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NEHEMIAH’S INTERCESSORY PRAYER

1.5—11. And prayed before the God of heaven.
The name Nehemiah means “Yahweh comforts” and comes from the same root word as the
name Nahum (meaning “comfort”).
Nehemiah declares what God has revealed to him (e.g., 2:18). He intercedes for his people
and calls on them to return in faithfulness to the Mosaic covenant (e.g., 1:5–11).
A: Prayer – Introduction
He needs God’s help. Nehemiah is, above all, a man of prayer. The text records twelve
instances of prayers offered by Nehemiah:
1:4,

6:9, 14

1:5–11

13:14

2:4

13:22

4:4–5, 9

13:29

5:19

13:31

1. Prayer is frequently commanded (Job 42.8; Jer. 29.7; Joel 2. 17; Matt. 5.44; 1 Tim. 2.1; Jas.
5.14; 1 Jn. 5.16).
Numbers 6 23
Psalm 122 6
Ephesians 6 18
2. A good reason to pray is because it works!! For example:
Abraham (Gen. 17.18—20; 18.23; 20.7—18).
Moses (Exod. 8.12—31; 9.33; 17.11—13; 32.11—34). Exodus 32 11 But Moses sought the
favor of the LORD his God.
Jacob Genesis 32 9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father
Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will
make you prosper,’
Ezra (9.3—15). 5 Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my
tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my
God
Job (1.5) 42 10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and
gave him twice as much as he had before.
Elijah 1 Kings 17 20 Then he cried out to the LORD, “LORD my God, have you brought
tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”
Peter Acts 9 40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and
prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her
eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.
Paul Acts 28 7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of
the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three

days. 8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to
see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.

B. BACKGROUND TO NEHEMIAH’S PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
1. Presentation of the problem: Situation in Jerusalem
Nehemiah 1 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I
questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about
Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great
trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned
with fire.”
3

The story is set by the arrival of some people from Jerusalem in Judah. The use of brother in
a setting like this is often understood as a generic term, meaning a fellow countryman or
such. But cf. to Neh 7:2, Nehemiah refers to Hanani as his brother
2. Nehemiah inquired about the Jews living in Judah “and concerning Jerusalem.” He was
given a dreadful report that had two parts.
First, “the survivors are there in great distress and reproach.”
The second aspect of the report concerned the “wall of Jerusalem,” which “is also broken
down, and its gates are burned with fire” (v. 3).
The reason for the condition of wall and gates go back 14+ years earlier during the first
attempt to rebuild the walls:
Ezra 4 23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and
Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem
and compelled them by force to stop.
3. Hanani told Nehemiah that the Jewish remnant that remained in the land of Judah were
currently in ‫“( ָר ָעה‬distress”) and ‫“( ֶח ְר ָפה‬reproach”).
The reference to the remnant being in distress is most likely to be taken as a description of
their social and economic situation, while the term reproach announced the spiritual
condition of the people. The nation’s social situation was in distress because of continual
oppression by foreign neighbors (cf. Ezra 4:7–23).
The nation’s economic situation was in distress because of the heavy tax burden placed on
the remnant by the Persians
4. A Great Problem Needs a Great Solution
Note the vocabulary here: “great” (v3, 5, 10):
Nehemiah 1 3 Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble
and disgrace...
Nehemiah 1 5 Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps
his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments
Nehemiah 1 10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great
strength and your mighty hand.
The question is: When we pray, do we pray for something specific? Or should we begin by
asking God to reveal his will to us? How does this compare with the examples in Scripture

of people praying specific prayers? How do we learn to listen to hear God and know his will
in a situation?
5. Nehemiah gives us a picture of what prayer should look like. He prayed to God for help, but
he also wanted to do something himself, although he was far away from Judah. He was
working in the palace of the king of Persia, so, Nehemiah’s job gave him an opportunity to
speak to the king.
Nehemiah was careful and wise. He asked God to help him say the right thing to the king.
But Nehemiah had to wait for 4 months before he got his opportunity.

C. A GREAT PROBLEM NEEDS A GREAT SOLUTION.
Nehemiah 1 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and
fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
1. Fasting - For several days Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed to the Lord.
Fasting is abstaining from food for spiritual reasons, and primarily shows an openness to
God as well as humility. Fasting involves prayer, grief, penance, seeking guidance as well as
showing faith and devotion.
In the biblical context, fasting is not a way of asserting one’s will, but is a means of opening
oneself to the work of God, expressing profound grief over sin and pointing to one’s
ultimate dependence on God for all forms of nourishment.



Moses fasted for forty days on Mount Sinai in order to receive the law and
guidance in the wilderness (Ex 34:28; Deut 9:9)
Deuteronomy 9 9 When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the
tablets of the covenant that the LORD had made with you, I stayed on the mountain
forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water.
David fasts while pleading for the life of his child (2 Sam 12:16).
The inhabitants of Nineveh fast upon hearing news of the imminent judgment
announced by the Lord (Jonah 3:5).
Daniel – 9 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures,
according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of
Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with
him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness in order to prepare for his ministry
(Mt 4:2)

2. Mourned – More than emotional reaction, since it lasted for four months. (November to
March)
D. PRAYER NEEDS A CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF GOD’S CHARACTER.
1. Nehemiah has a good understanding of Scripture (cf the covenant with Moses, etc.), and
how God relates and deals with his people. Nehemiah is very familiar with the Book of
Deuteronomy:
Nehemiah 1 8 “Remember the instruction (‫ ַה ָד ָבר‬, the word) you gave your servant Moses,
saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me
and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will
gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my
Name.’

Deuteronomy 30 1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and
you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and
when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart
and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your
God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all
the nations where he scattered you. Cf (Lev 26, etc.)
2. He starts by worshipping God.
Daniel 9 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God,
who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,
Luke 11 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your
kingdom come. (Let your name be made holy)
3. Nehemiah understands God as the ruler of the world. " LORD, the God of heaven, the great
and awesome God." (N.B. LORD = Yahweh, as ruler; Elohim as Creator)
Psalm 132 7 “Let us go to his dwelling place, let us worship at his footstool... (cf Ps. 99.5)
4. He sees God as faithful. “…who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep
his commandments,”
(1) Faithful - "that keeps covenant". Yahweh is not some weather god you can bribe for
good crops.

‫ ) ַה ְב ִרית וָ ֶח ֶסד‬is covenant and faithfulness or loyalty. Although the

“Covenant of Love” (

nation had proved faithless, Nehemiah believed that the Lord would prove faithful.
Nehemiah was confident that God would still answer his prayer because of the Lord’s ‫ֶח ֶסד‬
(lovingkindness).
The two words for Love in v5 are different.
(2) Compassionate - "and mercy".
Exodus 20 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my
commandments.
Hebrews 13 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the
outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and
today and forever.
(3) “To those that love him, and keep his commandments.”

First, inward affection, “that love him”, the condition and response of the heart,
outward obedience, “and keep his commandments.” Obedience is visible outworking
of the inner reality of the heart.

E. SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT PRAYER.
1. Note the assumption of relationship:
Nehemiah 1 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is
praying before you, day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins
we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.
The term Servant (‫) ֶע ֶבד‬is used 8X in v4-11. Nehemiah realizes that he and the other faithful
Jews are acting as God’s servants, either referring to Nehemiah himself, Moses, or to the
people of Israel in general, as God they seek to accomplish His task.

2. Untiring in its persistence. “...praying before you, day and night " (v. 6).
Night and day, Nehemiah unceasingly pressed his requests. He prayed for a total of four
months between the beginning of his intercession in Kislev (November, 1.1, early 445–444
B.C), and the beginning of its fulfilment in Nisan (March, 2.1).
Acts 12 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for
him.
Luke 18 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that
she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
1 Thessalonians 5 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
F. INTERCESSORY PRAYER IS MARKED BY HUMILITY AND REPENTANCE.
1. As we approach God, His holiness will reveal our own spiritual state and our sin.
Nehemiah 1 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is
praying before you, day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins
we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We
have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws
you gave your servant Moses.
Isaiah 6 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live
among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
The theological term often used here is the word Depravity: This term denotes that
inherited pollution pervades the entire human character that is the result of the
disobedience of Adam and Eve.
2. The discovery of such moral faults show us our common corruption and mutual need of
God’s mercy.
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed
against you. (v. 6).
G. Prayer is marked by faithfulness to God, a desire for holiness:
The nation had sinned against their Lord by not keeping His ‫“( ִמ ְצֹות‬commandments”),

‫“( ֻח ֵּקים‬statutes”), and ‫“( ִמ ְש ָפ ִטים‬ordinances”). This threefold designation is a
comprehensive description of the law of Moses.
1. The word ‫ ִמ ְצֹות‬refers to the body of moral commands given to the nation (e.g., Ten
Commandments).
2. The term ‫ ֻח ֵּקים‬refers to the obligations placed upon the people (e.g., sacrifices, tithes,
feast days).
3. The word ‫“( ִמ ְש ָפ ִטים‬judgments,” “laws,” NIV) refers to the decisions of judges.

Q: ARE WE TO CONFESS THE SINS OF OTHERS? THE SINS OF ANOTHER GROUP?
Do we pray for a person or group that commits evil against others (e.g. do we pray that God
will forgive someone for a terrorist act?)
1 Timothy 1 15 This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came
into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.

3. The discovery of sin and our spiritual condition should bring us to a place of humility which
is essential to success in prayer.
G. THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD
Nehemiah 1 10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your
great strength and your mighty hand.
1. The Lord had demonstrated His love for the generation of Moses through His
redemption of the nation from out of bondage in Egypt, so He had demonstrated His love
for the current generation through His redemption of the remnant from out of bondage in
Babylon.
2. The word redeem ‫ ָפ ָדה‬refers to the payment of a price to liberate someone from slavery
(i.e., a ransom price). Yahweh accomplished this redemption by means of His sovereign
power. The phrases ‫גָ דֹול‬

‫( כ ַֹח‬great strength) and ‫( יָ ד ֲחזָ ָקה‬mighty hand) are a quotation of

Exod 32:11, where they are used in reference to the Lord’s redemption of the nation from
Egypt.
Exodus 32 11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why
should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great
power and a mighty hand?
H. NEHEMIAH PRAYS FOR A SPECIFIC ANSWER:
Nehemiah 1 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the
prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success
today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah closes his prayer by asking the Lord to grant one additional request, that
Yahweh might grant him a favorable response from “this man” (i.e., the Persian king
Artaxerxes).
The importance of this request is seen in the phrase “I was cupbearer to the king.”
Nehemiah was a royal cupbearer would likely have possessed:
1. He would have been well trained in court etiquette (cf. Dan 1:4–5).
2. He was probably a handsome individual (cf. Dan 1:4, 13, 15).
3. He would certainly know how to select wines to set before the king. A proverb in the
Babylonian Talmud (B. Qam. 92b) states, “The wine belongs to the master but credit for it is
due to his cupbearer.”
4. He would have to be a close companion to the king with a willingness to lend an ear at all
times. Saki, the companion of Omar Khayyam, served wine to him and listened to his
discourses.
5. He would be a man of great influence as one with the closest access to the king, and one
who could well determine who could see the king.
6. Above all, Nehemiah had to be an individual who enjoyed the unreserved confidence of
the king. The great need for trustworthy attendants is underscored by the intrigues that
were endemic to the Persian court.

Conclusion:
1. The prayer recorded in 1:5–11 is just one of several prayers offered by Nehemiah in this
book. From his prayers and the record in the book of Nehemiah, we learn that:

When he is opposed in his efforts, he prays.

When he is successful in his accomplishments, he prays.

With each step he takes, Nehemiah either requests the help of God or thanks Him for
help already provided.

2. Key elements in his prayers include adoration, confession, intercession, and
supplication. These elements should form an integral part of our prayers as well.
Whenever we pray, we ought to extol the name of Yahweh, confess our sins, intercede for
others, and ask the Lord to meet our needs.
3. Don’t commit yourself impetuously to something just because the need is there. The
needs are simply endless. You don’t have to respond to all of the world’s needs. Instead,
wait on God in prayer until He burdens your heart with a particular need that you can do
something about. Alan Redpath wrote, “Recognition of need must be followed by persistent
waiting upon God until the overwhelming sense of the need becomes a specific burden
work which God would have me do.”
We need to pray continually that God would give us a heart to feel the burden of people’s
hurts and needs and the willingness to get involved.
4. God’s purpose involves building His church for the sake of His name and His glory. He
wants to display the riches of His glorious grace and His manifold wisdom through the
church to all the world.