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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Up Against the Wall (Part 1)

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11 (New International Version, ©2011)

"1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had 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.”

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. 5 Then I said: “LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 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.” I was cupbearer to the king.

What are we to do when we come up against people that seemingly go out of their way to tear us down, to oppose us, Or to make unreasonable demands on our lives? How are we suppose to handle impossible situations and people that we will inevitably run into as we try to live our lives? How can we keep going forward, when inwardly we’re crumbling and feel that we just can’t go on?

Nehemiah was a regular guy, like us, who was called by God to do a seemingly impossible job against tremendous opposition. Let us see what we can learn from him about how to move forward in difficult times.

First, let's get a picture of what's going on around Nehemiah. Unfortunately for that, we need to look at a little history. Under Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, Israel had become a significant nation and a major military and economic power. It was the golden age of Israel’s history. Towards the end of Solomon’s life, we know that he compromised with the world, he lived in sin and led the nation into sin. And so, God judged him and the nation.

1 Kings 11:11and12 says this: So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you.... Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but will tear it out of the hand of your son.”

When Solomon died, the kingdom divided in two; ten tribes went to the north and became the Kingdom of Israel, and two tribes remained in the south around Jerusalem and became the Kingdom of Judah. They were a nation divided and they hated each other. Even while they were being attacked by other nations, they fought among themselves. Their battles covered all aspects of their lives, spiritual, economic, and political issues. So, within a short period of time they went from a high plateau of success to complete ruin.

In 722 B.C. Assyria invaded and captured Israel. Then in 586 B.C. the Babylonian’s finished off Judah in the south and carried the people off into captivity. When the Babylonian’s got to Jerusalem they destroyed it. They burned the Temple, they tore down the wall around the city, they set fire to all the fortified buildings and they destroyed everything of value. This beautiful city, the pride of Israel, this city that the Bible uses as a symbol of God's dwelling place with mankind, where God’s glory and blessing were displayed to the world, was now in ruins.

About 140 years later Nehemiah is in Susa, in southwestern Persia. This was the winter capital of the Persian Empire. Hanani, one of Nehemiah’s brothers and some others have come back from Judah, and Nehemiah asks them what’s happening in Jerusalem.

A group has returned from the homeland and Nehemiah wants to know what’s happening in Jerusalem. Hanani tells him, “Its not good. The people are in misery. They’re suffering in every way imaginable. The city is defenseless against its enemies, the wall is broken down and its gates are wide open.”

So, what is Nehemiah's response? He sits down and begins to weep and mourn for days.

Every day we turn on our televisions and we see images of people who are living in misery. People whose walls have been broken down. We often come up against situations and people which cause us to sit down and begin to weep and mourn. Things like disease, problems with a spouse, a boss, work or destructive habits. How do we go on? When Nehemiah hears the news the first place he went was to his knees. Verse 4 says, "When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven."

But that isn't usually what we do, is it? Our first response usually is to try figure out how to solve the problem, to figure out who or what is to blame, to work out a plan - to fix it. Or, we get angry or depressed. Nehemiah reminds us that whatever our problems are, they will never be completely solved unless we first go to God in prayer.

Verses 5 to 11 tell us what Nehemiah prayed to God for. What he emphasizes in his prayer can help us when we pray. There are four parts to his prayer. There are four areas to focus on when we engage in prayer.

And that's where we'll pick up tomorrow...

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