The biblical figure of Nehemiah is not the most popular or well known. He was not known for acts of heroism like his Old Testament counterparts. He never traversed the expanse of the Red Sea or performed wonders or miraculous acts of deliverance. In most situations, he would be known as an ordinary man but his impact on the Kingdom was significant. When you get to the book of Nehemiah, Babylon has been replaced by the Persian empire and now the greatest of the Jewish people have been scattered and displaced in exile. However, those that chose to return back to Jerusalem were given the opportunity to be under Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 1). Several years passed and although the temple was rebuilt in some version of its former glory, the majority of the city of Jerusalem was still in ruin and the promised people had become the lowest of society. Nehemiah entered this scene in quite an indirect way, at a time when the future of Israel was still so uncertain. He is introduced simply as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, who lived in the Persian kingdom’s capital city hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem. There was no reason that a humble cupbearer should have been of any consequence, but even in the darkest moments of history and amidst all the brokenness, God still brought a glimmer of hope, the possibility of restoration, to Israel.
Nehemiah was able to rebuild the city walls which was a great victory for the Jewish people. Although they would end up rebelling (several times over) the Lord fulfilled a promise to His people, His covenant of love, when that wall was complete. Jeremiah had prophesied more than a century before that “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when the city will be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate’” (Jeremiah 31:38). This restoration did not come easily, there were conflicts politically, spiritually and financially, but the story of Nehemiah is a great example to all of us that we should strive to be faithful even when times are difficult. Through this story we see three ways in which we can navigate difficult seasons in our own life.
As Nehemiah heard the reports of the remnant in Jerusalem facing great difficulty, his immediate response was to lament for his fellow brothers and sisters. His prayer as we read in chapter 1 begins with “O Lord God of the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love” (verse 5). We learn that regardless of our situation we can still praise God for who He is and His promises for us. We also learn that lamenting over our depravity and praising God for His goodness can, and should, go hand in hand. It is only in light of His goodness that we can see our need for Him.
Nehemiah then goes into confessing the sins of the people of Israel, although these were not his own sins he still submitted them before God. Verse 6 states “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”. Nehemiah especially acknowledges that Israel’s sin has led to the present situation in Jerusalem. He didn’t have to take the burden of confessing the sins of his father’s house or even of his people but, nevertheless, he did.
3. Remember His Promise
Verse 8 reads “Remember the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 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”. Nehemiah doesn’t blame God for the current situation and all the problems they are facing. He remembers the promises that God revealed to Moses. Nehemiah has the confidence to believe that God can revive a nation because He is a God that fulfills His promise. 1 John 1:9 states that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.
As we find ourselves in such unprecedented times with a pandemic that has disrupted our lives in ways we cannot imagine; with social unrest that has divided our nation with pain and sadness all around us, it is easy to forget how the Lord has brought us through such situations before.
Around this time last year, after a routine physical which led to an ultrasound, I received a radiology report that mentioned “possible metastatic disease”. As someone that grew up in the church and considered myself strong in my faith, I had so many doubts about God’s goodness in that moment. Why was He making me go through this? How could a good God allow me to see trials like this when I – in my own estimation – have only ever served Him faithfully?
I later received a benign biopsy report but those questions still brewed in my mind. If I had not received a favorable report would I still believe that His plans for me were good? How easy is it for us to sing so boldly of the goodness of God when everything is going our way, but when times become difficult those words become a distant whisper in our hearts. We so often assume that we do not deserve the suffering that comes our way because we are “good” people, but forget that only God is good. And in His goodness, He saw it fit to try us with the purpose of refining us, so that ultimately, He would be given all of the glory. Like Nehemiah, when I acknowledged the goodness of God, that He was always worthy, confessed my brokenness, and rested in His promise to “never leave or forsake” me, I found the grace to carry me through. As we navigate these difficult times I would urge us all to continually sing of His faithfulness whether through song, word, or prayer, in every season this life brings to us. Living lives of repentance, submission and ultimately claiming the promises of God will allow us to live in such a way that honors Him.