Nehemiah 1- 2020-06-25
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Commentary: Nehemiah 1
1:1–4 […] Nehemiah’s concern for “the remnant” resonates with Ezra’s prayer (Ezra 9:8, 13, 15) without differentiating between those who had returned to the land and those who had never been exiled in the first place. While the people and the province as a whole are not forgotten, Nehemiah’s query clearly and significantly connects the fate of the people to the state of Jerusalem (Neh 1:2). Judging from their response (1:3), it seems clear that Nehemiah’s fellow Jews also closely connect the physical state of Jerusalem with the situation and reputation of the remnant: the “shame” of the latter is directly related to the shattered physical fabric of the city’s walls and gates […] Like Ezra, Nehemiah adopts a sitting posture (Neh 1:4; Ezra 9:3, 4, 15) and weeps (Neh 1:4; Ezra 10:1) in keeping with the practice of mourning (Neh 1:4; Ezra 10:6) while also embracing fasting (Neh 1:4; Ezra 8:23; 9:5; 10:6) and persistent prayer before the God of heaven (Ezra 1:2; 5:11–12; 6:9–10; 7:12, 21, 23).
1:5–11 As in Ezra 9, the description of appropriate and presumably heartfelt piety here gives way to a prayer of confession and petition (1:5–11). The prayer opens by invoking again the “God of heaven” (1:5) but now in decidedly Deuteronomic terms: “a great and terrible God” (Deut 7:21), “who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (7:9). […]
The exhortation for God to “remember” (Neh 1:8–9) the Mosaic covenant (1:5) is clearly paralleled (or indeed undergirded) by Lev 26:42, 45 and other priestly texts (e.g., Ezek 16:61–63). […] Finally and typically Deuteronomic too is the understanding of Jerusalem as the place where God chooses to make his name dwell (Neh 1:9; Deut 12:11), even if in Neh 1:10, the echoes of “redeemed” and “strong hand” also suggest an awareness of the language of the exodus tradition (Exod 13:9, 13, 15, 16). Having confessed and “reminded” God of the conditions of restoration, the petitioner finally reiterates his request for divine attentiveness (“let your ear hear”) to the supplications of God’s “servants” (who fear God’s “name”) and more specifically to Nehemiah’s request for “success” in soliciting a reversal of the previously obstructive policy (cf. Ezra 4:17–22) of the king of Persia. 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 33-34.
1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer to the king.
Questions to help us go deeper
- What was Nehemiah’s reaction to the news he received?
- What is my typical reaction when I am confronted with facts that cause me concern or that burden my heart?
- What are some notable elements of Nehemiah’s prayer?
- Nehemiah refers to God as “the great and awesome God.” How can Nehemiah view God this way given what has happened to Jerusalem? Are there some ways in which my view of God shifts with the ups and downs of my personal life, or when some effort at serving God does not go well?