Summer has always been one of my favorite times of year. Sure, it can get unbearably hot and the sun can be unforgiving, but it’s a much needed break from the monotony of the school year. Plus, summer gives me the opportunity to create a new routine and to reflect on the lessons of the past year, while also looking ahead towards the future. Anticipation is thick in the air.
The Israelites know a lot about anticipation. This week in our summer devotional we are going to look at the first chapter of Nehemiah. Before this passage, the Israelites were exiled (aka: kicked out of) from their land by the Babylonians. While in exile, the Israelites’ temple and city gates were decimated. In the book right before this, the book of Ezra, we learn that a man named Ezra has taken a group of Jewish families back to Israel after 70 years of exile. We also learn that the Lord has given Ezra favor with the kings of Babylon and Persia to rebuild the temple of the Lord in Israel. Our passage picks up as a remnant of Jewish people have settled in Jerusalem and have dedicated the newly repaired temple to God.
The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
1In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:
“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 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. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
What does Nehemiah do when he hears about the Jewish remnant and Jerusalem's wall? What does Nehemiah ask God to do?
Why do you think Nehemiah reacts the way he does?
Why does Nehemiah confess the sins of his people and remind God of his promise from the past?
Have you ever persevered in your prayers even when it felt like they weren’t being answered?
When Nehemiah learns that the wall around Jerusalem is broken and burned, he weeps. He doesn’t just weep in the moment though- he mournes for DAYS. Why does he do this? His response seems very dramatic.
At this time, the walls of a city were its first line of defense against attack. When the Israelites were first exiled from Jerusalem 70-years prior to this passage, the city gates were burned and the wall to the city was left in ruins. This was the long-awaited land that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants HUNDREDS of years earlier. This was the land that the Lord gave to the Israelites to show his favor to them. It was in this land that the Israelites prospered and grew in honor and stature.
The walls around Israel protected that legacy of God’s favor. When the Babylonians kicked the Israelites out of their land and destroyed the wall around it, they left this promised land susceptible to other outside forces. Not only was the protective gate around the promised land broken, but the honor of the Israelites and their land was stripped away too. No wonder why Nehemiah weeps upon learning that the wall around his peoples’ promised land is still in ruins!
What does Nehemiah do with this information though? He prays!
This past year has brought mourning and extreme pain to many of us. We’ve mourned the loss of loved ones, the loss of connection with other people, the loss of the typical Greek experience, the loss of sitting in uncomfortable plastic chairs in a lecture hall with other students while a professor teaches from the front in the flesh. There has been no shortage of loss over the past 12 months.
As we continue to receive news about restrictions lifting throughout the country and of colleges and universities opening back up, we feel a sense of hope building. Just like how the hope of the Jewish people grew when a group of Israelites returned to Jerusalem with Ezra. Yet, things did not immediately go back to normal for the Jewish people when they returned to Israel. They had their land and their temple back, but they and their city were still vulnerable and in disgrace because of the broken wall.
Our reentry into “normal” on campus may not be as quick or smooth as we hope either- we have no idea what to anticipate. So, the question is: how will we react to the unknowns of reentering into “normal” life? The past year has taught us a lot about lamenting and mourning with God. Will we, like Nehemiah, cry out to and rely on the Lord? Will we continue to be real with God?
This Summer, as you prepare to begin going back to “normal” on campus, continue to rely on the Lord. Remember what the Lord has taught you throughout this past year. Devote yourself to God’s Word. Continue to come before God and be real with him.