“The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” Nehemiah 1:3
At the beginning of the book of Nehemiah a report comes to him that the walls and gates of Jerusalem are broken down and destroyed. Nehemiah weeps for his nation. He prays and cries out to God for mercy.
“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
Notice Nehemiah confess the sin of his nation, then he confesses the sin of his own house. He is confessing the great sin of a nation, but also points out that God has a covenant with His people. He starts off with this thought and continues it in verse 8.
“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.’” vs. 8-9
While Nehemiah asks for God’s mercy as he morns for his nation, he also reminds God of His words to Moses, to gather his scattered people once they return and keep His commands.
Now we can’t be sure when Nehemiah got it in his heart to rebuild the walls, but we do know that there were four months between chapters 1 and 2. So, in chapter one he hears the report and weeps and prays. In chapter two, four months later, he is before the King (he was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes), and we can see from the conversation that there has been some planning on the part of Nehemiah. When the King questions him about being sad, asking if he is sick, Nehemiah is afraid but responds:
“Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:3
And then he asks the king if he can return to Judah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. After he receives a very favorable response from the Artaxerxes, he continues by asking for letters.
“And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.’” vs. 7-8
I point this out because it seems obvious that Nehemiah had been thinking about such things. Maybe he already knew what to ask for and just was waiting for the right moment. But clearly, when he received the king’s initial response to go, he proceeded by asking for things from the king he knew he would need. This was not a last minute idea. He planned for it. And when the time came he was able to stand before the king and ask for what he needed.
Something else I notice here is verse 4, “Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven.” Right in the middle of his conversation with Artaxerxes, the Bible points out that he prayed, which means he was praying during the conversation. This is important. Nehemiah started with prayer and fasting; then, when the opportunity came, he proceeded but in pray. He prayed through his opportunity with the king. I think this is exceptionally important for us to hear and know. When our opportunity comes, we must continue in prayer – all the way through. This protects us and helps us stay on course. There is no greater time when we may steer off course than when we are in the midst of our greatest opportunity and before great men. We need God’s guidance then more than ever. However, I still contend that Nehemiah had planned out what he needed to do once the time came. Prayer and preparation working together.
There is one more example I want to point out about how prayer and preparation working together. In Nehemiah 4 it shows another example of how this works. As they built the wall, there arose resistance.
“But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.” Nehemiah 4:7-9
There will always be resistance, always people who do not want us to succeed. Verse 9 is so beautiful and exemplifies how prayer and preparation work together. Opposition comes, they pray to God and then go and set a guard. They prayed for God’s protection and then armed themselves (prepared for confrontation). Verse 13 says that in the open places of the wall, they stationed people with swords, spears, and bows. This was not a half-hearted attempt at rebuilding the wall. They were ready to defend the city with their lives, so the wall could be rebuilt.
If you read the rest of Nehemiah, you know that the wall is rebuilt is 52 days – an amazing feat. What comes of prayer and preparation – success. God granted success with the king and in rebuilding the walls. It was only 9-10 months from the time the report was given to Nehemiah in chapter 1 until the completion of the wall. That means that because God put it in Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem that the city went from ruins and rubble to a fortified city. Everything changed.
“So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” Nehemiah 6:15-16
Nehemiah is an example to us in many ways. He started with a broken heart and prayer and finished with success and a lot of work and preparation along the way. I think we must look at our own culture and ask, are the walls broken down and the gates destroyed. And if so, what has God put in our heart to do about it. I am not talking about physical walls, though they have their place. I am talking about the spiritual nature of America. Do we live in a time of broken walls and open gates. I think we do. The destruction of spiritual walls and gates would mean that any and everything can come in and continue the destruction. We need to rebuild our walls, set our gates back in place, and then as any military would do, set a guard. Where do we start – I think we start where Nehemiah did. We cry out to God in brokenness, confess our sins, and look for an opportunity to rebuild. Nothing goes forward without prayer. Pray for our nation, pray for strong spiritual leaders to rise up, and pray for healing and wholeness. Our land is broken, and it is up to us to rebuild it.