Study Notes

Nehemiah 1:1-11

1:1 Nehemiah

Our writer is Nehemiah, son of Khak-al-YAW, whose character as a man of both prayer, discernment, and action we will get to know very well in the next several weeks.

Date And Place

The date is the month Kis-LAVE, which is the ninth month on the Jewish calendar (Zech 7:1), but which spans November/December on ours.

It was the twentieth year. Right away, we encounter this habit of Nehemiah to make statements with details which we cannot understand until we read his writing further. Although we will see that Nehemiah was gifted at many things, clear writing does not seem to be one of them.

To clarify, this statement, it is the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes (2:1). That puts us in the winter of 445BC, in the capitol of the Persian Empire, Shoo-SHAN.

As you recall, this was the city of setting for the book of Esther. As a matter of fact, we will discover at the end of this chapter that Nehemiah worked in the very same palace in which Esther lived!

Now, although we don't have 100% certainty on the timing of the book of Esther, if you follow the majority crowd which says that Esther became queen in this same palace in 478BC, then that would place the timing of the beginning of Nehemiah's book 33 years just 33 years later.

Imagine - if Esther hadn't risked her life to save the Jews, Nehemiah would not have been alive to accomplish all that we shall see him accomplish!

1:2 Nehemiah Asks About Jerusalem

Khan-aw-NEE, one of Nehemiah's brothers, brought some men from Judah to Shoo-SHAN. Nehemiah's first thought was to ask about the Jews living in Jerusalem. He knew that 93 years prior, King Cyrus of Persia made a proclamation which said that any Jew who wanted to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple was welcome to go (Ezra 1).

About 42,000 Jews and 7,000 others took Cyrus up on the offer. Then, about 13 years before the spot we're in in Nehemiah, Ezra the scribe and priest brought another 2,000 men and their families to Jerusalem. King Artaxerxes had given Ezra treasures for the temple and the authority to establish a system of law and justice according to the Scriptures.

So when Nehemiah asked about the status of Jerusalem, he expected very good news.

1:3 News Of Distress

The news Nehemiah received was far from what he expected. Instead of hearing how Jerusalem was flourishing from having a newly-rebuilt temple and governed by laws straight from the Bible, he instead heard a bleak report.

The Jews in Jerusalem were in distress and reproach. The wall around Jerusalem was broken down and its gates had been burned. Walls and gates were the only protection most cities had from marauders and attacking armies. Without them, Jerusalem was a sitting duck for any enemy nation who felt like invading.

1:4 Reacting To The News

When Nehemiah heard the news from Jerusalem, he had a reaction to it. He sat down, wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed.

When I read this, it makes me wonder, "For how many of us is the news simply a bunch of information that makes us sound intelligent and informed when we get into conversations at work?" There have been times that I have heard the news of the latest suicide bombing in Israel, and just broke out in tears. It doesn't matter that I don't know any of the victims. It doesn't matter that I've never walked in that neighborhood. What does matter is that God's people are suffering and dying, and it breaks my heart. Paul the apostle exhorted us to...

Rom. 12:15 ...weep with those who weep.

And David wrote that we must...

Ps. 122:6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem...

I encourage you to pray when you hear the news from Israel, and let it affect you. These are real people in real pain and real suffering who need your prayers. Psalm 137 says,

Ps. 137:5-6 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.


Nehemiah wasn't just sorrowful. He prayed and fasted. We will see the content of his prayer in a moment, but I'd like to highlight his fasting, that we might learn from it. Most Christians I've met have either never fasted, or never understood the purpose of it. But since it is mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible, it is certainly not something we should neglect or be ignorant of.

By definition, going on a fast is to deny yourself food. The length of time without food varies greatly. You break your fast daily with breakfast (hence the name). Sometimes people fast for a day, and other times they fast for forty days!

Throughout the Scriptures, we see that people fasted to seek and inquire of the Lord; because of extreme sorrow; to appeal to God for answered prayer; or as a simple act of humbling themselves before the Lord.

In Nehemiah's case, it seems that his fast was for all of those reasons.

Is this all academic, or should we be fasting? Whenever I'm asked that, I always turn to Jesus' statement in the gospels:

Matt. 6:16-18 "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites {do,} for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

He told His disciples, "Whenever you fast," and "When you fast," not "if you fast." Certainly the church did it in the early days. It was during a time of fasting and ministering to the Lord that God set Paul and Barnabas apart for a certain ministry (Acts 13:2-3). And when they were appointing elders in the churches, they fasted (Acts 14:23).

I would encourage you as a Christian - make fasting a regular - and private - part of your prayer life.

In conjunction with fasting, Nehemiah prayed. We will discover that he is a guy who prays a lot. Sometimes lengthy, sometimes just a quick sentence, but always talking to God.

1:5-11 Nehemiah's Prayer

As we read Nehemiah's prayer, we see a man who has a good relationship with the Lord. He is mindful that God is in heaven, and yet understands that he has God's ear. He knows that he is a sinner, yet knows that God loves him. He is reverent of God's high position, yet bold enough to remind the Lord of what He had promised His people.


Nehemiah begins his prayers by saying, "I beseech Thee." To beseech is to ask earnestly, to beg fervently, to implore desperately. Nehemiah acknowledged that God is in heaven, great and awesome, but also asked Him to listen to his prayer.

Day And Night

Nehemiah's prayer was day and night. And not just for 24 hours, but in fact he prayed about this for four months, from Kis-LAVE (1:1) to Nee-SAWN (2:1). Jesus taught us,

Matt. 6:7 "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words."

But don't mistake that command as an exhortation not to pray for a long period of time about something. Jesus taught the parable of the unrighteous judge in Luke 18 for this express purpose:

Luke 18:1 Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart

My rule of thumb based on what I've seen in the Scriptures is that we should pray until we get an answer.


A large part of Nehemiah's prayer consisted of contrite confession. He freely admitted to the Lord that his people had sinned, and included himself in that group.

This is the opposite of what the self-righteous person does. The one who is self-righteous goes to God and says, "Look at their sin, Lord!" But the humble man says, "God, WE have sinned. Even if I did not participate, I am guilty by association for being a fellow countryman of theirs, a member of their family, or simply a human being."

God does not delight in a self-righteous heart, but in a humble and contrite one. He has proclaimed,

Isa. 66:2 " this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word."

And David prayed,

Ps. 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.

There is an old phrase that says, "Confession is good for the soul." And saints, let me tell you that it is true. There is nothing more freeing than to approach God and honestly confess your sins to Him.

1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This is the importance of confession: freedom from the condemnation of unrighteousness. David wrote,

Ps. 32:3-6 When I kept silent {about my sin} , my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away {as} with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to Thee, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. Selah. Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found

Remember Thy Word

After confessing their sin, Nehemiah reminded God about His Word by quoting the promises given in Deuteronomy 28 and 30.

I find it interesting that God is not annoyed by our reminders. After all, He's God, He knows what He's said and remembers what He's written. Why is it then that so many people in the Scriptures are constantly praying, "Remember God, you said this..." and "Don't forget, Lord, that Your Word promised that..."

The reason it doesn't annoy God when we remind Him is that those kind of prayers serve at least two purposes. First of all, when we say, "Lord, Your Word promises," we're really saying, "God, I have faith in Your Word, I believe that You are a keeper of promises." Secondly, we're reminding ourselves of the future God has promised to us. So it doesn't annoy the Lord for us to quote His Word to Him - it blesses Him greatly when we do.

Make Thy Servant Successful Today

At the end of Nehemiah's prayer, he makes a statement which shows us that this is more than passive intercession:

Neh. 1:11 "...make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man."

If we get beyond Nehemiah's second instance of bad writing (since we have no idea who "this man" is yet), we see that he has made a decision. He is going to attempt to be a part of Jerusalem's restoration. He is going to try and be personally involved. He is not going to sit back and say, "Lord, make this happen." He is saying, "Lord, if it is Your will, I am available to make this happen." He is saying, as Isaiah did.

Isa. 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Now, I want you to notice what happened in just this short period of time. Nehemiah was living his life, not expecting any changes to come down the pike. He's comfortable in his job, and minding his own business. A short meeting, a chance encounter, a quick discussion, resulted in him being affected spiritually and emotionally. He prayed about it, and felt the tugging on his heart that his life was about to change. He was about to enter the ministry of serving God's people.

People have asked me countless times in the last dozen years, "How do I know if God's calling me to ministry?" Here are some practical tips straight from the Word: Are you weeping over a hurting group of people? Have you spent months in prayer and fasting? Have you said, "God, if this is Your will, I'm available?" Until those things have happened, I wouldn't give you any reason to believe that you're being called into ministry.

You see, a lot of people are more fascinated with the benefits and visibility of the "ministry" than they are in having a broken heart over a lost and dying people. They see that the pastor has a building full of people listening to them. They see that the evangelist is respected and getting on television. But that's not the Spirit pulling people into ministry, that's their flesh. Is the burden for the ministry itself? Or is it a broken and contrite heart before the Lord, interceding for a certain people?

Cupbearer To The King

We will save this sentence for next time, since it ties right into the events of the next chapter.

Go to next study

Go to previous study