Entering the book through a timeline (an estimation):
The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians brought utter shame to the Jews. Just as the reign of the kings ended for the people of Israel, the Babylon Empire received the same fate at the hands of the Medes and Persians 47 years later.
About year later, a Persian king, Cyrus, allowed captives to return home, back to their own traditions and worship of their own gods but still being subjects to the Persian Empire. It was under these conditions that the Jews began to return to the Promise Land in 3 stages.
The first batch led by Zerubbabel returned that year and the second group came back 80 years later under Ezra while Nehemiah led the third group 14 years after that. The book of Esther took place in between the 1st and 2nd batch’s return.
Nehemiah chapters 1 – 12 took place within a year. Later Nehemiah returned to Persia briefly before coming back (Chapter 13) to make sure that God’s way is followed and for his second term as the governor of Judah.
Entering the book through the ‘times’ that Nehemiah came back from:
Nehemiah worked his way to become the king’s cupbearer (possibly: someone who had personal contact with the king, which means chances of offending the king is also higher). The king trusts Nehemiah with his life because he tastes the king’s food before the king does (possibly: modern day equivalent of assassination). He was far away from ‘home’ serving where the king was (possibly: good food, surrounded by luxuries, court politics). To reach this stage, he should have settled into some form of routine and adopted to his environment.
By now, Nehemiah would have heard of the two groups of people who have returned home to rebuild and restart their lives, about 142 years since they were taken from there.
While some have chosen to return, some have also chosen to remain where they are and make that (Persia) their new home.
STOP and picture the scene…Have you enter into Nehemiah’s shoes?
Let’s begin then:
…The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital,…
God’s Word for a nation. Can you hear His heartbeat?
For His Eyes Only…And Yours
Reading this book makes you feel more or less like you’ve just peeked into the diary of a great man of God, Nehemiah. It’s a diary of a leader. It’s a diary of Nehemiah’s responses to events as they unfold. It’s a diary of Nehemiah’s prayers. It’s a diary of how God has been with His people through tough situations.
God’s Promise-Keeping Love
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a group of Israelites returning to their homeland after exile. Years before, the people of Israel sinned against God generation after generation. Exile was their punishment. Now God seems to say, “Enough punishment!” Now he draws His people back to their land. Now He restores His covenant people, just like He promised (Neh 1:5, 8-9)
His people’s U-Turn (Neh 1-3, 7, 11-12)
As much as God keeps His covenant/promise by restoring Israel, the people themselves needed to respond to His covenant love. Make a U-Turn of their lives.
They rebuilt their city walls. They discovered God’s Word to them. They remembered their sins and repented. God kept His promise after all.
Why is rebuilding a wall so important? Nationally, the rebuilding meant a restoration of their identity as the nation of Israel, chosen by God, from which Jesus the Messiah will come. Spiritually, it reflected their repentance in that they were now ready to rebuild their lives that were ‘torn down’ in judgment by God Himself.
Prayerful Leadership in the face of difficulties (Neh 4 – 6)
Far from being an easy task, the rebuilding of the wall was met with difficulties – external opposition (Neh 4, 6) and internal conflicts (Neh 5). But, Nehemiah’s prayerful leadership was able to pull the people through these difficulties.
Rediscovering God’s Word (Neh 8 – 10 , 13)
After the record breaking completion of the wall in just 52 days, the Book of the Law of Moses was brought out and read aloud so all could hear. God’s Word rediscovered, clearly taught, joyfully understood and repentantly obeyed.
Of ‘Walls’ and WORD (Questions for Reflection)
How has God – the promise-keeping God – shown us his promise-keeping/covenant love? What then will your response be to Him?
Think about the state of God’s people – Christians – today in Malaysia? Alive and well? In ruins? Are we in danger of divine judgment? Do we need to start rebuilding?
In any ministry or task that God has called us to (in church, in CF, in society, at home), difficulties are guaranteed. Taking the example of Nehemiah’s prayerful leadership, how might we overcome them?
What is our attitude towards God’s Word – the Bible? So we need to rediscover the Word once again? Do we clearly teach the Bible when we do teach the Bible to others? Do we understand and respond to the Word?
Do we confess our sins and obey the Word, or gloss over our sin and carry on with our lives, unexamined and unchanged?