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MOVED BY THE REPORTED CONDITION OF JERUSALEM
Though verse 1 makes it clear that this whole book records "the words of Nehemiah," it may be that Nehemiah spoke these words to another person, who wrote them down, -- possibly Ezra, who was a scribe. It was in the 20th year of Artaxerxes (see ch. 2:1) that Nehemiah received news of Jerusalem from Hanani, who had come to Shushan the palace, where Nehemiah was employed. "Shushan (or Susa) was originally the capital of Elam; afterwards it was incorporated into the kingdom of Babylon, and finally, on the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, it passed into the possession of Persia, of which it seems, at the time of Nehemiah, to have been the metropolis" (Nehemiah by Edward Dennett -- ch. 1, footnote). Thus Nehemiah did not go from Babylon to Jerusalem, as Ezra did, but from Shushan.
Nehemiah, deeply concerned of conditions in Jerusalem, inquired about this matter (v. 2), and was told, "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire" (v. 3).
Hearing such news, Nehemiah sat down, wept and mourned for many days, with fasting and prayer. Likely this exercise was interrupted by his daily work, but it was certainly the most important matter that engaged his thoughts. Notice his mention of "praying before the God of heaven." He does not say "the God of heaven and earth" (v. 4), for Israel's earthly possession had been badly desolated, and there remained little clear evidence that God was caring for His people. Yet God was still in heaven and His power could be relied on to intervene in some blessing for Israel in spite of the low spiritual condition that had caused their current distress.
Nehemiah then in prayer appealed to the God of heaven as "the great and awesome God," and the One who keeps his covenant and mercy, though Israel had badly broken that covenant. He adds the words, "and mercy " for certainly Israel desperately needed mercy (v. 5). However, he says, God keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him and observe His commandments. Those who do not do this have forfeited all claim to His covenant, and can hardly expect His mercy. Nehemiah does not go so far as to say, "keep his commandments," but "observe," for he had no doubt learned that to absolutely keep all God's commandments is too hard for man, but it was still necessary to respect and honor them.
He entreats God to hear his prayer for the children of Israel and to hear his confession of the sins of the children of Israel. Notice, he is not only confessing his own part in these sins, but confessing Israel's sins as though they had been his own sins, and adding, "both my father's house and I have sinned" (v. 6). But he goes further, saying, "We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses" (v. 7).
Nehemiah then proceeded to ask God to remember the words He had spoken to Moses that if Israel was unfaithful He would scatter them among the nations (v.8), but if returning to Him to keep His commandments, God would still gather them back (at least some of them) and bring them to the place where He had set His name (v. 9). These things were plainly spoken by God to Moses in Deuteronomy 4:25-31.
In this prayer of Nehemiah he fully acknowledged and appreciated the fact that God had kept His word in bringing back the remnant of the Jews to Jerusalem; but he feared that the Jews were lapsing again into an unfaithful state, even after God had redeemed them by His great power. But Nehemiah intended to act: he would not only pray and leave it there, nor did he pray that God would send someone to Jerusalem to help the suffering remnant. Since he knew and felt the sorrow of their condition, he considered he was the man to go. He did solicit the approval and help of others, but simply asked God to give him favor "in the sight of this man" (v. 11). Though Artaxerxes was king, yet Nehemiah considered him simply a man in whose heart God could work as easily as in any man. "For," he says, "I was the king's cupbearer." This was an honored and trusted position, and the more trusted, the less likely would the king be to give him a long leave of absence.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13