Nehemiah is one of my favorite characters form the Old Testament. He expresses a great devotion to the LORD (Neh.1:4-11;2:4), a great sensitivity to dealing justly with the poor (Neh. 5:1-19) and a great capability to organize God’s people to do a great work for God (Neh. 2,4,6). Under his leadership, the Israelites are able to rebuild the Jerusalem city wall in an amazing 52 days (Neh. 6:15). This would have been a great feat without opposition, but the Jews did it in the face of significant resistance from the Samaritans.
I would like to highlight Nehemiah’s prayer at the beginning of the Book (Neh.1:4-11). This prayer reflects a deep understanding of Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. Nehemiah understands that the Jewish people are in exile and that the wall of Jerusalem is broken down because of their sins. His words in verse 8: “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations’ ” are a direct reference to Deut. 28:36,37.
Much of what happens to Israel from the time they enter the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership until the coming of its Messiah, Jesus, can be understood from Deuteronomy 28. In this chapter, the LORD promised specific blessings for obedience and specific curses for disobedience. Israel’s history under the Mosaic Covenant is an outworking of this covenant relationship with the LORD. The Assyrian and Babylonian exiles and the ministries of the Jewish prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel cannot be understood apart from God’s covenant relationship with Israel. Neither can the heartbeat and prayer of Nehemiah be understood apart from this bond unto death. The accomplishment of God’s saving purposes for Israel and the world depended on the faithfulness of God’s people. Israel existed more than just for themselves. They existed for the LORD and others. The LORD had a lot invested in Israel, so He was not afraid to discipline His people to get them back on the right track. Nehemiah knew the LORD is merciful, therefore he asks for forgiveness in his prayer and he asks for favor to rebuild Jerusalem. The whole Book of Nehemiah is God’s glorious answer to the prayer.
Christians need to understand that they also don’t exist just for themselves. We’re saved through a covenant relationship of faith with Jesus not only so we can avoid hell and be with Jesus in eternity. We are saved for a purpose that is much larger than ourselves. It is as large as God’s glory and it seeks to reach out to the whole world to make Christ known. The smallness of our hearts and lives testifies to our self-centeredness. I wonder what Jesus thinks when He walks among the churches in North America. Is the cross truly reflective of our lifestyles or is a hot tub more appropriate? Are we truly engaged with our culture to be salt and light or are we escapist in our orientation toward the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave us His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (Jo. 3:16). In Christ’s love and service, Pastor John