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Bible Series For Life

Return to Prayer                      2 AUG 15

Historical Background: King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded in 606 B.C. They destroyed the walls of Jerusalem and took some of the young men as captives (these young men included Daniel). All of the Jews were exiled (driven out) of Jerusalem. Beginning in 536 B.C. some of the Jews were allowed to come back and were led by Zerubbabel (Ezra 1-6). Nearly eighty years later another group came back led by Ezra (Ezra7-10). Ezra led the people to re-build the temple in Jerusalem but the walls were still on ruin. A city without walls was defenseless and had no power. So God tasked Nehemiah to do manage the work.

Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries with:

        Malachi

        Socrates of Greece

        Guatama the historical Buddha of India

        Confucius of China. 

        Greek-Persian Wars (490-479)

        Parthenon Built (438)

Using Zerubbabel, God ended the Babylonian exile of seventy years in 536 B.C. and sent the remnant, 29,818 people — double the number who went into exile — back to Jerusalem under the edict of Cyrus, king of Persia.

The Second Temple was rebuilt with Babylonian money! (Ezra 6:8 RSV) "Moreover I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God; the cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River."

538 BC            Cyrus’ Decree

520 BC            2nd Temple Construction Begins

515 BC            2nd Temple Dedication by Ezra

458 BC            Ezra’s Return to Jerusalem

445 BC            Nehemiah’s Return to Jerusalem

 

NEH 1:1-2 Dr. Herschel H. Hobbs in his Studying Life and Work Lessons, April-June 1987, page 32 wrote “Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king. Among the ancients this was an honored position. The cupbearer must taste the wine before the king drank it. This was to make certain it was not poisoned. So only the one whom the king trusted implicitly could occupy this position. Naturally such a person was held in prominence in the court.”

While Nehemiah was in Susa the summer capital, Hanani and other men came from Judah and Nehemiah asked for a report. Dr. Hobbs saw the possibility that Hanami was a blood brother and perhaps had gone to Jerusalem because Nehemiah had requested him to do so. Nehemiah’s family was among those who had remained there. He gave Nehemiah a report of conditions in Jerusalem due to the opposition recorded in (Ezra 4:23-24 RSV) "Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. {24} Then the work on the house of God which is in Jerusalem stopped; and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia." Then Ezra organized the rebuilding effort.

NEH 1:3 This report included: "The survivors there in the province who escaped exile are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire." From history and Ezra, we know they meant “the wall of Jerusalem is still broken down, and its gates are still destroyed by fire and have not been rebuilt.” Dr. Hobbs, page 33 “Later Nehemiah himself was to endure hardship because the enemies of the Jews (see Neh. 4:1-21; 6:1-10).”

NEH 1:4 Dr. Hobbs page 33, “The news of Jerusalem drove Nehemiah to tears. But it did more. For certain days (see 1:4) he mourned, fasted, and prayed to God. [Note Esther did the same thing.] Though he occupied a place of trust to the king, he realized that what needed to be done called for power beyond himself: So he turned to God in prayer. The prayer in Nehemiah 1:5-11 is a classic.”

NEH 1:5 (Neh 1:5 RSV) "And I said, "O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments;" LORD is Yahweh, the only name of God, and God is Elohim. Hence he used the only name of God has given in Ex 3:14-15. Terrible in Hebrew is 3372. yare', yaw-ray'; a prim. root; to fear; mor. to revere; caus. to frighten:--affright, be (make) afraid, dread (-ful), (put in) fear (-ful, -fully, -ing). (be had in) reverence (-end), X see, terrible (act, -ness, thing). Here it means to reverence in a supreme fashion. We could say “awesome.” Nehemiah’s used “of heaven”, which means the Cosmos, not Heaven the abode of God. Therefore Nehemiah recognized God as being more than a national or tribal God. He knew God as the God of creation. This is significant. He quoted from (Exo 20:6 RSV) "but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." “Who loves me” is in the same sense as “fear the LORD.” This is an Old Testament expression of having a saving relationship with God. Note also the critical “keep my commandments.” The love for God is not complete in words alone. (James 2:18 RSV) "But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith."

There must be Greek belief [faith] which includes a life commitment set apart to become as perfect (complete) as the Father. (Mat 5:48 RSV)  "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

 Again, words alone are not enough. (Mat 7:21 RSV) ""Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." John made this again clear in his use of this truth in (1 John 2:3-6 RSV) "And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. {4} He who says "I know him" but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; {5} but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: {6} he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked."

NEH 1:6 Nehemiah used the belief expressions of the day, even though he had acknowledged God as the God of the Cosmos. Neither we (nor Nehemiah) need to ask God to hear us! God awaits our prayers which are pleasant to Him. (Rev 8:3-4 RSV) "And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; {4} and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God." Otherwise what Paul said does not make sense: (1 Th 5:17 RSV) "pray constantly,"

Nehemiah prayed for the nation and for his family and himself. We can acknowledge the sins of others, but we can only confess unto repentance our personal sins. This is the first act necessary in a return to prayer. The lesson title assumes the Christian needs to return. Thus we need to heed what John wrote: (1 John 1:8-9 RSV) "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

NEH 1:7 He bluntly stated none had kept the Law. There were a lot of reasons for that. This was the prime reason the Exile happened.

NEH 1:8-9 Nehemiah was a man of the Word. He probably did not have a scroll, but recalled this from memory. If this is correct, he had great recall. (Deu 4:26-31 RSV) "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you are going over the Jordan to possess; you will not live long upon it, but will be utterly destroyed. {27} And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. {28} And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of men's hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. {29} But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. {30} When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice, {31} for the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not fail you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers which he swore to them." Note the critical condition of being genuine: “if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Lip service is never enough. Then through repentance, the person is to “return to the LORD your God and obey his voice.” So it is ever (Deu 10:12-13 RSV) ""And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, {13} and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I command you this day for your good?" Repentance, faith, commitment, and keeping and doing are what God wants! This is meant in the phrase “the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:16 RSV) ""For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ."

NEH 1:10 Obviously Nehemiah uses “thy servants” in a broad sense. Judah would not be in the state they were in if they had been God’s servants. (Exo 19:5-6 RSV) "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, {6} and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel."" Nehemiah overstates, but who can blame him. He was under serious distress. And note: Jesus sometimes overstated in His parables to stress select points. (Mat 7:3 RSV) "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

NEH 1:11 Again some weak theology was stated, but few then knew the truth as we know it. He requested God to listen to the prayers from he and the other saved people. This was/is not needed as God always listens to the saved. He ended with a specific request, that he be successful before King Artaxerxes [chapter 2]. He was a trusted servant who had frequent access to the king.

How Nehemiah prayed is not something we are to emulate exactly. But his sincerity, dedication, and specific speaking are part of a fine example to follow. (Mat 6:7 RSV) ""And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words."

            Note Nehemiah did not record that God directed him to speak to the king about going to Judah. This is an important fact few will glean from this lesson. God expects mature Christians to act on what they already know toward the spreading of the Gospel and growing Christians. He does not expect us nor want us to ask him about every little detail. This is exactly how Nehemiah acted, as a mature saved person. He identified a problem and moved with intelligence to solve it. In areas where he did not have the control or ability to achieve something, then he turned to God for added help. And remember, we are to pray to the Father as a most endearing Father. (Mat 6:9 RSV) "Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." Even when we are praying to Daddy Father, we are not to be too casual. (Eph 6:18 RSV) "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints," The Holy Spirit is with us to guide us in prayer and help in saying what we mean. (Rom 8:26 RSV) "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." (Jude 1:20 RSV) "But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;"

 

Marvin Ganote, Advanced Bible Study Class, Adult Teacher. Lesson at: http://dma1.org/~ganotemd/lesson.htm  or http://academic.udayton.edu/MarvinGanote/Bible/lessn.htm