s presence. Be still and listen and know that I am God, says the Lord.  He can open doors no one can close. There is an experience God has for us- a work that He has prepared us for such a time as this. It begins, as it did with Nehemiah by caring enough to ask.

Decades before, Jeremiah asked this question:  “ For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? Or who will bemoan you? Or will turn aside to ask how you are doing?” ( Jeremiah 15:5) We will see it is Nehemiah who God has prepared to have pity and care about Jerusalem, who will bemoan it and turn aside to do something.

When Nehemiah asks the question he receives an answer that is bad news. There is only a remnant, the walls are torn down, the gates burned. The city and the people are in ruin, shambles, in great trouble and disgrace.

Jerusalem is not what it used to be.

Do you care enough to ask? Do you want to know the truth? Are you concerned enough to do something? Or do you just want to know the latest gossip?


Weeping can be a sign of weakness or emotional instability in some cases. But it also can be a sign of empathy- where we identify with someone’s sorrow and we cry for them and with them. It also can be a sign of genuine concern and strength. Jeremiah wept, Paul wept and the Lord Jesus wept.

“As He ( the Lord Jesus) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said: “ if  you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace- but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment  against you and encircle you on every side. They will dash you to the ground, and you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” ( Luke 19)  Do you see what happens when we reject Him and His invitation? We can miss the opportunity to do a work God has just for us. What is invitation to us now?  “ If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their lands. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” (2 Chronicles 7)

God has told us, as He did in 2 Chronicles that He can shut off the rains from heaven, or command the locusts to devour the land or send plagues among my people. God has and will do this when we, His people are disobedient.

Nehemiah cared enough to ask. He cared enough to weep. The Lord had placed a burden on his heart. “ Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” ( Psalms 30)


When Nehemiah heard the bad news, he sat down and wept, mourned, and he begin to fast and pray. Fasting represents a hunger for God greater than a hunger for food. Fasting represents a cleansing of our vessels that wants to do everything possible to hear from God. Fasting adds desperation, urgency and power to our prayers.

Now let us observe the prayer of Nehemiah. For perhaps we are like the old farmer’s wife- who remembered what they used to be like that young couple- wanting to be as close as possible to each other. His prayer begins with praise for who God is.   He is privileged to speak ( as are we) to the God of Heaven, the Great and Awesome God. Nehemiah remembers that His God and Our God is a God who keeps His Word, His promises and His covenant of love. Has our Heavenly Father not told us- assured us- nothing can ever separate us from His Love. Nehemiah also recognizes the problems. God had told the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham the instructions that were given through Moses that if Israel was disobedient – He, God would chasten them and punish them by scattering them through the nations. We must remember that Paul tells us, Christians: ‘ if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.’ But surely we realize, if we are heirs to the promise, we are also under the same instructions that warn us of God’s chastening when we are unfaithful.

So Nehemiah does not just point his fingers at the forefathers who messed up and incurred the judgment of God, he also acknowledges he has sinned.    God has not only promised blessings for obedience and chastening for disobedience – but has also promised forgiveness and restoration when we confess our sins and repent, turn from them.

Next Nehemiah in this opening prayer, reminds God they are His servants and His people whom He has redeemed by His great strength and His mighty Hand.  Does God need to be reminded?  No. In reminding God of this, Nehemiah is remembering who God is and what He has done. We also see that Nehemiah believes or knows of others who are praying for God to listen to their prayers. He prays:” O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant and to the prayer of your servants( Plural) who delight in revering your name.” It is not just Nehemiah who is praying, but also others who want God to help them restore what once was. And notice also what their delight is— REVERING YOUR NAME. In other words bringing glory to God and to the city which is His and to the place which is His dwelling place is also the object and goal of their prayers to ultimately bring glory to God.

Did not the members of Congress, and the Senate, both Republican, Democrat and independent join hands in those days after 9/11 and sing with conviction and earnestness- ‘God Bless America’?  It was not contrived, it was an impulse at that time to call out to God.

Could that happen again in these times?

It is both individual prayer and corporate prayer of those who delight in revering God’s name who are calling out to God to remember them.

Remember Your People, O God.

Remember your children, Remember your Promises- Oh God!


Nehemiah then prays for what he needs to do this work. He prays for God to give his servant success today by granting him favor with this man, the king. For Nehemiah is in effect, saying to God, I am concerned enough and care enough to not only weep, pray and fast- I am concerned enough to volunteer.

And thus this story begins.

It is a story of restoration. Of rebuilding walls that have fallen into disrepair and ruin in our lives, in our churches and in our nation.

What do walls represent?  Walls were in Biblical times a symbol of strength and protection. In Daniel’s day in Babylon boasted of a wall that in places was 380 feet thick and over 100 feet high. God has hedged us about with protection- He is our protection.

But through neglect, unfaithfulness and disobedience the walls and the gates that come from this relationship begin to fall into a state of ruin and the enemy rushes in a like a flood. God told us this would happen with our unfaithfulness.

Our first step is to become concerned.

Have you taken a look in the mirror of God’s Word? Have you made an honest assessment of your real condition? Have you thought about your present state and wondered are you all God created you and saved you and gifted you to be?  Remember what Paul said:  “ I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He is our strength. He is our fortress, He is our Rock Our High Tower.

You may be thinking- what can I do?  I am not equipped to do any of these things. Nehemiah is a cupbearer. He is not in the construction business. He is not a carpenter. What Nehemiah is – is a person who cares enough to ask, to weep, to pray, fast and volunteer. He is willing to obey God. You can be that person.

It was obvious to that young Frenchmen, De Tocquville, America’s greatness is not because they are more enlightened; but rather in her ability to repair her faults. Oh that would be true of us once again.

Let’s roll up our spiritual sleeves and take up the challenge.

So how do we begin?  The same way, Nehemiah did- we care enough to ask. And when we hear the bad news, we are prepared to weep, pray and fast and volunteer. Here I am- send me Lord.

This peace of God passes understanding. Philippians 4 contains some well known verses but don’t miss the last portion of Phil. 4: 5: “…The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Did you see that?  The Lord is Near. It is His presence that provides the peace.

In fact , peace is a promise of God. Peace is a gift of God. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. God has not given us a spirit of fear – but of love, and power and a sound mind.

What can cause one to lose his or her peace?  Fear can cause one to lose their peace. Fear is the enemy of faith. When a sudden storm came on the Sea of Galilee with the Lord Jesus asleep in the stern, the disciples were in fear of their life. When they awoke Jesus – what did Jesus say to the wind and the sea in Mark 4?  He said, “ Peace- be still.” And the storm stopped and Jesus asked his disciples-why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? If at his command of peace – be still the wind and the seas obey- why can we not respond the same way to his command?

Sin in your life can steal your peace. Sin is rebellion against God. How can you expect to have peace when you live in rebellion against the God of Peace?

Some of us give up in times of trouble. We surrender our peace. We surrender because we have lost our focus. We

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14