Picture of Amy Peterson

Amy Peterson

Contributor, River City Church.

Despite the knowledge that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) Nehemiah has the potential to be a flyover book in the Old Testament. A mere 13 chapters, it is easy to check it off on a Bible reading plan and not consider its God-breathed purpose.

And while I am by no means a Bible scholar, I am endeavoring, more and more, to be a student of the Word. As I’ve been reading through Nehemiah I’ve picked up on a few themes that I feel could be beneficial for us to consider. My goal, over the course of four blog posts, is to unpack those themes in the hopes of spurring us on in our study of and love for God’s Word.

I graduated from college with an English literature degree, which really just means I spent a lot of time reading books, discussing books, and writing papers on books. And in every literature class I sat through, I was struck by the theories and assumptions students would entertain about the characters, setting, or plot of the book in question. I mean, where did people come up with this stuff? Often their ideas would find their origin the question, “What did the author mean by…?” While many of the books we read in class had meaning and metaphor laced between the words on the page, we sure spent a lot of time pulling things out of the text that may not have even been intended by the authors.

It can be tempting to treat God’s Word in a similar way. However, there is a danger in reading any part of scripture and trying to pull out of it more than what God means. As I read through the historical narrative of the people of Israel in the book of Nehemiah I want to be very careful not to somehow make the book about me while also gleaning truth that can be applied to help me (us) grow in faith and knowledge. What I mean by that is, a book like Nehemiah should be read as an account of God’s people at a specific time in history that can also serve as a reminder to anyone who reads it throughout history of God’s overwhelming faithfulness to His people.

So as I look to explore some themes within the book of Nehemiah, know that I am being careful to simply point out examples and provide encouragement based on the story as it’s presented. 

To give some context, the book of Ezra, which serves as a companion book to Nehemiah, takes place after Jerusalem was destroyed and the Israelites were taken into exile by the Babylonians. The events recorded in Ezra take place about 50 years after the exile as a portion of Israelites, led by Zerubbabel, return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, followed by the attempts by Ezra (another 60 years after the work on the temple) to teach the Torah and strengthen the Israelite community in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah, then, opens with the news that the walls around Jerusalem were in shambles. This information drives Nehemiah to his knees in prayer: “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 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, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:5-7)

Nehemiah’s gut reaction to what he’s heard is to cry out to God. And his first words are not in petition, but in praise of who God is as the awesome, steadfast, covenant keeper. In his prayer, Nehemiah recalls and proclaims what he knows to be true about God, which fuels his confidence to ask that God would be attentive to his words. And the next words Nehemiah speaks are words of confession. He is realizing that Israel’s sin over many years has resulted in the desperate situation in Jerusalem; they have not maintained their part of the covenant. But God has.

Nehemiah is speaking to God, and consequently reminding himself, of the covenant that God made to Moses concerning Israel. That unfaithfulness would result in being scattered, but if Israel were to return to God, He would gather and bring them to the place He had chosen for them, a place where His name would dwell.

So what can this mean for us? How can we be encouraged by Nehemiah’s prayer when we find ourselves in a place of despair? I think we can be reminded that God established and perfectly kept His covenant with us in sending His Son to rescue and redeem us. A right response to God’s faithfulness should look like Nehemiah’s response—praising God for who He is, asking that He hear us as we pray, and confessing our sin.

And on this side of the cross, we can be confident that God hears our prayers because of what Christ has accomplished in his life, death, burial, and resurrection. We can have confidence to cry out like Nehemiah.

If you haven’t read the book of Nehemiah recently, I would encourage you to consider it. And as you do, look for the evidences of God’s remarkable faithfulness to His people and let this part of their story spur your heart toward praise for the ways God has been remarkable faithful in your life. All for His glory and for your good.

Share this post