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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 1

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-11

By Chuck Smith

Let's turn to Nehemiah for our study this evening.

Nehemiah introduces himself in the first verse of chapter 1 and the date of the writing of his prophecy, the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, which was the stepson of Queen Esther. So the book of Esther, if you were writing in a chronological order, would fit somewhere between Ezra and Nehemiah. The Artaxerxes here is actually the stepson of Esther, son of Artaxerxes of the husband of Esther. And so in the twentieth year would be in the twentieth year of the reign of this particular Artaxerxes. Esther would fit before Ezra and Nehemiah, actually. So you're in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes there in the palace of Susa or Shushan.

And his brother Hanani (and we learn from chapter 7 that he is actually a brother to Nehemiah) had been to Jerusalem. And when he returned from Jerusalem, Nehemiah was questioning him concerning the state and the condition of the holy city.

Now Nehemiah was born in captivity. In fact, it is now almost ninety years after the first of the captives had returned to Israel. In 536, Cyrus gave the commandment to return to Israel and rebuild the temple, and this is about 445 B.C. So it's about ninety years later, ninety-one years later, and so it is 160 years since the beginning of the Babylonian captivity.

So Nehemiah has never seen Jerusalem. He has never seen the temple. And yet, within his heart he identifies with Jerusalem and with the temple. A psalm of captivity is Psalms 137:1-9 . The psalm begins that those that were captive in Babylon hung their hearts on the willow tree and they sat down and cried by the great river. And in that psalm there is that cry, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning and let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth" ( Psalms 137:5-6 ). It is interesting how that God has stamped Jerusalem into the hearts of every Jew. Even those that have never seen it. Somehow there is stamped into their heart a love for Jerusalem. And it's just a part of them. They really can't help it. It is just the part, something that God has imbedded in their heart, a great love and desire for Jerusalem.

Of course, they are commanded in the scripture to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And in their Passover celebrations, no matter where they are in the world as they observe the Passover, they make the statement, "This year here. Next year Jerusalem." And it seems to be the desire and the dream of every Jew to go to Jerusalem.

I received a letter the other day from a very good friend of ours, David Aziel. Many of you know David who have been on tours with us to Israel. And he was planning to come to California this summer, but he didn't make it because they were able to buy a piece of property in Jerusalem to build themselves a house. And he started writing about the thrill that they were experiencing being able to own a piece of property in Jerusalem. And he went on, "This holy, beautiful city that God had chosen." And he really started waxing eloquent in his letter to us all about Jerusalem. It's just something in their heart; they can't help it. But it's there. It's something that God has planted within them.

And there is something about the city. There is an aura, there is a charm, there is a magic to it that the first time you see it, you just sort of weep without being able to control yourself. There is just something about it. So this is Jerusalem. And there's a feel; there's something there that is of God. God said He would never take His eyes from Jerusalem.

And so Nehemiah, a true patriot, having never seen Jerusalem, still his heart is there. His desires are there. And so he questioned his brother all about the state of Jerusalem, the state of the city and the people and all. And he received, really, a very discouraging report from Hanani. The remnant of the people that are left are discouraged. Their enemies are harassing them. The gates of the city have been burned. The walls are lying in rubble. There's great affliction and reproach upon the people.

And so it came to pass, when Nehemiah heard these things, that he wept, and he mourned for certain days, and he fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven ( Nehemiah 1:4 ),

So this brought him great sorrow of heart. And being a true patriot, hearing of the saddened condition of Jerusalem, he wept, mourned over it. And then fasted for certain days while he prayed. Now Nehemiah was a man of prayer and he is always offering up prayers unto God. And through the book, it is one of the important aspects of your study of the book of Nehemiah is to make note of the prayer life of Nehemiah. Not always necessarily long prayers. Sometimes just prayers under his breath in a moment of time when things are transpiring and he needs special wisdom or guidance. Just, "Lord, guide me." Or, "Lord, strengthen me." Or, "Lord, help me at this point." But always throwing up these little prayers to the Lord.

Now his prayer is given to us here in chapter 1.

And I said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, that keeps his covenants of mercy for those that love him, for those that keep his commandments ( Nehemiah 1:5 ):

Now in his prayer he is acknowledging the faithfulness of God. "God, You keep Your promises. You keep Your covenants to Your people." And he acknowledges that the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people was a part of God's righteous keeping of His word. Acknowledging the fact that God had warned them that if they would forsake the Lord, that they would be forsaken of the Lord. They had the warning. And Nehemiah in his prayer unto God recognizes and acknowledges God's faithfulness. "Lord, You told us through Moses that if we would turn from Thee that we would be driven from the land and all." And he acknowledges the faithfulness of God to His word. But then God had also promised that if the people would turn to Him, that He would restore them to the land.

And so he is reminding God of the promises that God had made unto the people.

Remember, I beseech thee, the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, If you transgress, I will scatter you abroad: but if you turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you those that were cast out unto the uttermost parts of the earth, yet I will bring thee back again ( Nehemiah 1:8-9 ).

And so the reminding God of His promises and of His word and then asking God to bless the people and to show His great hand of power towards them.

So he went in after several days to the king bearing the cup of Artaxerxes, for Nehemiah was the king's cupbearer. And so we are now moving ahead. You remember the story began in the month of December and now we've moved ahead to April, and he is taking the cup into the king and he is still troubled this much later over the condition of Israel. And the king asked him concerning his sadness. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/nehemiah-1.html. 2014.
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