This devotional is written by John Peters. John is the leader of St Mary's and is married to Jenny.

Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah's Prayer

1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 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.

3 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."

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. 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, 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.

8 "Remember the instruction 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.'

10 "They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 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 leaps out of the pages of this book. More than half is his personal record with asides and frank comments thrown in. This is one of the liveliest reads in the Bible.

In (587 BCE), Babylon devastated Jerusalem and sent its citizens into exile. But Babylon fell to the Persians and King Cyrus allowed Jewish groups to return to Jerusalem (538 BCE). The surrounding provinces wanted the city to remain weak and wall-less. The current situation (1:3) is one of devastation and disappointment.

Nehemiah may have been transported after the invasion and made into a eunuch. Eunuchs could exercise huge influence being perceived as no threat to the King.
Nehemiah is first and foremost a man of prayer; this is the first of 9 prayers in the book.
He says what he feels when he prays (1:4 and 4:4). In fact, he comes to God in a storm of emotion and this shouldn't be dismissed as a cultural performance.

He fills his mind with character and work of God (5) which means he speaks the language of faith, which is the magic with God.

He sees himself in the light of God and so confession follows on from praise (5). His people persistently broke covenant relationship with God and he personally owns this tradition of failure (6-7).

He identifies so closely with his people and their failure that he becomes their advocate (11).
It probably took quite a while before Nehemiah is able to pray for the right thing, to pray himself into the right place (11b). But his prayer leads to inspired action.

Prayer is a dialogue in which we try to discern the direction of the Spirit and then act upon it.
Reflection: who do you truly identify with when you pray?

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