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We are now entering a new series of three sermons concerning Nehemiah and the depleted city of Jerusalem which he loved. In this study we will consider only the first chapter of the Book under the title, "Nehemiah's Prayer." We wish you would remember that Nehemiah's testimony was given in the days of Jerusalem's depletion and sorrow, and approaching the time of the Jews' rejection, and of Gentile supremacy.
By way of introduction we wish to talk with you a little while about three things: The Place of Prayer, The Province of Prayer, and The Power of Prayer.
1. Where may we pray? We may pray anywhere. Nehemiah prayed unto God in a palace. Jesus Christ delighted to pray in the mountain-tops, but He found it just as possible to pray in the public eye at the grave of Lazarus; or at the hour of His grief, in Gethsemane. Daniel prayed in a lions' den. Jonah prayed in a whale's belly, Peter prayed on a housetop. Paul and Silas prayed in a jail. If anyone should ask you where is the place of prayer, you may rightly answer, "Any place, and every place."
Every place where Divine praise is wont to be made, is a place of prayer, for praise itself is the very essence of prayer.
2. Where may prayer operate? What is its province? The province of prayer carries us into every realm of worship.
(1) Worship is a province of prayer, because in worship we are approaching the Father. We are adoring His Name. We are bowing at His footstool. All prayer is not worship, but all worship includes prayer. This is a realm of prayer which should by no means be neglected.
If you will study Nehemiah's prayer, Daniel's prayer, Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple, David's prayer when he sought forgiveness, the prayer of Paul and Silas, and above all the prayer of our Lord as recorded in John 17:1-26 , you will find in each and every one the most sublime worship to God.
Our Lord taught His disciples thus; When ye pray say, "Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name." Thus we see that Divine worship is a province of prayer.
(2) Another province of prayer is in the place of service. Prayer enters into the realm of service as much as it does into the realm of worship. Before Jesus said, "Lazarus, come forth," He lifted up His eyes to Heaven and said, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me." We dare not enter into any realm of Divine undertaking without we enter from the prayer closet. If we labor in our own strength, we labor in vain; for victory we must be endued with His power.
(3) Another realm of prayer is our needs. It is the province of prayer to open the Heavens, to shut the lions' mouths, to quench the violence of fire. It is the province of prayer to put strength into our bones, joy into our hearts, peace into our spirits. Wherever there is a need in the human heart, there is an equal need for prayer. It is through the prayer of faith that kingdoms have been subdued, that promises have been obtained, that weak men have waxed strong, that armies have been put to flight, that the tortured have received the power to die. Thank God for the province of prayer!
3. The power of prayer. Closely allied with the province of prayer, and yet distinct from it, is the power of prayer. On one occasion where prayer was made, a house was shaken. It was when they prayed, that they, "with great power gave * * witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus."
"When they prayed the sky gave forth rain." "When they had prayed, the lost were saved." When Christians pray, Christians are empowered! Victory comes! Things are accomplished! The Christian can never live apart from prayer. He can never make His life count either in holiness or in service unless he prays. Our Lord delighted to have communion with the Father. How much more should we!
I. SEEKING TO KNOW ISRAEL'S WELFARE (Nehemiah 1:1-2 )
1. The environment in which Nehemiah moved. The opening verse says, "The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. * * In the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace." This is a notable statement because when one is in a palace, as a rule, he is not interested in the sorrows and struggles of his oppressed people. If we have plenty and to spare, why should we worry? This is the motto of many a life.
Nehemiah was altogether different. He was in Shushan at the king's palace. He was serving the king as his cupbearer. He was responsible before the king as to his welfare; and yet, withal, he did not forget the people of his race and nation. His own prestige and plenty did not harden his heart against the poverty and pitiful position of his people.
2. Nehemiah remembered and yearned for Israel. We remember how Daniel kept the windows of his house open toward Jerusalem, and how three times a day he pleaded for her peace. We remember how David said, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. * * Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."
3. Nehemiah's inquiry. Nehemiah inquired of Hanani, one of his brethren, who had been in Jerusalem and had escaped therefrom, concerning the city. Do we inquire concerning Israel's present-day plight? Do we seek to know God's purpose and plan in behalf of His chosen people? Are we interested in the Jew? If not, have we forgotten that our Lord was a Jew? That the Word of God, for the most part, was given by the Holy Ghost through Hebrews? That during the 2,300 years of Israel's scattering God has kept them in the hollow of His hand?
II. HANANI'S REPORT (Nehemiah 1:3 )
As we listen to Hanani's report concerning his brethren and their plight, we cannot help but compare it to the present condition of the Jewish race. There are three things under which this report may be grouped.
1. The remnant that was left. Thus said Hanani and his comrades to Nehemiah, "The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach." The expression "remnant" immediately grips our attention, and we remember how the Holy Ghost, through Paul, wrote of Elijah and the remnant of his day, To Elijah God said, "I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal." Then, we read the next startling statement: "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." These words are found in Romans 11:4 , Romans 11:5 .
In Romans 9:27 we have the statement of the Holy Spirit through the Prophet Isaiah who concerning Israel said, "Though the number of the Children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved."
Beloved, we are bold to say at this moment nearly, two thousand years since Christ, we find a remnant of Israel upon the earth. This remnant is scattered among the nations, but is turning its face Zion-ward.
2. A remnant in great affliction. We are grouping two statements in one. Such was the report that Nehemiah received in his day. Such is the report in our day. What conditions do we find in Russia and in Poland where the majority of Jews dwell? What do we find in Germany, Austria, Italy, in Britain, or in the Ghetto of New York City?
The report is the same as in Nehemiah's time. The Hebrews nationally are in great affliction.
III. THE SAD PLIGHT OF JERUSALEM (Nehemiah 1:3 , l.c.)
This is the statement to which we now call your attention: "The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire."
1. The city of Jerusalem is the city of God. When we turn to the Psalms we find many graphic pictures of the glory of Jerusalem. In Psalms 48:1-14 we read, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is known in her palaces for a refuge." In Psalms 50:1-23 we read, "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined." In Psalms 122:1-9 are these words: "Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together."
2. The city walls broken down. When Nehemiah received the report of Hanani he said that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and that the gates were burned with fire.
Beloved, the city fair and beautiful has, during twenty-three hundred years, been trodden under the feet of man. It has become a byword. The wild boars of the woods have snuffed at it. We marvel not that the Prophet, Jeremiah, cried, "How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her."
Thus it was that the Prophet wept. As he wept, he said, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me." The people certainly are passing by Jerusalem in great companies. Every tourist who goes across the seas desires to see the city that was once, and is yet destined to become the joy of the whole earth.
IV. PRAYING FOR THE PEACE OF JERUSALEM (Nehemiah 1:4 )
When Nehemiah received Hanani's report we read, "And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of Heaven."
1. Nehemiah's tears and fastings. The weeping of Nehemiah was only akin to the weeping of Jeremiah. We have just been reading a few of Jeremiah's statements. May we add these? Jeremiah said concerning Jerusalem's depletion: "For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me; my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed."
We always think of Jeremiah as the weeping or the wailing Prophet, but he is not the only one who has wept for Jerusalem. Listen to these words spoken concerning our Lord: "And when He was come near He beheld the city, and wept over it." Oh, the longings and the grief that lie behind the tears of the Lord as He wept over Jerusalem and prophesied the centuries of her sorrow! Not alone did our Saviour weep. In Romans 9:1-33 we read of Paul saying, "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites."
2. Jerusalem's present plight. Is this not the time that we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem? Is this not the time that we should shed tears with fastings? The hour is hastening when Israel herself will weep. Nehemiah wept; Christ wept; we weep, and Israel will weep.
In Zechariah 12:10 we read: "And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look up-on Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem."
V. NEHEMIAH'S APPROACH TO GOD (Nehemiah 1:5 )
We come now to the heart of our study. Nehemiah was overcome with tears and with grief because of Israel's affliction and reproach, and he now prays to the God of Heaven. It will be interesting to note how he approached the throne.
1. Nehemiah first acknowledged the God of Heaven as "the great and terrible God." We, of today, need a new vision of the Almighty. The dignity and the power of the Father have almost been lost to view by many who pray. We approach the Father in a familiar way that seems to us to have lost much of the conception of the greatness, the grandeur, and the glory of the eternal God. To be sure, we may approach the Lord as a son, and we have the right of approach through the Blood of Christ; and yet we need to remember that God, the Father, is worthy of all honor because He is the great and terrible God, great at all times, and terrible only to those who disobey Him.
2. Nehemiah acknowledged God as a covenant-keeping God. Nehemiah knew the promises and pledges of God to His chosen people, therefore, he pleaded His covenants. When we come to God in prayer we should always come in the circle of His promises. When we can place our finger and our faith upon a "Thus saith the Lord," we may come nothing doubting.
Let us suggest from Psalms 102:1-28 some things that God hath promised to Israel: "Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come." "So the heathen shall fear the Name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory." The time of this promise is set forth in the next verse: "When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory." It is at His Second Coming that He will be declared in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem. Then shall the people be gathered together to serve the Lord.
3. Nehemiah acknowledged God as the God of love. We ask you to read very carefully and prayerfully Deuteronomy 7:6 ,Deuteronomy 7:7 .
VI. NEHEMIAH'S CONFESSION (Nehemiah 1:6-7 )
1. Nehemiah said, "We have sinned." As Nehemiah prayed and pleaded with God for a listening ear, he said, "I * * confess the sins of the Children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my lather's house have sinned."
Beloved, we are going to get nothing from Heaven unless we come saying, "Forgive us our trespasses." We acknowledge that Israel has been cast off temporarily because of her sins, but when Israel repents and returns unto the Lord, He will have mercy upon her. In Zechariah 3:1-10 we have the story of Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, with Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. Joshua stood there clothed in filthy garments. He stood there as a suppliant for grace. He stood as the representative of his people, Israel, and as Israel has yet to stand.
In the hour of Israel's coming forgiveness and restoration, she will be resisted by Satan, but the Lord said concerning Joshua, the priest, "Take away the filthy garments from him," and then, to make certain the application, the Lord continued, "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. * * I will bring forth My servant the BRANCH." It is in that day when the Branch is brought forth that Israel will be redeemed.
2. Nehemiah said, "We have dealt very corruptly." Beloved, there is always a reason for our woes. God never chastens the innocent. The innocent may suffer from the hand of the enemy, but never from the hand of God. God cast, Israel from Him because Israel dealt corruptly with Him.
The Prophet, Isaiah, sets this forth in definite word when he says, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
VII. NEHEMIAH'S PLEA FOR MERCY (Nehemiah 1:8-11 )
1. Nehemiah recognized God's justice. He remembered the word which was spoken through His servant, Moses, saying, "If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations." As we see Israel at this moment scattered among the nations of the earth, as corn is scattered in a sieve, we cannot but keep before us God's Word through Moses. They are scattered because they sinned, because they dealt corruptly.
2. Nehemiah claimed God's promises. He laid before the Lord His promise to Moses: "If ye turn unto Me, and keep My commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the Heaven, yet will I gather them * * unto the place that I have chosen to set My Name there."
If Nehemiah used this promise of God as he prayed in his day, how much more may we use the same promise as we pray. God said through the Prophet, Amos, "And I will bring again the captivity of My people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God."
This promise, given by the Holy Ghost through Amos, is sure and steadfast. It has never been fulfilled in any partial restoration because this is a complete restoration; and also because all restorations in the days past, were only to be driven forth again. When the Lord comes, and Israel is brought back to God, then they shall be planted in their own land never to be pulled up. Read also Ezekiel 36:24 . Thank God for the day of Israel's restoration!
ONE BIRD SETTING THE OTHERS CHIRPING
"It is of advantage to others when we use vocal prayer, for it quickens them to the same exercise, as one bird setteth all the rest a chirping." Often one who has been in the spirit of prayer has stirred his friend out of a cold and lifeless frame, and set him all on a glow. Yea, and a whole company of believers have been roused to hearty devotion by the fervor of one man.
The simile used by our author is very beautiful. Ere the sun has risen, one bird awakes, and, with a clear tuneful note, calls to his mate. Whereupon another follows in the same manner, and rivalry begins between the first songsters. These bestir birds of every wing, and in a few minutes the whole grove is vocal, the air is full of music, and the sun rejoices to arise amid a concert of happy minstrels. Earth has nothing sweeter than its spring sonnets, which make that season of the year like the first creation, when the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy. Blessed is the bird which thus leads the choir, and happy is that praying or praising man whose holy expressions awaken his fellows to the like sacred exercise. It is well worth while to shake off natural timidity, which would make a good man to be as though he were dumb, and deprive him of half of his usefulness. To pray in private is essential, but to be able to pray in public is profitable. We are not to live unto ourselves in anything, and certainly not in those matters which are the crown and glory of our highest life: therein it is well to edify saints as well as to benefit ourselves.
Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise!
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Nehemiah 1". "Living Water". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent