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The Heart of Nehemiah

January 29th, 2012 by Vic

January 29, 2012
Nehemiah chapters 1-2
“The Heart of Nehemiah”

Nehemiah is often used as an example of a great leader. Nehemiah was a man just like us who prayed. Because of his trust in God he became a great man and builder of people.

Nehemiah is a Jewish immigrant. His great great great grandparents had been brought to this country in a slave caravan. He was a servant in the palace. He never forgot his heritage.

I do not know what was happening in Oregon 160 years ago. A provisional government was organized in Oregon in 1843. The Oregon Treaty with Britain was signed in 1846. But Nehemiah knew his history. About 160 years before the time of Nehemiah, the Jews were taken into Babylonian captivity (606-597).

In 535 BC, Cyrus allowed 50,000 Jews to emigrate from Babylon to Jerusalem. They rebuilt the altar and started work on the Temple, but criticism stopped the rebuilding one year later.
In 520 BC, Haggai and Zechariah renewed the rebuilding of the ii.
In 516 BC, the Temple was completed.
In 478 BC, Esther became queen of Persia.
In 457 BC, Ezra took 2,000 to Jerusalem to restore the worship.
In 444 BC, Nehemiah goes to rebuild the walls and gates.

Nehemiah begins this book like a diary. He collected facts from first hand credible sources. He asked about the people and the city. It had been 13 years since Ezra had gone to restore the worship in the temple. It sounded exciting to celebrate the feasts. But now they needed to repair the wall. Rebuilding a wall wasn’t as exciting as building a temple. It would be harder to get volunteers to rebuild a wall.

Nehemiah listened; he heard; he identified with the need. His first reaction was to weep. Not the normal sign of leadership. There was compassion. He chose to fast and pray. He used his emotions to stimulate his worship. Some try to reverse that.

1:4 “Sat down and wept”. This is not the usual description of a charismatic leader. The facts are that despite the adding of more manpower, despite the adding of reinforcements, despite restoring regular worship, nothing is happening in Jerusalem. There is something missing. Work Witness projects do not always build people. Aid to Haiti does not change people. The people were still discouraged.

1:5 Nehemiah goes to prayer. This prayer flows from God’s grandeur to Nehemiah’s emotions. God has been fair and just. God has been in control. The whole prayer is one sentence.

1:6 Sin is the root problem. Nehemiah intercedes on behalf of those who do not see the problem yet. He identifies with the people even though he is from the kingly line (my father’s house). He says we all have sinned and God must judge sin. We deserve the judgment we are under. God is righteous.

His prayer is based on the promises of God. Notice the progression in the prayer. He was not trying to fit God in His plans, but was trying to see the situation from God’ perspective.

1:8 He started with compassion, continued with confession, affirmed God’s justice in what has happened. He identified his sin with their sin. Let God know that you know what He has promised. The same God who warns also promises. Both the warning and the promise are inseparable in the faithfulness of God.

1:10 This is the first time Nehemiah differentiates between a “me” and “them”. When He sees a difference between me and them he says, “God they are yours. Lord you have a problem. These people whom you redeemed are hurting. They must be good people. You redeemed them. But they have given up. They don’t know how good life can be. They are defenseless and vulnerable. A lot like some of our neighbors. They went there with good intentions, but they have become discouraged.”

People seem to have the ability to live with their problems and not see them. They have forgotten what real worship can be like. These people in Jerusalem were looking across their problem constantly, but not seeing it. They were surrounded by rubble, but did nothing. They were living in chaos and did not know what to do about it. They were just trying to survive. Years ago their great grandparents had returned here to correct the problem, but the size of the problem had overwhelmed them. These were 3rd & 4th generation welfare families.

Like many of our neighbors, life seemed hopeless. This is the hopelessness of human beings who have tried to solve their own problems without God. They forgot to seek God’s face in prayer. They need to be reminded that God cares and wants to prosper them. Nehemiah was a man just like us who prayed.

Are we like these Jews? We’ve been in Oregon 160 years and we are fairly comfortable. We’ve been told we deserve food, home and minimum wage, but are we thankful? Are we living in routine rubble and don’t even know it? Is God offering us something better if we would honor Him and give thanks?

Nehemiah shows us a concerned heart. He was sensitive to the facts, but he does not lay the problem on the people. He does not blame the people. It was God’s problem. Nehemiah complements the people.

1:11 After months of prayer God gives Nehemiah the answer to his prayer. The last phrase is an “Aha!” statement. The answer comes in an unexpected form. God often surprises us. Nehemiah realizes that he was concerned because God made him concerned. Nehemiah realizes that he is where he is because God is in control. This is one of those times when God says, “surprise.”

After spending months in prayer, Nehemiah sees himself in the mirror of God’s presence. Nehemiah is the answer to his own prayer. Now he feels compelled to put some action to his insight. If we act on our ‘aha!’ experiences, life will be constantly new. Because God is in control, it pays to take risks.

This prayer reflects his knowledge of Scripture. It reflects a disciplined emotional response to a problem. It shows us the heart of a sensitive and holy man.

Sensitizing people is part of our task. We must let the blind know there is a world of light. We must fight to reverse the effects of the daily news, which tends to callous people. We need to tell people that they are children of God, not consumers. We are to be dispensers of God’s grace. We can offer hope. We can show our neighbors a better way.

Helping people begins on our knees before God. Commitment does not come from DVD’s and slick seminars. Money comes with DVD’s and pictures of starving children. But you cannot motivate people to committed action with guilt.

Like Nehemiah, collect the facts then allow God to make you sensitive to the needs. Then pray that God will sensitize the king. God has to put compassion in the heart of others just like He put it in your heart. You can’t do it on your own.

2:1 Is this 4 months after the report came to Nehemiah or 4 months after the prayer? Does the ‘today’ in 1:11 suggest that the prayer and the answer came the same day? Does it mean that Nehemiah had not prayed for 4 months?

One thing is certain. Nehemiah had continued with the routines. Everything had gone on as usual and he had not let his grief show. This suggests that he was a very stable person, under control of his emotions. He knew how to hang in there and not let things hang out.

Nehemiah has become aware that God has put him where he is and given him this job so he can answer his own prayer. It was kind of like God telling Moses to look what was in his hand. What resources has God put at your disposal?

It seems that Nehemiah recognized that God was opening a door for him. He recognized that there was a bridge for him to meet the need, but he was not sure he wanted to put any weight on this bridge yet.

2:2 The king’s invitation was so big that it frightened Nehemiah. God’s answers are often so great we are surprised.

Now he lets his feelings show. He did not let his feelings be known till now. The king would not want grumpy servants. What would have happened if Nehemiah were a constant complainer?

“I was very much afraid.” He did not understand the king’s behavior. God has been working in the heart of the king and Nehemiah had not noticed. Our job is not to build bridges to our neighbors, but pay attention and notice the bridges that God is building or has already built. Leadership is not having a plan, but acknowledging where God has put you and seeing God’s plan involves others too.

2:3 A respectful salutation was appropriate. Bridges must be based on respect and mutual trust. This king was not a God-fearer. He was a pagan. Nehemiah knew that he could do nothing without the king’s help. He recognized that he had an opening, he had a bridge, but he chose not to carry a load across this bridge yet.

He brings a light load across. It’s a question and a little bit of a criticism of the government. “How do you expect me to feel?” He is asking the king to identify with him. He invites the king to empathy, not sympathy. Lasting relationships are not built on sympathy.

What he is kind of saying is that the government had created the situation. Nehemiah wondered if the bridge would collapse, but was amazed at the king’s response.

Consider everything a wise king would have been thinking about. Nehemiah says, “I want to go to Jerusalem and rebuild it.”

2:4 There is no argument from the king He respected Nehemiah. Nehemiah did not have to explain why this was the perfect time to rebuild the walls. The king knew that more money would come in if the economy was improved. Nehemiah found this bridge through prayer and he continues to pray.

2:5 The scene is changed. The setting is more formal. The queen is now beside the king. This is a very personal notation in the diary. The king knew that Nehemiah had no training in construction. He knew his limitations. But Nehemiah was simply asking for a job.

2:6 The first question the king asks is the same question that all sponsoring agencies ask today, “How long is it going to take?” We usually say we need a feasibility study. But people whom God has prepared can boldly say, “I set a time.” Setting a time builds confidence. Both Nehemiah and the king knew that they would probably have to re-negotiate the time, but a time was set.

People who sponsor projects want to know how long. If you had asked Nehemiah what date he gave the king, he may not have remembered. He was willing to stick out his neck and be accountable for a period of time. It is better to take risks than always keeping your tail covered.

Nehemiah knew when to stick his neck out. Every leader must sort out the options in the light of what God wanted done. Nehemiah made a wise choice, not because he was wise and clever, but because he was godly and he trusted God. He trusted God and loved people.

2:7 Nehemiah anticipates the next question of how much. The list of requests is probably what Nehemiah had learned from the dignitaries who had made similar requests in the throne room. Nehemiah is doing the best he can with the meager experiences he has had. This is not a good time to appear helpless.

He was not a master planner, but a user of all the resources that God had made available to him. Being in the court, he would have heard how work projects were conducted. He would have heard about the king’s resources. He would have known about the carpenters.

Don’t overvalue the brilliance of Nehemiah’s responses. Some things he does not know, but he was honest with what he knew and what he did not know. The king saw Nehemiah’s ignorance and his honesty. He was impressed with Nehemiah’s willingness to take a risk. God had prepared him. The king’s reasons for rebuilding were not the same as Nehemiah’s but Nehemiah could help him meet his goals.

Nehemiah asks for timber to build a house. Things were in a shambles. He needed a place to stay without being a burden on those he was going to help. A wood house would be an inferior house, a humble house. It is like taking a tent for us to sleep in. Nehemiah shows sensitive compassion more than shrewd planning.

The king could have given Nehemiah just what he asked for and said, “Lot’s of luck. Let’s see how long you will last on your own.” But the king was moved by God to help Nehemiah.

2:8 When all is said and done, Nehemiah says, God did it.

2:9 We are on our way. It probably took 6 months to prepare.

2:10 It was a tense situation. There is always more bad news than you anticipate. The situation is much worse than Nehemiah had thought.

2:11 Here is a condensation of time. There are no wasted details. Picture what the people in Jerusalem saw in the distance. They must have thought an army was coming to tear down the city.

Now think of how they felt when they realized that a Jew was in charge. How does Nehemiah explain being with those people? What could he say that would convince them that he had come to help? No bridges had been built yet. The people would be very suspicious.

All eyes were on Nehemiah. They did not know what was going on. They were reacting to the unknown. How does Nehemiah handle this situation? As he came into the city, he had seen the situation. Now as he tried to set up camp in the rubble, it would have been easy to intimidate the local residents.

2:12 Chances are we would have started out with a news conference and let everyone know why we were here. But Nehemiah did not explain the reason why he had come. Most visiting experts would have said, “I see you have a problem.” They would have their assistants take a lot of pictures.

Nehemiah did not rub their noses in their problem. They had lived like this for generations. He saw them as people living in the midst of their problem and not seeing it.

Notice what is repeated. Think why? There is a slow deliberateness at this point. Nehemiah waited 3 days before looking at the shambles. He was not the outsider with the camera who has come to take pictures of our tragedy. He is not taking a position of authority or superiority. He deliberately takes time.

He chose to wait 3 days and then “by night” he deliberately went out to examine the walls. This was a deliberate choice not to embarrass the people. He did not want them seeing him examining the walls. This way he had less chance of offending the people by not calling attention to the fact of the problem. This was an act of deep and careful respect.

2:16 All societies have face. Leaders sometimes should wait. Every culture has face to save.

Notice the detail of the horse. Cities were destroyed first by burning the gates. In the second stage the walls are torn down. The third stage of destroying a city was to scatter the stones.
Having the rubble here was great news. The stones are still here. We are ready to build. We have plenty of resources

A man of God sees the positive in the pit of despondency, even in the dark.

2:17 “Then” at a later time. This was preceded by a substantial gap. He did not move directly from the nighttime inspection to the morning report. Three days he delayed his impulse to look at the city and he has probably taken more time to make this speech. Something happens between 16 & 17 that allows Nehemiah to identify with the people.

Now when he says “you” it is a word of respect. You are able to see. He did not say they were blind to the obvious, but he respected their ability to see the problem. When we have someone come to visit us, our eyes are opened to see the clutter in the house, in the sink, around the yard. Nehemiah had waited long enough for them to do some thinking.

Never use “we” or “our” prematurely if you want to build a relationship. It takes time for people to accept me as part of the ‘we’. Now he can invite them to rebuild with an inclusive ‘us’ and ‘we’. The plans begin to form up. “I believe” “I can see that you see.” You can see that we have a problem.

This is an invitation to build. These people had not taken any initiative for years. They had let their problems get them down. They saw no hope.

2:18 After he had built rapport, the people could say, “Let us arise and build.” Nehemiah did not ask them to do some work so he could get going with his project. He did not preach an inspirational message so he could manipulate them into paying their tithes. He built rapport. He was a hope builder.

2:20 His personal testimony does not appear until after he had built the rapport and they have accepted him as one of them. He avoids feeding their despair. He turns their faith to God and clearly identifies who the real enemy is.

Nehemiah did not know how to build walls, but he knew how to build people. Walls were usually built by starting with one piece of the wall then have others follow the pattern. Nehemiah wanted all to have a part and all to receive the glory.

The wall was no good till it was done. Everyone laughed at them because this was not the normal way to build a wall. But this is how God told Nehemiah to build this one.

While the critics were complaining and the clowns were laughing, the walls went up. Nehemiah was a man just like us who prayed.

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