Saturday, August 21, 2010

Nehemiah 1:1–2:8

(Housekeeping note:  Vacation post and pictures will be coming very soon.  I’m just too tired tonight.)

Our pastor is currently teaching about Nehemiah.  I don’t always get to the church service, so I’ve been reading the book of Nehemiah as well as some other Bible study books.  Tonight I’ll share my observations on Nehemiah 1:1-2:8  (You probably want to read the passage first – the link takes you to this passage at Bible Gateway.)

1. Nehemiah seems to have had a pretty stable career in Susa.  He identified himself as a Jew, but worked in the royal palace (1:11b “I was cupbearer to the king”).  Being a cupbearer seems like a pretty menial job, but it was apparently pretty high up in the royal hierarchy because he was with the king quite a bit of the time.  Yet, when his brother brought news of how bad things were in Jerusalem, Nehemiah was ready to give up his career to go do something about it.

2. Nehemiah started with weeping, fasting, and prayer.  I think some of these Old Testament guys are really important in teaching us the importance of prayer (think of Daniel).  Nehemiah doesn’t consider that he could make any move without God’s blessing.

3. The prayer – Apparently, (according to one of the commentaries) this prayer is a formal prayer that gives some insight into the “postexilic” practice of prayer.  Nehemiah starts by telling God how good He is.  Of course, God knows this, so Nehemiah is, essentially, reminding himself of God’s goodness.  He confesses the sins of the Israelites – no trying to hide or suggest that God made a mistake in sending them in to exile.  But, then, Nehemiah goes back to reminding God again of the promise that God made to Moses, that God would gather the exiles if they would again return to the worship of the true God.  At the end, Nehemiah asks God for his help and success.

4. Nehemiah was a planner.  Yippee!!  I love this part – validation of my planning  needs!!  Nehemiah waited several months before he asked the king to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.  When the king asked what Nehemiah wanted, Nehemiah had a list – a list!!  This is my kind of guy.  God had given him the burden to go repair the walls of the Jerusalem, but also expected Nehemiah to use the brain he was given to make it happen.

5. Who was the queen and why was she there?  Apparently (again, I’m getting this from commentaries and some internet resources), Persian kings generally ate without their wives, except for private dinners.  So, it’s either a private dinner or some special occasion that the queen is even allowed to be there.  One source (Ray Stedman) says that this would be Queen Esther.  However, other sources say that the king at this time was the step-son of Queen Esther.  In any case, it is entirely likely that Queen Esther’s time in the Persian palace could have helped to make her husband or step-son predisposed to be good to the Jews.  So, was it Esther or not?  It appears that the answer is “maybe”.

6. Lessons to be learned here – The thing that I have really gleaned from this section of Nehemiah is his reliance on prayer.  He has no doubt that God is listening.  The importance of confession was also helpful for me.  As I get older, I realize more and more what a sinful creature I am – and become more and more grateful for grace.  Confession is like cleansing the soul.  The sin has already been paid for by Jesus, but admitting my failure to God allows to start accepting yet more of his gracious forgiveness.  (Granted, in Old Testament times, they were still living under the sacrificial system, but yet understood the need to confess their sins and ask God for forgiveness – See Psalm 51.)

What do you thing about this passage in Nehemiah?  Any new thoughts or insights?

I hope to continue this over the next week or two and at least get caught up to where our pastor is teaching.

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