Nehemiah – Lesson Two
“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”1
How easy it is to be unconcerned, unmoved, and unresponsive to the needs of those around us. How easy it is to miss the call to serve the cause of Christ in the world, in our communities, or in our families because of our indifference.
Nehemiah was a man who cared foremost about the things that were important to God. So, it is not surprising that Nehemiah cared deeply about the people of God. As we examine his life in the weeks to come, we, too, will find that we are challenged to grow in our roles as leaders by learning to genuinely care for the needs of others. My prayer is that this study will cause you to take action on those things that God has laid upon your heart to do for someone else and for His glory.
DAYS ONE and TWO: Nehemiah’s Concern (1:1-3)
A. As we begin to look at the Nehemiah and the concern he exhibited, I would like for us to first consider the level of concern we feel towards others who are facing difficulties. For example, I have an acquaintance that is passionate about the cause of oppressed women and children – especially those who fall victim to human traffickers.
1. What issues (social, political, religious, or otherwise) cause you concern and stir your passions?
2. What has God laid upon your heart to do, if anything, about the problem?
3. What has been your response to these issues thus far?
4. How active is your prayer life in regard to the concerns you feel?
B. The name “Nehemiah” is a Hebrew name meaning “Jehovah comforts”. The text tells us that he is the son of Hachaliah to distinguish him from all the other Nehemiah’s mentioned in the Old Testament.
Nehemiah, as “cupbearer” to the king (v.11), held a high position in the Persian Court. Risking his own life, the cupbearer was responsible for tasting the king’s food and beverage and thereby thwart any assassination attempts. Because of the level of trust between the king and his cupbearer, the position carried with it great influence as a counselor and confidant.
The time was the month of Chislev which corresponds to our November/December. The twentieth year is in reference to the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimnanus (464-424 B.C.) – about 444 B.C.
The place was Shushan (or Susa); about 150 miles north of the Persian gulf – which today would be in Iran. On a map of the biblical world at the time of the patriarchs, try to locate Susa or Shushan in the old Babylonian Empire or Persia.
1. Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani had just returned from Jerusalem. What did Nehemiah learn from Hanani and his associates?
2. What was Nehemiah’s response to the news?
3. Read Ezra 4:6-24, noting verse 23 which may indicate that part of the rebuilding was again demolished. Why do you think Nehemiah was so concerned?
4. Nehemiah was anxious to know the whole truth about the disastrous situation in Jerusalem. In what way does this desire to help bear another’s burden exemplify leadership? Is it true that sometimes we don’t want to know because we don’t want to be burdened or bothered? How does this attitude reflect poorly on a leader? What command do we find in Galatians 6:2?
5. Scripture reminds us that showing concern for others is of primary importance and often requires that we lay aside our own plans.
a. Read Luke 10:25-37. How does Jesus develop the idea that love for God will manifest itself in love towards others?
b. Throughout the Old and New Testaments God has commanded that those who love Him must actively show benevolence, pity, compassion, and generosity to those in need. What are some of the ways in which we are to live out this command as taught in the following: Deut. 15:12-14; II Chron. 28:14-15; Matt. 5:42; Matt. 22:37-40; I Thess. 3:12; I John 3:16-17? What promise is associated with the command to show mercy in Is. 58:6-10?
c. In light of these verses, is there any action you should you take to alleviate some need?
C. A couple of years ago I was in South Africa and was made aware of a township in need of just about everything. I was introduced to a pastor and his wife who had recently decided that God was leading them to help the people who lived there. I thought about sending them support but in the busyness of life and ministry, I forgot about it. Last spring I was in South Africa again and met the same couple. They graciously invited me and a few others to tour Cape Town in their van. Some in the group had no idea about the conditions in townships around Cape Town – so off we went, bouncing along over rough dirt roads that meandered through acres of shacks. In places the road was also the sewer, where delightful children played by the filthy muck. We almost got stuck and as the smell filled the air, I was deeply moved. But – as soon as I returned home – well, you know how it is when you’ve been gone a long time – there’s just so much to catch up. But I kept thinking that I need to do something…. sometime….soon. A few months later a friend from the first trip to South Africa called to invite me to a dinner she was hosting for the SA pastor and his wife who would be in the US in the fall – “Of course, I would love to see them again!” At the same time I’m thinking that I really need to send that check….soon! A few more weeks pass and I’m gearing up to teach on Nehemiah. The conviction was mounting and I kept saying, “Okay Lord, as soon as I get this lesson done….” Not surprisingly, when it came time to put things down on paper, not much was coming to mind other than I John 3:16-17. I figured out quickly that unless I intended to put action along with the words, there would be no words to say. I promptly sent the check!
DAY THREE: Nehemiah’s Character (1:4)
A. Today we will look at some of the special traits that made Nehemiah an outstanding servant of God. As we continue through the chapters of this book, let’s continue to look for these qualities in his character that made him an exceptional leader.
1. First, Nehemiah was zealous in his passion for God’s glory. Read verse 11 (NIV) and note that which gave him joy. How did others display this same trait: Num. 25:1-13; Is. 62:1; Luke 8:39; John 2:17; Acts 18:25?
2. Second, He had compassion. Skim through chapter 5 and note the ways in which he demonstrated compassion for the poor.
3. Third: He was realistic. Skim chapter 2:11-20 to observe one example of the realistic way in which he approached problem-solving.
B. Nehemiah’s convictions about God formed the basis of his character. Without a clear understanding of the greatness of God, His nature and attributes, it is doubtful that Nehemiah would have been motivated to accomplish all that he did. Nehemiah’s understanding of God served to mold him into a godly man, as we shall see.
1. Prayerfulness was the predominate attitude of his heart. Nehemiah’s habit of prayer drew him near to God, overwhelmed him with the sense of God’s greatness, and clarified his vision of what needed to be done. It seems that he kept a journal of his prayers, some of which he incorporated into the book that bears his name. Countless believers have found this to be a very valuable practice. This week would you be willing to share a prayer on our blog that you have written? A principle that we need to remember is that only those things that are bathed in prayer are likely to be blessed.
2. Nehemiah choose to identify with God’s people. As we shall see in our next day’s questions, he was willing to confess his share in the national sins of Israel (v.6-7). This kind of humility stands in marked contrast to the individualism of Western thinking, especially in North America. We are reluctant to confess our own sins much less the sins of the church or Christian community with which we are aligned. Nehemiah understood that God viewed Israel as a family with a common destiny. He was part of that family and, therefore, shared in the glory and the guilt.
3. Nehemiah accepted his limitations. Although Nehemiah had great leadership and organizational skills, he allowed others to step to the front when their gifts excelled his own. Such humility is seen as Nehemiah allowed Ezra and the Levites to take the lead in teaching the Law to the people (8:1-8).
4. Write a short descriptive paragraph describing Nehemiah’s character.
DAYS FOUR and FIVE: Nehemiah’s Cornerstone of Prayer (1:5-11)
A. Prayer is absolutely essential if one is to lead in the cause of Christ. Long before Nehemiah laid one stone in Jerusalem, he laid the foundation stone of prayer before God.
B. Nehemiah’s Pattern of Prayer:
1. Adoration (1:5): How did Nehemiah ascribe greatness to God? Others who were contemporaries of Nehemiah used this title as well: Ezra 5:11-12; 6:9; 7:12, 21, 23 and Daniel 2:18-19, 44. How does this title help us to gain a proper perspective of the greatness of our God? How did Jesus instruct His disciple to begin their prayers (Matt. 6:9)?
2. Confession (1:6-7): As you read through Nehemiah’s prayer, notice the personal pronouns “we” and “I”. Nehemiah chose to identify himself with the people of God and their collective sins because that is how God viewed them, as a unified body. Often, when problems arise, we are tempted to accuse our fellow Christians, parents, spouse, or children. Too often we are unwilling to acknowledge our part in the problem. It takes great humility to recognize one’s failure, especially if you are not directly responsible for what has happened. In what way do you need to include yourself in the confession of a sin and its associated problem? Perhaps a place to start is with a confession of failure in your areas of responsibility.
3. Claim the Promise (1:8-9): Nehemiah based his prayer on the promises God had previously made to the nation of Israel. What God had warned had already come to pass according to Leviticus 26:27-39 and Deuteronomy 28:63-67. What God had promised was waiting to be fulfilled according to Leviticus 26:40-45; Deuteronomy 30:1-10 and I Kings 8:31-53. As you read these passages, can you feel Nehemiah’s anguish of soul as he realized that he and Israel deserved all that had befallen them? Yet, by faith, he reached for the mercy, grace, forgiveness, and restoration that God offered if they would repent. Nehemiah knew that the only basis for asking was the gracious promise God had given long ago.
A key word in the book is “remember”. Nehemiah asks God to remember His promise (1:8); the very thing that God said he would do (Lev. 26:42, 45). What power there is in respectfully asking God to remember the promises He has made! In your journal record the promises God has given you concerning your present situation. How are you encouraged to continue asking God for what He has promised?
4. Petition (1:10-11): Time alone in fasting and prayer had cleared away all confusion for Nehemiah. He was now ready to clearly state his request to God with full confidence that God would answer. The same is true for us as we spend time alone with God focusing our thoughts, finding the promises, and formulating our requests. We can be assured that when we have prepared in this way we will ask aright and receive the desired answer (Matt. 7:7-11).
Although Nehemiah knew God would answer his prayer because He had promised the very thing that he was petitioning, he begged God for about four months. This reminds us of the need to persist in prayer and never give up. How does Luke 18:1-8 and Ephesians 6:18 encourage you to be persistent in prayer?
Nehemiah was passionately concerned about a situation well beyond his ability to do anything. He was a man of great importance and occupied a powerful position of influence in the court of the Persian king. He possessed extraordinary leadership skills, organizational ability and outstanding qualities of character. Yet, with all those benefits, he was helpless to promote God’s cause in the world. Nehemiah needed God. One of the first lessons that we need to learn from this great man of God is that a leader –to be effective in the cause of Christ –must first be a person of prayer.
1. Warren W. Wiersbe Be Determined (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2005), p.13
About the author
Donna Jeffries has been involved in Women’s Ministries for thirty-four years. Her ministry responsibilities have included Bible Study Fellowship Teaching Leader, Director of Women’s Ministries and Bible Study teacher at Calvary Bible Church. Most recently, she serves with Campus Crusade for Christ and travels as a volunteer with the International School Project. She has also traveled with Women of the Harvest to several counties as a Retreat Volunteer and has served on the Board of Directors. Donna and her husband Don have been married 40 years and have three married children and seven grandchildren. They are business owners and reside in Bakersfield, Calif., USA.View all articles by: Donna Jeffries
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