Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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,Analysis and Annotations
I. HOW NEHEMIAH RETURNEDTO JERUSALEM AND THE BUILDING OF THE WALL
1. Nehemiah hears of the condition of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:1-3)
2. His great sorrow, and prayer (Nehemiah 1:4-11)
Nehemiah 1:1-3. “The words of Nehemiah (the Lord is comfort) the son of Hachaliah.” It is therefore the personal narrative of his experience which is before us in the first six chapters of this book, in which he describes his soul exercise, and how the Lord made it possible for him to return to Jerusalem, and how the wall was rebuilt. Nehemiah was a young man, born in captivity holding a position of nearness to the great Persian king and living in the beautiful palace of Shushan. He lived in luxuries, and was an honored servant of the king. It was in the month of Chisleu, in the twentieth year (445 B.C.) when Hanani his brother (7:2) visited him with certain men out of Judah. The question he asked them at once shows the deep interest he had in God’s people. “I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.” Though he had never seen Jerusalem, the city of his fathers, he loved Jerusalem and felt like all pious captives, so beautifully expressed in one of the Psalms--”If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalm 137:5-6). Though he lived in prosperity his heart was with his people. It was bad news which they brought him. The remnant was in great affliction and reproach, the wall of Jerusalem in a broken-down condition, and the gates burned with fire.
Nehemiah 1:4-11. This sad news overwhelmed him with great sorrow. He sat down and wept; his mourning continued certain days. If Nehemiah was so affected by the temporal condition of Jerusalem and the affliction of the remnant, how much more should believers mourn and weep over the spiritual conditions among God’s people. Yet how little of this sorrowing spirit over these conditions is known in our day! It is needed for humiliation and effectual prayer. Nehemiah did not rush at once into the presence of the king to utter his petitions. He waited and fasted certain days and then addressed the God of heaven (Ezra 6:9). He reveals in the opening words of his prayer familiarity with the Word of God. “I beseech thee, O LORD, the God of heaven, the great and terrible God (Deuteronomy 7:21; Deuteronomy 10:17; Daniel 9:4) that keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1Kings 8:23) let thine ear now be attentive (2Chronicles 6:40; Psalm 130:2) and thine eyes open (2Chronicles 6:40) that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer of thy servant.” After these scriptural expressions, expressing confidence in the power and faithfulness of God, Nehemiah confessed his sin and the sins of his people. “Yea, I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept thy commandments, nor thy statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandest thy servant Moses.” Ezra had prayed a similar prayer, and before him Daniel in Babylon (Dan. 9). There is no flaw revealed in Nehemiah’s character, as there is none in Daniel’s life, yet both of these men of God went on their faces and confessed their sins and the sins of the people. They realized that they had a share in the common failure of His people. And so are we all blameworthy of the spiritual decline and failure among God’s people, and should humble ourselves on account of it. It is this which is pleasing to the Lord and which assures His mercy.
But Nehemiah was also trusting in the promise of God. He was a man of faith, and cast himself upon the word of God, knowing what the Lord had promised He is able to do.“Remember, I beseech thee, the word that Thou commandest thy servant Moses.” The promise in Deuteronomy 30:1-5 is especially upon his heart and mentioned by him in the presence of the Lord. In the near future this great national promise of the regathering of Israel from the ends of the earth will be fulfilled, in that day when the Lord returns. The exercise and prayer of Nehemiah will be repeated in the Jewish believing remnant during the time of Jacob’s trouble, the great tribulation. Furthermore Nehemiah claims the blessing for the people on account of their covenant relation with Jehovah. They are His servants, His people, “whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power and by thy strong hand.” And how he pleads for an answer. “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 delight to fear thy name”--others were also praying--”and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” He meant the powerful monarch Artaxerxes. Yet in God’s presence he looked upon him only as a man, and he knew God could use this man in behalf of His people, as He had used Cyrus.