Scripture reading – Nehemiah 1

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* Our chronological study of the Scriptures brings us to the Book of Nehemiah. This is the second of two devotionals for today.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had conquered Judah in 606 B.C. and destroyed the Temple and city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Seventy years later (536 BC), Cyrus, king of Persia, issued an edict and gave the Jews liberty to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1). Under Zerubbabel’s leadership, the Jews rebuilt and finished the Temple around 458 BC (Ezra 6).

Sixty years after the Temple was dedicated, a second group of exiles from Babylon entered the land, led by Ezra, whose task was to teach God’s Law and Commandments. Finding their brethren had broken God’s law and taken women from the heathen nations as their wives (Deuteronomy 7:1-3), Ezra had called on the people to repent of their sins and put away their heathen wives and children born to them (Ezra 7-10).

The Book of Nehemiah records how the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and documents the challenges and difficulties Nehemiah and the people encountered. Artaxerxes I was king of Persia (Nehemiah 1:1; 2:1), and the Scriptures set the events as occurring in the 20th year of his reign, around 446 BC, and some 13 years after Ezra departed for Jerusalem (Ezra 7:6).

Nehemiah, The King’s Cupbearer

Nehemiah 1

 

Nehemiah, The King’s Cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:1-2)

“I was the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11), and with that simple phrase, Nehemiah introduced himself in a way that revealed the office he held as the most trusted servant to the most powerful king in the world. Living in the king’s palace, Nehemiah enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege.  As the cupbearer, he was the king’s closest aid, confidant, and counselor.  Artaxerxes, king of Persia, trusted Nehemiah with his life. As the cupbearer, he was charged with guarding the king against assassination attempts, being the first to taste the king’s food, and sipping his wine.

Despite the comforts and privileges he enjoyed as the cupbearer, Nehemiah’s heart was burdened for the remnant of his kinsman, the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem.  When the men of Judah came from Jerusalem to the king’s court, Nehemiah eagerly inquired concerning the welfare of his brethren and the state of things in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:2).

Nehemiah’s prayers

The News from Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3-4)

Ninety years had passed since King Cyrus of Persia directed Zerubbabel to lead the first exiles to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The Temple was completed, and the people had built their homes and established their lives on the land. Nevertheless, the walls of Jerusalem were in disrepair, and the people’s suffering was a great reproach to the LORD.

The news moved Nehemiah so much that he “sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).

Closing thoughts

The balance of Nehemiah 1 records Nehemiah’s prayers to the LORD over the course of days, weeks, and months. Nehemiah’s prayer demonstrated his passion and humility as he prayed and worshiped the LORD (Nehemiah 1:5). Not only did he pray for his people (Nehemiah 1:6a), but he identified with and confessed their sins (Nehemiah 1:6-7).

Nehemiah’s prayers also evidenced a broad knowledge of God’s Word and His covenant promises to Israel (Nehemiah 1:8-11). Burdened to be used by the LORD to address the crisis of his brethren living in Jerusalem, Nehemiah called upon the LORD to “grant him mercy [and favor] in the sight” of the king. (Nehemiah 1:11).

In our next devotional, we will see that Nehemiah prayed and waited four months for the LORD to move on the king’s heart (Nehemiah 2:1).

James 5:16b – “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Copyright © 2024 – Travis D. Smith 

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