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INTRODUCTORY SECTION. Nehemiah 1:1-11; Nehemiah 2:1-11.
CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH NEHEMIAH OBTAINED HIS COMMISSION TO REBUILD THE WALL OF JERUSALEM (Nehemiah 1:1-11; Nehemiah 2:1-8). Living at the Persian court, far from the land which he looked on as his true country, though perhaps he had never seen it, Nehemiah seems to have known but little of its condition and circumstances; and it is quite possible that he might have remained in his ignorance during the term of his natural life but for an accident. Some event—we do not know what—called his brother Hanani to Jerusalem; and on his return to Susa this brother gave him a description of the dismantled state of the holy city, and the "affliction and reproach" of the inhabitants consequent thereupon, which threw him into a paroxysm of grief. With the openness and passion of an Oriental, he abandoned himself to his feelings; or, in his own words, "sat down and wept, and mourned for days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven" (Nehemiah 1:4). Whether he was in regular attendance at this time upon the king does not appear. Perhaps the court was absent, wintering—as it sometimes did—at Babylon, and he had not accompanied it; perhaps it was at Susa, but the office of cupbearer was being discharged by others. At any rate, more than three months had elapsed from the time when he heard of the affliction of Jerusalem before his changed appearance was noted by the king. It was the month Nisan, that which followed the vernal equinox, the first of the Jewish year, when Artaxerxes, observing the sadness of his attendant, inquired its cause. Nehemiah revealed it, and the king further inquired, "For what dost thou make request?' This was the origin of Nehemiah's commission. He asked and obtained permission to quit the court for a definite time (Nehemiah 2:6), and to go to Jerusalem with authority to "build" the city. This was understood to include the repair of the governor's house, of the fortress which commanded the temple area, and of the city wall (ibid. verse 8). It necessarily involved Nehemiah's appointment as governor, and the notification of this appointment to the existing satraps and pashas. Leave was also given him to cut such timber as was needed for the work in the "king's forest" or "park," a royal domain situated in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Nehemiah, having obtained this firman, left Susa early in the spring of b.c. 444, accompanied by an escort of Persian troops (verse 9), and reached Jerusalem in safety, having on his way communicated his appoint. merit to the officials of the Syrian province.
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. Compare Jeremiah 1:1; Hosea 1:2; Amos 1:1, etc. No other historical book commences in this manner, and we may best account for the introduction of the clause by the consideration that "Nehemiah" having been originally appended to "Ezra," it marked the point at which a new narrative began by a new author. The month Chisleu. The word Chisleu, or rather Kislev, is probably Persian. It was unknown to the Jews before the captivity, and is found only in this passage and in Zechariah 7:1, where Kislev is said to be "the ninth month," corresponding nearly to our December. The twentieth year. The twentieth regnal year of Artaxerxes (Longimanus) is intended (see Zechariah 2:1). This began in b.c. 445, and terminated in b.c. 444. Shushan the palace, where Daniel saw the vision of the ram with two horns (Daniel 8:2), and Ahasuerus (Xerxes) made his great feast to all his princes and servants (Esther 1:3), is beyond all doubt Susa, the capital city of Kissia, or Susiana, one of the most ancient cities in the world, and the place which, from the time of Darius Hystaspis was the principal residence of the Persian court. It was situated in the fertile plain east of the Lower Tigris, and lay on or near the river Choaspes, probably at the spot now known as Sus, or Shush. Remains of the palace were discovered by the expedition under Sir Fenwick Williams in the year 1852, and have been graphically described by Mr. Loftus.
Hanani, one of my brethren. Afterwards given the charge of the gates of Jerusalem by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:2).
The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down. It has been supposed, either that the demolition of the wall here referred to was quite recent, having occurred during the space of twelve years which intervenes between the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, or else that it belonged to a time of depression which followed shortly after the completion of the temple by Zerubbabel; but there is really no reason to believe that the demolition effected under the orders of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:10) had ever hitherto been repaired, or the restoration of the wall even attempted. The Samaritan accusation in Ezra 4:12 falls short of a statement that the wall was restored, and, if it asserted the fact, would be insufficient authority for it. The supposition of Ewald, that "as soon as the city was rebuilt, the attempt would be made to fortify it", ignores the jealousy of the Persians and their power to step in and prevent a subject town from fortifying itself.
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. The revelation of the actual condition of Jerusalem came upon Nehemiah with a shock. He had perhaps not thought much upon the subject before; he had had no means of exact information; he had supposed the city flourishing under the superintendence of Ezra, whose piety and patriotism were no doubt known to him. It was a bitter grief to him to find that his people were still "a reproach to their neighbours," laughed to scorn by those whose walls had never been destroyed, or who had been allowed to rebuild them. And he may have felt that his city, under the circumstances of the time, was in real danger. As Dean Stanley observes—"In those days rather one may say m those countries of disorder, a city without locked gates and lofty walls was no city at all". A few years previously Egypt had been in revolt; she might revolt again, and carry her arms into Syria. Arab tribes from the desert might extend their raids into Judaea, and be tempted by the known value of the temple treasures to swoop upon the unwalled town. Such thoughts occurring to an excitable Oriental, produced not grief and anxiety merely, but a flood of tears (comp. Ezra 10:1). And fasted. Fasting had become a frequent practice among the Jews during the captivity. Solemn fasts had been introduced on the anniversaries of the taking of Jerusalem, the burning of the temple, and the murder of Gedaliah (Zechariah 8:19). Fasting had also taken a prominent place in the devotions of individuals. Daniel fasted (Daniel 9:3; Daniel 10:3); Esther fasted (Esther 4:16); Ezra fasted (Ezra 10:6); and now Nehemiah fasted. On the grounds of natural piety out of which the practice arises, see the comment on Ezra 10:6. The God of heaven. See the comment on Ezra 1:2.
And said, I beseech thee. The opening of Nehemiah's prayer follows so closely the thoughts and words of Daniel's (Daniel 9:4), that it is almost impossible to suppose that one of the two writers had not the words of the other before him. As there are no sufficient grounds for questioning the generally received date of Daniel's prophecy, we must suppose Nehemiah familiar with his writings, and an admirer of their tone and spirit. In this verse he differs from Daniel only in substituting "Jehovah" for "Lord" (Adonai), and introducing his own favourite phrase "God of heaven."
Both I and my father's house have sinned. Ewald well observes, "In the prayer of Nehemiah the keynote is struck in the words, 'I and my father's house have sinned'". The desolation which he mourns is the result of the people's sins, and in those sins are included his own, and those of his ancestors. His own may not have been very grievous, but those of his fathers weigh upon him as if his own, and oppress his spirit.
We have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments. The ordinances of the Law are frequently summed up under these three heads (Deuteronomy 5:31; Deuteronomy 6:1; Deuteronomy 11:1, etc.); but it would be a mistake to regard them as constituting a logical division of the various precepts contained in the Pentateuch, or to suppose that every precept is to be referred absolutely to one or other of the three.
If ye transgress, etc. This is not a quotation, but a reference to the general sense of various passages, as, for instance, Leviticus 26:27-45; Deuteronomy 30:1-5, etc. The sacred historians habitually refer to the older Scriptures in this way, quoting them in the spirit rather than in the letter.
Thy people whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power. It would be better to translate, "Whom thou didst redeem." The reference is especially to the deliverance from Egypt, which is so constantly spoken of as effected "with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm" (Deuteronomy 9:29; Deuteronomy 26:8, etc. ).
Prosper thy servant this day. "This day" does not perhaps mean more than "at this time"—in connection with this matter which is now in my thoughts. And grant him mercy in the sight of this man. "This man" is, of course, Artaxerxes, though as yet he has not been named. Nehemiah's thoughts have far outstripped his words. He has made up his mind that, in order to remove the reproach of Jerusalem, he must go there in person; that, to do so, he must obtain the king's permission; and that, to get his permission, he needs to be in very special favour with him. All depending on one man only, he has one man only in his mind, who becomes to him, therefore, "this man." I was the king's cupbearer. Literally, "I was cupbearer to the king." Not his sole cupbearer, but one of many. He mentions the fact here, partly to explain the meaning of "this man" to the reader, partly because it was his office which would give him access to Artaxerxes, and enable him to profit by the royal "mercy" or favour.
A godly patriot's sorrow.
Israel was both a nation and a Church; a sacred nation representing and embodying the kingdom of God on earth. Hence such men as Nehemiah may be regarded as examples either of patriotism or of zeal in the service of God and his Church. The latter aspect of their character is most suitable, as a rule, for exhibition in the pulpit. Viewing Nehemiah in this light, observe—
I. HIS SECULAR POSITION. Prosperous, rich, occupying high office in the court of the Persian monarch, he nevertheless felt a deep interest in the condition of his brethren at Jerusalem. His worldly good fortune did not quench the flame of his piety or deaden his sympathies with God's people. Rather was he the more impressed with a sense of his obligation to aid them; which he was willing and even eager to do at the cost of much trouble, self-denial, pecuniary expense, and even peril to himself. An example to the rich and influential, who are not always the most ready to serve Christ and his people.
II. THE INTEREST HE DISPLAYED IN THE WELFARE OF ISRAEL. Shown by—
1. Inquiry as to their condition. Concern for the prosperity of the Church of Christ will prompt to similar inquiries when like opportunities present themselves.
2. Sorrow over their calamities. Public-spirited men have sorrows which others escape. Blessed are such sorrows. There is often much in the state of religion to grieve zealous Christians: coldness, indifference, inconsistencies, divisions, errors, opposition, reproach; "broken walls" through which the Church's foes enter to injure, to scatter, and destroy. These evils must awaken sorrow in the godly, on account both of the dishonour they do to God and the damage they inflict on men.
3. Prayer for their deliverance. Genuine interest in the welfare of the Church cannot but express itself in prayer. The weakest can pray; the most powerful need to begin, continue, and end their plans and labours for the good of God's people with prayer.
4. Determination to assist them, if possible (verse 11). It is a worthless sympathy which only prays when it has power to help. That which is real will move the hands as well as the feelings and the lips.
From the whole let us learn to recognise and thankfully acknowledge God's care for his Church in the care he awakens in the hearts of such as are able to render her valuable service. Especially let us be grateful for and to the Lord Jesus, who from an incalculably loftier position than Nehemiah's regarded us in "our low estate" with love and pity, and came down to save us by the sacrifice of himself.
Love and obedience.
"God that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments." We have here—
I. TWO CHARACTERISTICS OF GOD'S PEOPLE.
1. Love to God. Old Testament piety is sometimes wrongly represented as though it consisted mainly in a strict observance of outward rules, from fear, with little or no love. The "first commandment," and many of the Psalms, not to speak of other Scriptures, should have precluded such an idea. A just conception of Old Testament religion is not to be obtained from the Pharisees. God is presented in the Old Testament as an object of love on account of
(1) his character;
(2) his works of creation and providence;
(3) his redemption of Israel from Egypt, and constant goodness to them;
(4) his special favour to the true Israel, "those who love him," etc.
Much more, doubtless, are the manifestations of God in Christ adapted to awaken and nourish love to him.
2. Observance of his commandments. This includes obedience and watchful care ("observe") to obey; and therefore to obtain the knowledge of them, avoid or overcome temptations to neglect or disobedience, and to secure the grace needful for knowing and doing them (see Psalms 119:1-176. passim).
3. The combination of the two. They are essential to each other, and act and re-act for each other's growth. Obedience without love is as nothing.
(1) Love to God necessarily produces obedience. It includes delight in his rule, reverence for his authority. It is love for his character, and therefore for those excellences which are "commanded because they are right." It will work confidence in the wisdom and goodness of such laws as rest simply on his authority, "right because they are commanded." The obedience of love will be spiritual—not the mere service of the letter—prompt, joyful, universal, constant, and persevering. Love will give strength for difficult duties, and to overcome all temptations to disobey.
(2) Obedience is a necessary evidence of love. No professions, knowledge, orthodoxy, devotional excitements, or gifts of money are sufficient without it (Matthew 7:21; John 14:21; 1 John 5:3).
II. THEIR BLESSEDNESS.
1. They enjoy the friendship of "the great and terrible God."
2. They experience his mercy and faithfulness. To keep his covenant with them is to keep mercy.
A godly patriot's prayer.
Nehemiah's prayer; the substance of the prayers which he offered day and night for a considerable period. It is in various respects a model for our intercessions. In it are—
I. Lowly and trustful ADORATION. He addresses God as "Jehovah," the self- existent, immutable, and everlasting, the God of Israel; "God of heaven," he who dwells and reigns in heaven, and thence rules the earth; "the great God," infinite in all his perfections, filling heaven and earth with his presence, exalted above all; "the terrible God," to be dreaded by his foes and revered by his friends; "that keepeth," etc; faithful to his engagements, merciful, and kind; yet discriminating, showing his truth and mercy to those who love and obey him. By these representations Nehemiah at once expresses and increases his own reverence and confidence in approaching God on behalf of his people.
II. Earnest ENTREATY (verses 5, 6, 8, 11). "I beseech thee" "Let thine ear be attentive, etc. Earnestness and importunity necessary to success in prayer (Luke 11:8).
III. Humble CONFESSIONS (verses 6, 7). Of the sins not only of the people in general, but of his family and himself. It is easy to confess the sins of others, but may conduce to self-flattery. The holiest men will be deeply conscious of their own sins, and of their part in the sins of the community, and ready to associate themselves with others in the confession of sin. In his confessions Nehemiah mentions the aggravations of the guilt of Israel's sins. They were committed—
(1) By Israel, a people so favoured.
(2) Against God.
(3) Against specific commandments, statutes, and judgments,
(4) given by Moses, so distinguished a "servant" of God, and under circumstances so impressive.
Observe, that in seeking God's mercy towards sinners we ought ever to acknowledge their ill deserts, and his justice in the punishment of their sins.
IV. Powerful PLEAS.
1. The name of God (verse 5). The representation of God with which he commences is virtually a plea. "Thou hast shown thyself to be all-powerful, faithful, merciful; act once more according to thy nature, and thy regard for thy servants."
2. The promise of God (verses 8, 9). Nehemiah recognises that the threat to scatter the people had been fulfilled, and in effect prays that the promise to restore may be fulfilled also. "Do as thou hast said."
3. The relation of Israel to God. "Thy servants," "thy people."
4. His former exercise of power on their behalf. "Whom thou hast redeemed," etc. Referring to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (comp. Isaiah 51:9-11, and the Christian parallel, Romans 8:32).
5. The description of persons uniting in the prayer (verse 11). Not only Nehemiah, but many others were praying for the returned Jews. It was
(1) united prayer
(2) of godly men—"thy servant," "thy servants, who desire [delight] to fear thy name."
6. Nehemiah's own perseverance in the prayer (verse 6). "The prayer which I pray before thee now, day and night."
V. A PARTICULAR REQUEST (verse 11). Purposing to apply to the king for a commission and all facilities for leading his brethren out of their difficulties, and feeling how much depended on his obtaining his request, he begs him in whose hand is the heart of kings (Proverbs 21:1) to grant success. It is remarkable that this is the only specific request. The prayer he and all good Jews were offering (verses 6-11) is not set forth. For his own part, he may have seen that the one thing needed for the relief of his brethren was a ruler and leader of character, authority, and capacity, armed with sufficient powers from the monarch, and that this was the one thing- to pray for at present. His willingness to be their leader evinced the sincerity of his concern for them. His prayer made manifest the humble dependence on Divine aid with which he was looking forward to the responsibilities of the enterprise he hoped to undertake.
A powerful plea with God.
"Now these are thy servants," etc.
I. When such an appeal is SUITABLE. When praying for a Church—
(3) distressed, or
II. The NATURE of the appeal. It is an appeal to God's
(1) relation to his people—a relation he has himself established;
(2) love for them;
(3) regard for his own honour as involved in their welfare (Deuteronomy 9:26-29; Jeremiah 14:21);
(4) pity in view of their condition;
(5) past deeds on their behalf—showing kindness; a pledge of more; manifesting purposes not yet completed. The appeal is suitable for individual Christians, praying for themselves (see Psalms 119:94).
Delight in fearing God.
"Thy servants, who desire [delight] to fear thy name." If the English version be correct, this description of God's servants reminds us bow largely their religion in this world consists of "desire." They have real piety, but are dissatisfied with their attainments, and aspire to better things. Their desire is, however, to be carefully distinguished from that of many who substitute occasional good wishes for actual piety. The real Christian's desire impels him to the diligent use of all those means by which a higher life is reached. He "exercises himself unto godliness;" and what he attains he employs in spiritual and moral living. But the word used rather signifies "delight," expressing the pleasure which God's servants feel in their religion. The text then indicates—
I. The NATURE of their fear of God. Such fear as is a delight. Not, therefore, mere dread—the fear which "hath torment" (1 John 4:18). Not the fear of a slave, not the dread of the feeble towards a capricious mighty tyrant, or of the guilty towards a just ruler; but reverence—that fear which consists with confidence and love, and is blended with them.
II. The OBJECT Of their fear. "Thy name." The manifested nature of God. God as revealed by his works and word; his perfections; his relations to the universe—to good men and bad; his authority. All are adapted to awaken reverence, and do awaken it in his servants.
III. Their PLEASURE in its exercise.
1. Whence it arises. From the felt rightness and harmony of such fear with their position towards God; the satisfaction it imparts to their conscience; the evidence and promise which it gives of Divine favour; the elevating and sanctifying power it exerts; the defence it supplies against sin and its consequences.
2. How it will be shown. By frequent conscious exercise of such fear in devout thought and acts of worship; by yielding to its practical influence, in producing a service abundant, joyous, and persevering. When religion is a delight it will not be stinted, nor likely to decline. Finally, if the fear of God's name be delightful, how much more the faith, hope, and love which the gospel inspires.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
Piety in a palace.
I. PIETY and POSITION. "As I was in Shushan the palace." Piety tends to prosperity; it inculcates habits favourable to advancement; it imparts graces calculated to attract. Goodness is often rewarded; it will dwell in a better palace in the life to come.
II. PIETY and PURITY. Nehemiah was humble amidst the pride of the palace; he was pure amidst the luxury of the palace; he was faithful to his Jewish faith and to his God amidst the heathenism of the palace; he was sympathetic amidst the conventionality of the palace; he was prayerful amidst the levity of the palace; he was pious amidst the anxieties of the palace life.
III. PIETY and PATRIOTISM.
1. Inquiring. Nehemiah asked concerning the welfare of his brethren; his own comfort did not render him indifferent to the suffering of others.
2. Sorrowful. He wept because the wall of Jerusalem was broken down; his patriotism was manifested in holy grief.
3. Prayerful. See here the prayer of the patriot.
IV. PIETY and PROVIDENCE. Nehemiah in the palace was able to render effective aid to Israel; God places his instruments where they can best serve his purpose. Christ in heaven pleads the cause and helps the service of the good.—E.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Prosperity and adversity.
It is a fact of no small significance that the Hebrew author of this book was in the palace at Susa. "I was in Shushan (in) the palace" (verse 1). The Jewish captives in Persia were by no means all in a forlorn or destitute condition. We find them filling honorable offices—Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king—and even attaining to the highest posts in the state, as in the case of Daniel. We are reminded that—
I. WE MAY FIND SOME MITIGATION IN OUR EVIL CONDITION. We have evidences enough, both in the Bible and in secular history, of the evils of absolutism, of intrusting the power of life and death, of prosperity and adversity, to one man; but we have proof that in Persia men of humble station could rise to exalted position. Here was "a career open to ability." Seldom an evil estate without one mitigating feature; seldom a cloudy day without an interval of blue sky; few lives without some sources of happiness. Obscurity, with all its dulness, has freedom from the glare and hatred of public life. Hard work knows, as luxury and indolence cannot, the enjoyment of repose.
"Not always fall of leaf, nor ever spring;
No endless night, nor yet eternal day.
The saddest bird a season finds to sing,
The roughest storm a calm may soon allay.
Thus, with succeeding years, God tempers all,
That man may hope to rise, yet fear to fall."
II. WE SHALL REAP SATISFACTION IF WE SOW PIETY AND VIRTUE. Wherever the Jew has gone, whether forcibly deported or whether he has voluntarily migrated, he has carried with him the virtues of his race. Beyond question the law of Moses trained a people to the practice of a severe morality. Purity, temperance, industry, and frugality have been the characteristics of the race in every land and age. And these have placed them everywhere in positions of honour and of trust. Thus Nehemiah comes from the king's presence to see his countrymen from Jerusalem. Under the righteous government of God we shall find that the same virtues will conduct us to sufficiency, contentment, honour, prosperity.
III. WE HAVE ONE UNFAILING RESOURCE IN TIME OF TROUBLE (verses 2, 3). Evil tidings come to Nehemiah in his prosperity and cloud his life (verses 2, 3). Certain of his countrymen bring tidings from Jerusalem which are most distressing to him. The city of God is "in great affliction and reproach" (verse 3); its "wall is broken down;" its "gates are burned with fire" (verse 3). There are those who would hardly allow their day's enjoyment to be disturbed if they heard of the most terrible calamities. In nothing is our spirit more clearly shown than in the way in which we receive tidings of the welfare or misfortune of others. Nehemiah was a large-hearted, sympathetic man. He entirely forgot his own comfortable prosperity in the adversity of his race; to him the sufferings of his people were his own misfortunes. Under these circumstances Nehemiah had recourse to
(1) two Oriental sources of relief: he
(a) gave himself up to formal lamentation—he "sat down and wept, and mourned certain days" (verse 4); and
(b) he fasted (verse 4). These expressions of grief were national, Oriental; to him they were therefore natural and helpful. We may weep, we may abstain from food because appetite is killed by sorrow; but it is not natural, and therefore not right, for us to affect the tokens of grief which belong to other times or other peoples. But Nehemiah had also recourse to
(2) one universal source of comfort. He "prayed before the God of heaven" (verse 4). He took his sorrow to the throne of grace, to the "God of all comfort; he presented himself with aching heart to him who alone can "bind up the broken heart." This refuge in time of trouble is not Jewish, nor Oriental; it is human, universal, unfailing. In every clime and every age the stricken spirit can go to God, pour out its woe to heaven, and find calm and comfort in the sympathy of the unchangeable Friend. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalms 46:1). "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).—C.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
God and his people. We may notice here four things:—The state of the Jews that had escaped who were left of the captivity. The position and character of Nehemiah. The prayer which was mingled with the lamentation. The practical aim and purpose which followed the prayer. All are based upon the one foundation of the special gracious relation of God to his covenant people. We may therefore distinguish the following practical points in this chapter:—
I. An illustration of THE DIVINE METHOD and character in dealing with those who are the objects of special regard.
1. Faithfulness. The Jews suffered because they rebelled. They suffered still because they still needed discipline. They were "in great affliction and reproach" that they might be taught to seek help of God. They had no walls to their city that they might be labourers together with God in rebuilding them. They were surrounded with opponents that their holiness might be maintained, their zeal and constancy developed and tried, their victory made manifest.
2. Forbearance and compassion. A remnant left. The burning bush unconsumed. The "day of small things" in which the Spirit of God reveals his might, full of promise. Eminent saints are more sought after and more appreciated at such times.
II. A conspicuous example of RELIGIOUS CHARACTER. Nehemiah.
1. Found in a palace, in a heathen palace, in a king's cupbearer. Resistance to temptation. Cultivation of faith in unfavourable circumstances. A friend made of the mammon of unrighteousness. A testimony borne to the superiority of the man of God, as in the case of Daniel and his associates. Mercy granted in the sight of the heathen.
2. Deep feeling of brotherhood with God's people. A tender heart. An inquiring mind. An unselfish regard for the condition of those afar off. Anxious concern that God's glory should be seen in his Church.
3. Strong faith. Keeping hold of Divine promises, looking for their fulfilment, troubled by delay, turning from external facts to God.
4. Prayerfulness and humiliation' before God. "He sat down and,, wept, and mourned for days, and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. There is no emergency in which the man of faith loses sight of his great resource in setting himself and his desires before God. When he does so, he will not be ashamed of his tears. To the true heart the condition of the Church is a personal sorrow or a personal joy.
5. The practical aim mingled with the supplications. The faith which prays is the faith which works. When we ask God for help we should be ready for service. Nehemiah did not satisfy himself with weeping and praying. He said, "Here am I, send me." The true prayer is always consecration.
III. An eminent instance of PRAYER AT A GREAT CRISIS. The characteristics of Nehemiah's prayer were—
1. Adoring faith. He believed that God was God.
2. Remembrance of the word of God, and his gracious revelation of himself in keeping covenant and mercy.
3. Confession of sin and acknowledgment of God's righteousness.
4. Humble boldness in appealing to him who has given his word to fulfil it.
5. Spiritual insight and foresight. Looking on the world and its rulers and all its affairs as in the hand of him whose throne is the throne of grace, to which his people can come at all times. To such a faith the Persian monarch is only "this man," a mere instrument in the hands of God.
6. Identification of the personal life and feelings with the interests and doctrines of God's Church. "Prosper thy servant." Not for his own sake, but for thy people's sake. "I was the king's cupbearer;" but I was the representative of Zion, and the intercessor for Jerusalem.
IV. A GREAT ENTERPRISE undertaken in dependence upon God.
1. The foundation was sure. It was an enterprise on which God's blessing could be sought.
2. The instrument was fit. Nehemiah was conscious both of intense desire and consecration, and of personal quality by which he was adapted to the work.
3. The method was wise. He did not break away from his connection with Persia, but sought to use the earthly power for the heavenly purpose.
4. The spirit was truly religious. "Prosper thy servant this day." Without God nothing is strong. With his help all things are possible. He rules both men and things for his people.—R.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
Piety and prayer.
I. The SORROW of prayer (Nehemiah 1:4). Prayer was designed to be a glad communion with God; but sin has embittered it. Now it is often suffused with tears; but it will soon rejoice in God. Hannah's prayerful sorrow soon became her prophetic song. The sorrows of prayer are more joyous than the rejoicings of sin.
II. The IMPORTUNITY of prayer (Nehemiah 1:5). Nehemiah besought God to hear his prayer; his whole being was engaged in his devotion. Sorrow makes men earnest; things spiritual must be earnestly sought.
III. The THEOLOGY Of prayer. True prayer has a right conception of the Divine character; it will see in God—
1. The Divine.
2. The exalted.
3. The faithful.
4. The powerful.
All true prayer is based on a right conception of the Deity; the more we know of God, the more true and acceptable will our worship become.
IV. The DURATION of prayer (verse 6). Nehemiah prayed day and night. We must pray without ceasing. "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me" (Genesis 32:26).
V. The CONFESSIONS Of prayer (verses 6, 7).
VI. The SUPPLICATION of prayer. Prayer generally has some specific request to urge.
1. The Divine promise (verses 8, 9).
2. The Divine mercy.
3. The Divine aid in the past.—E.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
A prayer: its characteristics.
We have many recorded prayers in the sacred Scriptures. They have various characteristics, as we should expect they would have; for our individuality—that in which God has made us to be different from every one else—should appear in prayer as much as in any other act. More rather than less, for if there be one thing more especially in which we should "be ourselves," it is when we approach him who requires "truth in the inward parts." Nevertheless, we shall find in the prayer of Nehemiah those characteristics which we should expect to find in any address to God from a holy man, and which should mark our devotion.
I. REVERENCE. "I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God" (verse 5). "Let thine ear be attentive, and thine eyes open" (verse 6). Nehemiah speaks as one who feels that it is an infinite condescension for the Majesty on high to "humble himself to behold the things which are done upon the earth." In our "access with boldness" there is danger lest we run into irreverence. Who can help marking a painful familiarity in the addresses of some men to the Saviour of mankind? If we feel that our Maker is our friend, we must never forget that our friend is our Maker.
II. ADORATION. "Thou keepest covenant and mercy," etc. (verse 5). Critics who raise an easy sneer about our "telling God the truth concerning himself" must not be allowed to deprive us of the privilege and drive us from the duty of adoration. It is a fitting thing, well sanctioned in Scripture, fruitful of humility and sacred joy, to ascribe in prayer "the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty" to our God (1 Chronicles 29:11; Revelation 4:11, etc.).
III. CONFESSION. "The sins which we have sinned against thee," etc. (verses 6, 7). Here is confession of national sin. Our consciousness tells us of our own guilt, and should lead us to confess
(a) our transgressions ("we have dealt corruptly") and
(b) our shortcomings ("we have not kept," etc.).
Our confession of sin should be simple and natural, not conventional or ostentatious. The truer, the more acceptable. Beside the acknowledgment of our own personal faultiness, our sympathy with our fellows (of the same family, Church, nation) will lead us to confess our sins as members of a community.
IV. SUPPLICATION, PLEADING (verses 8, 9, 10). Nehemiah pleads with God his ancient promises, and he reverently affirms that they for whom he is making intercession are such as these promises included. We cannot do better than plead (a) God's word of promise, and (b) his past deliverances (verse 10): "Thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt thou not deliver my feet from falling?" (Psalms 56:13).
V. EARNESTNESS. In verse 11 Nehemiah urges his petition: "O Lord, I beseech thee," etc. Earnestness is not content with one clear utterance. It returns and repeats. The language of entreaty is naturally redundant. It does not spare words; it pleads and pleads again.
VI. DEFINITENESS. "Prosper thy servant . . and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer" (verse 11). Nehemiah prays not only generally for God's merciful regard to be given to his people, but he asks especially that the mind of the king, Artaxerxes, may be favourably disposed towards himself. We should consider what we urgently require when we draw nigh to God in prayer, and ask him for those special and definite favours which are most calculated to meet the need of our circumstances and life. Only, as here, we must be unselfish and high-minded in the desires we cherish.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany