“Why Spend More Time in the Word?”
Nehemiah 1 & 2

Today I am beginning with the example given by James Hamilton in his book “Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah.” 

This is an event that happened to Alfred the Great:
As he returned to his men, Alfred was faced with a difficult task. He was barely twenty-two years old and had only experienced his first combat four days earlier, an experience that had not gone well for him or his troops.
After he had returned to his men, he wasted little time before informing them of the task at hand. He charged them to acquit themselves like men, to be worthy of the king they served, to remember their God, and to trust in God’s strength and mercy. . . . 
He led his soldiers, marching silently, fighting back the uneasiness in the stomach and the trembling in the hand, through the frosted woods that cluttered the base of Ashdown. After a short march, they spilled out of the woods and onto the rising slope of the battleground, into the full view of the Viking throng.

Upon seeing the arrival of the men of Wessex, the Vikings erupted into a barrage of derisive howls and jeers. . . .
But far more dismaying to Alfred than the taunting force on the hillside ahead was the absence on either flank of his brother and the second half of the Wessex army. The plan had been for both Alfred and Æthelred to immediately muster their forces and march to face the Danes. But Æthelred was nowhere in sight. Alfred would later learn that after the two had made their battle plans and separated. 
Æthelred had returned to his tent and summoned his priest in order that he might hear mass before facing the morning’s combat. The king was late for battle because, as the historian would later explain, he was lingering long in his prayers. (The White Horse King, 53–54)

The Vikings saw that the Wessex army was smaller than expected, and they saw the army’s confusion and uncertainty about being alone. The king’s men would have to stand,  so stand they did.”

Good Grief! What was the Wessex army thinking and feeling at that moment? Maybe, “We’re doomed!” Their leader, Alfred may have been checking his watch and second guessing as to whether he had misunderstood, or had his brother been captured? Where was he? 

Alfred stood. Where does one find strength of character for such a moment? Have you been there? So sure of something that had to be done, and you go forward, only to be taunted by the enemy, who for all extensive purposes seems bigger than you? Where do you go in that hour of need? How do you compel others to join you in a cause that seems not just desperate, but in human eyes doomed to fail?

Nehemiah provides an excellent example on how to be prepared for just such an instance. Nehemiah had a strength of character which he forged over time from his study of God’s Word. His study of the Bible had shown him the reality of the one true and living God. Nehemiah knew God’s heart and he also knew God’s promises. He had learned that he could rely on God to do what He said he would. Nehemiah’s boldness was in God’s Word. Prayers made with God’s intent, would receive God’s blessing. 

Today’s Scripture begins with Nehemiah receiving a report on how things were in Jerusalem. The report was “Things were not good.” Nehemiah responded to this report with earnest prayer to God. In chapter two Nehemiah received assistance from the Persian king to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. The chapter closes with Nehemiah’s response to opposition. 

In chapter one, Nehemiah started out by telling us his time and place when he received the report. It was in what we know as November/December, in the year 445 BC, thirteen years after Ezra had arrived. Susa was the king of Persia and was in his winter residence. The report was exactly how things had been when we left the book of Ezra.  
Those living there were living in disgrace as the wall of Jerusalem remained broken and the gates had been burned with fire. 

Notice Nehemiah’s immediate response, verse 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.”

Lost arts in the Christian church I’m afraid. When was the last time we “sat down and wept” when the advance of the Gospel has been halted? I don’t recall any recent mourning and fasting and praying happening either. All of these are Biblical and as it turns out, Nehemiah managed to take four months in prayer. He shared some of his prayer with us in verses 5-11. 

Nehemiah opened by addressing God, with statements about God, which Nehemiah takes straight from Scripture. From Deuteronomy Nehemiah called God the one “who keeps his covenant of love with those who love Him.”  Nehemiah was asking God to do what God had committed to do, and trusting in God’s faithfulness. Nehemiah had also studied Leviticus, where exile was predicted because of disobedience and yet restoration was promised after exile. Nehemiah didn’t miss the part where sins needed to be confessed. In verse 6 Nehemiah confessed the sins of “We Israels.” Nehemiah included himself in the confession. And as it states in Leviticus 26:40-42, God said He would remember, Nehemiah called on God to remember. 

Have you caught on to Nehemiah’s example? Why should we spend more time in the Word? When we know the Word, we know what is on God’s heart. 
When we know the Word, our confidence to hold fast to what is right becomes about God and not about us. 

Nehemiah was in exile in Persia, some 600 miles away. He was part of the world, but he was not of it. His mourning was not done without hope. He mourned because it looked like the enemies of God had prevailed. His mourning revealed He loved God’s kingdom more than life. He didn’t stop there. He had a plan. In verse 11, he asked God to grant him favor with his plan.  

At this point Nehemiah revealed his occupation. He was the cupbearer to the king. This was a highly placed political position. The king would have had to trust Nehemiah, with his life. 

The story continues in chapter two, some four months later. 
Nehemiah was doing his job, and bringing wine to the king. Although, for the first time, Nehemiah was doing so with a sad expression. The king questioned Nehemiah, verse 2, 

“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

Oh! Oh! Notice Nehemiah’s response, he was afraid. That was because kings were known to be absolute dictators. 
Nehemiah didn’t want the king to think he was hiding some plot against him, so he quickly responded with, “May the king live forever!” Then he gave a valid reason for his sadness. 

The king understood and then asked Nehemiah what he wanted. 

Notice what Nehemiah did, he prayed again. This wasn’t one of those four months, fasting and mourning type of prayers, this was a “I’ve got to answer quickly so give me the right words,” kind of prayer. More importantly, we see that prayer was a natural part of Nehemiah’s daily life. 

Next notice, the answer Nehemiah gave was one he must have rehearsed, perhaps a hundred times over the past four months. Nehemiah had a plan, he knew what he needed and he knew the king could provide it, should God move his heart. 

Think about it, Nehemiah was able to do the following:

Give the king an amount of time that the journey and rebuilding would take, v. 6
He knew the exact kind of authorization he would need west of the Euphrates, v.7
He knew the exact materials he would need for the temple, wall, city and his own dwelling, v. 8
Nehemiah was prepared for the opportunity to talk with the king. When his request was completed we read at the end of verse 8, 

“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.”

The hand of God had been on Ezra, we read about it many times in chapters 7 and 8. Nehemiah felt the same way. The hand of God was a way to refer to God’s power. Nehemiah didn’t give the success to himself or to the king. He gave it to the God who had brought the Israelites out of Egypt and was now fulfilling His promises by bringing them out of Babylon to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. 
The king said, “Yes,” and Nehemiah was on his way. He gave the king’s letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and immediately two officials, Sanballat and Tobiah were opposed to the idea. 

Nehemiah continued with his plan. He arrived in Jerusalem, hung out for three days, then went on a secret, night ride but didn’t tell anyone in Jerusalem what God had put on his heart, until, after his investigation of the situation. In verse 17, Nehemiah went to the priests, nobles and officials and began with the description of the sorry state of God’s kingdom on earth,

“Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

Nehemiah stated the obvious, he also used the personal plural pronoun “we.” He was an Israelite and he felt that God’s name was at stake due to the circumstances in Jerusalem. So he called on his fellow Israelites to join him in making it right, to rebuild the wall, so to no longer be in disgrace. 

What about the obvious today? God’s name is no longer at stake for a city with walls and gates, but it is at stake in the lives of His people. Christians are now the “temple” of the Holy Spirit. Check the walls and gates of your life. Look at your marriage, your children, what about your eye-gate and ear-gate? I am reminded of the song I learned in Sunday School, 

“O be careful little eyes what you see
O be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love
So, be careful little eyes what you see”

Do we dare state the obvious?
Just as Jerusalem lay in ruins with gates burned in Nehemiah’s day, when we look at our life or the life of someone we love does it lie in ruins? Are the gates burned down? Are we helpless to put out the flames that destroy?

Here is the message you need to hear: There is a leader, far greater than Nehemiah that can deliver us from any danger. There is One more zealous for God’s name to be hallowed, for God’s kingdom to come, and for God’s will to be done. The zeal to further the kingdom of God led Jesus to give His life so that all who trust in Him will be saved. That is good news, that is hope. 

May we respond like those people responded to Nehemiah, verse 18b, 

“They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.” 

God’s work begins and what happens?

Mocking and ridicule, from Tobiah and Sanballat. To top it all off, they were Jewish!  They may have been Jewish but their question, “Are you rebelling against the king?” demonstrated, first, they were ignorant, Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer, of course the king knew. Second,  
they had a low view of God’s authority as they were more concerned with an earthly king’s authority. But Nehemiah pointed them in the right direction. He responded in verse 20, by saying, 

“The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”

When Nehemiah said that God will “grant us success,” he used the same word from Psalm 1:3 and Joshua 1:8 that speaks of one who meditates day and night on the Torah. We see also by his words, who he fears. He didn’t fear the king and he did not fear the mockers. Nehemiah feared God. This character trait came from the study of the Bible. Nehemiah was confident when he called God to do what He promised. 

May we follow in Nehemiah’s footsteps. May we seek to be used by God in order to see God’s own prayers answered. 

That is why we need to spend more time in the Word of God. 

And when we do, our prayers will be for God to do what He has promised to do in the Bible. And we will give thought to how and what we can do to be used of the Lord so that His promises are fulfilled. 

Oh, remember where we left Alfred, facing the Vikings on his own at the beginning of my message. It just so happens, that the shieldwall was maintained by Alfred and his men, largely due to Alfred’s courageous example. Then almost, without explanation, the Vikings began to flee in panic. Turns out Alfred’s brother had finished his prayers, and when they appeared, not only did they remove the numerical advantage of the Vikings, they were also “perfectly poised to attack the unprotected flank of the Viking shieldwall and won the Battle of Ashdown. 
This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad! 

Maltbie Davenport Babcock,
Let’s pray.