6. Nehemiah's Prayer (Nehemiah 1:1-2:8)

Audio (30:43)

William Brassey Hole (1846-1917), ‘Nehemiah Makes His Petition to Artaxerxes,’ oil on canvas, in The Holy Bible. Containing The Old And New Testaments (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1925).
William Brassey Hole (1846-1917), 'Nehemiah Makes His Petition to Artaxerxes,' oil on canvas, in The Holy Bible. Containing The Old And New Testaments (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1925).

As the Book of Nehemiah opens, Jerusalem is in trouble. Judah's enemies, the Samaritans, have prevented the Jews from repairing Jerusalem's broken-down defenses. All seems to be lost. But God has a plan.

It just so happens that Nehemiah, a Jew, is a high official in the Persian government. He lives in "the citadel[173] of Susa," the royal palace, the winter capital of the kings of Persia, home previously to Esther[174] -- 700 miles and five or six months journey from Jerusalem. Susa is one of the oldest cities in the world, going back to 5000 BC.

Nehemiah's name means "Yahweh comforts." We know nothing about his background other than that he is said to be "son of Hacaliah." In Hebrew Bibles, Ezra and Nehemiah are combined. They are divided into two books in the third century in Christian Bibles.

As Nehemiah opens, we find Nehemiah as a trusted official in the king's court, "cupbearer[175] to the king" (Nehemiah 1:11b). The cupbearer was in charge of the king's wine, and would sometimes be called upon to drink some of it before the king, to make sure it didn't contain poison. This was a position of high confidence, since kings would be the focus of various assassination plots that might include poisoning. (The previous king had been assassinated by his chief bodyguard). It is quite possible that Nehemiah is a eunuch, since a cupbearer would probably have had contact with the king's harem.[176] Since the cupbearer is constantly with the king, he is in a position of great influence, since he has the king's ear. The cupbearer is also well-paid, if Nehemiah's wealth is any indication (Nehemiah 5:8, 10, 14, 17).

Nehemiah is cupbearer to Artaxerxes Longimanus, the most powerful man in the world of his day, who reigns over the vast Persian Empire from 464 to 424 BC. He is the son of Xerxes I (486-465 BC, called Ahasuerus in the book of Esther). Xerxes is famous to people today as the Persian king during the 2006 movie "300," which features 300 Spartans against the massive Persian army. His son, Artaxerxes, reigns in contentious times as well. He wars on and off with Greek kings, and has put down a revolt in Egypt (460-454 BC). But Artaxerxes is sympathetic towards his cupbearer Nehemiah.

Nehemiah, the King's Cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:1)

Nehemiah's brother,[177] just back from Judah, gives him a distressing report. Nehemiah gives us the date -- November-December 446 BC. The temple had been completed in 515 BC, but the walls of Jerusalem, which had been severely damaged when the city was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC, have many sections that are still in disrepair.

As we'll see in a moment, Judah's enemies have obtained an injunction from Artaxerxes stopping repair of the walls of Jerusalem. The Samaritans have been zealous in following the king's command. Perhaps they have not only halted construction of Jerusalem's defenses, but have burned newly-built gates and demolished new attempts to repair breaches in the wall -- we're not sure. Whatever has happened, it's clear that Jerusalem has no defenses, no functional gates, and a broken down wall. The news his brother brings is deeply troubling to Nehemiah.

"Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble[178] and disgrace.[179] The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." (Nehemiah 1:3)

Petitions to Xerxes and Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7-23)

Nehemiah has long known of the condition of Jerusalem's walls resulting from the Babylonians destruction of the city in 587 BC. That is not new.

But now he hears firsthand from his brother and other eyewitnesses of the implications of how Jerusalem's enemies have successfully petitioned Artaxerxes to strip away royal patronage and backing (Ezra 4:7-23).

In Lesson 1, we skipped Ezra 4:7-23 because it had been inserted out of chronological order among passages discussing the return and rebuilding of the temple (538 to 515 BC). These verses include letters sent by the enemies of the Jews to two successive Persian Kings -- first to Xerxes (486-465 BC) and then to Artaxerxes (465-424 BC).

Here's my reconstruction of the chronology:

538 BC The rebuilding begins
520 BC The rebuilding resumes after an 18-year hiatus
486-465 BC Letter to Xerxes, the Persian emperor who reigned 486-465 BC. He is the King Ahasuerus known from the story of Esther.
460-454 BC Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424 BC) at war in Egypt against Pharaoh Inaros II and Greek allies to put down serious revolt against Persian domination.
458 BC Ezra receives authorization from Artaxerxes I authorizing him to take money and people to Jerusalem (Ezra 7).
457-445 BC Enemies' letter to Artaxerxes, presumably after Ezra's initial mission, in which Artaxerxes countermands his support of the Jews under Ezra.
449 BC Peace of Callias between Persia and the Greek city-states (Athens, etc.) that have been their opponents in the Mediterranean.
445 BC Nehemiah serves as cupbearer to Artaxerxes I, and in Nov/Dec 445 BC goes to Jerusalem to repair its walls (Nehemiah 1:1) with renewed authorization from Artaxerxes.

The senders of the letter in Ezra 4:7-10 are primarily the Samaritans. Notice the complaint doesn't involve the rebuilding of the temple, but the rebuilding of the city and its walls, which took place perhaps 75 years after the temple was rebuilt. The enemies write to Artaxerxes:

"Be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations." (Ezra 4:12)

Ezra, who had been sent to Jerusalem with the king's commission in 458 BC, has been working to restore Jerusalem's walls. The Samaritans and other powers in the area are afraid that if Jerusalem's defenses are repaired, they can no longer threaten and dominate the Jews. So they write a deceptive and poisonous letter to Artaxerxes:

"Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired.... We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River." (Ezra 4:13, 16)

This is a time when the Persian position in the southeastern Mediterranean is unsettled, with Egypt first threatening to rebel and then actual rebellion breaking out in 460 BC. Artaxerxes had sent Ezra to shore up Persian control of the area, but now he believes Judah's enemies, that Jerusalem is threatening to rebel. Fearful of more rebellion, and as a result of the enemies' deceitful petition, Artaxerxes issues an order to the Satrapy or Province Beyond the River:

"Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?" (Ezra 4:21-22)

Jerusalem's enemies, now with royal backing, "went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop" (Ezra 4:23). As Kidner puts it:

"It was an ominous development, for the ring of hostile neighbors round Jerusalem could now claim royal backing. The patronage which Ezra had enjoyed (cf. Ezra 7:21-- 26) was suddenly in ruins, as completely as the city walls and gates. Jerusalem was not only disarmed but on its own."[180]

Deeply Moved (Nehemiah 1:4)

The expedition under Ezra that had begun with such hope and promise has been thwarted and Nehemiah's countrymen are "in great trouble and disgrace." It is the report of this recent decree and its results that troubles Nehemiah so greatly. The Jews are utterly defenseless.

"When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven." (Nehemiah 1:4)

Immortal Persian guard, glazed brick Frieze of Archers found in Darius the Great’s palace in Susa, now in the Louvre, Paris.
Immortal Persian guard, glazed brick Frieze of Archers found in Darius the Great's palace in Susa, now in the Louvre, Paris.

He is deeply affected. Standing when he hears his brother's report, he sinks to the ground and sits. Then he begins to weep[181] and mourn,[182] probably with loud laments. Weeping and mourning were accompanied by fasting.[183] The suffering of his countrymen in Jerusalem is Nehemiah's suffering. Their shame is his shame.

We'll take this lesson to examine Nehemiah's prayer, one of the great prayers of the Bible.[184] In the next lesson we'll consider how Nehemiah goes about rebuilding the walls.

Great and Awesome God (Nehemiah 1:5-6a)

During his days of mourning, "day and night," Nehemiah has been praying essentially the same prayer, over and over again. Here, Nehemiah shares with us the basic elements of his prayer.

Nehemiah's terminology seems to have some similarities with Daniel's prayer of confession (Daniel 9:4b-5), which isn't surprising since they were part of the same Jewish community in exile.

Nehemiah begins to pray[185] to the LORD (that is, God's revealed name, "Yahweh"), whom he describes as "the God of heaven," a phrase commonly used in the Persian empire. Like the Lord's Prayer, Nehemiah's salutation lifts his eyes to view the expansiveness of the Maker of the heavens.

The phrase, "great and awesome God" is striking. "Awesome" (NIV, NRSV, ESV) or "terrible" (KJV) is yārē, "be afraid, revere," which can refer to the emotion of fear as well as to "reverence or awe."[186] We don't like the idea of a terrible or dreadful God. We would rather think of God as our buddy or "home boy." No! God is awesome. He has immense power under his sole control.

I can remember holding my firstborn son on my shoulders as I walked along the beach at Fort Bragg, California. The Pacific breakers crashed upon the shore and rocks with great noise and power. I could feel my son was almost shuddering in fear. "God made the ocean, David," I told him. Yes, God is awesome in his power. He cannot be domesticated or tamed.

He is God in all his might and power! The refrain to Rick Mullins' praise chorus has brought this phrase into our worship vocabulary:

"Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God."[187]

Like Daniel, Nehemiah recalls God's "covenant and steadfast love" (NRSV), which the people of Israel have broken by their disobedience. Then he asks God to give him a hearing. He is about ready to go in before the most powerful monarch of his day, Artaxerxes. But first he begs a hearing from the God of heaven upon whom he depends.

Notice that this is not a single prayer, but "the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night" (1:6a). This prayer is only the latest in a series of supplications that, as we will see, has lasted four months.

Q1. (Nehemiah 1:1-6) Why does Nehemiah pray day and night for four months? Why does he fast and weep? Isn't that excessive?

Confession of Sins (Nehemiah 1:6b-7)

Now he comes to his confession of sins, placing himself among the sinners.

"I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses." (1:6b-7)

We examined confessing the sins of one's nation when we studied Ezra's prayer of confession in Lesson 5 (Ezra 9:6b-7). Both Ezra and Nehemiah place themselves with their people. They see themselves as part of this unrighteous people and confess the sins of the people on their behalf, a priestly role.

Reciting God's Promise to Moses (Nehemiah 1:8-9)

But let's go on to the basis for Nehemiah's prayer. He can't appeal to God on the basis of Israel's righteousness. What is his basis of appeal?

"Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 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.'" (1:8-9)

These verses feature two common verbs: "to scatter" and "to gather."

The first verb, "scatter," appears 64 times in the Old Testament -- the scattering of an enemy's armies, the scattering of sheep, and most frequently of God scattering Israel (Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 4:27; 28:64; 1 Kings 9:6). Hamilton observes, "It is not the Assyrians or Babylonians who scatter the people of God. They are simply instrumental. God himself is the scatterer."[188]

The second verb is "to gather." It is used of gathering food and of money, but most commonly of gathering people for social reasons, as an army, and for religious functions. The word is used many times for the gathering of God's people from their exile in Babylon (Ezra 1:1-4; Psalm 147:2; Jeremiah 32:37; Ezekiel 34:12-13; 36:24; Zechariah 8:7-8).[189] In the New Testament, ultimately, "gathering" refers to the gathering of the saints in the rapture (Matthew 3:12; 13:30; 24:31; 2 Thessalonians 2:1).

Now Nehemiah quotes back to God his own words and promises. He doesn't seem to have a single passage in mind, but draws his thoughts from several passages, particularly Deuteronomy 30:1-3. See the parallels between these:

The Curse of Scattering (Nehemiah 1:8)

"Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter (pûts) you among the nations...." (Nehemiah 1:8)

"When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses (nādah[190]) you among the nations...." (Deuteronomy 30:1)

The Blessings of Obedience (Nehemiah 1:9a)

"... But if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon...." (Nehemiah 1:9a)

"... 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...." (Deuteronomy 30:2)

The Promise of Gathering (Nehemiah 1:9b)

"I will gather (qābats) them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name." (Nehemiah 1:9b)

"... Then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather (qābats) you again from all the nations where he scattered (pûts) you." (Deuteronomy 30:3)

God has scattered as he said he would, and he has gathered, according to his promise. There has been repentance and a renewed obedience among the returnees, Nehemiah is arguing.

The Dwelling Place of Your Name (Nehemiah 1:9b)

They have consequently been restored "to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name" (Nehemiah 1:9). But Jerusalem's walls and gates are in ruins. The people are being oppressed in God's own city. You have a stake in the future of Jerusalem, Nehemiah contends, because it is the place where your Name dwells. When Jerusalem and God's people are in disgrace, it reflects on God's Name.

The Prayer of Your Servants (Nehemiah 1:10-11)

Nehemiah concludes his prayer by appealing to God for his servants:

"'They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O 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 1:10-11)

We might look upon being a servant as a lowly position. But it can also be looked at as an honor and a privilege. Nehemiah is a servant. As cupbearer to the king of Assyria, he is in a place of very high honor. In a society bound together by suzerain-vassal (king-servant) treaties, the servant has a duty towards the master, but the master also has a duty to protect the servant. It is a two-way covenant. Nehemiah makes two points about servants:

  1. You redeemed your servants at great expense. (Nehemiah is probably referring to God delivering his people both from Egypt a thousand years before and from Babylon beginning in 539 BC.)
  2. Your servants delight in honoring you.

Q2. (Nehemiah 1:7-11) What is the basis of Nehemiah's appeal? How does he argue his case before God? What do we learn from this about intercession?

Nehemiah's Two Petitions (Nehemiah 1:11)

On the basis of God's promise to restore his people to Jerusalem, and on the basis that God's servants are now calling upon his strength for protection, Nehemiah makes two petitions:

"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." (Nehemiah 1:11a)

"'Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.' I was cupbearer to the king." (Nehemiah 11:b)

Listen to our petition for Jerusalem, O God, and give me favor before the king, because I am Your servant.

The Danger of Nehemiah's Request

This second petition is no "slam-dunk." Artaxerxes' policy on Jerusalem had flip-flopped and there is no way to assess his current attitude toward Jerusalem.

As we have seen, in 458 BC Artaxerxes had ruled positively in favor of Ezra and given considerable money for the restoration of the temple and its sacrifices (Ezra 7:11-26). But recently, Artaxerxes' policy has turned against the Jews and Jerusalem, due to the court influence of their enemies (Ezra 4:17-23).

What Nehemiah is asking God is to give Nehemiah so much favor that the king will be willing to reverse himself yet again. That might be embarrassing for the king and make him look weak and inconsistent. Nehemiah is a trusted servant, granted, but he seems to be more of a personal servant in the role of cupbearer, than a secretary of state.

When he makes his request of the king, if the king is angry or offended, Nehemiah could quite easily lose his job or even his life! No king wants to feel manipulated, particularly by his servants, who might presume upon their position to ask for personal favors.

Parallels with Esther (Esther 4:13-16)

The situation sounds very much like the dilemma in which Esther found herself in this very palace some 35 to 40 years before. Haman, a high official in the court of the Persian king Xerxes (486-465/4 BC) and enemy of the Jews, has plotted to destroy the Jewish exile community living in the land. It "just so happened" that Xerxes' queen is Esther, a Jewess, but she can come into his presence only when she was summoned -- upon pain of death -- and she hasn't been summoned for the past 30 days (Esther 4:11). When a decree to annihilate the Jews is enacted, Esther's uncle Mordecai appeals to her to help her people:

"'Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?'

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 'Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'" (Esther 4:13-16)

Nehemiah's risk in bringing his request before the king is considerable. But he no doubt recognizes that God had elevated him to this position "for such a time as this." It is time for him to stand up and be counted with God's people. So Nehemiah prays fervently:

"'Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.' I was cupbearer to the king." (Nehemiah 1:11)

Today is the day he will make his request. Today he desperately needs God's help, for upon his success before the king hinges the success of God's people in far away Jerusalem.

Q3. (Nehemiah 1:11) In what way does Nehemiah's situation compare to Esther's? Why does God place his people in strategic positions today in the community, in business, in the military, in government? What responsibilities do we have to God that can cause danger to our positions and our lives? Has this ever happened to you? How do you pray in situations like this?

Nehemiah prays for two things specifically: success[191] and favor.[192] He asks that some kind of bond of empathy or compassion will be formed between himself the king.

In the Presence of the King (Nehemiah 2:1-4)

Nehemiah has humbled himself before God in weeping, mourning, and fasting. He has prayed. Now, four months after Nehemiah's initial receipt of the news about Jerusalem, the day has arrived. Nehemiah knows it.

Since the queen is present (Nehemiah 2:6), this probably isn't a public occasion, but likely the king and queen are being served in their apartment.

"In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, 'Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.'" (Nehemiah 2:1-2)

Normally, servants are expected to mask their own personal feelings as they serve the monarch. But Nehemiah does not do this -- purposely. Nehemiah isn't free to initiate any conversations with the king. He is a servant. But Nehemiah's countenance prompts a question from the king that Nehemiah is free to answer. In spite of the terror he feels, he says his piece, with respect, but with a clear boldness:

"I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?'" (Nehemiah 2:3)

Instead of apologizing for his sadness and covering up its causes as we so often do, he is open.

An Arrow Prayer (Nehemiah 2:4)

This is the crucial moment. The king can dismiss him from service and banish him forever from his presence. You must admit, his openness could be construed to put some blame on the king for Jerusalem's dire situation, since it resulted directly from the king's own policy.

"The king said to me, 'What is it you want?'
Then I prayed[193] to the God of heaven, and I answered the king...."
(Nehemiah 2:4-5a)

The king asks what he wants, and -- before he answers -- Nehemiah prays a quick and silent prayer (sometimes called an "arrow prayer") to God for help. Then he answers the king.

You've prayed prayers like that. "Lord, help me! Lord, save me! Lord, give me strength!" But you may not have realized that "arrow prayers" are among the great prayers of the Bible prayed by God's servants for thousands of years when in dire straits.

It is important to observe, however, that Nehemiah's "arrow prayer" is not the extent of his prayer life, but rather the overflow. Nehemiah has agonized in prayer over this issue for days and months. The "arrow prayer" is but a continuation of Nehemiah's conversation and partnership with God about this issue.

Q4. (Nehemiah 2:4) What danger is Nehemiah in? Why does he pray quickly and silently before he answers the king? How does this quick "arrow prayer" relate to the four months of prayer he has just finished?

Request to Rebuild the City (Nehemiah 2:5-6)

The king has asked what he wants. Nehemiah's answer to the king is specific and well thought out:

"And I answered the king, 'If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.'

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, 'How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?' It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time." (Nehemiah 2:5-6)

In the king's response, Nehemiah can sense that God has indeed given him favor. The king's concern is not whether he should go and rebuild Jerusalem, but how long he'll be gone.

Artaxerxes has just put down a rebellion in Egypt. He trusts Nehemiah to be loyal to him to increase Persia's military strength in an area close to Egypt, and to shore up Persian security in the region.

Request for Protection, Letters of Introduction, and Resources (Nehemiah 2:7-8)

But Nehemiah's prayer preparation about this matter means that he also knows what he needs from the king to have a successful outcome to his journey. Jerusalem's enemies must have a clear indication of the king's backing of Nehemiah's mission, since it signals a reversal in policy, so he spells it out.

"7 I also said to him, 'If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?
8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?'" (Nehemiah 2:7-8a)

At the crucial moment, Nehemiah is afraid, but through faith in the God of heaven he overcomes his fears, states the need, and makes his request of the king.

We aren't responsible for the result, only for our part. It is up to God to answer our prayer if we have prayed well and according to God's own will and purposes. In this case, Nehemiah reports:

"And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests." (Nehemiah 2:8b)

It's interesting that while Ezra felt embarrassed to ask the king for a royal escort to protect from bandits during the dangerous journey (Ezra 8:22), Nehemiah doesn't. Faith differs, needs change, but God remains faithful.

Lessons for Disciples

When I reflect on Nehemiah's prayer, several lessons come to mind:

  1. God can bring about reversal of the policies of superpowers to accomplish his purposes.
  2. God has put on Nehemiah's heart the plight of his people. We can't solve the problems of every needy person in the world, but we are part of the solution for some. God will put some needs on our hearts. Sometimes we will feel God's sorrow and anguish for others and it may affect us deeply like it did Nehemiah -- with weeping, sorrow, loss of appetite, fasting, humbling, and prayer.
  3. Sometimes God sovereignly places us where we uniquely can help. He expects us to do our part where we're called.
  4. As did Daniel, Nehemiah confesses the people's sins as his own.
  5. Nehemiah appeals to God on the basis of his promises -- in this case to restore his people to Jerusalem.
  6. Nehemiah appeals to God on the basis of God's own Name and reputation.
  7. Nehemiah appeals to God as a master on the basis of the needs of his servants.

  8. Available in paperback, PDF,  Kindle formats
    Nehemiah prays for four months until it is time to bring the matter to the king. We must be patient in prayer and sensitive to the Lord's leading.
  9. Nehemiah prays both at length in private and in brief spurts as the crisis unfolds.
  10. Nehemiah acts on the basis of his prayer, willing to put himself in personal danger in order to see God's will accomplished.


Lord, I pray for my brothers and sisters and me, that you would be able to trust us with the needs of others. That you would help us identify them. Give us vision, faith and courage. Help us not to be timid, but bold for you as we discern your will. Raise us up as your servants in every place and in every position of influence where you need your man or your woman to be faithful. And let us serve you there with faithfulness and in prayer. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"O 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." (Nehemiah 1:11)

"Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king...." (Nehemiah 2:4b-5a)


[173] Citadel" (NIV, ESV), "capital" (NRSV), "palace" (KJV) is bîrâ, "palace," an Akkadian loan word (TWOT #240).

[174] Daniel may also have lived there for a time, for it is mentioned in one of his visions (Daniel 8:2).

[175] "Cupbearer" is mashqeh, from shāqâ, "give to drink" (TWOT #2452c).

[176] Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 157.

[177] The word āh can mean, "brother, relative, fellow countryman, friend," so it is difficult to be certain of the relationship (Herbert Wolf, 'hh, TWOT #62a).

[178] "Trouble" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "affliction" is raʿ, a very common noun with a range of meanings, from "bad, evil," to "times of distress" and "physical injury" (TWOT #2191a).

[179] "Disgrace" (NIV), "shame" (NRSV, ESV), "reproach" (KJV) is ḥerpâ, "to reproach," with the specific connotation of casting blame or scorn on someone. An adversary might reproach with scorn, insults, or taunts (TWOT #749a).

[180] Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 85.

[181] Bākā, "to weep, cry, shed tears." Weeping is associated with the voice. Semites do not weep quietly, but aloud (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #243).

[182] 'Ābal, "mourn, lament." Biblical mourning for the dead involved emotion, usually expressed audibly (Jeremiah 22:18; Jeremiah 48:36) and visibly (Genesis 37:34; Psalm 35:14; Micah 1:8; J. Barton Payne, 'ābal, TWOT #6).

[183] Sûm, "fast." Fasting is depriving the body of nourishment as a sign that one is experiencing great sorrow. Mourning is further expressed in weeping and lamentation and in putting on sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:3). He who fasts claims to afflict himself or his soul, i.e., his inner person" (John E. Hartley, TWOT #1890).

[184] A portion of this lesson is adapted from my book Great Prayers of the Bible (JesusWalk Publications, 2005, 2011).

[185] Pālal, "intervene, interpose, pray," the most common OT word for prayer, which we've seen in previous lessons.

[186] Andrew Bowling, yārē', TWOT #907; BDB 431d, "inspire reverence, godly fear, and awe, as an attribute of God." Deuteronomy 7:21; 10:17; Nehemiah 1:5; 4:8; 9:32; Daniel 9:4.

[187] "Awesome God," words and music by Rick Mullins, ©1988 BMG Songs, Inc. (ASCAP).

[188] Victor P. Hamilton, pûts, TWOT #1745.

[189] Leonard J. Coppes, qābats, TWOT #1983.

[190] Deuteronomy 30:1 uses the verb nādah, "impel, drive away, banish," the action of "forcibly driving or pushing something away."

[191] "Success" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "prosper" (KJV) is tsālēah, "prosper, succeed, be profitable," that is, "to accomplish satisfactorily what is intended" (2 Chronicles 26:5; 31:21; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:3; 118:25; Isaiah 55:11) (John E. Hartley, TWOT #1917).

[192] "Favor" (NIV) and "mercy" (KJV, NRSV) is raḥămîm, "tender mercy, compassion." The word can refer to the seat of one's emotions or the expression of one's deep emotion (Leonard J. Coppes, rāham, TWOT #2146).

[193] Pālal, the common verb for prayer is used both here and Nehemiah 1:4. The difference is quantitative, not qualitative.

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