Read: Nehemiah 1:4-9 ERV When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored…”.
We begin the first chapter of the book of Nehemiah in the month of Kislev. This month does not sound like a month on the average calendar but in the Jewish culture, Kislev represents portions of the months of November through December in our modern calendar. As we progress into Chapter two, the text begins in the month of Nisan or a portion of the months of March through April. You may be asking why we are even discussing the months of the year, wasn’t this about Nehemiah? Yes, but knowing everything is in the Bible for a reason, this information must be important.
In the month of Kislev, Nehemiah learns of the state of his homeland, Jerusalem, after the Babylonians conquered the city. Exiles, who were permitted by the Persians to return to Jerusalem when Persia conquered Babylon, were returning to a city destroyed. The exiles were “in great trouble and disgrace. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and the gates were burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). As soon as Nehemiah heard the news, he was devastated and mourned, fasted, and prayed for days for the resolution of his city. Let’s stop for a minute and think about what that would feel like. Some may know what losing a home is like, most of us are aware of the war in Ukraine and the terror, sadness, and grief the people living there have gone through. Imagine being in their circumstance and how you would pray. I imagine it wouldn’t be a prayer in which you find yourself distracted while praying. It would be a rock bottom prayer, a sobbing prayer for resolution of what is happening. Having said that, it would be no wonder that when Nehemiah prayed, he prayed his heart out for resolution of the circumstance he and the Israelites were facing. This is the point at which Chapter one ends, and Chapter two begins.
Remember the months that were mentioned earlier? March and April (or Nisan) are when we see Nehemiah approaching the King when an opportunity arose that would answer his prayer. What we glean from that timeframe is the length of time it took God to answer His prayer – four months. How many times have we found ourselves in this situation – praying for resolution and then waiting for the prayer to be answered? I will speak for myself: a lot!
Our culture has become accustomed to getting what we need quickly. It started with those foil TV dinners many years ago to now ordering from Amazon and having it delivered by drone the same day. But just because our culture has changed, doesn’t mean God has! He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
When we give our prayers to God, we are told to wait expectantly (Psalm 40:1). I can think of times when I asked for prayer, decided to answer my own prayer, only to ask God again because my way didn’t go so well. However, when I waited I saw not only answered prayer but answers beyond what I could have imagined the day I bowed my head and prayed. As we continue learning about Nehemiah’s story, we will see that waiting for God to answer prayer was just what Jerusalem needed.