Nehemiah Sermon

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I’ve been studying the book of Nehemiah this week. When I first started reading the book, I got confused. I felt like I studied this before. Yet when I went to my notes, I couldn’t find any thing I had written about Nehemiah. Did I dream that I studied the book? Or did I do the research and not save the document? It turned out neither.

Nehemiah was written by Ezra. In fact in some bibles this book is titled Second Ezra. We studied Ezra. Some of the material overlaps, in the same way Kings and Chronicles overlaps. Now Bible scholars, what do we know about information that is repeated in the Bible? It is there for emphasis. It’s like God saying, I don’t want you to miss this. So what are we not supposed to miss?

What was going on in Israel & Judah at that time?

§       In 722 b.c. the Assyrians conquered the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom (Israel or Ephraim) and exiled them – the Bible says they scattered them all over the known world.

§       Then @ 605–586 b.c., the Babylonians came in and sacked Jerusalem and exiled Judah

§       Captivity lasted 70 years (Babylon)

§       During that 70 yrs of captivity, the Persians conquered the Babylonians (@ 539 b.c.)

Remember I said that Ezra & Nehemiah were related?

§       In the book of Ezra, the Persian ruler Cyrus, issues a decree to allow the exiles to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple and resume their worship & sacrifices.

§       It’s during this time that the events in Esther take place

§       Then @ 458 b.c. Nehemiah returns to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem

Who was Nehemiah?

Nehemiah was not a prophet. He was not a priest, nor a military leader. He was a deportee who found favor with the king (like Joseph & Daniel).

His job title was “cupbearer”. Now cupbearer does not sound like a high powered job like prime minister, or a military attaché. But it is one of the most important positions in the palace. The cupbearer is the person who escorts of the king to all meals, and tests all the king’s beverages for possible poison. Because he puts his own life at risk on a daily basis, the cupbearer became a close confidant to the king.

Who was the king Nehemiah worked for?

The king’s name was Artaxerxes

§       He ruled the Persian Empire (ca. 464–423 b.c.)

§       If you remember back to when we studied the book of Daniel, the Persians were the chest of silver on Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and was represented by the bear in the vision of the 4 beasts. Both give us an insight about the strength of their military power.

§       My research shows that Artaxerxes was not only a great military strategist, but a diplomat as well. He used the strengths of the people he ruled over to his advantage to expand the wealth of the empire.

 How did Artaxerxes rule Judah?

§       Basically with a loose hand. He let them go about their business. But because they were still conquered subjects of the empire, he did set up a monitoring system so that at the slightest sign of rebellion, he could respond militarily.

Now besides the obvious reason that God was in control of the situation, there is one more thing we want to consider that led to Judah’s favored status with the king.

§       Esther was Artaxerxes’ stepmother and could have easily influenced him to look favorably upon the Jews, especially Nehemiah.

§       How much influence did she have over her grandson? Nehemiah did not have his name changed like Daniel of Esther & Mordecai.

Turn to Nehemiah, 1

1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 

Notice that this is written in the first person. You will remember that I said Ezra wrote this book. Ezra was a scribe in the palace and Nehemiah was an influential member of the court. As such, Nehemiah’s diaries would have been part of the palace archives, and the scribe Ezra would have had access to them. So the writing is Ezra’s, but the words are Nehemiah’s

2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

We would expect this after 70 years of exile.

4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

In the next few verses, Nehemiah reminds God of his covenant, he confesses the sins of his people, and points out that they have already been punished with 70 years of exile.

Jump down to vs. 10

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” [Artaxerxes]

I was cupbearer to the king.

In this house we pray for favor all the time. And sometimes we even walk in it. Some people seem to walk in favor more often than others. I have asked God why that is. Nehemiah’s little statement here,

I was cupbearer to the king.

Illustrates that God has already set us up to walk in favor by placing us where we need to be to receive that favor. Think about it. Nehemiah was already a trusted confidant of the king before he needed the king’s favor.

We often hear people say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Well, just how do you think you got to know them? It’s the favor of God going before us that brings about the favor of men.

2 1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

It was dangerous to be sad in the king’s presence. If employees are happy all the time it makes the boss look like a good guy. If they are miserable, the first assumption people make is that the boss is a bad guy. Artaxerxes was a famous diplomat. He didn’t want anyone to think he was a bad guy.

4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Sound like favor to you?

4b Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.”

6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

Sound like the King would miss his cupbearer.

Good, than I can ask for more favor?

7 I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?

The letters gave Nehemiah a portion of the King’s authority. Don’t forget Nehemiah was an exile and Israel still had enemies. It would take Nehemiah @ 3 months to get to Jerusalem.

8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?”

Lumber was a precious commodity in those days. You needed written permission from the king to enter his forests and chop down a tree.

8b And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests. 9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

Because the letter carried the King’s authority, he sent some of the royal guard to insure Nehemiah’s protection.

Let’s recap:

1.   Favor puts you where you need to be to receive

2.   Favor grants you an authority you didn’t have before

3.   Favor gets you what you need to do the job

4.   Favor prompts others to help you

10 When Sanballat [the governor of Samaria], [from] Horonaim [in Moab] and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.

Which brings us to point #5. Walking in favor does not guarantee that there will not be opposition. As much as God wants you to succeed and live out your dreams and fulfill your destinies, that’s how much the enemy wants you to fail.

Now even though Nehemiah had the king’s authority and the materials to rebuild he city walls, the first thing he did, when he arrived was spend 3 days discerning how he was going to do the job, before he informed anyone of his plan. In the next few verses, he surveys the land in secret and notes the broken and burnt conditions of the walls and gates.

We’ve all been around long enough to witness people who rush head first into situations unprepared because God told them or a prophet told them that they were going to do something. Point #6. Favor is no good, unless you know what to do with it, once you receive it.

Once Nehemiah had the situation scoped out and a plan of action he went to the officials and laid the whole thing out. With the plan so clearly defined the people had no choice but to show Nehemiah favor by submitting to his authority.

18b They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

Chapter 3 lists all the families who worked on repairing the wall. There names would have been in the palace archives.

4 6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

Now half the original height is not completely. It’s better than what it was. And since they had been gone for 70 years in captivity, not much of the rebuilding crew had seen the original version. But because the construction crew was committed to seeing the project done, they saw the favor of God at work in getting them this far.

I said earlier that walking in favor does not guarantee that there will not be opposition. We know that until this point harassment and mockery were the primary strategies to prevent the reconstruction of the walls. When that didn’t work…

7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry.              8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.

Where does favor come from? God

Who wants you to fulfill your destiny? God

So when your in the midst of opposition what should you do?

9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

Where did they get the guards from? Artaxerxes sent some with Nehemiah to make sure he got to Jerusalem. If I read chapter 2 correctly, they were also responsible for getting him back to Susa safely.

10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”

Point #7 if you don’t recognize the favor of God in your life, you won’t recognize it in others. All the builders could see was the rubble. They forgot that they were home. They forgot that this wall would protect them. They forgot that they had been given the material to make their lives better.

11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”

12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”

Whose report will you believe? I bet Nehemiah wanted to scream. “Look at the progress we’ve made!” We can do this! We have the favor of God working for us!”

13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 

15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.

16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.

If you keep reading, you will see that the harassment & opposition did not stop. The workers complained that their homes & fields were being neglected. They didn’t have money to pay the taxes the Persians imposed. Those who did have money were loaning it out at huge interest rates.  While at the same time Sanballat & Tobiah continued to accuse Nehemiah, who had been appointed Governor of Jerusalem – more favor, of plotting to start a revolt against their neighbors.

The bottom line is: despite what was going on around him Nehemiah remained faithful to God.

6 15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

I’m going to stop here.

Let’s review.

1.   Favor puts you where you need to be to receive

2.   Favor grants you an authority you didn’t have before

3.   Favor gets you what you need to do the job

4.   Favor prompts others to help you

5.   Walking in favor does not guarantee that there will not be opposition.

6.   Favor is no good, unless you know what to do with it, once you receive it.

7.   If you don’t recognize the favor of God in your life, you won’t recognize it in others.

8.   Favor leads to success if you persevere and rely on God.

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