The Book of Nehemiah – Part 1 :: By Jason Lovelace

The Call of God and the Job at Hand

Lesson and Series Introduction: This Lesson Series will deal with the ways that our enemy, the devil attacks the followers of Jesus Christ. It will center on the Book of Nehemiah, due to the fact that Chapters 4, 5, and 6 detail the ways and the methods of the assaults by the enemies of Israel, as Nehemiah worked to build up the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah faced almost constant assault from his enemies, and Israel’s, especially in the beginning of his quest to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. In a similar way, believers and seekers, in our lives, face similar, if not exactly the same manner of, attacks as Nehemiah faced.

Key Scripture:

Nehemiah 1.1-2.20 – 1.1The 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, 2That 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. 3And 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. 4And 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, 5And 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: 6Let 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. 7We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. 8Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: 9But 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. 10Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. 11O 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. 2.1And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence. 2Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid, 3And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: 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? 4Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5And I said unto the king, 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. 6And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. 7Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; 8And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me. 9Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me. 10When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel. 11So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. 12And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. 13And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. 14Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. 15Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned. 16And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work. 17Then said I unto 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. 18Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work. 19But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king? 20Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.

Overview of the Book of Nehemiah

What does anyone know about Nehemiah? Who was he? What was his Job? Where and when did he live? Was he important or no? What is the Book of Nehemiah about? Nehemiah is sad to have lived about 100 years after the first Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and Judah under Persian King Cyrus. He is also said to have been a contemporary of Queen Esther. He probably was in the Capital City of Persia, Shushan, when Haman tried to destroy the Jews. He was also a contemporary of the great Lawyer and Scribe, Ezra. Nehemiah’s position in the Persian Government was very high and very important: The Bible says Nehemiah was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes I Longimanus, but his position was probably greater. Very likely, Nehemiah was the Governor of the Palace for King Artaxerxes.

When has God called you to a specific task? Has God ever asked you to do something? Nehemiah heard of the troubles and the problems that Jerusalem and Judah had suffered at the hands of her enemies, and God placed a heavy burden, a heavy call on his heart. This call, as we see in Nehemiah 1, caused Nehemiah to enter a time of prayer. Later, when Nehemiah was given the chance, he asked the king for permission to go back to Jerusalem, and the king said “Yes”. Let us talk a bit about the call of God, what he calls us to do, and what we should do when the call of God comes.

What God Calls People To

What do you think God calls people to or to do? What does God ask of people? If you read the bible for any length of time, anyone can see pretty quickly that God calls people to three things, and they come in different levels:

1. The Call to Salvation – This is the first, most important, and most basic of the calls that Jesus places on the lives of people today. In fact, this call goes out to everyone on the face of the earth. No matter what the work is, nobody can truly work for God without being saved. It doesn’t matter of one is like Bill Gates or Ted turner, both of whom have given a combined $2 billion to charity and international work. Without salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ, these gifts by these two men really mean nothing, and are more like dirty laundry than any kind of Good Work (see John 6.29, Isaiah 64.6). The first call by Jesus Christ is always to Salvation.

2. The Call to Sanctification and Holiness – The second call, and, in most Holiness Church denominations, a second work of Grace is the call to live a Holy, Sanctified life. Living this life is basically where the believer – after having been saved – gives his or her life completely to God. It is said that Salvation is when the person gets God, and that Sanctification is where God gets the believer. Such is the essence of Holiness. It is not only trusting God to save from past sins, but also to help keep the person from sinning in the future. Two times, Jesus told people to “Go and sin no more”. This, essentially, is Jesus calling people to a life of Holiness.

3. The Specific Call to Service for Him – The third call for a person is the life-call. The Apostle Paul explains this well in his Epistles to the Corinthians, how everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is called to perform some specific work for him. This call may be to foreign missions, home missions, preaching, teaching, helping, volunteering, singing, pasturing, evangelism, or working in a secular field, or any combination of these. The fact remains that Jesus calls everyone who believes in him to some specific work. Just as Jesus called his disciples and God called the different and various characters of the Bible to full-time service for him, so, too, he calls us, each and every person on the face of the earth, to service for him.

It is important to understand that the first, and most important call, is the first – the call to salvation. One cannot do the will or work of God, one cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit or experience entire sanctification without first being saved.

Nehemiah’s Call – How God Comes Calling

When Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani, came to Shushan and told him about the problems Judah, Jerusalem, and the Israelites were having, he was already in a very, very important position: he was cup-bearer and Palace Governor to the Emperor of Persia. However, when he heard about all the problems God placed a heavy Burden on his heart. It is interesting to see what Nehemiah did in Chapter 1.3-11: after hearing of Jerusalem’s problems, what did Nehemiah do? Immediately, we see Nehemiah praying, and it is the same for any of us today, too. When God’s call comes, people usually feel burdened, heavy-hearted, and ready for help. This is right where God wants us. So many times, when God comes and call, we will immediately get up and set about taking action, and forget to pray. The fact is, when God places a burden on our hearts, even when God calls us to a specific job for him, we need to stop where we are, and pray. Nehemiah didn’t know exactly what to do, but he did know that prayer was very important, and it is the same for us. We need to remember the words of Jesus Christ in Acts 1.4. What did Jesus say to his disciples? He said “wait”. What were the disciples doing when the Holy Ghost was poured out? They were waiting and praying (Acts 2.2). It was the same for Nehemiah: he didn’t really know what to do to help his fellow Jews in Jerusalem, other than wait, and pray. When God comes and calls on us, we often don’t know what to do, how to go forward. If we remember to pray, we can and will receive help from God. In fact, with the call to salvation, there is nothing anyone can do but pray.

Go About Your Business, but Look for and Take the Chance!!!

After Nehemiah was finished praying in Chapter 1, what did he do? Where was Nehemiah? We see in Chapter 2 that Nehemiah got up, and went about his work in the palace. He didn’t stay in one place, he didn’t do anything different; he got up and went about his business, serving the King of Persia as cupbearer and Chief Steward of the Palace. A lot of people, when faced with a heavy burden given to them from God, do the same thing: doing the work and the job that they have in front of them. It was the same for me after I graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University: I had been working as a furniture mover, and for a whole year after I graduated, that was my work. It was the same for Nehemiah: he was the cupbearer to the king, and he went about his business serving the king. However, the king saw something different with Nehemiah. When we take time and pray, it is the same with us: people notice when someone has been close to Jesus Christ. In this case, the King of Persia saw Nehemiah with a sad face, and we have to understand that this was the chance that God afforded to Nehemiah. When the king asked Nehemiah what was wrong, what did he do first? He spoke his heart to the King, and when the king asked what Nehemiah’s request was, what did he then do? He prayed! This type of prayer is, what we call in English, an arrow prayer: a prayer that is shot to heaven out of a feeling of desperation (絶望 – zetsubo). A lot of people, when they are in a hard, tight situation, they will pray like this. However, we need to remember that when Nehemiah did this kind of prayer, he had already spent a lot of time in prayer beforehand. The next thing that Nehemiah did was he took the chance to ask the king to let him go on to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. We need to remember that when God brings a call on our lives, when he burdens us with a call, he will always give us the chance to express our desires to someone who cares for us. King Artaxerxes cared for Nehemiah, as we see in Nehemiah 2.6, and this is what Nehemiah did. He took the chance to express himself and his heart to the King. When Nehemiah’s chance came to fulfill the call of God on his heart, he was ready, and he was able to take that chance. We need to understand and remember that without prayer, without Jesus Christ living in our hearts and lives, we cannot do the work of God, nor are we truly ready to do his will. But when we are ready, God will make the path straight for us to be able to do his will. The King not only let Nehemiah go, but also gave him letters making him the governor of Judah and Jerusalem. He also gave Nehemiah supplies necessary to finish the job, and soldiers from his army to help him. God will also do the same for us.

The Daunting Task

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, what happened? What did he find? Did he find people waiting outside, with flowers, a parade, and open arms? What he found instead was quite troubling! What did he find? After showing the governors, and the elders of Jerusalem and Judah his letters, he went to inspect (検査する– kensa suru) the city at night. Why did he do this? The reason he did this is because he wasn’t ready to reveal God’s call to anyone else, and we need to learn a lesson from this. Quite often when the call of God comes, we will often speak that call right away, when God wants us to take a nighttime visit to see what the job at hand is like. It wasn’t until after Nehemiah’s nighttime inspection that he spoke to the elders and leaders of Jerusalem, and told them not only his call from God, but also the trouble that they were in. As we see in Nehemiah 2.13-17, the city of Jerusalem was in big trouble, and in verse 28, Nehemiah told them of God’s call. In Chapter 3, we see the work that everyone in Jerusalem was given to do to rebuild the walls. We need to understand form this that, though God gives us all specific calls in our lives, we need the help of others to finish the work. We need prayer, we need support, we need help, and often, we need physical help as well as prayer and other types of spiritual help. For this writer, when he and his wife moved, they were given a lot of help, and a lot of furniture from others. It was the same for Nehemiah: he couldn’t do the job of rebuilding Jerusalem by himself; he needed the peoples’ help also. All of the city’s defenses were still in ruins, nearly 200 years after the Babylonians had razed the city. The temple was built, and it was glorious, as well as the houses of the people, but their defenses were down, and their enemies were exercising power over them.

When It’s Time for God’s Work, Enemies WILL Come!

Who were the enemies of Jerusalem at this time? Where did they live? What were their names? When Nehemiah gave them the letters from the King of Persia, and when he got the population of Jerusalem to work, what did they do? What race or nationality of people were the enemies of Judah? These people were what were later called “Samaritans”. One hundred years before Nehemiah, they had offered to help rebuild the temple, but because these people didn’t follow God wholly and truly, the Jews turned them down. Because of this, these Samaritans caused the Jews endless trouble, even to the point of writing false letters to the Persian King. By the time of Nehemiah a century later, these Samaritans were still causing the Jews trouble. In fact, it was because Jerusalem was without walls that these people and their leaders were able to basically rule over them with a heavy hand. They’d done this for more than 100 years, and when Nehemiah came, told them what he was about to do, they had hard words for him. Nehemiah’s purpose made them very upset, and as a reaction they accused him of the same thing that their grandfathers had accused Zerubbabel of a century before: rebellion against the King of Persia. Later, they laughed as the people of Jerusalem began to work. We need to understand that when god calls us to something and we start the work of getting that call done, the enemy will always come to cause us trouble. This is what happened to Nehemiah and the population of Jerusalem. For their enemies, the walls of Jerusalem being rebuilt represented the Jews becoming strong again, and once those walls were up, there would be no more domination from the Samaritans and the others of Jerusalem’s enemies, and just as Zerubbabel had told the Samaritans of his time that they had no part in rebuilding the temple, Nehemiah reminded them that they’d have no part in rebuilding the walls also. Enemies will come and cause trouble whenever we set about to fulfill the call of God on our lives.

Conclusion – What Has God Called You to Do?

In closing, we need to remember that God has called us all to a specific task. Has God called you to salvation, to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? Please accept him today! Has God called you to Sanctification and Holiness? Please do not wait to receive the full power of his Holy Ghost! Has God called you to do a special work for him? Please follow him, trust him, and listen to learn what he wants you to do! Just as with Nehemiah, we will get a call from God, and when we do, we need to be ready to carry out his will. Let us pray.

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we thank you for this day, and we thank you for your love and grace. Help us Lord to recognize your voice, your call, and your word in our lives! Help us, we pray, Father, to remember that we need your help. Help us to be ready for the Enemy when he show up to taunt and to attack. Bless thy Holy Name, Father, and we pray all of this in Jesus’ Precious Name, Amen.

Verse to Remember

“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.”

– Nehemiah 1.6