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Nehemiah: Chapters 1-6
An Exercised Man
In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, his cup-bearer, Nehemiah, the son of Hachaliah, was in deep exercise of soul concerning the condition of the re-gathered remnant, whose history we have been studying, as related by Ezra the Scribe.7 Nehemiah means comfort or consolation of Jehovah, and he is one whose name expresses his character, as is so often the case in Scripture, when names were not given by any means so carelessly as now. Like Paul, he was to comfort others with the comfort wherewith he himself was comforted of God (2 Corinthians 1:4). This is a weighty principle in God’s ways with His servants. Many a saint is permitted to go through deep waters, to pass through severe trial both of body and mind, not only for his own profit, but that he may be the better fitted to be a channel of blessing to his brethren when cast down in distress. Happy is the saint who is thus subject to the will of God and enabled to be His agent in consoling his discouraged fellows and restoring them, through a ministry received in times of sorrow, when they are backslidden and disheartened.
The station of Nehemiah was one of worldly prosperity. It is true he was a servant; probably a bondman, but so were all his people; and he dwelt in a royal palace, and seems to have been a favorite with the king. But, like Moses, his heart was with his lowly brethren, and his spirit was zealous for the testimony of the Lord.
To him, Hanani, one of his brethren, and other Jews came, whom he questioned closely concerning the remnant who had gone up to Jerusalem. The report was not encouraging. They replied: “The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire” (ver. 3). That Hanani felt this keenly there can be no doubt, but that he, or his companions were before God about it, as was Nehemiah, seems scarcely probable. It is one thing to shake the head and sigh over the vicissitudes of the congregation of the Lord, it is quite another to look up to Him to give deliverance, and to put His truth and testimony above every other interest. This latter Nehemiah did.
His brethren’s unhappy report caused him deepest searching of heart and contrition of spirit, so that he gave himself to fasting and prayer with many tears; for, like Paul in a brighter dispensation, he knew much of what it was to weep over the failures of the people of God. To Him who had forsaken His city and given His people up to captivity, but who had granted a little reviving in their bondage, Nehemiah turned in prayer. He uses the same title so frequently found in the record of Ezra, “the God of heaven.” This indicated the removal of God’s throne from earth to heaven. In deepest humiliation he joins with Ezra and Daniel in confessing his sin and the sin of his people. “We have sinned,” he cries; and again, “Both I and my father’s house have sinned;” and once more, “We have dealt very corruptly.” Genuine confession like this reaches the ear of God. It indicates a soul able to look at matters from God’s standpoint. Nehemiah is no carping critic, no self-satisfied Pharisaic looker-on upon the failure of others. “I thank Thee that I am not as other men” would never come from his lips. Instead, he bows his head in common confession with his brethren, and brokenly cries, “We have sinned.”
But he is a man of faith as well as a man of prayer, and so he at once proceeds to remind God, as it were, of His own word: how He had declared in Leviticus 26:40-45 and Deuteronomy 4:23; Deuteronomy 30:1-6 that even though He might scatter His people because of their transgression, yet if in the stranger’s land they would turn unto Him, keep His commandments and do them, He would gather them again, though it were from the uttermost parts of the earth, and bring them back to the place He had chosen, “to set His name there.” This promise Nehemiah pleads, and touchingly cries: “Now these are Thy servants and Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed by Thy great power and by Thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech Thee, let now Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant, and to the prayer of Thy servants who desire to fear Thy name: and prosper, I pray Thee, Thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (vers. 10, 11). “This man” was none other than the great Artaxerxes himself; but to Nehemiah he was just a man, and he desired that his heart might be controlled by God for the furtherance of His purpose of grace towards His people.
In other circumstances he could and did give honor to whom honor was due. But in the presence of the great King of kings this puissant monarch was but a man, and such is he in Nehemiah’s reckoning. He had, in large measure, learned to not put his trust in princes, but to cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils. To the living God he looked; on His compassion and omnipotence he reckoned; and the sequel shows that he was not disappointed.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
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