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THE PREPARATION OF THE SERVANT
In the opening chapter we have described to us the secret exercises by which God prepares the vessel for the special work in hand. Ezra, the instrument of a former revival, was not only a priest but a scribe - a student well versed in the word of God. Nehemiah was rather a practical man of affairs, holding a responsible secular position as the cup-bearer to the king in the palace of Shushan. But the easy circumstances of the palace, the lucrative position that he held, and the favour in which he stood with the king, did not lessen his interest in the people of God and the city of Jerusalem.
He embraces the occasion of the arrival of one of his brethren, who, with certain others, had come from Jerusalem to enquire as to the condition of the escaped remnant and the city of Jerusalem.
He learns that, in spite of former revivals, the people are in great affliction and reproach, and as to Jerusalem the wall is in ruins and the gates burned with fire.
The people of God may indeed be in affliction because of persecution on account of their faithful testimony; and they may be in reproach for the name of God. Then, indeed, it is well with them, for the Lord can say, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you ... for My sake" ( Mat_5:14 ). An Apostle can also write, "If ye be reproached for the Name of Christ happy are ye" ( 1Pe_4:14 ). But alas! they may be in affliction because of their low moral condition, and in reproach with the world through the inconsistency of their walk and ways. That such was the case in Nehemiah's day is witnessed by the fact that the wall of Jerusalem was "broken down," and the gates thereof "burned with fire." The desolations of Jerusalem were the result, and therefore the proof of the low condition of the people.
The wall symbolises the maintenance of separation from evil; the gate stands for the exercise of godly care in reception and discipline. In any age looseness of association, and laxity of discipline, amongst the people of God, are sure indications of low moral condition.
There can be no spiritual prosperity among the people of God unless separation is maintained between themselves and the world, whether it be the world of a religious heathendom in Nehemiah's day, the world of corrupt Judaism in the disciples' day, or the world of corrupt Christendom in our own day.
Such then was the unhappy condition of the returned remnant. They were in affliction and reproach. But the time had come when God was about to grant a revival, and the way God takes to accomplish this is noteworthy. God commences a great work through one man, and that man a broken-hearted man on his knees. For we read Nehemiah "wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven" (4). His tears were the outward sign of a broken heart. His mourning witnessed how truly he entered into the affliction of God's people. His fasting proved that the iron had so entered into his soul that the comforts of life were forgotten and forgone. But all the exercises of this broken-hearted man found an outlet in prayer. He knew the power of that word long after spoken by James, "Is any man afflicted let him pray.
In this prayer Nehemiah vindicates God, confesses the sins of the nation, and intercedes for the people.
First, Nehemiah vindicates the character and ways of God. Jehovah is the "God of heaven, the great and terrible God," and moreover, He is the faithful God who "keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments" (5).
Second, he confesses the sins of the children of Israel; and in so doing he identifies himself with them - "We have sinned against Thee: both I and my father's house
have sinned." Instead of loving Jehovah and keeping His commandments, he says, "We have acted very perversely against Thee and have not kept the commandments nor the statutes nor the ordinances that Thou commandedst Thy servant Moses." Hence they had forfeited all claim to the mercy of God on the ground of obedience (6, 7).
Third, having vindicated God, and confessed the people's sins, he now intercedes for the people, and with the boldness of faith he uses four different pleas in his intercession. The first plea is God's faithfulness to His own word. He has just owned that they have not kept the commandments given of God by Moses, but there was something else given of God by Moses. Besides the precepts of the law there were the promises of the law, and Nehemiah asks God to remember this word of promise, given through Moses, in which God had said that if the people acted unfaithfully God would scatter them; but if they repented God would gather them, and bring them to the place that Jehovah had chosen to set His name. Then Nehemiah advances a second plea; the people for whom he pleads are God's servants and God's people. Moreover, a third plea is not only are they God's people, but they are God's people by God's work of redemption. Finally he closes his intercession by identifying with himself all those who fear God's name, and pleading the mercy of God (8-10).
Thus having vindicated God, and confessed the sin of the people he intercedes with God, pleading God's word, God's people, God's work of redemption, and God's mercy.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter