Nehemiah 1:4-11 - Nehemiah's Prayer Part I

Steve Viars June 8, 1996 Nehemiah 1:4-11

Last week we began chapter one of Nehemiah and looked at three things:

#1  Nehemiah's Personal Profile

- We learned that Nehemiah was the king's cupbearer.

#2  Nehemiah's Concern

- He was not indifferent to the plight of his people.

#3  Nehemiah's Response

- He was moved with compassion and grief for his beloved city, Jerusalem.

A good leader is not unaffected or cold-hearted at the needs of hurting people.

Today we're going to look at Nehemiah's prayer itself.

"NEHEMIAH'S PRAYER:  PART ONE"

This book is a book about leadership, but it is also of book of prayer (and we ought not to miss the point that good leaders pray a lot and pray effectively).

This is "the first of 12 instances of prayer recorded in this book.  (See 2:4; 4:4, 9; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 9:5ff; 13:14, 22, 29, 31.)" (Be Determined, Warren Wiersbe, Victor Books, p. 17). 

As we do, let me encourage you to ask yourself these questions:

How is my prayer life? 

Do I pray at all? 

Only before meals? 

Are the elements of Nehemiah's prayer life a part of my prayer life? 

How do I need to put off and put on in this area?

Let's read Nehemiah 1:4-11.

NASB Neh 1:4 Now it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. REVIEW
(NEW) 5 And I said, "I beseech Thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,
6 let Thine ear now be attentive and Thine eyes open to hear the prayer of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Thy servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against Thee; I and my father's house have sinned.
7 "We have acted very corruptly against Thee and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses.
8 "Remember the word which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples;
9 but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell. '
10 "And they are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou didst redeem by Thy great power and by Thy strong hand.
11 "O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere Thy name, and make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man." Now I was the cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah was a great leader for God because he was a man of prayer.

The prayer itself can be looked at through an acronym ACTS (Nehemiah, Learning To Lead, James Montgomery Boice).

Adoration
Confession
Thanksgiving
Supplication (also called entreaty)

Today we'll cover Adoration and Confession, and, Lord willing, next week we'll cover Thanksgiving and Supplication.

I.  Adoration
NASB Neh 1:5 And I said, "I beseech Thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,
Before Nehemiah makes any requests he first worships God for Who He is.
"Nehemiah does not proceed to the other elements of  his prayer until he has reminded himself of what he is doing and the greatness and character of the God to whom he is directing his prayer" (Boice, p. 23).
INPUT:  What other prayers in Scripture began with adoration?
(The Lord's Prayer
NASB Mat 6:9 "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.

From the same root as sanctify (hagiazo).

Or, "May your name be greatly respected and treated with reverence."
Let's consider the descriptions used in this adoration of God.

A.  LORD God of heaven
Or Yahweh (Jehovah), Elohim of heaven. 
1.  LORD or Yahweh
This comes from the verb "to be" (Hayah) and thus means "the self-existent One" or "He which is" or "He who is truly present (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible,  vol. 2, p. 761).
The name was also "a specifically Israelitish name for God" (ibid.), the covenant name of God, the name associated with His promises (as Nehemiah mention next in his prayer), especially His redeeming of Israel from Egypt .
(cf. NASB Exo 20:2 "I am the LORD [YAHWEH] your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.[WHO REDEEMED YOU])

2.  God or Elohim
This name for God is used over 2,000 times in the OT to refer to Israel's God.  It is an expansion of the common word for God of that day, El, and seems to indicate the belief that He was God "above and beyond all other gods [false gods]" (ibid. p. 763).
3.  Of heaven
INPUT:  How is the fact that He is the LORD God of heaven significant?
(Shows that He is sovereign, in complete control of all events that happen in the universe.  )
In trial Nehemiah focused on the sovereignty of God.
A good question to ask is, "Do you?"
Cyril Barber said, "The greater God becomes to him, the smaller becomes his problem" (Nehemiah and the Dynamics of Effective Leadership, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, New Jersey, p. 18—an excellent commentary).
P. Dutton preached on this last Wednesday night and I would encourage you to get the tape if you missed it.
B.  Great
This is the general Hebrew word for "great" (gadol).  Here it probably refers to great in importance or great in magnitude.
cf.  NASB Psa 48:1 {A Song; a Psalm of the sons of Korah.} Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, In the city of our God, His holy mountain.
INPUT:  How has God shown Himself to be great in your life?  What has been His magnitude and importance to you?
Saving you
Bringing you and your spouse together
Giving you children
Giving you your job
Your home
C.  Awesome
King James "terrible"
From the same root as "fear" (yare).
"It is that which is wonderful, which is astonishing, but which inspires awe" (The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament by F. Charles Fensham, p. 154).
INPUT:  What are some things that come to your mind when you think of how God is awe-inspiring and full of wonder?
(The fact that He is eternal—there was never a time when He did not exist.
The fact that He is omnipresent—even in this room right now as I speak, and many, many more.)
Let's now look at a second element of Nehemiah's prayer:  confession.

II.  Confession
NASB Neh 1:6 let Thine ear now be attentive and Thine eyes open to hear the prayer of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Thy servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against Thee; I and my father's house have sinned.
7 "We have acted very corruptly against Thee and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses.
A.  Nehemiah confessed the sins of his people.
INPUT:  Why do you suppose he confessed this first?
(He had just heard of the consequences of Israel's sin as a people:  the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem.)
cf.  NASB Neh 1:8 "Remember the word which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples;
Israel WAS unfaithful so God did scatter them.
INPUT:  What lessons for teaching and training your children could you learn from God's actions toward Israel?
SO important to keep your word or they will learn your word means nothing.  When an emergency rolls around, they will practice whatever habit you have taught them.  Our God provides us the ultimate example of how discipline should be carried out.  Teach, teach, teach (which God did), establish guidelines which must be kept along with appropriate rewards and penalties, then keep your word if your children get out of line
This raises a natural question for us today:  Should we practice corporate confession of sin as Nehemiah did? 
I should say that not all interpreters agree that Nehemiah was confessing the sins of the Jewish people.  Some say that he was only confessing his part of Israel's sin (Swindoll is one example).
However, I believe Nehemiah is confessing the sins of the Jewish people because of this statement:  "I and my father's house have sinned."
Having said that, should we confess sins corporately today?
For example, should we be praying for God's forgiveness for the "sins of America" when slavery was legal?  Or even go further and ask forgiveness of black Americans for the sins of our forefathers?
The answer lies in a correct hermeneutic or principle of interpretation.  The one we should remember here is "Who is speaking?"
Nehemiah, a Jew, is speaking and he was a member of God's chosen people, Israel.  They were a distinct and recognizable—though scattered—group and especially distinguished as God's people of that day.


Because they rejected Jesus Christ, a Jew Himself and the Messiah, God temporarily set them aside as His vehicle for communicating His truth (Israel had been this all throughout the Old Testament).  God will turn His specific attention to them again at the time immediately before and after the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ.
INPUT:  From the time of Christ until now, what has God chosen as His vehicle for communicating His truth?
(The CHURCH.  cf. NASB Mat 16:18b " I will build My church.")
INPUT:  Some promises and principles of Scripture that God gave the Jews are applicable only for them and not for God's people today who are known as...what? 
(Christians)
Corporate confession of sin was a distinctly Jewish practice and was legitimate for that day, but not for us during the Church Age. 
Nehemiah's corporate confession of sin was legitimate because he was a Jew.
We don't practice corporate confession of sin because the N.T. teaches individual confession of sin exclusively.
Which brings us to that part of Nehemiah's confession.
B.  Nehemiah confessed his own sin.
"confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against Thee; I and my father's house have sinned. 7 "We have acted very corruptly against Thee and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses.
INPUT:  What kind of pronouns did Nehemiah use?
(1st person)
The willingness to admit one's sins is a vital characteristic of effective spiritual leadership.
"Here is a secret of true leadership.  A true leader is not so much aware of the talents or gifts he has that others do not have as he is of the fact that he is as weak and as capable of sin as anyone.  It is when leaders forget their sinfulness that they fall into sin and lose their leadership ability" (Boice, p. 24).

INPUT:  What are some "bread and butter" verses on confession of sin?
NASB 1Jo 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
NASB Psa 51:1-12 (Read IF TIME)
{For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him,} (after he had gone in to Bathsheba.)
1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
6 Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom.
7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice.
9 Hide Thy face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Thy presence, And do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, And sustain me with a willing spirit.
NASB Pro 28:13
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.
INPUT:  What do we need to put off to help us grow in confessing our sins?
Blameshifting—instead, admit your sin to God and others and seek forgiveness.
Focusing on their sin and not yours.
cf. Mat 7:3-5
3 "And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4 "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye?
5 "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Charles Swinoll writes in Hand Me Another Brick, "I plead with you—as you go before God in prayer concerning any unresolved...conflicts, have the attitude reflected in these words: 'Lord, I bring before you these areas where I have caused an irritation.  This is my realm of responsibility.  I can't change him.  But God, I can tell you that this is my part in it; please forgive me'" (p. 36).
Are you in the regular habit of confessing your sins and asking God's forgiveness?
Are you in the regular habit of asking your spouse's forgiveness?
Are you in the regular habit of asking your children's forgiveness?
Are you in the regular habit of asking your employer's forgiveness? 
Your employee's forgiveness?
Fellow church members' forgiveness when you sin against one of them?
— Folks, let's admit it.  We sin a lot.  So we need to confess and ask forgiveness a lot.
Husbands, do you want to be God's kind of spiritual leader and lover in the home?  
Then take the lead in asking forgiveness in your home.
Wives, do you want to grow as submissive helpers and completers in the home?
Then you, too, learn to ask forgiveness.
CONCLUSION:
Are you in the habit of ADORING God in your prayers?
Are you in the habit of CONFESSING your sins in your prayers?  to appropriate people?
May God help us to be growing in these areas and to develop a more effective prayer life for Him.


"NEHEMIAH'S PRAYER:  PART ONE"
Nehemiah 1:4-11.

Adoration
Confession
Thanksgiving
Supplication


I.  Adoration


"Nehemiah does not proceed to the other elements of  his prayer until he has reminded himself of what he is doing and the greatness and character of the God to whom he is directing his prayer" (Boice).
A.  LORD God of heaven
1.  LORD or Yahweh
"the self-existent One" or "He which is" or "He who is truly present."
cf. Exo 20:2

2.  God or Elohim
God "above and beyond all other gods [false gods]" (ZPEB).
3.  Of heaven
INPUT:  How is the fact that He is the LORD God of heaven significant?
Shows that He is sovereign, in complete control of all events that happen in the universe.
B.  Great
Importance or great in magnitude.
cf. Psa 48:1
C.  Awesome
King James "terrible"
"It is that which is wonderful, which is astonishing, but which inspires awe" (The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, NICOT, p. 154).

II.  Confession


A.  Nehemiah confessed the sins of his people.
Should we practice corporate confession of sin as Nehemiah did? 
Corporate confession of sin was a distinctly Jewish practice and was legitimate for that day, but not for us during the Church Age. 

B.  Nehemiah confessed his own sin.
The willingness to admit one's sins is a vital characteristic of effective spiritual leadership.
INPUT:  What are some "bread and butter" verses on confession of sin?
1 John 1:9
Psa. 51:1-12
Pro. 28:13
cf. Mat 7:3-5

Charles Swinoll writes in Hand Me Another Brick, "I plead with you—as you go before God in prayer concerning any unresolved...conflicts, have the attitude reflected in these words: 'Lord, I bring before you these areas where I have caused an irritation.  This is my realm of responsibility.  I can't change him.  But God, I can tell you that this is my part in it; please forgive me'" (p. 36).

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video