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(Nehemiah 1:2–4) Weeping Over Humpty Dumpty

(Nehemiah 1:2–4) Weeping Over Humpty Dumpty

by Stephen Davey Ref: Nehemiah 1:2–4

Has you heart ever been broken over something and you knew the sorrow came directly from God. Maybe you saw kids starving in Africa and you wept because of what little they had. Maybe you watched a friend lose his or her life to drugs and alcohol and your heart broke from their emptiness. Well in Nehemiah chapter 1, Nehemiah's heart is broken as he witnesses how broken his people are. God, however, is about to put both Nehemiah's heart and His people back together.

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Nehemiah 1:1,2

There’s a fascinating book in the Library called The Annotated Mother Goose {Quotes taken from this book}.

I was read from it a few weeks ago as it gave the fascinating background to many of the popular children’s rhymes.  Some of these nursery rhymes and children’s songs, composed centuries ago, are still common to this day. 

But their underlying story is all but forgotten.

Like the nursery rhyme about little Jack Horner sitting in a corner, eating a Christmas pie.

Jack Horner was actually an employee of Richard Whiting, the last church leader, or abbot, of Glastonbury Cathedral in England. When King Henry the 8th was taking over all the church property he could get his royal hands on, the abbot sent Jack Horner to London with a Christmas gift for the King.  It  was a delicious looking pie.  However, buried underneath the crust was anything but fruit.  Inside that hollow pie were hidden the deeds to 12 wealthy estates.  On the way to deliver the pie to the King; knowing that the abbot was trying to get in with the King and to do so he was going to transfer these estates to the King, Jack Horner opened the pie and took out one of the deeds for himself -  the Manor of Mells (which was quite a plum piece of property!), and kept it for himself.  And there Jack Horner’s family and descendants lived for centuries.   Some years later it would be Jack Horner who would betray that abbot by sitting on a jury that convicted the abbot of embezzlement and had him executed.  That conveniently erased any possibility of the abbot telling the truth about King Henry the 8th and Jack Horner.

The rhyme goes like this:

Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner;

Eating a Christmas pie;

He put in his thumb and pulled out a plumb;

And said, “What a good boy am I.”

Another popular children’s rhyme is this one:

Ring around the rosies,  A pocket full of posies; A 'tishoo, A 'tishoo.  We all fall down.

What is nothing more to us than a popular children's diddy - seemingly so innocent and fun, was at one time a mournful chant.  It originated in 17th century London during a plague called the Black Death and each line of the rhyme was a reference to the plague.

“Ring around the rosies” referred  to the small, red, rash-like areas upon an persons body so infected.

“A pocket full of posies” related to their superstitious belief that sweet smelling flowers would drive off the demons who brought the disease; so they stuffed their pockets full of posies.

“A ‘tishoo, a ‘tishoo.” was a reference to the constant sneezing which was another common symptom of the plague

“We all fall down.” – another way of saying, “We all die!”

This nursery rhyme was actually a gloomy chant that sang of unbelievable sadness and fear.

I’ll mention one more nursery rhyme . . .

Let me say here that I’m not trying to start a conspiracy against Mother Goose.  I don’t have that kind of courage.  I’ll take on anyone but Mother Goose.

I was actually leafing through a couple of books looking for another rhyme when I stumbled across this one:

You can say this one with me:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the kings horses and all the kings men,

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Now, this isn’t a nursery rhyme about secret dealings with the King or the betrayal of friends or the tragedy of a widespread disease, but it was, like the others, about human need and despair.

It first appeared in print in 1803.  Humpty Dumpty was an egg; and that explains why, having fallen off  the wall and broken apart, he could not be put together again.  But eggs don’t sit on walls in the first place.  You see, for the original rhyme maker, that little egg man was intended to be a symbol that represented the origin of life (the world of humanity). 

The rhyme was designed to lament the fact that humanity has fallen and is broken – and even the most powerful people on the fallen earth – the King himself and all of his army and all of his wise men can’t put the broken pieces of life back together again.  The meaning behind the rhyme was a lamenting with despair over a fallen and broken world.

 One contemporary author wrote, “That’s the world we live in . . . we live in a world that specializes in producing broken people . . . and, [once broken, we all discover that] no power on earth can put you back together again.”

The Book of Nehemiah is a story about broken things and broken people.  It will reveal behind the scenes deception and betrayal; it will expose an epidemic of moral compromise and spiritual apathy – it’s more than a bedtime story about a broken wall that gets fixed – it’s a true life story about broken people who are restored by an ordinary man who happens to have a broken heart.

If you care to look behind the lines of this memoir, you discover that his ink is most often mixed with tears.

Frankly, I have been arrested by this deeply burdened man.

When most believers, including myself in the past have studied this Book, we tend to rush to the prayer of Nehemiah.  And they catalogue into it’s neat 4 part outline and say, “There, pray like that.”

Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication!

And we overlook the fact that this kind of prayer emanated from a deeply burdened man.  This is a great prayer – but it was a great prayer and effective in gaining God’s maximum attention because it was a prayer that came out of broken heart over a broken world.

Yes, his prayer is a model for us, but notice the evidence of his burden and his brokeness;  v.  6.  Please listen to my prayer, he pleads;  In v. 11  he says,  “O Lord, I beg Thee, listen to my prayer.”  11 times throughout this Book Nehemiah is imploring the attention of God.   

Three times in that closing chapter Nehemiah cries out, “Oh God, remember me.”  In fact, the very last phrase of this Book are the words, “O my God, remember me.”  That is, consider me; don’t let my life ever leave Your gaze.  It’s the same word in the Old Testament Septuagint that’s used in New Testament Gospel of Luke by the dying thief who says to the crucified Lord, “Oh Lord, remember me.”

It’s another way of crying out to God, saying, “I want to be where you are; I want to go where you go; I want to walk where you walk; I surrender to think after and long after You and I beg of You to think after me.”

Nehemiah was a man who desperately wanted the maximum attention of God. 

You see, before God reveals to us in this Book what Nehemiah does, He shows us who Nehemiah is.

He, and all others like him are the living illustration of the people God was thinking about when he said through His prophet Jeremiah, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Now aren’t we all are under the sovereign gaze of an omniscient God.  Nothing on this earth escapes His attention.  What is God talking about when He says that He will be discovered  by those who desperately search for Him with all their heart?

Similarly, what did David mean when he said, “Blessed is the one who seeks after God with his whole heart.”  (Psalm 119:2)

Or Paul who cried out, “Oh that I may know Him, the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)

And what did the writer of Hebrews mean when he said that God was a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him.  (Hebrews 11:6)

Who is the man today; who is the woman today that has this intimate, close, rewarded communion with God?

How do we gain this maximum attention of God?!

The answer is in chapter one of the memoirs of a man who one day stopped what he was doing and began to weep over the condition of Humpty Dumpty.   You see, before Nehemiah ever began to rebuild, he first sat down to cry over brokeness that just couldn’t be put back together again by any power on earth.

The Hebrew name, Nehemiah, literally means, “the consolation of God.”  

And Nehemiah will live out the meaning of his name.  He will bring the consolation of God; the relief of God; the solace, the encouragement, the condolence of God. 

In verse 11 of chapter 1 Nehemiah tells us that his occupational title was cupbearer.

He was the best person in the entire kingdom to get close enough to the King to poison him.  The enemies of the King knew that and, no doubt, offered Nehemiah no telling how much to join them in their coup attempts.  Assassination attempts were common place.

You may remember in the Book of Esther how Mordecai overheard the plans an assassination attempt on the Kings life. 

Perhaps you remember the story of Joseph, when he was placed in the dungeon where he languished for years.  Then one day Pharaohs baker and cupbearer were throne into jail while an investigation took place, no doubt, to discover which of them was guilty of attempting to poison him.  And, you may remember, it was the baker who was found guilty and later executed, while the cupbearer was restored to his office (Genesis 40:21 says) “and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.” 

Nehemiah put the cup into Artaxerxes hand.  A student of Socrates by the name of Zenophen wrote

“Now it is a well known fact that the cupbearer, when they offered the cup, draw off some of it and swallow it down so that, if they should put poison in it, they may not profit by it.”  In other words, “Long live the King”, but no more Mr. Cupbearer!

The cupbearer was perhaps the most trusted man in the kingdom by the King. By the way, this King that Nehemiah served was the son of Ahasuerus, the king whose life was spared by Mordecai’s quick thinking.  Ahasuerus however would be killed during another, successful assassination attempt.  

The role involved more than handing the King his favorite drink.  The Apocryphal book of Tobit says this of a man who was a cupbearer, “He was keeper of the signet ring and had charge of administration and of the accounts.”

Nehemiah was a trusted, assistant to the most powerful man on earth.  He was living with the Kings cabinet in the palace of Susa.  It was the winter resort of the Kings.  The palace and grounds covered 5,000 acres.  Precious gems and gold were part of the architecture.  Murals have been uncovered made of painted bricks that formed huge murals in the palace – murals of bulls with wings.  Not exactly something my wife would pick to hang in the living room – but it must have been an incredible sight.  If you were in the King’s palace in Susa for the wintertime, you were in the middle of incredible affluence with and power.

All of that to say Nehemiah had it made in the shade.  As a Jew in a foreign kingdom, he had achieved an enviable life with powerful friends and financial security.  He was worlds away from the broken city of Jerusalem.  Ha – Jerusalem was 4 times smaller than this one winter palace.  Little broken Jerusalem.

Now notice what happened next: verse 1b.  Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, 2.  That Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity; and  about Jerusalem.

Is this just polite conversation?”

1) Tell me about the people!

2) Tell me about the city!

And did they ever tell him;  v. 3  And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.”

This isn’t news – Babylon did this years ago.  Why ask?  Because the walls were under construction during the return of exiles under the leadership of Ezra.  But in Ezra chapter 4 the work is forced to stop by the Jews enemies and, most believe, the enemies destroyed the sections of the walls that had been under construction.

So Nehemiah is asking, “Hey, how’s it going under Ezra’s leadership – how are the walls coming.”

Oh, they’ve been torn down, the work has stopped, the people have thrown in the towel.

Nehemiah later writes in his journal;  (v. 4) “It came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept.”

What, in fact, happens are several things; things that we could call, the “Symptoms of a Broken/burdened Heart”

Five responses of a broken hearted man:

Number 1 – contemplation – “I sat down…”

In other words, he took time to think and contemplate the report he’d just heard.  He didn’t listen to their report – he heard their report.  He heard all that it implied; he felt the anguish of those who were in distress.

He stopped his normal life just long enough to listen and to hear the news.

Number 2 – compassion – “[I sat down] and wept…”

The World Monitor reported some time ago, “Preschool teachers, administrators, and child development specialists say the most important thing for a child to learn is “self-reliance.”  7 times more educators said that children should learn “self-reliance” and “self confidence” than “sympathy and concern for others.” 

(World Monitor, 4/89)

The solution of the average educator would be to go out in the street and tell Humpty Dumpty to pull himself together.  “I can’t believe you fell off that wall, now believe in yourself man, and pull yourself up.”

The rhyme would go something like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on all wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

And all the humanist scholars & professors;

Just told Humpty Dumpty to get it together.

People are broken – it’s their fault – they didn’t believe in themselves enough; they need to have faith in themselves; they just need to get their act together.

Don’t develop sympathy or empathy, whatever you do.

Nehemiah cried.  When’s the last time you’ve cried over a broken world?

The third thing that marked him was concern;  [I sat down and wept and] “mourned for days…”

The word “mourned” is the Hebrew word “abal.”  It literally means “to mourn for the dead.”  It’s a deep sorrowful mourning;  it doesn’t soon pass away.  It lingers on.  In fact, we know, from the text, that he’ll spend four months in this state, from December, which is “Chislev,” until April, the month given to us in chapter 2, verse 1, [Nisan].  So for four months, Nehemiah is weeping and he is in deep mourning.

“How few the men in these days who can weep at the evils and abominations of the times!  How rare those who are sufficiently interested and  concerned for the welfare of the church to mourn!  Mourning and weeping over the decay of religion, the decline of revival power, and the fearful inroads of worldliness into the church are almost an unknown quantity.”  E.M. Bounds quoted in A Passion For Faithfulness,  J.I.Packer, p. 67

The fourth word is concentration – [I sat down and wept and mourned for days] “and I was


This wasn’t simply Nehemiah taking time off of work to go pray or cry, this word implies the fact that he had lost his appetite.  He was fasting, not simply because he wanted to focus his attention and spare time to discipline even his body for prayer alone; he was actually fasting because he had lost his appetite.  That was the burden of this man’s heart.  

Finally, there is communion;  “I was praying before the God of heaven”

A number of different words are used for praying, this Hebrew word involves pleading; it implies deep emotion; it is a lamenting before God in desperation knowing that you must hear from God.

By comparing the date mentioned in chapter 1 and the date mentioned in chapter 2, we learn that Nehemiah fasted, wept, mourned and prayed for 4 months.

Can you imagine weeping and mourning and fasting and praying for four hours?  Four days?  Four weeks? 

John Knox, the Scottish reformation preacher and leader who used to weep and pray in the royal gardens of Bloody Mary, the Queen who happened to hate the Protestant Reformation – but she said of John Knox that she feared his prayers more than anything on earth.  He would pray in her gardens loud enough for her to hear, “Oh God, give me Scotland or I die.”

Nehemiah had every reason not to care.  He had been born in captivity; never been to Jerusalem; never worshipped in the temple – had a great career in Persia; he was the King’s right hand confidant and protector. 

Why would he ever pray, “Give me Jerusalem or I die.”

Why would he ever go to a broken down city 800 miles away – to a people he didn’t know and to a problem he didn’t create!

Because he was burdened for the glory of God to shine from Jerusalem and for the people of God to be restored to honor and worship the only true and living God.

In our next discussion we’ll explore the prayer that was birthed by the burden of Nehemiah.

Let me quickly touch on two crucial lessons of application:

  • “If you want the maximum attention of  God, He must first have the maximum attention of you.

You want Him to be available to you?  Great!  Are you available to Him? You want to move the heart of God? 

Question is, can He move yours?


  • If you want the maximum attention of God, you must be willing to receive the maximum burden from God.

I would define the burden of Nehemiah this way: 3 parts

     -an overwhelming concern with some aspect of human distress or sin;

     -an irresistible conviction that God has an available  remedy;

    -an unreserved compliance that God use you to deliver the remedy. 

In other words, you are convinced there’s a problem – and you surrender to God to be part of the solution.

It’s easier to just say, ‘Lord do this, Lord bless that, Lord help him; Lord help her; Lord move in this way; Lord move in that way; Lord come through for him; Lord deliver her.”  What if we heard a voice from heaven that said, “Out of those ten requests you just prayed, 9 of them are up to you.”

That’s exactly the application of Paul’s words to the Galatians when he said, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”

Nehemiah will bear the burden of a broken Jerusalem and a broken nation.

One author wrote, “A burdened God is at work in the world.  He searches for burdened believers through whom He may work.”  Donald K. Campbell  Nehemiah: Man in Charge, p. 10.

Is it any wonder that the average Christian really doesn’t want the maximum attention of God?  Really doesn’t want to be a part of the solution; really doesn’t want to fix anything.

Is it any wonder why we would rather play religious games  for an hour or two on Sunday than set about to restore and rebuild broken lives . . . we didn’t know God would want to start with us; we didn’t know God would want to break our hearts over the condition of ourselves and our world; we didn’t know it would make us uncomfortable; we didn’t know that God would first hammer at our hardened hearts before He would ever use us to hammer up a wall.  We didn’t know that in gaining His attention we’d share His anguish over a fallen world. 

“That I may know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings,” Paul cried.  (Philippians 3:10)

I didn’t know it would mean that.

And so . . .

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

And to all the King’s horses and to all the Kings men;

Do we really care enough to put him back together again.

Anybody here willing to have a broken heart over a broken world.  If that’s you, you are prepared to pray as we will see Nehemiah praying – and in so praying, you also are prepared to gain the maximum attention of God.

Tears – for ourselves . . . the accusations, lonliness, betrayal, isolation, misunderstanding, disrespect, gossip…

            This past 2 years – an elder . . .

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