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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Nehemiah 1

 

 

Verses 1-11

IN THE FIRST chapter we find ourselves carried to the 20th year of Artaxerxes, whereas Ezra went to Jerusalem in the 7th year of that king. Nehemiah was not a priest, but he was at Shushan the palace in an official capacity. His story begins when certain Jews arrived, who had knowledge of the condition of things prevailing then at Jerusalem, and he enquired of them as to the state of the remnant that had returned there years before. and as to the conditions prevailing in the city. The answer of these men is given to us in verse Nehemiah 1:3.

Their report was a distressful one. Jerusalem as a city was still in a ruinous state, and the people there in great affliction and reproach. The effect this news had upon Nehemiah is related in the rest of the chapter. We venture to think it should also have a very definite effect upon us.

We have just seen in the book of Ezra how under God-fearing men, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, a remnant had returned and rebuilt the temple, and though defection supervened in the course of years, the coming of Ezra led to a distinct reformation; yet now, thirteen years after, they are marked by affliction and reproach. We might have expected that instead of this God would have rewarded them by visible tokens of His approval and favour.

The next book, that of Esther, relates for us things that happened to the much larger number of Jews, that did not concern themselves with God's interests in His temple, but preferred to remain in the land of their captivity, where in the course of the seventy years many of them had settled down in comparative prosperity. The name of God is not mentioned in Esther, and we might have expected that these easy-going folk would have come under His displeasure. What do we find? Read Esther 9:17-19, and see. The people who, in spite of their defects, had cared for God's interests and rebuilt His temple, marked by affliction and reproach; while those who did not concern themselves, remaining in their comforts, have 'feasting', 'gladness', and 'a good day'.

What instruction shall we gather from this extraordinary and, we venture to think, this unexpected contrast? Well, in the first place, worldly prosperity and jollification, even if the fruit of God's care and dealings behind the scenes, is not necessarily an indication of His approval, nor is affliction a sign of His disapproval, as is seen in far more striking degree in the case of Job. Secondly, we may refer to what is stated in Hebrews 12:6, 'Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth'. If we read Psalms 73:1-28, we find the same problem exercising the mind of the writer. He saw those who definitely were wicked prospering, while the godly were chastened. It was when he went into the sanctuary of God that he found the solution.

Nehemiah of course had not the light that the New Testament sheds upon this problem, so the sad tidings concerning, 'the remnant that are left', affected him deeply, for in spirit he was of them, though not actually with them. He was moved to tears, mourning, fasting and prayer. The report he had heard was mainly concerned with the outward circumstances of the remnant, rather than with their inward spiritual state, but it moved him to these four things.

And what about present day conditions among the true saints of God? Many are in outward affliction under the iron hand of Communism or Romanism, while in the English-speaking world the increased inflow of money into our pockets seems to have produced a decreased outflow of love and devotion from our souls. Have these four things ever marked us? Have we ever mourned to tears over the thousands of our fellow-saints persecuted and even martyred in this twentieth century? Have we ever abstained from lawful things and given ourselves to prayer on their behalf? The writer leaves each reader to answer these questions for himself. He knows quite well what he would have to reply.

The prayer of Nehemiah, though shorter than Ezra's, is very similar. He too identified himself with the sin of the people, saying, 'we have sinned'. But in one direction he went further, pleading the word of the Lord, that had been written in Leviticus 26:1-46. Israel had been warned that disobedience to the law would bring upon themselves a scattering; but that even then if they turned to God in obedience to His word, He would gather them from distant lands and restore them to the place of His name. On this, which had been written, he based his plea. For those in Jerusalem and for himself he made the claim that they were those, 'who desire to fear Thy name'.

While making request in a more general way for the returned remnant in Jerusalem, he had a more definite request to make for himself. He was in a post of special responsibility before the king, and having access to his presence, he intended to make a request of the monarch that he might very naturally entirely refuse. He sought therefore that God would prosper him in that which he had in mind.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/nehemiah-1.html. 1947.

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