Explore The Bible

Mark Rathel

Mark RathelMark Rathel is professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

2018

Justice, Righteousness, and Covenant Love

2 Samuel 9.1-13

July 1

In 2 Samuel 9, David’s actions to Mephibosheth illustrated God’s covenant love (the Hebrew term is ‘hesed’- a key term in the Old Testament). One commentator described the nature of covenant love (‘hesed’). “It refers to extraordinary acts of kindness, “meeting an extreme need, outside the normal run of perceived duty, and arising from personal affection or pure goodness.” 2 Samuel 8.15 described the nature of David’s reign. “So David reigned over all Israel, administering justice and righteousness for all his people.” 2 Samuel 9 describes one particular action of David in which the king “administered justice and righteousness.” David’s treatment of a potential rival to the throne portrayed God’s covenant love (‘hesed’). “Is there anyone left of Saul’s family that I can show the kindness [‘hesed’] of God to?” (2 Sam. 9.3).

God’s word challenges believers to demonstrate justice, righteousness, and love towards other people? What can believers learn from David regarding treating others with justice, righteousness, and love?

First, God’s challenge to believers to live by justice, righteousness, and covenant love is counter to prevailing culture (2 Sam 9.1). In the culture of the Ancient Near East, a new king often killed descendants and servants from the previous regime. David did not follow the cultural pattern of his day. Critical members of Saul’s kingdom had died: Jonathan (2 Sam. 1.4), Abner, Saul’s uncle and commanding general (2 Sam. 3.27), and Saul’s last surviving son Ish-bosheth (2 Sam. 4.7). David was neither involved nor responsible for the death of Saul’s supporters. Furthermore, even after a prolonged war “between the house of Saul and the house of David” (2 Sam. 3.1), David sought out one of Saul’s descendants to whom he could demonstrate covenant love (“hesed”).

Second, in the Bible, covenant love is based on promises – “for Jonathan’s sake” (2 Sam. 9.1). David kept two promises. First, at Saul’s request, David promised a dying Saul that he would not destroy his family when he became king (2 Sam. 24.21-22).  Second, David kept his promises to Jonathan. Jonathan initiated a covenant relationship with David involving three specific covenant responsibilities. First, Jonathan desired God bless David (1 Sam. 20.13). Second, the covenant established a relationship between ‘the house of Jonathan’ and ‘the house of David.’ The term “house” denotes ancestral lines. Third, Jonathan wanted the covenant with David to last “forever” (2 Sam. 20.15 NASB). One commentator noted, “It is utterly astonishing that Jonathan seems to have seen that David’s kingdom would be “forever.” In Jonathan’s covenant words to David, he looked to the future and appeared to anticipate the eternal dynasty God purposed for David – a dynastic promise fulfilled in Jesus, the descendant of David.

Third, believers must search out needs and opportunities to demonstrate covenant love, justice, and righteousness (2 Sam. 9.1-5). After David’s prolonged battles for the kingdom ended, he proactively sought out individuals from Jonathan’s family to whom he could lavish covenant love. Often, we are guilty of neglecting others, particularly disabled individuals. We need to acknowledge our neglect and take corrective action. Through an intermediary, David learned of Mephibosheth – Jonathan’s grandson. When Mephibosheth was five years old, a nurse carrying him during a time of flight from opponents dropped him resulting in the inability to use his legs (2 Sam. 4.4).

Fourth, believers should establish specific plans to help people with needs (2 Sam. 9.6-13). Per the old saying, “Talk is cheap.” Mephibosheth, probably with great difficulty, gave deference and homage to David by prostrating himself before the king. David commanded the disabled prince to stop being afraid. The command, “Do not fear” occurs in the Bible on occasions when there is a possible reason to be fearful. David’s purposed to show kindness to Mephibosheth. David graciously made to promises to Mephibosheth. First, David promised to restore the family land of Saul to his crippled son. The family grain fields would provide for Mephibosheth. Second, David allowed Mephibosheth the privilege and honor of eating at the king’s table. Saul forced David from his table; David included Mephibosheth at his table. David’s action modeled undeserved grace.

In response to this lesson, I have two personal applications. First, Lord, open my eyes that I may see needs of people. Second, Lord, help me establish a course of action to help people with needs.

Your Sin Will Find You Out

2 Samuel 12:1-14

July 8

I enjoy the biblical parables. Jesus was the master parablist. He powerfully and effectively communicated truth through stories developed from human life (Luke 15) or agriculture (Mark 4). We misunderstand the parables if we define a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Parables invited the listeners to make a decision – a judgment. Invariably, the listener’s judgment regarding the details of the parable condemned the listener.

Nathan the prophet earlier announced a message of blessing (2 Sam. 7:8-16). Now the prophet declares a message of judgment (2 Sam. 12) using a parable. Nathan’s parable invited the king to make a judgment – thus unwittingly pronounce judgment upon himself. From David’s sinful example, believers learn precious truths.

First, God will confront us with our sin (2 Sam. 12:1-4). Nathan confronted the king with a parable inviting a judgment. 2 Samuel 11 details heinous incidents committed by David: lust, adultery, and conspiracy to murder. Nathan approached David with a story of a poor man and a wealthy man. David obviously thought the prophet requested the king to decide a real court case.

Nathan’s parable has numerous parallels with the sordid events of chapter 11. The story involves the interaction between a wealthy man and a poor man. David confessed to having a background of poverty (1 Sam. 18:23); therefore, he would empathize with the poor man. The story concerns a traveler (literally “walker” in Hebrew) that comes to the rich man. David walked on his roof welcoming the guest of lust (2 Sam. 11:2). The rich man “took” the poor man’s lamb (12:4); David “took” Bathsheba (11:4). The poor man’s lamb ate and drank in the home, and the poor man slept with his arms around the lamb (12:3). In contrast, Uriah refused to enter his house, eat and drink, and sleep with his arms around his wife (11:11).

 Second, like us, David harshly condemned another for sins David personally committed (12:5-7a).  An enraged David pronounced a death sentence on the rich man although the rich man committed no capital crime. The law demanded fourfold repayment for theft. Nathan informed David that his pronouncement of a guilty verdict actually judged the king – “You are the man.” David pronounced a sentence of death for a non-capital offense. Yet, David deserved death because he committed adultery and murder. Often, we judge more harshly the sins of others and evaluate our sins as less worthy of judgment.

Sin violates the person, mighty acts, and grace of God. God rehearsed his gracious actions on behalf of David. Five times God says, “I did this for you David.” I anointed, I delivered, I gave (2 times), and I would have done more. Our willful sin violates God’s mighty act of redeeming us through the costly sacrifice of Jesus. Further, sin involves “despising” the word of God (v.9). Saul rejected the Word of God (1 Sam. 15:26); David despised the Word. The act of despising the Word seems stronger than rejecting the Word. Perhaps David thought God privileged him; that is, David perceived himself as in a special category separate from other men to whom the Word applied. An individual with an intention to sin can always find a rationalization for sin.

Fourth, the practice of sin is costly (2 Sam. 12:10-11). David could not escape the consequences of his sin. His sin involved gross transgressions of the sacredness of the family. David suffered the effects of his negative example upon his family: the death of his child, the rape of Tamar (chap. 13), the violent death of Amnon (chap. 13), and Absalom’s rebellion (chap. 14), and Absalom’s gruesome death. The actions of David led to the breakup of his family as his family experienced palace intrigue, sexual sins, rebellion against the father, and murder.

Fifth, David genuinely repented (2 Sam. 12:13-14). Psalms 32 and 51 express the depth of David’s repentance and God’s gracious forgiveness. Both Psalms provide models for prayers of repentance for believers today. God forgave David, but the consequences of David’s sin continued. I believe in praying Scripture. I encourage the readers to pray Psalm 32 after studying this lesson.

The Sword Will Never Leave Your House

2 Samuel 13

July 15

When the prophet Nathan confronted David with his sins of adultery and murder, God communicated a prophecy of judgment on David’s royal line. “Now the sword will never leave your house … (2 Sam. 12.10). David enjoyed success in almost every area of his life. He slew the giant Goliath; he faithfully served in the court of King Saul, unified the Jewish tribes, and established a capital city at Jerusalem. The king expanded the borders of Israel into Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan gaining control of the land promised to Abraham. The Bible highlights David as a musician, diplomat, city builder, warrior, and king. David miserably failed in one area of life – the most crucial area of life – family. David was an unfaithful husband and a weak father.

What disaster did God’s sword of judgment produce in David’s family?

First, the sword of a bad example destroyed David’s family. David failed to provide a positive model for his children. David’s children knew about the sins of their father. David lacked the integrity to encourage his children by his godly example in the home. David’s family members repeated his sins of sexual acts and murder. At best, he could only say, “Do as I say; do not do as I do.” 2 Samuel 13 begins with a note of “love” (albeit illicit love); however, the dominant note within the chapter is hatred. Ammon “hated” his sister (v. 15). Absalom “hated” his brother Ammon (v. 22).

Second, the sword of incest cut David’s family into warring factions (2 Sam. 13.15-20). David failed to discipline about a heinous crime his son committed. The Mosaic Law prohibited incestuous relations (Lev. 18.9,11). Amnon, a name meaning “faithful,” acted unfaithfully toward his half-sister Tamar by raping her. He encouraged her to “Come!” and then after the deed Amnon commanded her to “Go!” Amnon confused lust and love. The Hebrew word for love “aheb” means to love or “to breath after,” as in “to pant after.” Amnon “breathed hard after Tamar” with lust and thought he loved her. Amnon even involved the unwitting king in his plot of deception (vv.6-7). When informed of Amnon’s nefarious deed, David became angry, but he did nothing to the heir apparent. His failure to confront his grown son with his evil actions circulated within the family. David could not control his lust; he failed to confront his lustful son.

Third, the sword of murder attacked David’s family (2 Sam. 13.21-36). David refused to be reconciled to his troubled son (2 Sam. 13:21-14:33). Since no man would marry Tamar, Absalom, her brother, provided for her by taking her into his house (13:20). Absalom became Tamar’s provider, protector, and defender. Like his father, Absalom refused to confront Amnon. Instead for two years, Absalom planned the murder of Amnon. Ironically, the name Absalom means “father of peace.” Yet, Absalom’s action escalated the war within the family. In subsequent chapters, Absalom’s lead a rebellion against his father.

Fourth, the sword of separation grieved David’s family. After the murder, Absalom fled for refuge in his maternal grandfather’s house (13:37). Absalom lived with his grandfather for three years. David grieved at the separation between him and Absalom.

Many families allow past hurts to paralyze and debilitate their present relationship. David withheld forgiveness. His bitterness hurt him, Absalom, and the entire nation. Broken relationships poison the totality of life. The church is the family of God, yet in many churches, a refusal to be reconciled gives Satanic forces a crucial victory.

The Sword From Your Own House

2 Samuel 15

July 22

After David’s sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, Nathan the prophet declared to King David, “The sword will never leave your house” (2 Sam. 12.10). The “sword” of the father’s legacy of sins against the husband and wife nearly destroyed David’s family. Ammon raped his sister Tamar (2 Sam.???), Absalom killed his brother Ammon and rebelled against his father. Ironically, the name “Absalom” means “father of peace,” yet Absalom nearly destroyed David’s reign.

What lessons may twenty-first believers learn from Absalom’s rebellion?

First, the passage teaches us about the danger of refusing to reconcile (2 Sam. 14.12-15.6). After killing his brother Ammon, Absalom fled from the king’s court for three years. The interposition of David’s advisor Joab moved David to allow his exiled son to return to Jerusalem. When Absalom returned to Jerusalem, he lived in the capital city for two years and never saw his father’s face (2 Sam. 14.28). David’s trusted aide Joab helped Absalom come before the presence of King David. Absalom bowed in homage to his father. 2 Samuel 14 concludes with the words, “The King kissed Absalom” (2 Sam. 14.33). 2 Samuel 15.1 describes Absalom’s response, “After this, Absalom got himself a chariot, horses, and fifty men to run before him.” (Years later, Absalom’s younger brother Adonijah with support from David’s commander Joab and priest Abiathar followed the same public display of rebellion (1 Kings 1.5-8). After years of exile and not being allowed to see his father even though he lived in the capital city, Absalom launched his rebellious attempt to take the kingship from David. Ahitophel, probably Bathsheba’s grandfather, supported Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 15.31).

Absalom undertook six actions to promote himself as king. First, he acted with royal pomp as he rode his chariot through the streets of Jerusalem with fifty-man entourage going before to attract an audience. Second, he stationed himself at the city gate, a phrase that resonated in an ancient culture like our phrase “the Halls of Justice.” Third, he listened to the complaints of people that felt they needed justice in personal legal matters. Fourth, he told every man seeking justice “your claims are good and right (v.3). Fifth, he publicly let it be known that David was responsible for the failure of justice (v. 3). Sixth, he declared that he would be a good judge (v. 4). As a result, Absalom “stole the hearts” of the people.

Second, the passage warns readers of the dangers of not “understanding the times (2 Sam. 15.7-16). At a particular moment in Israelite history, the Bible describes men from the tribe of Issachar as men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chron. 12.32). David neither understood the times nor his own family. Absalom approached his father with a request for permission to travel to Hebron to offer sacrifices. The city of Hebron has numerous historical connections to key events in Israelite history that should have warned David. Hebron was Abraham’s home and burial spot of Sarah, a city of refuge, the location at which Samson picked up the city gates and moved them, as well as Absalom’s birthplace (2 Sam. 3.2-3) and the location where David received anointing as king (2 Sam. 2.4). As one scholar commented, “Go in peace opened the way for Absalom to war!” Absalom’s plot included the recruitment of David’s trusted advisor Ahithophel, most likely Bathsheba’s grandfather. Thus, prominent members of Bathsheba’s family joined the revolt against David. The conspiracy grew, and an unnamed person informed David of Absalom’s success, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom” (2 Sam. 15.12). David and his supporters fled.

Third, the passage affirms the importance of trusting God (2 Sam. 15.24-30). David fled from Saul; now he flees from Absalom. As he fled, however, David sought God. During this flight from Absalom, David wrote Psalm 3. In the Psalm, David modeled a believer’s response when we are at our wit’s end. First, David focused on the truth of God (Ps. 3.3). God is s a shield of protection. Second, David cried out to God for help (Ps. 3.4). Third, David experienced the sustaining power of prayer (Ps. 3.5). Fourth, David celebrated God as the deliverer (Ps. 3.8).

Bible Studies For Life

Richard Elligson

Richard ElligsonRichard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

2018

Session 5

July 1, 2018

WHAT SHOULD WE DO NOW?

Acts 2:37-47

While the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ marks the turning point of world history, Acts 2 represents mankind’s necessary response. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 was needed to carry out the task Jesus gave in Acts 1:8. While the church was empowered to reach, Peter was emboldened to preach! After explaining the fulfillment of God’s prophecy and highlighting the events of God’s plan, Peter boldly concluded, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” (Acts 2:36). The crowd’s plea to Peter’s message in verse 37 not only reflects the title of this week’s lesson, but represents what our response ought to be as well: “Brothers, what must we do?” The verses that follow suggest four answers to that question.

Profession (vv. 37-40). Once the message of the gospel is understood, and the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, the appropriate response is to surrender one’s life to Christ. This is done through repentance and faith and should be followed by public profession and baptism. In the New Testament, the profession of faith declaring Christ as Lord (Rom. 10:9) and believer’s baptism occur together. But baptism is never a part of salvation! Like good works, baptism always follows salvation…and confirms it. So important is this outward proclamation of new-found faith in Christ, that Jesus Himself said, “Everyone who will acknowledge (profess) Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).

Continuation (vv. 41-42). Salvation is followed by sanctification, that process by which believers are conformed to the image of Christ. But whereas salvation is wholly from God, we are active participants in the spiritual growth process. Peter wrote, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). The activities of these new converts in verse 42 are like the “four food groups” of spiritual growth. The apostles’ teaching increased their knowledge of Christ; His life, His works, His words, and the meaning of it all. Fellowship (from which we derive the word “communion”), increased their affections for Christ’s congregation. The breaking of bread likely refers to the ordinance of The Lord’s Supper, which Jesus shared with his disciples and commanded them to continually observe until His return (1 Cor. 11:26). This enhanced their worship of Christ. Finally, prayers increased their intimacy with Christ, and their concern for the lost.

Devotion (vv. 43-46). Following Christ leads believers to focus their attention outward, rather than inward. This sharing of material goods demonstrated their genuine concern for the well-being of others, especially in a society hostile toward Christianity. It’s interesting that their sacrificial giving was nestled in the context of signs and wonders, sweet fellowship, sharing time with one another, and meeting one another’s needs; all in an atmosphere of joy and humility! This demonstrates the devotion these new believers felt toward their Lord and their church.

Addition (v. 47).  Under normal circumstances, a healthy church is a growing church. We often speak of two ways that churches “grow.” First, there is spiritual growth. Verse 47 indicates that this new group of believers was prospering in their new-found faith, as they were praising God and having favor with all the people.” Those are signs of a healthy church! Beyond that, there is numerical growth. While numbers aren’t the only indicator of a church’s vitality, they do provide some indication of a congregation’s wellbeing. Whether quickly or slowly, spiritually and/or numerically, a healthy church is a growing church!

Session 6

July 8, 2018

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Revelation 21:1-8

Nothing is worse than reading a good story, only to be disappointed by a lousy ending. We can put up with a plot that twists and turns or characters who run the gamut from faithful to frustrating…just as long as we arrive at a happy conclusion. Well the Bible’s story of redemption has the epitome of happy endings! The story that began with God’s people in God’s paradise sharing God’s presence, ends the exact same way. The final chapters of Revelation give us breathtaking details of the next—and final—phase of our salvation. One key theme is that of newness.

A new heaven and a new earth (v. 1). The promise of a new heaven and new earth for the redeemed accompanies the promise of judgment for the lost. Peter reminds us, “The heavens will be on fire and be dissolved…and the elements will melt with the heat. But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Pet. 3:12-13). The new heaven and new earth in verse 1 should probably be viewed as a single entity, rather than two separated spheres, as that which had been distinctly and necessarily separated for so long is now brought together. It’s not surprising that John first mentions the absence of the sea. That which meant so much to him and his fellow fisherman on this earth is curiously absent. But this observation adds to the ideas of newness and stability. The earth’s ocean serves to separate; its wind-tossed waves and violent storms are threatening dangers not even hinted at in heaven. No wonder John noticed this first!

A new city (v. 2). The scene is magnificent. The gleaming city the disciples so revered (see Matt. 24:1) is now replaced by a new, more spectacular one. “Coming down out of heaven from God,” reminds us that mankind could not put together such a city; only God can. This is the dreamed-of destination of Abraham (Heb. 11:8-10) and the welcoming place of rest for the redeemed (Heb. 12:18-24). “Like a bride” hearkens us to the church, the bride of Christ. “Adorned” speaks of the beauty of this place, a beauty described by John in the verses that follow. If the scene is magnificent, the significance is more so. In the Bible, the city of God is Jerusalem, the city where people went to meet God on occasion. In those cases, a mediator (priest) was required, as was a sacrifice. Here, the city is heavenly; God actually dwells here, together with the redeemed, where Christ is both our High Priest and our substitutionary sacrifice.

A new existence (vv. 4-7). These verses capture the blessed comfort Christ-followers receive. Newness in this case is described as relief from the oppressive miseries that accompany our fallen earthly state. All four universal problems of humanity—sin, suffering, sorrow, and death—will be exchanged for eternal rest and peace. What Christ paid for on the cross is finally and completely delivered.

Verse 8 is particularly meaningful. Just as significant as all heaven includes, is what heaven excludes. I will never forget when my five-year-old raised his hand in our small Arkansas church and asked if there would be any sin in heaven. I answered, “Of course not.” He quickly retorted, “How do you know? It happened before, didn’t it?” Indeed, it did…but it will never happen again! Verse 8 reminds us of that, as well as the fearful destiny that awaits the lost. Does this give us a sense of spiritual pride? Absolutely not! Instead, it should remind us of the privilege and responsibility we have to share the good news of redemption, for He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Special Focus

July 15, 2018

TITHING: AN OBEDIENT RESPONSE TO A GRACIOUS GOD

Malachi 3:7-12

By the time Malachi was penned, Israel had been cured of her persistent sin of idolatry. But a new sin had taken its place: the sin of apathy. The central theme of this prophetic book is the peoples’ half-hearted commitment to their God. Malachi’s method of dealing with their sin is to pose a series of rhetorical questions highlighting their sins, exposing their lame attempts to justify them, and demanding a re-commitment to obeying the requirements God had set.

One such area of apathy was in their half-hearted giving. While the tithe mentioned was required of the people of Israel—and is not technically required of New Testament Christians—the principle of giving God His due is just as important to us today as it was to the Jews of Malachi’s day.

The problem of half-hearted giving (v. 8). It’s interesting that so many of today’s church people complain when asked to give a mere ten percent of their income to the work of God. According to Numbers 18, a tithe (or “tenth”) of Israel’s income—and especially the “first-fruits” of their crops—was required to support the tribe of Levi from which the priests came. Another tenth was given to support the duties of the tabernacle (Deut. 12) and yet another was required every third year for helping the poor and needy (Deut. 14). Hence the Jews were not only encouraged, but required to donate 23% of their income to God each year! Their failure to do so prompted Malachi’s rhetorical question, “Will a man rob God?” Failure to bring God His due (in both their required tithes and their freely given offerings) was paramount to robbing God of what was rightfully His. Every indication pointed to their unwillingness, rather than their inability, to bring the required amount to God’s storehouse. Was this intentional rebellion against God? Probably not. Rather it was the result of neglect…just another product of their half-hearted commitment.

The penalty for half-hearted giving (v. 9). The original construction—to be cursed with the curse—indicates the nation was already suffering under the penalty of their apathy (see v. 11), and yet had not caught on to the cause of their suffering. The phrase “the whole nation” indicates the extent of their neglect. The people who were charged with bringing their tithes to the Lord, the Levites who received it, and the priests who were responsible for dispersing it were all equally guilty! As a result, God’s anger burned against them all.

The promise for whole-hearted giving (vv. 10-12). Rather than pronounce an even harsher penalty against them, God enticed His people to obedience with a proposition and a promise. First, He invited them to “test” Him. This is the only place in Scripture (that I am aware of!) where God actually invites His people to “put Him to the test.” Normally, the word test is the word for “tempt.” God’s people are warned in Deuteronomy 6:16 specifically not to try God’s patience by testing Him. But here the invitation is wide open; not to try God’s patience but rather to prove His faithfulness. Next, God makes a three-fold promise. If they will bring Him their full tithe, He will (1) pour out His blessings upon them so abundantly that they won’t be able to absorb them all; (2) remove the curse they were under by putting a halt to the pestilence and

famine that was causing their crops to fail; and (3) make them an example to neighboring nations of what a blessed nation looks like.

The lesson for us? While we are not technically required to tithe, we are certainly taught to give back to God from that which He has given to us; and to do so with joy. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

Session 1

July 22, 2018

PRAY

Nehemiah 1:1-11

The book of Nehemiah picks up where Ezra leaves off. Following seventy years of Babylonian captivity, the Jews were once again allowed to return to their beloved homeland and its capital city of Jerusalem. Ezra records the first two phases of this return, and Nehemiah tells of the third and final phase.

The account of Nehemiah has several distinct features that set the book apart. Although the book of Esther comes after it in the Bible, the events of Nehemiah make it the last historical book chronologically. And unlike Ezra (a scribe), or Malachi (a prophet), Nehemiah was a lay-person; a somewhat ordinary kind of guy who was moved to accomplish some very extraordinary things. The lesson for us is that one person—fully committed to God—can have a tremendous impact for His kingdom.

The condition of God’s city (vv. 1-3). Now that the exile was over, there was more freedom to move among the cities and provinces of the region. Nehemiah was in the service of the court, serving as the cup-bearer for the king (1:11). While he had personal security and status (as long as no one attempted to poison the king!), he was quite concerned about his countrymen and the land of his ancestry. Thus, when a member of his family arrived in his city, Nehemiah was quick to inquire about the news from back home. Of particular interest was the condition of the capital city and the wellbeing of those who had returned from foreign lands once permission had been granted for their return. Ezra describes the rebuilding of the temple (completed around 515 BC), and the return of displaced Jews that began some twenty years later and continued on and off for the next decades. The second major wave of returning countrymen wasn’t until about 458 BC. It was likely those pilgrims that Nehemiah was asking about.

The report from the visiting countrymen was not good. Regarding the people, the report said they were in great trouble and disgrace. Taken together, the phrase indicates they were the objects of scorn and ridicule by the neighboring nations. God’s people, once chosen for His blessing, now hung their heads in shame. The city walls were described as broken down, and its gates burned down. Every indication is that the once glorious city was in ruins; in much the same condition as it was left by the Babylonians a hundred years before. With the walls themselves fallen down, the condition of the gates was of little consequence. But the gates stand for access and security. The fact they had been—and remained—burned down was doubly painful.

The commitment of God’s intercessor (vv. 4-11). That Nehemiah’s response was heartbreak rather than anger shows what kind of man Nehemiah was. His prayer was marked by five key characteristics: Passion (v. 4), demonstrated by days of fasting and prayer; a plea (vv. 5-6, 11) for God to see God’s servant, hear his prayers, and grant grace to the king at the appropriate time; repentance (v. 6-7) toward his own personal sin and on behalf of the sins of his nation; a recounting of promises (vv. 8-9) that God had long ago made to His people; and a reminder that Israel was God’s holy possession (vv. 10-11), chosen by God and delivered by His might.

Overall, two characteristics of Nehemiah’s prayer life serve as valuable reminders for us. First, Nehemiah was already prepared to pray. His concern for his countrymen was not new. His willingness to intercede with prayer and fasting over a period of days didn’t happen suddenly. He already carried with him a heavy heart and strong devotion toward his people. Second, Nehemiah was prepared to act. Verse 11 indicates that Nehemiah had come to some personal conclusions through his praying. His prayer was one of intercession, but also of preparation. Nehemiah was going to see the king!

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