“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “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.
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.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
As the book of Ezra closed, so Nehemiah opens: with the prayer of a godly intercessor. Nehemiah is the last in a progression of Old Testament leaders who in their faithfulness and their imperfection teach us to depend on God’s faithfulness, and who train us to look ahead to the true Intercessor who will represent God’s people perfectly before his Father.
Nehemiah knows God’s faithfulness in preserving a remnant and restoring them to Jerusalem, according to his promises (see note on Ezra 1:1–11). Yearning for his people, hearing of their city’s broken down wall, Nehemiah leads the third group of returning exiles 13 years after Ezra’s return. Before his action comes his prayer, which acknowledges a need for more than the physical protection of walls. His people need the faithful protection of their God.
Here and throughout the book, Nehemiah shows us how to pray: with reverence for such a great and awesome God (Neh. 1:5), knowledge of God’s Word, along with confession of disobedience to that Word (vv. 6–10) and requests for mercy (v. 11). His prayer addresses a covenant-keeping God of steadfast love (v. 5; see Ex. 34:6; Deut. 7:9), a God who has “redeemed” his people (Neh. 1:10). Nehemiah is referring to God’s redemption of the Israelites from Egypt, but that rescue pictures the greater One to come, not through the blood of a sacrificed lamb but through the death and resurrection of Christ, “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). The word “servant” (Neh. 1:6, 8, 10, 11) emphasizes this people’s identity as belonging to this God, not to the earthly king Nehemiah serves. Addressing the Lord, Nehemiah calls the exiles “your people” (v. 10; seeEx. 6:7); they were chosen by God to receive his promises of blessing and to bear the seed of that blessing for all the peoples of the earth (Gen. 12:1–3).
This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.