For several decades the people of Judah lived in exile in Babylon, having been ousted out of their own homeland because of persistent sin. In 539 B.C. Cyrus King of Persia defeats the Babylonians and encourages the Jews to return to their homeland. As we saw in the book of Ezra, the first group of Jews, about 50,000 of them, returned to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. (Ezra 1-2). Under the leadership of governor Zerubabbel, the Jews rebuild the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem despite much opposition (Ezra 3-6). In 458 B.C., Ezra leads a second group of about 1,500 Jews back to Jerusalem (Ezra 7-8). When Ezra arrives in Jerusalem he discovers that the Jews have seriously compromised their faith by marrying unbelievers and following their idolatrous practices. He leads them to repent and return to the Lord (Ezra 9-10). In approximately 444 B.C., 14 years after Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, the events of Nehemiah 1 begin. Written by Nehemiah himself in approximately 430 B.C., the book of Nehemiah chronicles Nehemiah’s long struggle to lead his people to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
Today’s passage is Nehemiah 1:1-11. Let’s go!
Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NIV) 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
On verses 1-11: Nehemiah is a Jew who has the highly coveted position of being cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (v10). The fact that Nehemiah is the royal cupbearer suggests that Nehemiah was highly capable and trustworthy, known for his loyalty and good judgment. Nehemiah meets his brother Hanani and others who have just returned from Judah (v2). They tell Nehemiah that the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and the people are living in great trouble and disgrace (v3). Like Ezra before him (Ezra 9:3-4), Nehemiah weeps when he hears the upsetting news and spends days mourning, fasting and praying (v4). When he prays, he recalls God’s goodness to Israel (v5). He confesses the sins that he, his family and his people have committed (v6-7). He declares God’s promise that if His people are unfaithful they will be scattered but that if they return to Him, they will be gathered back to their homeland (v8-10). Finally he asks God for favour as he gets ready to speak to the king about going back to Jerusalem (v11).
What can we learn from all this?
Great leadership begins with the heart. Great leaders have a heart for God, a heart for people, and a dream to see something different than the status quo take place.
Every generation has its own unique problem or challenge to overcome. God uses willing individuals who feel the burden to do something about that challenge. When it came to the challenge of rebuilding the temple, it was Zerubabbel, Haggai and Zechariah who rose to the occasion. When it came to leading a new group of Jews back to Jerusalem and ushering a spiritual revival among the people there, Ezra was the man. Now, 14 years later, a new problem has surfaced: the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, leaving it vulnerable to attack and its people in trouble and disgrace. For this challenge, it is Nehemiah who steps up to the plate. What is the major problem or challenge facing your generation that burdens you? Here’s believing that God has chosen you to do something about it, to be part of the solution.
Nehemiah prayed and asked for God’s favour because he knew that the dream he had in his heart could not be accomplished in his own strength. What is the dream God has planted in your heart? Whether it’s for your family, your future, your ministry, your church, or your city, dream God-sized dreams. Dream a dream big enough that if God were not in the mix, that dream could never be a reality. God uses leaders who dream God-sized dreams.
Nehemiah and his brother Hanani illustrate the difference between leaders and spectators. When spectators see a problem, they just talk amongst themselves and complain. When leaders see a problem, they do something about it.
Before you act on an impulse, especially one that will require a major investment of your time and energy, fast and pray about it. Seek God’s heart before acting on your own.
Nehemiah recognized that, as great as it was for his people to resettle in their homeland of Jerusalem, their lives would never be peaceful as long as the city’s protecting walls remained broken down. So Nehemiah’s burden is to rebuild and restore Jerusalem’s walls so that the people there could live in peace. In other words, it’s one thing to get to the Promised Land, but it’s another thing to stay there and enjoy it. There’s a spiritual application to this. When you received Jesus Christ into your life, your sins were forgiven, you became a new creation, you were brought into relationship with God, and you have been given a new life in Christ. You stepped into God’s Promised Land. But if you want to enjoy God’s Promised Land for you, you need to protect it. Otherwise, the practical benefits of knowing Jesus will be stolen from you almost as soon as they were given to you. How do you protect the Promised Land that God has given you? It’s about building walls, or habits, that protect your relationship with God: attending church regularly, having a daily habit of a GAMEtime with God, joining a small group for accountability and mutual encouragement, and allowing God’s Kingdom to begin to reign and rule in every part of your life.
Heavenly Father, thank You that I am blessed to be a blessing and made me to make a difference. I pray that I would dream God-sized dreams and live my life for a dream that is really worthy of the time and talents You have given me. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!