God does not need great people to accomplish His wo r k . H e l o o k s fo r those who are sensitive to His will and determined to obey Him; He seeks humble people of prayer. That is the kind of man Nehemiah was, and that is the kind of person we should each strive to be.
The book of Nehemiah is about broken things and broken people and how they are restored by a man who begins here in chapter 1 with a broken heart. His name is Nehemiah – verse 1 says – “the son of Hacaliah.” Who’s Hacaliah? Nobody unusual, that we know of.
Nehemiah is an ordinary man – the son of an ordinary man. No royal blood runs through his veins; he’s not a priest or a Bible scholar, like Ezra. But he’s a determined man whom God is about to use in an extraordinary way.
Martin Luther, the reformer often said – and I like to say it often as well – that God created the world out of nothing, and when we realize we’re nothing, He can create something out of us as well.
Now the book opens here by telling us that Nehemiah is serving the king in the Persian capital of Susa – that’s the king’s winter resort. Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani arrives with other men to deliver some shocking news here in verse 3:
“The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
Nehemiah knows about the return of Jewish exiles under Zerubbabel nearly a hundred years earlier and how they rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. He also knows about Ezra’s recent return; but he’s shocked here to learn that the walls of Jerusalem and its gates have been burned.
Some work had been done on rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, as mentioned back in Ezra 4:12, but King Artaxerxes had stopped it. Then, apparently, the enemies of the Jews had burned down those sections of the walls that had been under construction, and the gates had been set on fire. The city is now defenseless.
I want you to notice Nehemiah’s reaction here to this news. Verse 4 tells us he “wept and mourned for days … fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” He’s shaken with grief here, but he takes his grief to the right place as he prays to the Lord.
And let me tell you, Nehemiah’s prayer here in verses 5 to 11 gives us a great example of how to pray. I like to put it under the acronym PATH—P-A-T-H. This is the “path” we oughtta take in prayer.
First, P stands for Priority – Nehemiah puts the priority on God’s sovereignty. He prays in verse 5, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God.” This is how he begins to pray, recognizing God is on His throne and we are at His feet. We’re not telling Him to do our will in heaven; we’re asking Him to do His will on earth.
Secondly, the letter A stands for Acknowledgment. Here in verses 6 and 7 Nehemiah acknowledges Israel’s sin and includes himself in this confession.
Third, the letter T stands for Trust. God had promised to bless the nation and restore them to their land when they returned to Him in repentance and obedience. Nehemiah is trusting that promise – in fact, he actually quotes God’s promise back to God here in verse 9:
“If you return to me and keep my commandments … though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts … I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen.”
Now the letter H stands for Humility. Priority, Acknowledgment, Trust, and now, Nehemiah makes this humble request. And notice that his request comes at the end of his prayer, not the beginning – that’s a good example for us today.
Nehemiah prays here in verse 11 that God will give him success “in the sight of this man.” Now “this man” is King Artaxerxes. And we’re told here that Nehemiah is his cupbearer.
One of Nehemiah’s roles is to taste the king’s wine to make sure the king isn’t poisoned. He is one of the most trusted men in the court of Artaxerxes. God has placed Nehemiah there for such a time as this.
Well, for four months Nehemiah waits and prays for God to create the perfect opportunity for him to speak to the king. Finally, in chapter 2, verse 2, the king notices Nehemiah’s sad appearance and asks him, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick?”
Immediately Nehemiah is afraid. You see, any sign of displeasure or anxiety in front of the king could be a cause for suspicion. And this king is Artaxerxes, the one who had stopped the reconstruction in Jerusalem. Nehemiah is about to ask the king to reverse his decision.
Nehemiah probably gulps and takes a huge breath and then answers the king here in verse 3:
“Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my father’s graves, lies in ruins and its gates are burned by fire.”
The king seems interested! He asks Nehemiah what he wants to do about it.
Before Nehemiah pours out his request to the king, verse 4 tells us that Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven.”
I’ll bet he did. This was a silent prayer—and it was a short one, too! Maybe you’ve prayed the same way – suddenly you’re in some difficulty, some encounter, and you quickly pray for help to the God of heaven. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
So Nehemiah responds here in verse 5:
“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah … that I may rebuild it.”
Nehemiah writes here in verse 8: “The king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” Nehemiah knows this is the work of God.
It isn’t long before Nehemiah quietly arrives in Jerusalem. There’s no fanfare or big announcement. He’s there three days before he takes a few men with him at night to survey the broken-down walls and gates of the city.
Now he finally speaks to the people in verse 17:
“You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem.”
Nehemiah encourages these discouraged people here with a personal testimony in verse 18:
I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.”
They’re inspired – God’s in this – “Let us rise up and build.”
Now with every opportunity, there is always opposition. In verse 19 we are introduced to three men who are gonna oppose Nehemiah every step of the way:
“Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite … and Geshem the Arab [when they] heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing?”
Nehemiah simply responds here in verse 20, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” In other words, “We’re God’s servants, this is God’s work, and it’s gonna get done by God’s power.”
Beloved, God’s will isn’t always easy, but it’s never impossible. You’ll face opposition, hardship, ridicule – but just stay who you are – an ordinary person, in the hand of God, following the will of God … and just watch the extraordinary work of God get accomplished by the power of God in and through your ordinary life.
We’ll have to stop here for now; until next time, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.