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I mentioned that the name of our series is "Achieving Greatness," and the biblical character that we are studying in this regard is Nehemiah, how did he achieve greatness. Last week, we compared what elements are necessary to be great in this world, we talked about that, things like fame and wealth, a particular skill, victory you know, for a winner, if we win at horseshoes, or football you know, it doesn't matter, in our country we love winners, and that's how you become great in this world, and we talked about that and we compared that to the elements that are necessary to make one great in the kingdom of God, and how different those are.
Things like obedience to God's word, ministry, humility of spirit, those are the types of things that God recognizes and sees as great in a human being who is part of His kingdom. So very different, the things you strive for to be great in the world, so different than the things we strive for to be great in the kingdom.
And so the point at last weeks sermon, was that the criteria for greatness in the world is very different than what is necessary for greatness in the kingdom of God. This is why some people try to measure spiritual greatness using worldly standards, thinking that they or their group is spiritually great for some reason.
Perhaps they're well known in the world, or their church building is luxurious, or they have many that follow a particular teaching. Not bad things in themselves, I mean, you know, we want our church building to look nice, and certainly we want to have a good reputation in our community, and we're always ready for church growth, we always are happy and amen if someone is a baptized, someone has placed memberships, you know our congregation is growing, nothing wrong with those things, but those aren't the things that we shoot for, you know, for personal greatness in the eyes of God.
I don't know, some of you old timers might remember this individual, Dr. Raymond Kelcy who was a Bible professor at Oklahoma Christian for many many years. Probably one our best Greek scholars at his time, in his day, now deceased for many years.
But one time during a Q and A, or question and answer session at one of the lectureships. We used to do that, they don't do it anymore, but back in the day some of the professors would be on stage in the Hardeman Auditorium, and it would be an open question and answer, people would line up to the microphone, they would ask questions, then the Bible professors would answer.
And they didn't get them in advance, they didn't get all the questions in advance, you know, back in those days it was spontaneous, they would tackle any question. So during one of these Q and A sessions, one of the persons asked Dr. Kelcy, who do you think is the greatest preacher in our brotherhood? Talk about a loaded question. Who do you think is the greatest preacher in our brotherhood? And brother Kelcy showed his own wisdom and spiritual perception when he answered the following, he said, probably someone who we have never heard of, from an obscure place, doing the Lord's work quietly and effectively week after week after week after week, with no fanfare, that's probably the greatest preacher in our brotherhood.
And I think he was saying, only God knows who are the greatest in His kingdom, but He gives us the way to arrive at that greatness, through obedience and ministry and humility. He also provides the examples of great spiritual lives recorded in the Bible, in order to give us a first hand view of what great spiritual living is like in the real world, 'cause we need examples, not just theory, you know, not just theory that had to be great in the spirit, but examples of real people who achieve these things.
And so Nehemiah is one such biblical character who demonstrates additional qualities to obedience, ministry, and humility, that make one great in the kingdom of God, and so we're profiling Nehemiah in our study.
But before we look at Nehemiah's study, I'd like to do a quick review of Jewish history, to help us situate the events in Nehemiah's life. We're not always sure, where does Nehemiah fit in into the history of things, so let's do a quick history.
I've given you not only the usual, you know, study sheets, I've added an extra one this week that has this information on it. It's a good thing to keep in your Bibles, 'cause it's a quick reference, okay.
So let's go over this very quickly. We've broken this up into period, time, major events and characters, and the books that deal with this particular time and those characters. So, we begin with what's called the ante deluvian period, that means before the flood.
Before the flood, 5000 plus years before Christ. The major events in the ante deluvian period, of course the creation, the fall, the promise of redemption, increasing sin, the story of Noah and the flood, and the book of Genesis chapters one to eight give us information about this period.
The next period is post deluvian, so meaning after the flood to 3000 years before Christ. Here the genealogies of man, idolatry grows, Genesis nine to 11 talks about this period of time. Then the patriarchy, 2000 years before Christ.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 tribes, Genesis 12 to 50 and the book of Job talk about this period. All right, the next period is the period of bondage, 1600 years B.C. 400 years in Egypt, to Moses leading the people out of Egypt, the passover, Exodus chapter one to 12 talks about this.
Then the period of Conquest, 1400 years before Christ. So 40 years in the desert, the arrival in the promised land, the judges govern the 12 tribes, Samuel and his story. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel verses one to 10, talk about this period.
Notice there are several books that talk about one period of time, all right. Next one is the united kingdom, 1000 years before Christ. The tribes are ruled by one king, Saul, David, Solomon, and all the books that deal with the united kingdom period.
The divided kingdom is the next period of the Old Testament, 800 years before Christ. The establishment of north and south kingdoms, the apostasy, the destruction of the northern kingdom, and the emergence of the prophets, and all the books that you can read for yourself in the Bible that talk about this period.
The next period is the period of exile, 600 years before Christ. The destruction of Jerusalem, the 70 years that the Jews were carried off into Babylon, and the books that talk about that period. The restoration, 500 year before Christ.
The return of the remnant from Babylon, and the end of idolatry, at this point, the Jews never go back into idolatry, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. And then the 10th period, the period of silence, 400 years until the time of Jesus.
Intertestamentary period, the production of the apocryphal, or the hidden writings, no prophecy, no books of prophecy written during that time. So, Nehemiah's period is here, right there. Nehemiah is part of the restoration.
When the Jews began coming back, they didn't all come back in one shot, you know, they came back in various phases if you wish. But this is the period of time that we're talking about when we talk a about Nehemiah.
Now, Nehemiah was not a prophet, he did no miracles, he was not a priest, he wasn't a teacher, he wasn't a judge, he was a servant, and yet, through him God did great things, and Nehemiah became a great man in the eyes of the Lord.
So let's talk a about Nehemiah's situation first. In Nehemiah, in his book chapter one, you have to go all the way to verse 11 before he talks about himself, he says, now I was the cupbearer to the king.
And so, we note by verse 11, that Nehemiah's role was that of a slave. He was a servant to a king in a foreign land where his people had been taken captive. So that's pretty, you know, he was not a quote, great individual, he wasn't like I say a prophet or a teacher, he was a slave in service to the king.
It says he was a cup bearer, meaning he was the wine taster, and he guarded against food poisoning, also served as one of the king's counselors. So let's go back to Nehemiah the first couple of verses in the book, as Nehemiah gives us his story.
It says, "The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the 20th year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem.
And they said to me, the remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and it's gates are burned with fire." So here, Nehemiah introduces himself and his family, he was a Jew, he belonged to the Jews.
The month of Chislev is the period in the month of November and December. And so he says it was 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes. This is how they dated things in those days, during the reign of this person, during the reign of this person.
And so it was the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes, which we know is about 445 B.C., because this king reigned from 465 to 424. So if it's 20 years into his reign, we're talking 445 B.C. Susa was the winter capital of Persian kings, and the Persian kings had taken over the Babylonian empire, which had originally conquered and deported the Jews.
And so the Babylonians came in, they you know, destroyed the Jewish nation, and they took the people into captivity, and then they themselves, the Babylonians, were overtaken by the Persians. Okay, and so this is how Nehemiah finds himself a slave to a foreign king in Persia.
The Jews were deported in 606 B.C. by the Babylonians, that was the original deportation from Jerusalem. And then the Babylonians returned to finish destroying the city and the temple 19 years later in 587 B.
C. In verses two and three, there were several groups as I mentioned, that returned from foreign captivity in order to rebuild and repopulate the city of Jerusalem. And so, 70 years after the original deportation, that was in 606 B.
C., Zerubbabel, a man named Zerubbabel, led approximately 50000 people back to Jerusalem to settle the land and to rebuild the temple. That was in 536 B.C., which fulfilled Jeremiah's prophecy made a 100 years before that time.
And I just switch over here to Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 25. This is what Jeremiah writes, "This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon 70 years. 'Then it will be when 70 years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,' declares the Lord, 'for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and I will make it an everlasting desolation.
" So here's Jeremiah 100 years before, prophesying that the Jewish nation will be destroyed and they'll be deported by the Babylonians, and also prophesying that the Babylonians themselves will be overtaken eventually.
And so, the building program had many stops and starts, but the city and a much smaller version of the temple were rebuilt by 516 B.C. So if we look at our timeline here, 536 B.C., Zerubbabel, the first group coming from Babylon going back to Jerusalem.
516 B.C., the city and temple are rebuilt. 457 B.C., Ezra who is a teacher, a priest, a teacher of the law, Ezra reintroduces the teaching of the law to the people. 444 B.C., Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem in order to begin building the wall.
So, Ezra chosen by the king to lead the next group back, as I mentioned in 457 B.C. He was in charge of Jewish affairs for the king. He was like a secretary of state, but in charge of Jewish affairs for the foreign leaders.
He benefited from the influence of Esther, who was still reigning at that time, 478 she was still there. Aside from the continuing task of rebuilding the temple, Ezra reinstituted the worship in the temple, and he reappointed priests and Levites to their work.
A very important part of the Jewish life. The third return is the one described by Nehemiah in his book in 444 B.C. Now in verses two and three that we read out of Nehemiah's book, Nehemiah receives the news concerning the condition of the city, and the temple and the people who have returned from captivity.
Now one the problems was that the neighboring countries did not want the Jews to rebuild their city and nation, for fear that they would dominate them once again as they had done in the past. We don't want these guys to come back and rebuild their nation, we were enslaved to them before.
And so, the nations around you know, Jerusalem, around the nation of the Jews, these nations continually waged the diplomatic war, by sending delegations to the court of Artaxerxes, the Persian king, in order to spread lies and accusations against the Jews.
They were lobbyist, they were spreading fake news. I think we know about fake news these days, well that's what they were doing, they were going to the Persian king and saying, those guys are trouble, they refuse to pay taxes, they're building an armament, they're getting an army together, you know, all lies of course, but in those days, you didn't have instantaneous communication.
So, the lies were effective. Of course, especially accusing the Jews of plotting a rebellion against the king. Because of this the king had decreed that the building in Jerusalem was to stop, and this of course was demoralizing to the people, and it left them vulnerable to their neighbors, because in those days the wall around the city was the protection you had against you know, against the neighbors, thieves, you know, other nations that wanted to attack you had to first get through your wall, or get over your wall.
So, the city is partly built, but it has no protecting wall or gates to provide security against the surrounding nations. So this is the situation, as a few years later a group from Jerusalem comes to Nehemiah to see if he can intervene with the king on their behalf.
The Jews don't have lobbyists, they don't have people that can go to the king, they don't know anybody except one person, and that's Nehemiah, and he's not a highly placed official, he's a slave and he serves the king, but he has access to the king.
And so they see this as their one best chance to influence the king to reverse the policies that stopped the building of their city. And so they described the situation of the city and it's people as desperate and in danger.
Now, this is a difficult request for Nehemiah, because pleading a cause that contradicted the king's order could mean arrest and execution for him personally. At once we see that Nehemiah is caught between the desire to obey his God and help his people, and the threat of banishment from court or death.
And so, in this very difficult dilemma, we see one of Nehemiah's spiritual qualities that set him apart from ordinary men with ordinary problems. He was an ordinary man, but he had an extraordinary problem to solve.
He's a man with problems, but he's also a man that faces his problems with prayer. Yes, we're told to face danger or problems with courage and determination, even cunning, but the great men of God goes directly to prayer when faced with a challenge.
And Nehemiah was a great man of God, and we see him do this very thing in this situation. Now, a great man of God as we said, is a man of prayer. Now you can tell a lot about a man and about the nature of his greatness, by actually examining his prayer.
And so, when you examine Nehemiah's prayer, this is what you find out about him personally. So let's begin, his prayer begins in verse four, okay. So let's begin reading that. It says, "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.
" Well, we see that he's sincere. He wept over the ruins. He was emotionally involved with the problem of his people. His prayer was from the heart. He was in earnest prayer, in other words, days of prayer, prayer and fasting.
He truly was seeking the Lord's will with all of his spiritual and emotional strength. I mean his own future was on the line, yet it seemed he would be safe. You know, why should he care, he's in the court, he eats the kings food.
He sleeps in the palace, you know, there are guards guarding the city, 'cause he lives close to the king, nobody's going to kill him. It would've been very easy to say, you know, I mean you people are a million miles away, you might as well be a million miles, am I sorry, I can't help you.
Come on, you're not asking me to risk my career, risk my life, to intervene for a city that I don't live in. But that's not the kind of man he was, he was sincere, he was genuine, he was a Jew. He was truly a genuine Jewish man.
Next thing you see about him in his prayer, he was respectful. We read, I said, "I beseech You, 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.
" He begins his prayer with proper respect and honor to God in the prayer. Yes, he was emotional, but he maintained his sense of deference and reverence for God, despite his emotion. You know, we often say, God is big enough to take your tantrums.
You know, some people are mad at God for something, you know, a spouse dies young, or the business goes up in flames or something like this, and you know, God why did you do this to me. You know, we shake our fist at heaven you know, and we say well, you know, God is big enough you know, to take that kind of abuse.
My recommendation was, but don't try that too often. (all laughing) Not a good idea, not a good idea. And so, Nehemiah doesn't allow his emotions to carry him away to be disrespectful to God. He still maintains proper respect for God in his prayer, and in his pain.
Another thing we learned about him, is he is brutally honest. In verse six he says, "Let Your ear now be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned.
We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, nor the statues, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses." He's honest, he tells it like it is. He was quick to recognize and admit where and what the problem was.
The problem was not the nations attacking Jerusalem. The problem was not the king, you know, ordering that the construction stop, that was not the problem. The problem was the disobedience of the Jews that got them into that situation in the first place.
So he's honest about what the problem was. Sin was the problem, and they were guilty of it, and this is what caused the problem in the first place. They wouldn't be in exile, they wouldn't have to rebuild, if they had not fallen into idolatry.
If they had not disobeyed, they wouldn't be in this mess, and he of course acknowledges this. Even further than that, he also includes himself. Not just those Jews over there, you know, they disobeyed.
No, no, no, no, no, he said, I and my father, and my father before me. You know, he acknowledged that his family was part of the problem as well. So he was honest in his prayer. Verses eight to 10, he was intelligent.
He prayed you know, a smart prayer if you wish. In verse eight we read, "Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the nations, 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.
' They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand." He's smart, Nehemiah knew God's promise regarding punishment, but he also knew God's word concerning restoration.
You know God, not only did You say You punish us if we disobeyed, You said You would restore us if we return to You. He was intelligent, he knew the scripture. His prayer was in line with God's word and God's will.
He was not asking God something that he knew God you know, had said no to. Sometimes you know, we don't pray according to God's will. He was specific. Verse 11a says, "O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.
" Well the man he's talking about is the king. He knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted to be able to go to the king to plead his cause, and he wanted God to give him success in that. He may have found out while he prayed that that's how we often find the will of the Lord, you know.
You don't know the answer, then you start praying about it and all of a sudden the answer tends to appear, or the answer comes to you. Many times your reaction is, oh no God, not that (laughing). You know we pray, dear Lord, give me the answer to this problem, and He gives you the answer, and you go, oh, I'm sorry I asked (laughing).
So this is Nehemiah you know, God says, go ahead go talk to the king, you'll be okay. Then we find another thing about him, he was patient. Chapter two, verse one it says, "And it came about in the month Nisan, in the 20th year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king.
Now I had not been sad in his presence." Nisan is not the name of the car, the old car, but Nisan is the month of April. Well, this is four months later now. Four months has gone by between the time that the people came to see him and said, we need your help, you need to go to the king, and he started praying, four months goes by, and this is what he's talking about in chapter two, verse one.
Nehemiah showed his patience by waiting for God to act, and not kind of getting ahead of himself, or getting ahead of God. So from his prayer we see a variety of qualities cultivated and practiced by those who would be great in the kingdom of God.
So if we continue reading in chapter two, we find out God's answer to Nehemiah's prayer. So let's read on shall we. Verse two it says, "So the king said to me, 'Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.
' Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, 'Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and it's gates have been consumed by fire?' Then the king said to me, 'What would you request?' So I prayed to the God of heaven.
I said to the king, 'If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it.' Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, 'How long will your journey be, and when will you return?' So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time.
And I said to the king, 'If it please the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the provinces beyond the river, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and the house to which I will go.
' And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me." So we see that Nehemiah first prayed to God for help and nothing more. He didn't give God the scenario. He didn't give God the to do list.
He just asked God for help, and let God provide him the answer. That's another idea in prayer that we sometimes forget. We think our prayer is a to do list for God. I want You to do this and this and that, and this and that and that, and I want it resolved in that way dear Lord.
In Jesus' name, just to for sure, get the prayer right in Jesus' name I ask. And then when God answers the prayer in a completely different way, we're upset, you know, because well, He didn't answer my prayer, He didn't do a thing I asked Him.
That's because we gave Him our to do list, and Nehemiah didn't do that, he just asked for help. Help me Lord. This is another reason why Nehemiah was limited in his actions concerning the request of his brethren from Jerusalem.
Under the law of that time, it was forbidden for him to speak to the king unless the king spoke to him first. It was the same dilemma as Esther, right. I mean it was the death penalty. Notice in verse one that Nehemiah had not been sad in the king's presence, but in verse two the king discerned that Nehemiah was sad.
Who do you think worked in the heart of the most powerful man in the world? Well God, of course. And why? Well to show that the prayer of a great man of God is able to affect the greatest man in the world.
Note also that the prayer was answered in great detail. The old order to stop building, that was canceled. The project gained the blessing of both the king and the queen. All the materials were supplied by the king.
And Nehemiah was guaranteed safe passage, 'cause he was passing you know, he was going through a lot of different countries, a lot of different you know, rulers, governors, so on and so forth. So he had letters from the supreme king of that time permitting him to travel and use whatever he needed for his travels.
And all of this, because of the prayer, not the action, or strength, or wisdom, or wealth, but the prayer of a great man of God. You know, when we pray for the governor of our state, that he you know, lead wisely, or we pray for the president, no matter whether you voted for him or not, not the point, you pray for the leader of the country.
You kind of feel well, I'm just small potatoes, I'm way over here in nowhere Oklahoma and I'm praying for somebody who has you know, world wide renowned and great power, you know, what difference does that make? Well take a look at this example that God us giving us.
I mean, the king of Persia at the time, was the supreme leader of the then known world, not just his country. And the prayer of Nehemiah affected his heart. We're praying to the same God, who has the same power today.
Our prayers for kings and rulers and governors and presidents and whatever, continue to be effective today, if they're offered in faith. All right, so some lessons on greatness here, we need to wrap this up.
First lesson, greatness in the kingdom is not measured by accomplishments, because those in the kingdom know that nothing is accomplished without God's resources, God's power, and God's permission. All we can say you know, in the kingdom, all we can say is, if the Lord wills, this will be done, or praise God for accomplishing such and such, or thank you God for using me to accomplish this task or achievement no matter how small or how great.
One other thing, we'll accomplish great things only if we become obedient to God's word. God does not answer the prayer of the disobedient. So you were thinking, well I'm praying, but what else can I do? You know, well you can become obedient in those things that you knowingly are disobedient in.
And you can be involved in ministry in some way. And we can all humble ourselves before God, and like Nehemiah offer prayers that are sincere and reverent, honest, intelligent, and specific. If we pray in this way, and wait patiently for His response, God will do great things through us.
Greater than we could ever accomplish or even imagine on our own. But all of these things of course, begin with sincere prayer. So those who are great in the kingdom of God are those individuals who can offer sincere prayers before God.
All right we're going to continue with our profile of Nehemiah next week. All right, thank you for your attention. That's it for today.