I am trying to move on to Esther, but I can’t leave Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s life is so full of Jesus Christ, his narrative so beautifully punctuated with devotion and prayer. When the book begins, when Nehemiah learns about the great trouble and disgrace of Israel’s remnant, we witness the heavenly love and zeal that flows out of a heart transformed by God.
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
God generously gives us Nehemiah’s prayer, and how we need it! In his lament, Nehemiah doesn’t distance himself from the sin of his brothers and sisters but rather claims it as his own and cries out to God on all their collective behalf.
The Bible’s message is rather radical, then, in our age of selfish individualism. Whose fault is the racism that my black brothers and sisters suffer in the church? Who is to blame for the church’s sexism and misogyny, for our indifference and cruelty towards the vulnerable? Who let in the evil workers and false teachers? Whose hearts are corrupted by devotion to the idols of power, money, fame and the things of this world?
To our shame, when the church disgraces herself, many work overtime to parse sin, minimizing it and blaming others in order to distance ourselves from responsibility and from our duty to God.
But not Nehemiah. See what he cries out to God.
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.Nehemiah 1:6-7
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, 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.
After his confession, Nehemiah’s repentance and faith turn to action. He organizes the people and rebuilds the Temple. When the Temple is defiled, he commits himself again to the righteousness of God’s people. He appoints duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task. And at the end of his account, following Abraham his father (Gen. 22), Nehemiah arranges for the supply of wood for sacrifice at appointed times and for the first fruits.
But now our perfect Nehemiah, Christ Himself has been raised from the dead, “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). And after that, we who are Christ’s, first fruits among His creatures (James 1:18). By His death on a wooden cross, by His resurrection, our Saviour Jesus Christ has purified us from all our sin.
We are one body of many members (1 Cor. 12:12), saved by the one man Jesus Christ. Called to zeal for the purity not just of ourselves but of His bride. Not because it saves us. But because we are saved.
Remember us, O our God, for good.