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[Lesson 10] Nehemiah: An Awesome Leader 1: A Leader Who Prayed and Prayed and Prayed

Nehemiah 1–6

Background

God had promised Israel that if they obeyed Him, He would bless them as a nation. If they did not, then He would judge them and cause them to be taken into captivity (Deuteronomy 28). As God had forewarned, His hand of judgment fell on all of Israel because of their sin. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) fell first and the people were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The Babylonians brought about the fall of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) in 586 B.C.

The Israelites of the Northern Kingdom were absorbed into Assyria and eventually into other cultures. However, the people of the Southern kingdom remained intact in Babylon, and after the power of Babylon was broken by the Medes and the Persians in 539 B.C., many Jews returned to their homeland. In 538 B.C. the first group returned to Judah under the leadership of Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:1-2:2). Over a period of years and tremendous opposition from the Samaritans, the returnees eventually succeeded in rebuilding the temple in 515 B.C. Ezra, the priest, then led another return to Israel and restored worship in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. Nehemiah also returned in 444 B.C., 14 years after Ezra’s return to Jerusalem, and God used him to guide Judah in rebuilding the city’s walls and in reordering the people’s social and economic lives. What he accomplished in a brief period of time was an incredible feat. How he accomplished this goal is one of the major emphases in the book that bears his name. (Adapted from The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, Walvoord and Zuck, p. 673)

Early in the book Nehemiah is employed as cupbearer to the King of Persia. Though Nehemiah retains this position throughout the time of the events of the book of Nehemiah, different roles take precedence in his life at different times. Midway through the book Nehemiah is the builder of the wall around Jerusalem, and in the third part of the book, Nehemiah is the governor of the city and surrounding sections of Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah is a personal account written by Nehemiah himself. No information is given about Nehemiah’s childhood, his adolescent years, or even about his family, with the exception of his father’s name (Hacaliah) and one brother (Hanani). Nehemiah begins with Israel in a condition of breakdown and ruin, then grows into a place of peace, security, restored order and usefulness.             

Reading Nehemiah’s Life In Context (Optional):

Read all of Ezra, Esther & Nehemiah to get the “Big Picture” for the 2-lesson study of Nehemiah. As you read the book of Nehemiah, notice the personal, eyewitness perspective of this record. The book of Nehemiah is a diary, journal, or memoirs written by Nehemiah himself. As the book of Nehemiah begins, Nehemiah is employed as cupbearer to the King of Persia, King Artaxerxes.

Day One Study

Setting The Stage…

Use a Bible handbook, Bible text notes, or other sources to find out more information about the time period in which Nehemiah lived. Suggested topics to research:

·         Persian kings and government—

·         The significance of city walls and gates—

·         Sackcloth—

Historical Insight: “…It was the cupbearer’s responsibility to taste the king’s wine before it was served to make sure that no one had poisoned it. In those days of totalitarian monarchs, assassination was the only way one could be removed from office. The usual method was to poison his food or his wine. This was a dangerous job Nehemiah had. It is obvious that he had to be a man of unlimited integrity and trustworthiness. The king relied upon him to keep him safe. He must always be above suspicion, keeping the king’s trust at all times. If the king grew suspicious or distrustful, Nehemiah’s life would be in danger. He would not only lose his job, he could also lose his head.” (Ray Stedman, Sermon notes, January 8, 1989)

1. Read Nehemiah 1:1-11. What was Nehemiah concerned about at this time?

2. How did Nehemiah respond to the news he was given?

3. What does Nehemiah’s response reveal about this character?

4. What do you observe about the spiritual condition of God’s people at this time? (Nehemiah 1:6,7)

5. Reading Nehemiah 1:5-11 again, what do you learn about who God is, from Nehemiah’s prayer? List your observations in the space below.

6. As Nehemiah prays, do you think his focus is more on who God is, or more on the immediate situation? Explain your answer.

7. Your Lifes Journey: Think of one or two areas in your life that most concern you at this time.

·         When you pray for these situations or people, do you tend to focus more upon God and His power, or upon the situation?

·         How do you think focusing more upon God and who He is might affect your ability to persevere through these times?

8. Read Nehemiah 2:1-8. Nehemiah received the report about Jerusalem and began praying in the month of Kislev (November-December) and now it is Nisan (March-April), four months of praying later. What do you observe Nehemiah choosing to say and do in this time of opportunity before the King?

9. Take a moment to think about this scene, with Nehemiah in front of the King of Persia. Remember the job description of a cupbearer and that the King had the power to put anyone to death if that person displeased him or caused him to suspect them of allegiance to someone else. What other choices could Nehemiah have taken at this time?

Historical Insight: Nehemiah faced many difficult issues as he pressed on and led God’s people through the task of rebuilding the wall. But the importance of the task was indisputable. The wall of an ancient city symbolized strength and protection. The building of the walls would fill the need for security and strength among the inhabitants. For instance, the walls of the city of Babylon as recounted in the story of Daniel were some 380 feet thick and over 100 feet high, therefore the city of Babylon was considered very safe! The ruins of the wall around Jerusalem had been there for over 100 years and approximately 1.5 miles of the wall needed to be rebuilt to a thickness of 9 feet.

Day Two Study

10. As time allows read through Nehemiah 2:11-6:19 (or just read the specific verses listed). Determine what is the problem/challenge presented and Nehemiah’s response. Take special note of the role of prayer in these situations.

·         Nehemiah 2:10; 19-20—             

·         Nehemiah 2:17-18—             

·         Nehemiah 4:1-6—

·         Nehemiah 4:7-9—             

·         Nehemiah 4:10-15—             

·         Nehemiah 6:1-9—             

11. Your Lifes Journey: Looking back over the previous question, what are some of the lessons you learn from the responses of Nehemiah and the people, and how do these lessons both encourage and teach you positive ways to deal with challenges and problems in your own life?

Think About It: One of the most helpful things that we can do to resist temptation {or distractions} is to remember that God has called us to a great task. This is true of every believer in Christ. I do not care how young or old you are in the Lord, you are called to a tremendous work today. That task is: to model a different lifestyle so that those who are being ruined by wrongful practices will see something that offers them hope and deliverance. If they see in you peace in the midst of confusion, an invisible support that keeps you steady and firm under pressure, they will learn that there is another way to live than the destructive ways they have chosen. That is the great work that God has called us to. We ought never to give allegiance to anything less. (Ray Stedman, Sermon notes, January 29, 1989)

12. Your Lifes Journey: Nehemiah was a special man for a special time, but that also can be said for each of us. Where do you think God has placed you in order to accomplish His purposes? Or, what position and/or responsibility do you hold that might be useful in bringing about good in the lives you touch?

“So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. And it came about when all of our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” Nehemiah 6:15-16

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