During the reign of King David (1011–971 B.C.), God directed this man after God’s own heart to purchase the threshing floor of Araunah, to be the eventual building site of the Temple at Jerusalem (2 Sam 24). Jerusalem was the city in the Promised Land that God chose to dwell in the midst of His people Israel. He had traveled with them out of Egypt and as He taught them proper worship and service in the wilderness, it was the tabernacle (tent) where He met with them.
Set free from slavery in Egypt (1446 B.C.), the Israelites were now looking for their more permanent home. Jerusalem, the city of Yahweh’s peace, would always be a city of strife, however. The temporary nature of life in this world, doomed to pass away, means we must look to something more permanent. What God has revealed for us to see, regarding the better country of our eternal dwelling (Heb 11:16), is typified in the images drawn from Old Testament Israel.
We are conceived and born into the world as slaves to sin (Ps 51:5; Rom 3:23; Rom 6:6, 16–20). Jesus delivers His people from slavery, baptizing them into a community of people on a sojourn through this world (Mt 3:11; 1 Cor 12:13). The holy nation of God’s chosen people is heading for heaven and the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city of God that will be the eternal home for those who will dwell in the presence of God on the new earth (Is 65–66; Rev 21–22).
Christ’s church, the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), is ever in distress while she is being formed in the crucible of this hostile environment. Joining in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24), His people are granted grace to persevere and endure diverse tribulations. God causes all things to work together for good for His beloved (Rom 8:28). In fact, the more ominous the situation, the more of God’s glory is displayed.
The returning exiles from Babylon help us to see the salvation of the Lord. Zerubbabel led the first wave of Jews, under the decree of Cyrus of Persia, to return to Jerusalem (538 B.C.). Their first task was to rebuild the house of God, the Temple. Yahweh desires and delights in the worship of His people. Although synagogues formed during that Babylonian captivity, it was always in the heart of God’s people to worship Yahweh at the Temple in His chosen city (Dt 12:5, 11; Ezra 6:12; Neh 1:9).
The standard for Yahweh’s relationship with Israel was stated in Genesis 17:7, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you through their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” Later, the struggle was to get to the Promised Land and stay in the land. This was true for the patriarchs, the Exodus generation, and the exiles.
In no period of Israel's history did permanent peace, security, or prosperity occur. Resistance to the Jews being in the Promised Land was provided by surrounding peoples. Jewish disobedience to the covenant and the Law also meant forfeited blessings. In the final tally, no generation of Jews proved to be faithful covenant keepers. Every generation represented some point on the spectrum of faithfulness, however.
In December of 445 B.C. (Chislev), during the reign of King Artaxerxes (I) of Persia (Iran), the burden of the Lord was placed upon Nehemiah (Neh 1:1–3). This Jew, born in exile, had risen in the ranks of the king’s court to be a cupbearer (Neh 1:11). If the king was concerned with being poisoned, the cupbearers in the king’s court even more so. Thus, food and drink inspection was a vital government office.
Jews in the exilic governments of Babylon and Medo-Persia are noted prominently in the biblical record. Daniel and his friends, Esther and Mordecai, along with Ezra and Nehemiah highlight the role God’s people played as good citizens on the world stage. The desire for the land, Jerusalem, the Temple, and restored community for God’s chosen people inspired all faithful exiles to perform their duties in hope.
Nehemiah inquired of his brother and men who recently returned from Judah (Neh 1:1–3). The status of those elements making for true worship of Yahweh was conveyed. The news was not good. Both the people and Jerusalem were in distress. These are the people of the first wave of returning exiles (538 B.C.). They had survived the captivity, but life was hard and dangerous because of the state of the city.
Nehemiah, a type of Christ, was grieved (Neh 1:4). Just as Jesus cares for His flock of people called by His name, so we see Nehemiah taking action. The man of Susa fasted and prayed for days. Jesus was often in prayer for His disciples and for all those who would believe in and follow Him (Jn 17).
In praying to Yahweh, regarding this burden, Nehemiah was reverent in his approach to the God of his fathers, the God of heaven (Neh 1:5). Acknowledging the attributes of God denotes an adoring reverence. It also fans the flames of faith.
Remembering the relationship also humbles the penitent in prayer. The fact is that we who sin against the One who loves us is lamentable. Confessing the corporate unfaithfulness to the Law of God is a priestly duty but Nehemiah was not a priest. He would take the mantle of governor, but in his prayer he was simply confessing the obvious. Israel had been judged for profaning Sabbath, practicing idolatry, and breaking the Law given to Moses…in a myriad of ways.
The promise of God restoring proper worship is our Christian hope. The city of God (New Jerusalem) exists in the better country to be established in a complete restoration of all things in the new creation of a new heavens and a new earth (Is 65–66; Rev 21–22).
Nehemiah’s prayer for Jerusalem serves to foreshadow a city whose architect and builder is God (Heb 3:4; 11:10). Yahweh’s answer to Nehemiah’s prayer is observed in the subsequent chapters of the book that bears his name. Miraculous accomplishments by the Jews in rebuilding the city walls and gates speak only to the glory of God in accomplishing the burden He put upon Nehemiah.
God answered Nehemiah’s prayer with great favor. How much more are the prayers of Jesus answered in the coming restoration of the heavens and the earth and the city of God chosen to be the place where God ultimately fulfills Genesis 17:7?
Spokane Valley, Washington
September 26, 2022