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The Christadelphian | October 2016

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

Nehemiah’s prayer

Although it might appear as a prayer of the moment, Nehemiah had planned carefully his request, and had already been in frequent prayer to God.

Israel were taken to Babylon as punishment for their faithlessness. However the captivity was to be for a specified time and then “after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10). [1] So, in fulfilment of the prophecy given in Isaiah 44:28 (“Cyrus … shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid”) around 50,000 returned from Babylon (Ezra 2:64,65).

Building starts and ceases

The returning captives started to build but –

“when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel … then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building.” (Ezra 4:1,4)

Thwarted by their adversaries, “Then ceased the work … unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:24). The work which had commenced fell into disrepair. The enthusiastic start declined into apathy and self-seeking by the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Daniel understood by books

In the third year of Jehoiakim Daniel was taken captive to Babylon along with “children … skilful in all wisdom” (Daniel 1:4). Then in the first year of Darius’ reign (9:1) we see that Daniel had been reading and thinking about the words of the prophet Jeremiah. As a result he “understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem” (verse 2). As soon as he understood that the time for the end of the captivity was at hand Daniel “set [his] face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (verse 3) and very eloquently identifies with the nation, saying:

“We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments.” (verse 5)

Further he prayed for God’s mercy on Jerusalem, saying:

“O Lord … let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain … O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant … and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate.” (verses 16,17)

Here we learn the value of reading scripture. It has to be read with a desire to see its relevance to us in our day-to-day living. This is exactly what Daniel was doing.

Nehemiah hears of affliction in Jerusalem and prays

Another faithful man “in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes” (Nehemiah 2:1) heard “the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates are burned with fire” (1:3). As soon as Nehemiah was made aware of the plight of Jerusalem and its inhabitants he prayed to God. He identified with the people speaking of sins, saying: “… we have sinned … both I and my father’s house …” (verse 6).

But there is more to Nehemiah’s prayer. He prays that God would restore Judah and Benjamin in Jerusalem and, by implication, the good fortunes of the city of Jerusalem, speaking of bringing them “unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there” (verse 9, quoting Deuteronomy 12:11). Nehemiah also recognised that there was the need for Artaxerxes to play his part in enabling his prayer to be answered, so concludes: “O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant … and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (verse 11). Advising us of his own position before the king he tells us, “I was the king’s cupbearer”(verse 11).

Herein is a lesson for us. Prayer is good but it is important that we recognise that our God uses others to bring about His will.

The prayer of Daniel and Nehemiah

Daniel and Nehemiah had the same concerns. They both prayed making similar requests – so similar that we see a number of words, phrases and ideas in both men’s prayers. Both knew the purpose of God so it is hardly surprising that their prayers are similar. It is probable that Nehemiah based his prayer on the words of Daniel (see table below).

Language in Nehemiah 1 Language in Daniel 9
“O Lord” (verse 5) “O Lord” (verse 4)
“Great and terrible” (verse 5) “Great and dreadful” (verse 4)
“That keepeth … his commandments” (verse 5) “Keeping … his commandments” (verse 4)
“Let thine ear … be attentive” (verse 6) “Incline thine ear” (verse 18)
“Eyes open” (verse 6) “Open thine eyes” (verse 18)
“Hear the prayer of thy servant” (verse 6) “Hear the prayer of thy servant” (verse 17)
“Confess the sins of the children of Israel” (verse 6) “We have sinned” (verse 5)
“Against thee” (verse 6) “Against thee” (verses 7,8)
“My father’s house” (verse 6) “Our fathers” (verse 16)
“Moses” (verse 7) “Moses” (verses 11,13)

Doing his job faithfully, yet burdened down by his concerns for the city of God, Nehemiah stands before the king. But his mind is elsewhere and troubled by his thoughts. His face showed his sadness. The king could have ordered Nehemiah’s death. Instead he enquired as to the reason for his faithful cupbearer’s sadness. So after a silent prayer Nehemiah asks; “If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it” (2:5). His request is granted, for “it pleased the king to send me” (verse 6). Nehemiah’s answer exceeded his wildest dream – or did it? It all depends on whether Nehemiah saw his prayers as effectual.

Nehemiah already had a plan

Clearly Nehemiah had given a lot of thought to the needs in Jerusalem and how the king could help, for as soon as the king indicated that Nehemiah could go to Jerusalem he lays out his requirements in quite some detail. He asked for:

  • Letters to the governor beyond the river (for safe passage).
  • A letter to Asaph to secure timber from the king’s forest.
  • A specified leave of absence.

He had thought through the building needs carefully as he set out what the material requested would be used for. So even before he stood in the king’s presence with the wine in his hand, Nehemiah had worked out that when his prayer was answered there would be quite specific needs for which he planned.

The lesson for us is very clear. Simply making requests to God is not sufficient. Our prayers must be planned and based on a carefully worked out need. [2]

What was Nehemiah’s prayer?

We have to conclude, therefore, that when Nehemiah prayed before the king Artaxerxes that his prayer was not a hasty, thoughtless prayer. We have seen that he had been praying already about the situation in Jerusalem and had also thought about the requirements associated with a journey to help with the repair work.

So we conclude that when Nehemiah “prayed unto the God of heaven” (2:4), he was not concerned with what he might say to the king. It is reasonable to conclude that Nehemiah’s prayer was a grateful “thank you” to his God for answering his prayer.

Again, here is another lesson for us. We all make request to God. Doubtless there are times when our prayers are answered convincingly. Do we remember to thank our Father for answering our prayers?

Peter Forbes

[1] All quotations are from the KJV, unless otherwise noted.

[2] This should not be taken to imply that spontaneous prayers are not appropriate. Clearly they are in certain circumstances. The point here is that Nehemiah’s prayer was not a spontaneous request about going to Jerusalem. That had already been thought out and planned.

 

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