1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the 20th year, as I was in Shushan the palace,
2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
How old Nehemiah was, or how long he had been cupbearer to Artaxerxes, we do not know, but it is apparent that his heart was with the remnant of his people in Jerusalem. The report he received was very saddening. One hundred years had past since a faithful remnant had returned with Zerubbabel when Cyrus destroyed Babylon and proclaimed freedom to go home. After much effort and delay, the temple had been rebuilt after a fashion at the urging and encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah, but things had not prospered. These men reported to Nehemiah that Judah was in great affliction and reproach.
Fourteen years earlier than Nehemiah, Ezra the priest had gathered together another little company of exiles and had gone back with the purpose of teaching and reestablishing the law and the Temple services. But clearly more help was needed. So much was required that Ezra had not the power or authority to accomplish.
When Nehemiah heard of the conditions in Judah, where Ezra was striving against great odds to bring the people back to the way of God, he wept, and mourned, and fasted and prayed for the blessing of his people.
So Four months pass - four months in which Nehemiah continues to pray and plan and form the great determination to leave behind all the meaningless luxury of the Persian court and devote himself to the service and welfare of the afflicted people of God.
He must have known from the beginning that it would be largely a thankless and a hopeless task. But in the deepest sense it was not hopeless, for he was playing a worthy part in the eternal purpose, and though most of the results of his effort were soon dissipated when he was taken away, some of his accomplishments remained and were part of the chain of events that prepared the way for the eventual manifestation of the Messiah.
He built the wall and restored the city. Daniel has prophesied that from this event, the coming of the Messiah should be measured-seventy weeks of years-four hundred and ninety years.*
Bro Growcott - Let us rise up and build!
4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the Elohim of heaven,
If we truly desire anything, we will be continuous [day and night v6] and persevering in our efforts and prayers*
5 And said, I beseech thee, O Yahweh Elohim of heaven, the great and terrible El, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
By Nehemiah's efforts the desolated city was reborn to a reasonably secure existence as a center for the development again of Jewish life. This lasted. But his greater task of establishing righteousness and justice among the people did not last. As soon as his back was turned, the dog returned to its vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
That is the sad background that overshadows all the story of the intense, self-sacrificing efforts of this simple, humble, zealous man of God.
"The great and terrible God"-do we realize how great and terrible He is?
A strong and living realization of this is fundamental to a humble and contrite walk.
"Keeping covenant and mercy to"-whom? What two characteristics are necessary?-
"To them that LOVE HIM and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS." *
6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
We find this is characteristic of men of God. They make themselves one with those whom they seek to help. They stoop down to them and seek the mercy of God together with them.
8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
All the faithful through the ages have been united in this desire and prayer-
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. They shall prosper that love thee" (Psa. 122:6).
But Nehemiah did not stop at prayer and desire. He gave his life to the service of this divine purpose.
Bro Growcott - Let us rise up and build
Ezra informs us in Ezra. 1 that Cyrus, King of Persia, in the first of his reign, issued a decree, saying that the Lord God, who had given him all the kingdoms of the earth, had charged him to build for Him a house at Jerusalem; and that in obedience to this he invited all Jews so disposed to go up to that city, and to begin the work.
This proclamation was made 70 years after Nebuchadnezzar saw the Image in the second year of his reign (Dan. 2). He saw that image demolished by the antitypical Cyrus in the latter days. These 70 years of Jeremiah, styled "the land enjoying its sabbaths to fulfil threescore and ten years," ended with the third year of Cyrus, or the first of his sole reign, B.C. 540. So that the end of these sabbatic years was the beginning of the 2,400 of treading-down.
EIGHTEEN years after, another decree was issued by Darius the Persian in the second year of his reign, enforcing the decree of Cyrus which had been suspended by Cambyses, styled by Ezra, Artaxerxes. This was B.C. 522. Haggai and Zechariah the prophets, greatly encouraged the building of the temple under this decree: so that the work was finished in the 6th of Darius, B.C. 518.
FIFTY-THREE years after the decree of Darius, another was issued in the 7th of Artaxerxes Longimanus, king of Persia, B.C. 469. This was for the appointment of "magistrates and judges to judge all the people beyond the river, all such as knew the laws of God" (Ezra 7:7-25, 26).
THIRTEEN years after this Artaxerxes made a second decree in the month of Nisan [ancient name Abib] of the 20th year of his reign, B.C. 456. It was issued to Nehemiah while Jerusalem was "lying waste, without a wall, or gates; and therefore a reproach for its enemies." The broad wall was in ruins with breaches in all its length (Neh. 2:13,17; 3:8; 5:7).
This unfortified state of the city caused few people to dwell there, and prevented many houses from being erected: "The city," says Nehemiah, "was large and great (or broad in space): but the people were few therein, and the houses not builded" (ch. 7:4). This condition of the Holy City caused him great grief. "When I heard it," says he, "I sat down and wept, and mourned, and prayed before the God of heaven" (ch. 1:4).
Being cupbearer to the king, on presenting him with wine, his sadness was observed, and the reason demanded. Having explained the cause, Artaxerxes commissioned him to go to Jerusalem, and cause the people to return and build it; that so Jerusalem might return, the broad wall be builded and the breaches closed.
This second decree of Artaxerxes is "the commandment" referred to in Dan. 9:25, from the going forth of which the Seventy Weeks were to be computed. Beginning in the month of Nisan of the 20th of Artaxerxes, and extending "to the cutting off of Messiah the Prince," this latter event, the Crucifixion, must necessarily be 490 years from the issuance of the decree...
Chronikon Hebraikon - Seventh Period.