Studies on Nehemiah 1:1-4, 10
Having studied the introductory material on the book of Nehemiah, this material begins our verse-by-verse studies of the book. The first chapter of the book gives a detailed account of how Nehemiah developed a passion to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Though in a foreign land, when Nehemiah heard about the situation of his homeland, he took appropriate steps to solve the problem.
Steps to developing a transformational vision
In developing a vision for transformation and particularly learning from the example of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 1 invites us, first to know who we are and determine to make impacts wherever we find ourselves. Nehemiah 1 invites us, second, to be abreast with the current state of affairs or information by asking questions, and third, to retreat in fasting and prayer thereby seeking divine strength. For relevant applications, these themes are studies together with contextually relevant applications.
- Nehemiah introduced (Nehemiah 1:1, 10) – Determine to make impacts wherever we are
The book of Nehemiah is introduced in Nehemiah 1:1 as the words of Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah. This description could mean, either he wrote the book, or that the story records his life and words but someone else actually recorded it.
Not much is known about Nehemiah apart from what is written in this book. The name Nehemiah means the Lord comforts. Nothing is known about his father Hachaliah. Nehemiah was identified as an important person in many ways. He had the strategic responsibility of being the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11). The Persian king readily made him governor of Judea (10:1). Thus, just like Daniel and Esther, he was a Jew who became prominent in the diaspora. He was in the citadel of Susa.
Studying Nehemiah’s background identifies two implications. First, not much is known about Nehemiah’s background. However, in looking at his father’s name, it is most probable that Nehemiah did not hail from a prominent family. In developing a vision for transformation, it is important to remind ourselves that what matters most is where God is leading us and not where we are coming from. God is always interested in our availability and not our qualifications. Most importantly God qualifies the called.
Second, being a cupbearer in a nation of his captivity implies that he was loved by the people and he knew what it is to survive in a diaspora. It is most probable that he passed the challenging test of integration.
2. Desire to see God’s work and God’s people prosper – Ask questions to develop a vision
While in a diaspora, Nehemiah received a visit from one of his brothers, Hanani and other men who came from Judah with him. Nehemiah demonstrated his concern by asking these men about the welfare of the Jews who had returned from captivity to Jerusalem. Answering this question led to a discussion that informed Nehemiah about the problems in Judah, which in turn introduces the theme of the book. The visitors told Nehemiah that the remnants of the people in Jerusalem were facing severe problems and so they were in distress and reproach. The wall of the city of Jerusalem was broken down and the gates burned with fire.
The Babylonians had done this when they overthrew the city (2 Kings 25:8-10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Jeremiah 52:12-14). Ancient cities needed walls for protection from enemies. A city with a broken wall, therefore, symbolized a city in defeat and desolation (Nehemiah 2:17). It was this information that deeply grieved Nehemiah and thus saw it to be an opportune time of restoration and rebuilding the nation.
Forming an essential part of our desire to see God’s work and people prosper is asking questions and being abreast with what is happening today. Many problems confront God’s people in contemporary times namely worldliness, neglect of God’s work, increasing rates of divorce and remarriage, perversion of church organization and work, immoral entertainment, humanism, family problems, lack of dedicated leaders, profanity, smoking, alcoholism and negligence in spreading the gospel. Whereas some of God’s people are doing well to solve some of these problems, others have their walls completely broken down and the gates have been burned. In this light, asking questions and being informed serve as our creative attempt to develop visions for transformation.
3. Seek divine strength through repentance, fasting and prayer – Draw strength from God
Upon hearing the condition of God’s people, Nehemiah wept and mourned, fasted, and prayed to God. He did that for “many days,” and not just a few minutes. It is important to emphasize here that fasting was Nehemiah’s means of expressing sorrow and grief, associated with a prayer to God (Cf. Ezra 8:21; 9:3ff; 10:1ff).
There is one thing knowing about a problem and there is another thing showing deep concern thereby seeking to help the situation. This is demonstrated through prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting are ways of going to God for strength and help. Grieving and complaining over a situation does not solve the problem unless one goes further in taking appropriate steps to overcome the problems.
God has a plan for us. Developing transformative vision serves as the starting point of walking in God’s design for our lives. Reading Nehemiah 1:1-4 informs us of the need to make impacts wherever we are, develop Godward vision and take appropriate steps to solve problems we encounter. In all these, Nehemiah made prayer and fasting his utmost priority to draw strength to carry out his vision.