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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Nehemiah 1

Verses 1-3

Nehemiah - Chapter 1

Disturbing News. Verses 1-3

The opening words of the Book of Nehemiah claim it to be his words, an indication that he is its author, or that someone else copied his account to compile the book. He identifies himself only as the son of Hachaliah, who is otherwise not mentioned in the Bible. He must have been well known in that time. Again the reader should be impressed with the fact that who one is less important than what one is (Romans 12:3).

Chisleu was the Persian name of the ninth ecclesiastical month of the Jewish year. It corresponded to their third civil month, and is approxi­mately the same as December in the modern calendar. The twentieth year refers to the twentieth of Artaxerxes, who reigned a total of forty years. It would have been about 444 B. C.

Nehemiah was ministering in his official capacity in Shushan, the Persian palace, when he received disturbing news from the Jewish homeland. Sushan is located about a hundred fifty miles north of the Persian Gulf in the old land of Ela It was the winter palace of the Persian kings. The Hebrew name means "lilies," so called, it is said, because it was surrounded by fields of lilies. The Greek name was Susa, the country Susiana. When uncovered by archaeologists in the nineteenth century the ancient code of Hammurabi was discovered there.

The news of Jerusalem’s desolation was brought to Nehemiah by Hanani, whom he calls, "one of my brethren," and "certain men of Judah." While the reference to "brethren" might simply be used of a fellow Jew, the added reference to "certain" other "men of Judah" at least suggests that Hanani was of the same parentage as Nehemiah. Some have thought these men had been sent from Jerusalem by Ezra seeking aid, but there is nothing in the text to imply this.

The news was to the effect that the city and its inhabitants were in a deplorable condition. They were afflicted and reproached by the pagan inhabitants living around them. The city walls were broken down and the gates had been burned. The question arises whether this was a condition still remaining from the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s razing of the city, or whether the remnant had repaired the wall only to have it destroyed again by enemies so prevalent around them. It should be remembered that it had now been some ninety years since the original remnant had left Babylon in the days of Cyrus. There had been, of course, ample time to have restored the walls and to have had them demolished again.

The student may also recall the general poverty of the returned Jews, implying their probable inability to raise the necessary materials for so formidable a task. Furthermore the likely paucity of news passing back and forth between the widely separated places may have kept Nehemiah from knowing before this of the condition of the city. When he later arrived in Jerusalem and made his survey of the walls the condition he found suggests a desolation of such magnitude as that brought on the city by Nebuchadnezzar, rather than by some local raid as might have occurred at a more recent time (see Nehemiah 2:12-16).

Verses 4-11

Nehemiah’s Prayer, Verses 4-11

Nehemiah’s response to the bad news from Jerusalem is similar to that of Ezra when he learned of the intermarriages of the people of the captivity with the foreign peoples of Judah (Ezra, chap. 9). So overcome was he that he sat down and wept. For a number of days he was mourning, fasting and praying to God. He records his prayer in verses 5-11.

He began his prayer with laudatory praise for the God of heaven, acclaiming Him as great and terrible. "Terrible" is from the Hebrew word for fear; another form of it is translated "reverence," so that its evident meaning here is "great and reverend God." The acclamation continues to show why this is true. He is a God who honors His covenant and who has mercy and love for those who obey His commandments.

The petition begins in verse 6. Nehemiah asks the Lord to heed his prayer and turn His eyes and ears to his petition, which he constantly renders, night and day, to Him. The prayer is for the servants of the Lord, the people of Israel. Nehemiah confesses that they have sinned against the Lord, himself individually and the people collectively. The reference to sin of his father’s house may have consisted of their failure to return to Judah when others went back, thus showing more concern for welfare in the country of their captivity than for the repossession of their own country.

The whole matter of Israel’s guilt revolved about their failure to heed the commandments, statutes, and judgments of the Lord as given to them long before by Moses. At that time the Lord had strictly warned them through Moses of the very dispersion among the nations they were then suffering (De 28:63-68). However, the Lord had also promised to restore them if they turned to Him in the places where they were scattered (De30:1-10).

It is on the basis of the Lord’s promise that Nehemiah continues his prayer, calling the Lord to consider that these are His servants, who have repented and have returned to the land, as He said, but who are not prospering since they returned. Once again he beseeches the Lord to be attentive to his petition and that of others who fear (reverence) His name.

In conclusion Nehemiah became specific, for he was impressed with a desire to do something about the situation. Like Isaiah he was of­fering himself (Isaiah 6:8), asking mercy that he might obtain the neces­sary permission of the king, his master. For he held a very important and trusted position in the king’s palace, as his cupbearer. He was to taste the wine to make sure it had not been poisoned. (Cf. James 5:16).

Points to consider: 1) the Lord’s people should be concerned for "brethren" in other places; 2) God allows reverses to overtake His people to strengthen them in their faith; 3) in petitioning God the petitioner must believe He is the great and loving God who can answer his prayer; 4) the one praying should realize that sin is that which keeps God’s blessings from him, and willingly confess it; 5) the one praying should be willing to be used in bringing about the thing requested in prayer.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/nehemiah-1.html. 1985.