New Year's Eve
See It Through to Completion!
Each year brings about potential changes, new hopes and resolutions. As 2017 ends and 2018 begins what do you want to change? How will you do it? Take a look at Nehemiah who entered a new challenge with the same old problem, only he caught a new vision to achieve.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (NEHEMIAH 1:1-2:9)
1. What is one resolution or goal you made this past year that you accomplished? What’s one that you didn’t quite finish?
2. Why is it so easy to give up on our goals and resolutions?
3. Do you watch any home makeover shows on TV? If so, which one(s)? If you could have a team of professionals fix anything about your house, what would you want them to fix?
4. Why do you think the home makeover concept is so popular?
Many people dream of the chance for a fresh start. To make a fresh start, people have to let go of some things. A home makeover always begins by tearing down the old home—or at least the bad parts of it—and starting anew. From the beginning of Nehemiah, we learn that the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants were in need of a fresh start, both for their city and their spiritual lives. But before Nehemiah took action to make change happen, he first sought direction from God.
5. Summarize Hanani’s message to Nehemiah. Why do you think this news about Jerusalem affected Nehemiah as it did?
6. If you heard similar news about your hometown, friends, and family, how do you think you would respond?
7. What does Nehemiah’s response in these verses reveal about his character and his relationship with God? What can you learn from Nehemiah’s response?
8. How do you think the people felt when they looked at their broken walls? Can you relate to that feeling? How?
9. Think about the physical and spiritual tasks that lay ahead of Nehemiah. Why was it important that he first took the time to pray and seek God’s guidance before he got to work?
10. What evidence did Nehemiah give that he was not half-hearted in service to God? Why is it important to be whole-hearted in service to God? What risks do we run when we do God’s work halfheartedly?
Let’s identify how these verses can apply directly to our lives…
What do you think a usable person looks like based on Nehemiah’s example? What areas of your life need to change to make you more capable of making an impact on the people you encounter?
What kind of goals are you setting for 2018?
1:1. “Nehemiah” means “The LORD comforts.” The Lord used Nehemiah to revive the spirit of the discouraged exiles and bring them hope (see Isa 57:14-21). The twentieth year of Artaxerxes I was 445 B.C. The years immediately before this had been difficult. In 460 B.C. there was a revolt in Egypt that was not quelled until 455. In 448 Megabyzus, satrap of Trans-Euphrates, rebelled but was later reconciled to the king. Therefore at this point the king of Persia would have been interested in having loyal supporters in Jerusalem in case of more trouble in Egypt or anywhere in the west.
1:2. Hanani was either a real brother, a kinsman, or a fellow Jew. All are possible ways of understanding the text; however, the fact that he called him “my brother” in 7:2 when he appointed him to a high office supports the first meaning. “Questioned them” indicates Nehemiah’s deep concern for his own people, even those who lived far away. From the beginning it is evident that Nehemiah’s interest was not only himself or his immediate family; his vision included God’s people even though far away.
1:3. Verse 3 would seem to indicate that by “Jewish remnant” Nehemiah was referring to the returned exiles in Jerusalem and Judea rather than those who were not carried into captivity. Was “the broken wall” the result of the destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 587? Or were some walls built at a later time, such as in the episode mentioned in Ezra 4:12? Nehemiah seems to have been surprised and appalled; therefore it is reasonable to suppose that Ezra 4:12 refers to a partial building of walls at some time after the first return in 538 that had been destroyed, perhaps by Rehum and Shimshai when they interceded according to Ezra 4:23.
1:4. Nehemiah displays here his profound concern, his sensitivity and his intense feeling. Nehemiah was a man of faith, and we can find two sources of his steadfast trust in God. The first is at the beginning of his prayer—his deep understanding of who God is. The second is seen throughout the prayer—his thorough knowledge of God’s Word.
1:5. Nehemiah’s prayer (vv. 5-11) reminds us of psalms classified as Community Laments (see Pss. 74; 79; 80; 85); however, this prayer lacks the complaint element common to those psalms. This prayer is actually a prayer of repentance. It can be outlined as follows: (a) invocation to God; (b) confession of sins; (c) request to the LORD to remember His people; (d) request for success.
“LORD” is the Tetragrammaton (Yahweh), which carries the ideas of love and personal relationship. The phrase “God of heaven” was commonly used in the Persian Empire even by the Persians in speaking of their god. This prayer shows it had been accepted in the religious language of the Jews. “The great and awesome God” indicates Nehemiah’s appreciation of who God is: the one whom Nehemiah feared and the source and object of his deep faith. God’s awesomeness is the impression His total character and person leaves on all who encounter Him. Those who know and trust God are those who fear Him. The order of the prayer is significant: praise then petition.
1:6. Nehemiah knew that God would hear; he was asking God to take action. One of the utterly astounding characteristics of biblical psalms is that the psalmist never doubted that God heard his prayer.
1:7. In Job 34:31 the word translated “acted wickedly” means to “offend.” Nehemiah was speaking to God here as to a master he has offended by disregarding His commands. The concept of disobedience goes right to the heart of the matter. God’s commands are not capricious; He knows what is best for His people and for all society. Nehemiah recognized the seriousness of disobeying God’s ethical demands. Many ethical dilemmas of our day are not easily solved; however, we often make them more difficult by not accepting as relevant ethical commands that are clear in Scripture. In this case “the commands, decrees and laws” refer to the Pentateuch.
1:8-9. Nehemiah’s prayer was based on God’s Word. Most of this prayer is based on Deuteronomy, many phrases of which are practically the same. Nehemiah realized that God justly punished Israel, but he reminded God that this very situation had been anticipated in Deuteronomy 4:25-31 and of His promise of mercy, faithfulness, and forgiveness.
Nehemiah realized that God had fulfilled much of Deuteronomy 30:1-10; but he was convinced that God’s promise included more than the situation in which the Jerusalem community found itself at that moment. Thus, Nehemiah’s prayer shows a profound understanding and faith in what God had promised in His Word. Nehemiah challenges us to prayer based on an understanding of God’s purpose and will as found in His Word. He also reminds us that we can always begin again in our relationship with God if we return to Him in humility.
1:10. This verse is almost a copy of Deuteronomy 9:29. Redemption involves the payment of a price to reclaim a person from slavery. Here reference is made to God’s act in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. The exodus theme is used many times in the New Testament to emphasize redemption from the power and judgment of sin and the resultant relationship between the Redeemer and the redeemed (see 1 Pet. 1:18; Rev. 5:9; 14:3-4).
1:11. Nehemiah had prayed for days, but now he was arriving at a decisive moment. After prayer was to come action, and Nehemiah had determined that the time was “today.” He asked that King Artaxerxes might be divinely moved to act on behalf of God’s people. Humanly speaking, Nehemiah had no reason to expect such favor. According to Ezra 4:21, this same Artaxerxes had earlier issued a decree to stop work on the city of Jerusalem, perhaps on the wall itself. To make such a request clearly contrary to royal policy might even prove dangerous. But Nehemiah called him “this man,” perhaps to stress that he was only a human under God’s sovereignty. Nehemiah knew the seriousness of his undertaking and put his case in God’s hands.
2:1. Four months had passed since Nehemiah received news from Jerusalem. He had been praying and planning during these four months so that he would be ready when the opportunity arose. When a servant brought the wine, Nehemiah, as official cupbearer, tasted it and gave it to the king. This most likely took place during a feast. Some question whether Nehemiah had not had occasion to serve the king during the four months that passed. No doubt Nehemiah served the king constantly but was waiting for the right time to present his petition. 2:2-3. When one acts according to God’s will, others will take notice. In this case Nehemiah was risking his life. The king might have become suspicious of some kind of a plot. “Sadness of heart” can also mean “a bad (or evil) heart.” “May the king live forever” was the common formula for addressing the king as we see in Daniel 2:4. Nehemiah went on to say he was sad because of the condition of the city “where my fathers are buried.” Such a description showed both Nehemiah’s respect for his ancestors and also his sense of shame at the condition of his native city. Nehemiah’s request no doubt touched the sentiments of the king. He carefully avoided raising the king’s suspicions by mentioning Jerusalem by name and so reminding him of his earlier decree, though of course the king knew Nehemiah’s background. Nehemiah showed his great ability in communication and delicate diplomacy. He first had to get the king’s sympathy before going on to details.
2:4. The king knew that Nehemiah wanted to make a request. This question could be the first hint that the king would listen favorably. In this case Nehemiah’s prayer is evidence of a life lived in constant communion with God. Nehemiah had prayed for months, but he knew he was completely dependent on God’s work in the king’s heart at this moment.
2:5. No doubt when Nehemiah began to pray about the condition of Jerusalem, he had no idea that he would be the one to do the work. But such is God’s way of working. Perhaps while Nehemiah was praying he realized that he should go. Now he presented the petition to the king. Nehemiah’s concern and submission resulted in his action. “If it pleases the king” indicates that he was also submissive to the king.
2:6. The detailed questions and answers and the fact that the queen was not usually present at the great feasts suggest that this may have been a more private scene. The text does not give Nehemiah’s answer to the question of how long the work would take. In Nehemiah 5:14 we learn that he was governor in Jerusalem for twelve years. No doubt the time he asked was much shorter.
2:7-9. Nehemiah had planned carefully and knew his precise needs. Nehemiah was realistic, giving God the credit for causing the king to grant his requests. Because Nehemiah was sure this was of God, he had no problem accepting what the king offered. Nehemiah modeled good leadership; he prayed, planned, and acted in dependence on God and submission to His guidance. Neither is research contrary to dependence on God. Nehemiah knew who the officials were with whom he would have to deal, so he requested the credentials he would need as the project progressed. Ezra had not asked for a military escort, and we are not told that Nehemiah did either, but he had one. The context suggests that its significance was to convince Sanballat and others that Nehemiah had the king’s authority and support.