Now we're turning to the first chapter of Nehemiah, and if you're not aware where it is you find Ezra, Nehemiah - two prophets together on common subjects - Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and then come the Psalms, as the little song says that help you remember where some of these difficult books are - Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and then comes the Psalms. So if you can find the Psalms, which isn't too hard, and then work your way back a few books you will find the prophet Nehemiah. The title of our study, as I've said is: 'Building For God', and our first study in chapter 1 this morning is: 'The Man For The Hour'.
Verse 1 of chapter 1: "The 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, That Hanani, one of my brethren", literally his brother, "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. And 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. And 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, And 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: 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. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: But 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. Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O 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", that is the King, "For I was the king's cupbearer".
I'm sure you have heard it said: 'What this church needs is...', or in a national, political context: 'If I were running the country, if I were the Prime Minister or the President, I would do...A...B...C...' - or the common one that we heard of recently: 'If that were my child, I know what I would do with them!'. We are surrounded, whatever environment of society we may reside in, by people who we can class as gripers, complainers, self-proclaimed prophets, or back seat drivers who think they know everything, but they're not in the driving seat. I think all of us would acknowledge in our sinful fallen humanity that it's very easy to analyse, to scrutinise, and talk about all the problems of the world and even of the church worldwide, or the church locally - but what the hour in which Nehemiah lived needed, and what our hour needs are not people who will just discuss all the problems of the universe, but people who will get up and do something about them! That is the need of the hour.
Nehemiah was a man such as that. Nehemiah saw the problem that was in Jerusalem - and yes, he was distressed, he analysed it, he scrutinised it, and he felt the great burden of it in his heart - but he didn't stop there wallowing in self-pity, but he got up and in the midst of his grief he took action and he did something about it. Now let me lay down very early in this study that there is a spiritual principle here - there are many spiritual lessons that we can derive from the story of Nehemiah and his little book, and the building of the walls of Jerusalem - but here is one first elementary principle, and it's this: whenever God wants to get work done He goes to people who are willing to do some work. He lays hold of people who are willing to do something! So many complainers and critics and self-proclaimed prophets and back seat drivers in the world and in the church are able to point out all the problems, but very few are willing to do something about it.
In Nehemiah's day there was a work to be done for Jehovah - and although, as you may know in the history of this context of the little book, there was a small remnant who had already returned to Jerusalem, there was much work that still needed to be done. In 536 BC we know that Zerubbabel and Joshua brought about 50,000 Jews back to Jerusalem. In 516 BC they rebuilt the temple, and in 457 there was a small revival under the prophet Ezra whose book is before Nehemiah. But now we've reached the year 445, and it's a new day, it's a new hour, it's a new generation of the people of God, and God was looking for a man for that hour. Someone to go to the ruined city to restore the walls, which signified safety and order - and the man to which God turned to in that hour was Nehemiah.
Now you might say: 'Well, who was Nehemiah?'. Well, as we look through this book we find him in three characteristics. First of all in this chapter we find him as the King's cupbearer. Then when he hears the call of God to build the walls of Jerusalem he becomes Nehemiah the builder. By the end of this book we find him as Nehemiah the Governor of the city - actually overruling in all the affairs, religious and social, within the city. But here in chapter 1, before God calls him in verse one as such, we find him as the cupbearer of the King - King Artaxerxes. Now the cupbearer was not just somebody like a saucer that you set your cup on, neither was it like a butler to the aristocracy or to royalty that we have with us today - but to be the cupbearer was to have great authority and responsibility. In fact, some have said it was a position of great influence - Nehemiah would have been a confidant to the king. The King, in quiet hours, when he felt free and relaxed, would be able to bounce off Nehemiah some ideas; so he had to be qualified with great wisdom and political aptitude. Some have said that he would have been an official of the court, wielding much power, and would have travelled around with the King on his various outings and excursions, and given him advice on great matters of the kingdom.
Let me say this to you, that the reason why God turned to Nehemiah was not his position. The reason why God turned to Nehemiah to be a man for the hour, were the characteristics that we see in chapter 1 that I want to bring before you this morning. What are they? Here they are, three of them: one, Nehemiah was a man of burden, he was a man upon whom the burden that weighed heavy on God's heart weighed heavy too. Two, he was a man of prayer, he put that burden in his heart into the articulation of the language of heaven, prayer before the throne of grace. Three, he was a man of action - he wasn't just a man who knew what to do, and knew to pray about what needed done, but he was a man willing to get onto his feet and do something about it! Because of those characteristics Nehemiah became the man for the hour.
How different this story might have been - the man and the story are inseparably wedded - how different it may have all turned out if the man that God turned to had not been a man like Nehemiah, of his great spiritual character and calibre. I think if ever a crisis hour matched a man for the hour, it is found in Nehemiah and the state of dereliction that is in the city of Jerusalem here. Let me say this: it's not only the man that makes the story, but as many of you will know in the circumstances in which you're living today, it is also the story that makes the man. The circumstances that we find ourselves in often betray our true character and show our true colours. Many things that come into our life that we think may be the breaking of us, happen to turn out to be the making of us.
Now Nehemiah gives us a graphic object lesson of the truths that lie behind the heart of all true service for God - and let me say to you this morning: if you heed these principles, you will be a successful builder in spiritual things for the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's deal with the first: he was a man of burden. Verses 1 to 3 show us that he lived in a state of dereliction around him. If we had time we could read you Psalm 79 that describes what the city was like after it had been taken into captivity and after the people had returned - this was the spirit of the situation: 'O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them. We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us'. Such was the situation, and things hadn't got better - according to Nehemiah's hearing - since the people had come back into the land. From Jerusalem being a city of praise and glory, it has become a city of shame and reproach second to none even in the nation.
Now Nehemiah is the story of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. We must understand before we go on any further that ancient walls served many functions in old cities. If you would turn with me just for a moment to Deuteronomy 22, that I might read a verse from the law to you, to understand the principle of the wall around a house in the Old Testament, and also therefore it is reasonably concluded that this must be the principle around the wall of the city. Deuteronomy 22 and verse 8, and Moses gave the people from God the instruction: 'When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence'. The idea of safety and protection so that no one on the top of the roof, your roof, would ever fall off and their blood wouldn't be upon your hands because you didn't build a fence or a wall around the roof. What we need to realise is that in ancient times, even in New Testament times, the roof was like a bachelor's pad - only not just for bachelors, but also for married people and families, and great generations of relatives. It was a place of communion, it was a place of retirement, we read in 1 Samuel 9 that Samuel communed with Saul upon the top of the house - a place of communion where people would get away from the family or from the affairs of business, and commune with one another about business matters or intimate details. It was a place of retirement, we read - quite humorously for some - in Proverbs 21:9: 'It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house'. The idea of retirement, getting away from it all, whatever that 'all' may be.
A place of communion, a place of retirement, and then we go into the New Testament in Acts chapter 10 and verse 9 we read these words: 'Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour'. It was also a place of prayer, because you could get away from all the noise and you would probably be out under the sky and see the wonders of nature and feel nearer to God. You remember the Lord often went up into the mountain to pray - but in Matthew 10:27 we also read that the housetop was a place of testimony. I mean, Jesus said: 'What ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops'. It was a place to stand up to be heard and to herald some news, whether good or bad. So what I want you to see is the housetop that this wall was put around was a living area, or maybe a study area of meditation, an area of communion or retirement, of prayer, of testimony, but if you neglected the wall around that rooftop that special place could become a dangerous place, even a fatal place for those who are without, and even those who are young and careless within falling over the edge.
Now please retain that thought within your mind, because that same principle I believe was in the building of walls around cities, for protection and for security. It also primarily allowed the people in Jerusalem to cultivate their spiritual lives without any outside interference from other nations with pagan gods. I hope you understand: it was a place of safety not only physically, but spiritually. Now let me take the application like this to ourselves: we as believers, do we not, have walls of spiritual protection, spiritual security, that we put around ourselves in the disciplines that we're meant to exercise as God's children. I could name a whole lot: baptism is one, the reading of God's word is another, prayer daily before God, witnessing, fellowship, the breaking of bread, the prayer meeting - we could go on and on and on and talk about the many exercises that are encouraged for our spiritual well-being in the New Testament. They are there for our protection and cultivating of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now before we enter in this morning or in subsequent weeks to Nehemiah's struggle to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, maybe there are some of us here today that need to examine the state of our own spiritual walls. How are they? How is your communion with God? How are your quiet times of retirement with God? How is your prayer life with God? How is your testimony and witness with God? Are you being influenced by the world without? Are you careless and trying to go into the world from within? Are there are some gates that you have left open for the enemy to slip through? Has neglect of something loosened a brick or a stone, exposing a gap for the enemy to squeeze through? Have the roots of the weeds of compromise grown into the foundation walls, and are almost ready to tumble them down?
Now listen: if your spiritual walls, your spiritual disciplines are in need of repair - whether it's just one brick, or a whole section of the wall - now is the time to implement the spiritual principles that we find in God's man for the hour, Nehemiah. Here's the first: he was a man of burden. Now listen, if there were personal walls that I have been talking about, there also were national walls - and as we look out, and if you remember what I have read to you about some of the bishops of the Church of England and the House of Lords, you would have to say that not only are our own personal spiritual walls at times derelict, but nationally the walls of the so-called church of Jesus Christ are crumbling down and corroding! I want to ask you in the light of Nehemiah's great burden for his home city and the walls around it: do you have a burden for the church of Jesus Christ and the awful state that it finds itself in this very day?
The wall building didn't begin with the mixing of cement, do you know what it began with? It began with a burden in the heart of a man called Nehemiah. He was called to build the wall, yes, but it all started first and foremost where he had to weep, he had to mourn, he had to fast, he had to afflict himself because of the awful ruin that the people of God were in - and no other preparation for the work would do than that. Now I don't know whether there's anybody contemplating going into the work of God here - but I hope we're all in the work of God in some shape or form - do you have this burden for the dereliction in people's lives, whether they're not saved, or whether they are saved...or whether it's the church of Jesus Christ locally here in the Iron Hall, or corporately in this district, or right across the land - do you have a genuine burden for the state of dereliction?
Nehemiah was not a man to paper over the cracks - in fact, when Nehemiah met the people in Jerusalem he didn't attempt to gloss over their spiritual condition, the condition of the walls. If you turn to chapter 2 and verse 17 we read: 'Then 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'. He saw things the way they really were, in contrast to Eli - you remember Eli in the Old Testament, he refused to recognise the need of restraint, walls of discipline, in the life of his own sons. Because of that he brought reproach, distress, and disaster on Israel for Samuel reads that 'His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not'. He was unwilling to recognise the need of the hour - can you recognise it?
I believe there is a spiritual stupor upon the church of Jesus Christ, that when you start to mention subjects like this they think: 'Where's he living? What's he doing? Things aren't as bad as all that!'. Listen: Nehemiah was a man who was burdened because he saw things the way they really were, and when Hanani his brother came with the terrible news I'm sure that Hanani had a burden on his heart too. He had seen it all, but my question is: did Hanani allow his burden to make him do something about it? Oh, we don't know, but one thing is for sure: we can all shake our heads at times, maybe we can even see what's going on around us and in us, and we can sigh over the state of the congregation of the people of God like Hanani did - but the question is this: it's quite another matter to do something about it, isn't it? There is such a long journey between knowledge and practice, but the fact that Nehemiah was perhaps 700 miles away from the situation in Jerusalem here in the palace in Shushan made no difference! He was burdened about it! You don't have to be in the midst of all the sin in the world to be burdened about it. You don't have to be in the Church of England to be burdened about it. My friends, in all of his luxury and his prestige in the palace, it didn't matter, it didn't deter him - and I'll tell you, there's no indication in verse one and two, before this news comes to him, that he had any intention of abandoning his privileged position. But by the means of what might not have been any more than a casual inquiry in verse 2, he asked concerning the Jews that had escaped - he's only asking about home - he hears the news of disaster, and it has overwhelming effects on his soul. In verse 4 it says: 'When I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven'.
He had a heart for the testimony of God's people. He was like Moses, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Here's the next question, and I'm determined to finish this this morning: he was a burdened man, the state of dereliction, but what did that burden drive him to do? What was the first work that his burden made him do? What was it? Pray! He was a man of prayer and he made, in verses 4 to 9, a supplication for divine power. He had seen the state of dereliction, and now he makes a supplication for divine power - and instead of doing what we would maybe do, and rush to the King: 'King Artaxerxes I have served you for many years, and I have given you faithful advice all my days, can you give me a bit of advice and do something, maybe wield the arm of your power a little'. He didn't go to the King, he went to the King of kings.
If Nehemiah tells me anything, it tells me that Nehemiah was a man of prayer. There's about ten prayers in this book - it starts with prayer and it ends with prayer, and in verse 4 look what it says: he sat down, he wept, he mourned days, he fasted, prayed before the God of heaven. In verse 6, look at him as he cries: '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'. He prayed day and night, have you ever done that? He prayed weeping - when was the last time I did that? He fasted - you'd know by looking at some of you the last time you did that! - but he was a man of prayer.
I'll tell you, if you look at the dates in this, it says that he prayed four months like this. I'm not saying he fasted, he might have fasted a meal or two for four months. But if you look at the date here, in verse one it says 'in the month of Chisleu', which is the month of December really for us - and you go to chapter 2 verse 1, and it says that in the month of Nisan his answer came - and that is the space between December and Nisan, April, of four months. Grief, fasting, praying, weeping for four months - and I'll tell you this: it so altered his appearance that King Artaxerxes asked: 'What's wrong with you?', we'll see this next week, 'What's wrong with your countenance?'. Do you know what was wrong? He had started the work already, because prayer is real work, and it is the only work in preparation for doing God's work! Before a finger had been lifted to rebuild these walls Nehemiah started 700 miles away on his knees! Now we're doing a work over here, but where are the prayers for it? Chuck Swindoll says, very revealingly: 'For many of us prayer is too often an afterthought, something rattled off at ribbon-cuttings when the work has already been done'.
Many great leaders of our time have philosophised about what true leadership really is - well, we have it in Nehemiah. President Harry Truman of the United States said: 'A leader is a person who has ability to get others to do what they don't want to do and like it'. Crossing over from the politics to the military realm, Field Marshal Montgomery said: 'The capacity and will to rally men and women to common purpose, is the character which inspires confidence' - to rally men, to influence them to do something. When you read great leaders of even our own century, you will find that they tell us that great leadership is found in the capacity to influence others to do something that needs to be done. Influence is the key to leadership. Now we ask in the spiritual realm: how can we influence people? Do you know what the church is doing today? They're manipulating folk to get them - charismatics, they're making threats: 'God will curse you if you don't do it'. Some people are being bribed spiritually to do what religious leaders want them to do, other churches are more and more bringing in gimmicks to try and titillate people to do what they want them to do, but there is only one method to gain influence over God, over the people of God, and over people that don't belong to God, and Hudson Taylor put it into words by saying: 'It is possible to move men through God by prayer alone' - there it is.
The fulcrum that moves God and this world is prayer. Now I don't have time, but if you could analyse this prayer when you go home you find that it has, in verse 5, praise. He put out of his mind all the fears about doing this work, and praise did it for him. That's why I'm always on at you in the prayer meeting to remember to praise the Lord before you do anything else, because not only does it give Him His rightful place, it casts away the shadows of our doubts and fears that we've maybe come into the meeting with. Then in verses 6 and 7 he confesses to God, and notice his words - he puts himself in the equation: 'I', and he uses the plural 'we'. He's saying that it's not just all these people, he wasn't standing back saying: 'What are you doing? You've been there for years over there in Jerusalem, why don't you get the finger out?'. He put himself in the picture as part of the problem.
In verses 8 to 10 he then goes in faith, and we don't hear much of this today, and in verse 8 to 10 he claims the promises that God had given to Israel in Leviticus and Deuteronomy - all the blessings that God had promised them, and he goes to God! I'll tell you, if we prayed like this in the prayer meeting we'd be getting a tap on the shoulder! 'Lord, open Your eyes, open Your ears!' - we'd be getting told by the theologians that the Lord's eyes are open and His ears are open, you don't need to tell Him. That's not the point, it wasn't his intellectual theological mind that was speaking here, it was his heart! 'Lord, would You see our need? Look at the promises that You have given us!', and it all crescendos in this request, his petition, all leading up that God would remove the problem, and that God would move this man Artaxerxes to make Nehemiah do something about his problem in Jerusalem.
Look at that verse, verse 11, at the end: 'I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man' - in the sight of this man. This man was the problem! But he knew what Hudson Taylor knew, that it is possible to move any man through God by prayer. Would your nickname be 'prayer warrior' or 'prayerless warrior'? That great literary genius, Tennyson, in his book 'The Idylls Of The King', and the poem 'The Passing Of Arthur' writes these words, and I want you to think about them very carefully:
'If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God'.
Who could be saying that about you today? Who could be imploring you: 'If you never see my face again, pray for my soul, because more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice rise like a fountain for me night and day' - who's praying that? 'For what are men better than sheep or goats that nourish a blind life within the brain', and this is like a dagger into all our hearts, 'If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer both for themselves and those who call them friend?'.
I know we can get discouraged when we pray for blessing and the prayer for revival, because we're expecting the answer in the next morning's mail - it doesn't work like that. Four months of fasting, and praying, and waiting upon God before Nehemiah got that first initial providential answer in the word of the King allowing him to go to Jerusalem. But I believe however long Nehemiah had to pray he would pray, because Nehemiah was a man exercised of God - he had a burden and he was a man of prayer.
Now thirdly and finally and very briefly: a man of burden, a man of prayer, a man of action. He didn't only see the state of the dereliction and make a supplication for divine power, but he made a sacrificial act of devotion: 'Here am I, send me'. Oh, he enjoyed security, he enjoyed comfort in the palace, he had the prestige of the King's cupbearer, but do you know something? His love for God was greater than for any of those things, and he was willing to pay the ultimate price and give himself to the task that he saw needed to be done.
There's not too many Nehemiah's about - oh yes, all of us are experts in seeing what needs to be done, but who of us is willing to give ourselves to the task? Now listen: he did more than weep, he did more than even pray, he made himself available to God to get the job done! You see, men like Nehemiah are not merely content to get answers to prayer, they want to be the answers to prayer. He had the faith not just to do it himself, but even to pray to God that other men would be moved and burden and prayed to do the same.
Where are we? God still needs a man or woman for the hour like that. Samuel Chadwick, who was a Methodist preacher, once used the following words in a prayer that he was conducting in a church in Manchester - and I can imagine him raising his hands heavenward and praying - listen to the components of this very very short prayer: 'Oh Lord, make us intensely spiritual'. That's all our prayers, isn't it? We want to be intensely spiritual. Here's the next few words: 'But keep us perfectly natural' - David talked about caricatures, there's a lot of caricatures of spirituality running about - are we intensely natural in our deep spirituality? But here's the last few words, not only make us intensely spiritual, and keep us perfectly natural, but: 'Make us thoroughly practical, then we will be builders for God'.
Today is a day of reproach for God's people, the great city of the church of the living God is no longer beautiful Zion, perfection of beauty. The Jews then, like the people of God today, are no longer powerful with God and with men like Jacob who wrestled with God and became a prince with both of them - but here in Nehemiah in such a situation in the hour, one man made the difference. And we'll see in the weeks that lie ahead that he took these Jewish people from great reproach in chapter 1 verse 3, to great rejoicing in chapter 12 and verse 43. God is still seeking men and women for this hour, willing to sacrifice for the work - are you available to receive a burden, to give yourself to prayer, to sacrifice your life for the work?
Our Father, we pray that all of us here today will be asking the question: 'Is it I Lord?'. May we have heard Thy voice in the darkness of our own personal state, or national state, or state of the church; and may we hear the nail-pierced hand of the Saviour at our heart's door; and may we open the door; and may He come in and sup with us; and may we know the freshwaters of revival in our own spirits, and here in the Iron Hall we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his 'Building For God' series, entitled "The Man For The Hour" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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