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Nehemiah:Let Us Rise Up and Build - Introduction to the Book - Nehemiah 1:1-4

Posted on January 13, 2019

Nehemiah: Let Us Rise Up and Build for the Furtherance of God’s Kingdom

Nehemiah 1; Matthew 6:33

Scripture Reading

Nehemiah 1:1-4

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 citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

  • As we move into our second Sunday of the New Year, we have some things we can celebrate
    • Four people are going to attend our church membership class on Tuesday night
    • Reconciliation with two people in our church
    • Candidate for the Part Time Worship Leader position next Sunday
    • Our giving as of December 31st is approximately just under $10,000 more than our expenses. We have over $30,000 in savings.
    • After a difficult year in many ways, God has continued to provide and bless our church family
    • Thanks to all who support his church through your prayers, through your service, through your faithful giving. Thanks for your support and prayers of our church leadership team. They will be meeting on Saturday as I said in the announcements to seek God and His direction, vision and goals for the New Year.
    • Today we begin a new sermon series as we will be going verse by verse through the OT book of Nehemiah

Introduction: Speaking of Nehemiah, Charles Spurgeon said, “We are not called to govern, as he did, with an iron hand, but we ought to be equally inflexible, decided, and resolute for God, and for His holy will.”

In other words, God calls us to be determined, to persevere! God’s work has never been easy, and in these last days it is getting more and more difficult to serve. The enemy is hurling his ammunition at us as never before and is setting his subtle traps where we least expect them. - Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 9). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Purpose: Every Christ follower must see the vision God has for them and to persevere in playing their part in carrying out our piece of God’s Kingdom work.

Transition: Let’s look at some fast facts as we begin our study. I invite you to read a chapter a day in the book of Nehemiah throughout this study to better grow in your faith and learn personal and leadership principles that are applicable to our lives.

Fast Facts about the Book of Nehemiah

  • Nehemiah means “Jehovah Comforts” and he was a cupbearerfor the king
    • A cupbearer was a very important person in the kingdom
    • His main duty was to make sure no one poisoned the king’s food or drink
    • He would test every meal before the king would eat
    • A cupbearer had the deep trust of the king so it made this person very influential and an adviser to the king.
      • Genesis 41:1-13 – Cupbearer in Pharaoh’s court
      • The cupbearer could have good or evil influence on the king.
  • Nehemiah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible but in this book
  • Like Esther and Ezra, Nehemiah’s book was named after him
  • Nehemiah is never quoted in the NT
  • Author is either Ezra or Nehemiah
    • The book of Nehemiah is a personal diary and we know that because it is written from a first-person perspective
    • Some scholars believe Ezra is the author of Nehemiah
      • It was called Second Ezra early on and it was one book in the Hebrew text.
      • In the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, it was one book
      • Second, the “Hand of the Lord” is a theme in Ezra and Nehemiah
      • Third, Ezra was a priest and a scribe
        • Ezra had access to the royal archives of Persia and there is a myriad of administrative documents found in Ezra and some in Nehemiah
      • One piece of evidence points to that fact that the book of Nehemiah and Ezra may have been two books and that Nehemiah may be the author is because Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 are basically the same. Why would one book have the same thing in two places?
      • If these are Nehemiah’s personal diaries, it could be presumed he was the author. Nevertheless, it is either Ezra or Nehemiah
      • Date of the writing: 446 B. C.
        • The first verse of the book gives us a way to figure out when this book was written

Nehemiah 1:1

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 citadel

  • Twentieth year of King Artaxerxes reign.
  • Artaxerxes reign was from 464 – 423 B.C.
  • We also know that Nehemiah’s first term as governor was from 445 – 433 B.C. Nehemiah would leave and go back to Artaxerxes court to serve and come back in Nehemiah chapter 13 to serve a second term as governor beginning in 424 B.C. according to Egyptian papyri that have been recovered.
  • The book was written shortly after Nehemiah’s second term as governor
  • Historical Setting
    • In Deuteronomy 28, God gave the Jews a promise. If the Jews would obey God and follow Him as He commanded, they would receive blessing but, if they disobeyed, they would be taken captive.
    • After the Assyrian captivity of 722 B.C. the ten northern tribes were scattered around the world and never were heard from as people groups again.
    • Judah was taken captive later by the Babylonians for 70 years due to their unfaithfulness to keeping God’s promise as stated before
    • During the Babylonians captivity (70 years), the world empire leadership changed hands from the Babylonians to the Persians
    • Three Returns from Exile
      • First return – 515 B.C. led by Zerubbabel and Joshua – Ezra 1- 6
      • Second return – 458 B.C. – led by Ezra – Ezra 7-10
      • Third Return – 445 B.C. – led by Nehemiah – Nehemiah 1-13
  • Historical Notes
    • The Persian Empire loosely controlled Judah at the time of Nehemiah. Any uprisings would be squelched quickly
    • For Nehemiah to get permission from Artaxerxes to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem was virtually in heard of.
      • It would be considered a threat to the Persian empire
      • Only a close, trusted confidant to the King himself could secure such a request
      • At a very critical point in Jewish history and Judah’s revitalization, God raised up Nehemiah to exercise one of the most trusted roles in the empire as the king’s cupbearer
        • Much like Joseph, Esther and Daniel, Nehemiah had the voice of a king and a powerful voice of influence

Illustration: President Trump has a lot of Christians in his cabinet and people who work closely with him in the White House. God has a way of putting people of Christian influence with high level leaders in our world

  • Esther was King Artaxerxes step – mom and may have influenced him to look favorably on the Jews
  • Daniel’s 70-week prophecy begins with the decree of King Artaxerxes to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem in 445 B.C.
  • An Egyptian document called the Elephantine papyri – late 400’s B.C. gives us external evidence that supports the Bible mentioning Nehemiah’s two terms as governor, Sanballat who is a character in this book as governor of Samaria (2:19), another character in the book of Nehemiah – Jehohanan. This gives us more evidence of the accuracy of this book.
  • Nehemiah and Malachi are the last of the OT prophets in the OT canon of scriptures.
    • Both of their writings occur during that same time
    • Then we have the 400-year period of silence when God does not speak to the Jewish people through a prophet
    • Then, as we just celebrated, John the Baptist and Jesus come on the scene to reveal the Son of God and the complete revelation of God.
    • Themes of the book of Nehemiah
      • Seek God for your personal vision
      • Develop a determined obedience to carry out God’s vision
        • Unlike Abraham, we see a persistent and persevering obedience throughout the book.
  • Learn how to deal with opposition God’s way
    • God worked through the wicked enemies and empires of the day
    • We will see a phrase in the book “God frustrated them
    • This opposition drove the Jewish people to their knees in dependence on God
    • As we will see they faced oppositions from without their camp and then among their own people.
    • Despite the rumors and attempts to stop the progress on the wall it was finished in a mere 52 days!!
    • They had revival and celebrated by dedicating the wall to the Lord
  • ReadGod’s Word with reverence to seek revival
    • In Nehemiah 8:1, spiritual revival came at the reading of the book of Moses’
    • We see the first instance of what some claim in expository preaching in Nehemiah 8:8
    • Sacrifices we see were reinstituted as well as later in the book marriage reforms based on the book of Moses’ (13:1)
  • Knowthat God is sovereignly in control
    • God used Cyrus to send Ezra and the Jewish people back to rebuild the temple.
    • God used King Artaxerxes to make a decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem which was unheard of by a super power at that time
    • The term “good hand of God” described God’s working throughout the book.

Theme Verse: Nehemiah 2:18

18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

  • Build a team that can carry out God’s vision
  • Identify personally with Nehemiah
  • Outline of the book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah casts a Vision for God’s Kingdom Work – Chapters 1 – 6

  • Nehemiah’s prayer of compassion – Chapter 1
  • Nehemiah’s prayer of compassion answered – Chapter 2:1-8
  • Nehemiah prepares to fulfill the vision – Chapter 2:9-20
  • Nehemiah delegates the work – Chapter 3:1-22
  • Nehemiah’s response to the external opposition – Chapter 4:1-21
  • Nehemiah’s response to internal opposition – Chapter 5:1-13
  • Nehemiah’s humble generosity – Chapter 5:14-19
  • Nehemiah’s response to personal attacks – Chapter 6:1-14
  • Nehemiah’s first phase of the vision completed – Chapter 6:15-19

Nehemiah calls for Revival and Restoration – Chapters 7-13

  • The restoration of the city – Chapter 7:1 – 73
  • The revering of scripture – Chapter 8:1-18
  • The revival of the Israelites – Chapter 9:1 -38
  • The renewed commitment to God and His Word – Chapter 10:1-39
  • The results of the census – Chapters 11:1 – 12:26
  • The recognition of the wall – Chapter 12:27-47
  • The reforms set forth by Nehemiah – Chapter 13

Today’s Message

Introduction: “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”

George Bernard Shaw put those words into the mouth of the Rev. Anthony Anderson in the second act of his play The Devil’s Disciple. The statement certainly summarizes what Jesus taught in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37); and it rebukes all those who fold their arms complacently, smile benignly, and say somewhat sarcastically, “Ask me if I care!”

Nehemiah was the kind of person who cared. He cared about the traditions of the past and the needs of the present. He cared about the hopes for the future. He cared about his heritage, his ancestral city, and the glory of his God. He revealed this caring attitude in four different ways. - Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 13). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Nehemiah cared enough to ask – 1:1-3

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 citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

  • The Jews had been back in the land for approximately 100 years but Nehemiah chose to stay in the place that he did and it was for God’s purpose that he did, to have the ear of the King!
  • We see in verse one that Nehemiah is with the king in Susa which is the capital city of the Persian empire and the winter palace for Artaxerxes
  • In verse 2 we see that Nehemiah received a report from the men of Judah and one of his brothers Hananiah. Hananiah would later be given a high position of authority by Nehemiah in Jerusalem (7:2)
  • The month of Chislev – November or December of the year 444 B.C.
  • It was starting out as just another day. But sometimes God takes the ordinary and makes the extraordinary
    • Moses’ – burning bush
    • Joshua – wall of Jericho coming down
    • That is why you and I must remain faithful and persevere in our obedience even if we do not see where it will lead
      • Stay at home mom with her toddler kids. She gives up her career, social opportunities and other things to pour into the lives of her young kids.
      • Amidst the diapers and the wash that she is behind on and unable to clean up the house like she would like. God is making a difference in the lives of her children that no amount of money or status at a job could give
      • There is the person at the grocery store who faithfully does their job day after day and one day receives recognition for the years of faithful service.
      • Never underestimate what you are doing at home, at your job, at your place where you volunteer, at Awana or teaching in youth group. Only heaven will be able to reveal what eternal values have been instilled in people by your example and your teaching.

Illustration: One of the greatest Christian leaders of the last century was John R. W. Stott, rector of All Souls Langham Place in London and a peerless preacher, Bible teacher, evangelist, author, global leader and friend to many. I knew him over many decades, but I will never forget my last visit to his bedside three weeks before he died. After an unforgettable hour and more of sharing many memories over many years, I asked him how he would like me to pray for him. Lying weakly on his back and barely able to speak, he answered in a hoarse whisper, "Pray that I will be faithful to Jesus until my last breath." Would that such a prayer be the passion of our generation too. Os Guinness – Impossible People

  • Nehemiah’s day starts out with discouragement at the news of what is happening or not happening in Jerusalem - verse 3
    • Remnant
    • Reproach of the people – they are in great trouble and shame
    • Ruin – the city gates are broken and burned – Six gates would later be restored and placed in the rebuilt wall
  • Earlier in Artaxerxes reign, the Samaritans and a man by the name of Rehun who was one of the king’s commanding officers lobbied Artaxerxes to stop the rebuilding of the wall and Jerusalem by letter.
  • Nehemiah was probably aware of that letter and request that the king granted and was wondering what happened as a result
  • Now he is saddened by the report brought to him
  • It is interesting to me, that Nehemiah was making himself aware of the conditions of his people and he knew the conditions of the Persian kingdom
  • Are you and I aware of the culture around us and the community around us? Are we students of Bettendorf and surrounding communities to learn how to engage them with a kingdom mindset?

What does it mean to be kingdom minded in 2019?

  • It is seeing that the purpose of the church is to further God’s kingdom in the church and beyond the walls of the church
  • Matthew 6:33 says we are to put God’s kingdom first. The kingdom of God is beyond the church and it is partnering with other like-minded churches and parachurch organizations in the QCA to find creative ways to bring more people into the kingdom
    • We will be talking more about that this year. Establishing more evangelism and meeting people outside of our church with the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom. More to come on that.
    • We see Nehemiah cared so much about his home town and the community he was from that he asked about the condition of the people.

Application: Is our first response to a need for our neighbors and God’s Kingdom compassion?

Transition: We only have time for one more point this morning and we will cover the rest next week. Nehemiah and his broken heart respond to the sad and discouraging condition of his people.  

Nehemiah cared enough to weep – 1:4

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven

  • In the Jewish community, when people mourned or grieved severely, they would sit down. That was part of the grieving process.

Psalm 137:1 – 6

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

  • He prayed day and night.
  • He fasted which was not required except for Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement so when the Jewish people fasted it was usually because they were distraught and under extremely painful conditions
  • In some cases, weeping was a sign of weakness but here it is a sign of strength, of seeking after the Lord of comfort and joy in a time of deep sadness
  • Nehemiah was taking on God’s feelings and burdens for His people
  • When do we feel the pain, the sadness of the people around us like God does? What do we take on the burden as God sees?

Psalm 30:5

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

  • You and I as Christ followers have an obligation to help those who are in pain to be comforted by God and His Words.
  • There are times we have needed God’s comfort and Paul admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 1

2 Corinthians 1:3 - 4

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

  • One of the reasons God takes us through trials and tribulations is to show how He is there with us and will comfort us.
  • Then, we have a story to share with others so that we in turn can comfort them as God has comforted us. 

Illustration: Cancer survivors. Alcoholics Anonymous, others

Application: Do we comfort those by the comfort we have received by the Holy Spirit?

Key Thought: When you see the plight of the effects of sin around us, does that drive you to apathy or compassion; action or paralysis?

Questions to Ponder this Week

  1. Do you understand the influence you have as God’s person where He has called you vocationally or relationally?
  2. When faced with the overwhelming needs of others, what is your first response to the situation?