Chapter 1: Nehemiah Mourns and Fasts for the Jews
1,000 years after the time of Moses and about 400 years before the birth of Jesus, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people were in a desperate state.
These are the words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah; “…And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
…Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
…But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there. Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.” (Nehemiah 1:1-11)
This entire chapter is a prayer to the Lord from Nehemiah regarding the Jews in Jerusalem.
Chapter 2: Artaxerxes and Nehemiah
In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, Nehemiah (the cupbearer) took the wine and gave it to the king. (He would have tasted the wine to ensure that the king would not be poisoned). The king spoke to Nehemiah and said; “…Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart…” (Nehemiah 2:2). Because of this, Nehemiah was afraid.
So Nehemiah responds by saying: “…why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” (Nehemiah 2:3)
The king responded; “…For what dost thou make request?” (Nehemiah 2:4)
Nehemiah turned and prayed to the Lord for an answer; “…If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it.” (Nehemiah 2:5)
The King responded to his request with a question; ”… how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return?” (Nehemiah 2:6)
The king was happy to send Nehemiah, but Nehemiah asked for letters to be given to him so that the governors beyond the river would permit him to come into Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, so that he would give timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel for the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that Nehemiah would live in. The king granted this request, and sent him on his way.
Nehemiah went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters, accompanying him were captains of the army and horsemen that the king had sent with him. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.
So Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then he arose in the night, and took a few men; and went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire. After seeing this, he went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool.
Then he said to them, “…Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.” (Nehemiah 2:17). He told them of not only God’s words, but also that of the king’s words, and the people responded “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to good work.