Sabbath School Lesson for October 5-11, 2019
We see in the first two chapters of Nehemiah the story of the third wave of exiles returning to Jerusalem and applying themselves to the completion of rebuilding their nation. Nehemiah…
- receives disturbing news of his homeland (Nehemiah 1:1-3)–Sunday
- prays to God for his people (Nehemiah 1:4-11)–Monday
- speaks to the king about his troubles (Nehemiah 2:1-8)–Tuesday
- is sent to Jerusalem to help the effort there (Nehemiah 2:9, 10)–Wednesday
- prepares for the work ahead of him (Nehemiah 2:11-20)–Thursday
While Ezra dealt with the spiritual revival of Judah, Nehemiah’s concern was mainly with its political and physical restoration. The first exiles served as preparation for the building efforts at the end, but Nehemiah was also involved with moral reforms that helped restore the nation’s spiritual strength.
Years after Ezra’s special ministry in Jerusalem began, the immense opposition there resulted in a lot of unfinished work. The project was not going well. Opposition even prevented the full services of the temple from being conducted because the priests were not able to live in Jerusalem. Much of the city and walls were still in ruins. The work had literally halted.
When Nehemiah, a cupbearer of the king, heard of the conditions in his beloved homeland through Hanani (hah-NAY-nye), he set out to aid his people. It’s unclear whether Hanani, who Nehemiah refers to as “one of my brethren”, was a sibling or a close fellow Jewish friend he regarded as a brother. In any case, his report upset the cupbearer to the point that he decided to fast and pray about the situation.
The plan of action Nehemiah pursued, beginning with a season of prayer, guaranteed the continued restoration of God’s beloved city.
Memory Text: “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said: ‘I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments.’ “ Nehemiah 1:4, 5 NKJV
Nehemiah’s grief was touching, as he contemplated the fate of God’s city. It led him to prayer, beginning with praise for God. The humble cupbearer of the king must have had his heart in the right place to be able to glorify God in the midst of such frustrating circumstances.
Sunday: Nehemiah Receives Bad News
Nehemiah tells us in the first verse that he was in Shushan when Hanani was asked about the conditions in Jerusalem. Shushan was one of the four principal administrative centers of the Persian Empire.
Cupbearers were often trusted advisors to the king, and Nehemiah quite possibly had a position of great responsibility in Shushan. It was his duty to taste the king’s wine to prevent the king from being poisoned. So, naturally the king must have had trust in whoever held the coveted title of cupbearer.
King Artaxerxes previously called for a halt in the construction of Jerusalem because of the complaints of neighboring tribal leaders. This allowed for further destruction of the city’s walls. Hanani had little positive development to share with Nehemiah. Things were deteriorating quickly, and Nehemiah was naturally alarmed and saddened by the report.
But the cupbearer didn’t complain or blame God’s remnant for their lack of faith and courage. Instead, he took his heartache to the Lord. By fasting and prayer, he began to see the role he must play in correcting the trying situation in Jerusalem.
Read Nehemiah 1: 1, 2 and 7:2. What does Nehemiah’s presence in the “citadel” or palace tell us about his role in the Persian government? Why was Nehemiah so interested in what was happening in Jerusalem when he himself had such a good position with the king in Shushan?
Read Nehemiah 1:3 and 2 Kings 25:1, 2, 10. When had the gates and wall first been broken down and set on fire?
Read Nehemiah 1:4. Why doesn’t our grief always cause us to want to pray? What does this tell us about Nehemiah’s character and upbringing?
Monday: Nehemiah’s Prayer
Like Daniel’s prayer, recorded in Daniel 9, Nehemiah records for us what he prayed during his time of intense pain and grief over the condition of his beloved Judah. Both prayers include:
- praise and adoration for God’s power and mercy
- confession of his sins, along with those of God’s people
- requests for God’s intervention to preserve His remnant
Nehemiah’s prayer focuses on God’s covenant promises. Just the recounting of them helped Nehemiah to remember that God always fulfills His promises. God, of course, doesn’t need the reminder, but the purpose here was to help Nehemiah fill his heart with renewed hope and to strengthen his trust in those promises.
Read Nehemiah 1:5, Daniel 9:4, and Matthew 6:9. Why do prayers often start with our praise of God, giving Him glory?
Read Nehemiah 1:6, 7, Daniel 9:5, 6, 10, 11, and Matthew 6:12. Why is confession an essential part of our prayers?
Read Nehemiah 1:11, Daniel 9:18, 19, and Matthew 6:13. Why do we need God’s intervention and why is it important to ask for it?
Tuesday: Nehemiah Speaks Out
Just the fact that the king noticed Nehemiah’s troubled countenance tells us that their relationship must have been close. We’re not sure if their conversation took place in one setting, or if perhaps it was continued later in a more private venue, with the king’s wife present (Nehemiah 2:6).
We are told by historians that Artaxerxes was easily influenced by women. Therefore, his wife Damaspia may have been influential in the king’s thoughtful response to Nehemiah’s concerns. In any event, Nehemiah knows that the success of his plans hinged on the king’s approval. Therefore, he didn’t hesitate to use all his persuasive abilities to enlist the king’s support.
When the king first asked Nehemiah what was troubling him, we are told that the cupbearer was afraid, frightened, or startled (Nehemiah 2:2). Different translations may vary slightly, but the idea is that he was nervous about how to proceed with his request. After all, his very life may have been in danger, if the king responded negatively.
God was moving the king’s heart, however, but He was also giving Nehemiah courage to approach the king in a favorable way that would later lead to Judah’s benefit. All hearts at this point seem to move in the right direction for Jerusalem’s benefit.
Read Nehemiah 2:1. What does this verse tell us about Nehemiah’s normal personality and nature?
Read Nehemiah 2:2, 3. What are the many emotions of Nehemiah shown here, and why is it important for him to express the reason for his sadness in a way that the king will view favorably?
Read Nehemiah 2:4 and Luke 12:11, 12. How does prayer help in situations such as Nehemiah’s? How has it helped you in times of great difficulty?
Wednesday: Nehemiah Sent
Plans to aid Judah were soon activated. The king sent letters with Nehemiah to some of the high officials in the region in an attempt to prepare the way for the operation that was about to take place. He also told Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, to supply Nehemiah with all the timber he would need for rebuilding.
Two tribal leaders who received these letters from the king were Sanballat and Tobiah, principal opponents of the work there. Sanballat the Horonite was the governor of Samaria to the north of Judah. Tobiah the Ammonite was governor of Ammon to the east. Another opponent, Geshem the Arabian, controlled Edom and Moah to the south.
Judah was surrounded by enemies who did all they could to make the project of rebuilding Jerusalem difficult, if not impossible. We, too, must expect that there will be trials in life that will hinder us from doing the Lord’s work. But, like Nehemiah, we must persevere without hesitation, and enlist God’s help in surmounting any difficulty that comes our way.
Read Nehemiah 2:9, 10. Why do you think Sanballat and Tobiah were so disturbed by Nehemiah’s letters?
Read Nehemiah 4:1. What was the reaction and course of action taken by Judah’s enemies? How has someone taken similar measures in your life, in order to deter you from being a Christian?
Read 1 Samuel 17:42-44. Besides David, how did other Bible champions fight opposition?
Thursday: Nehemiah Prepares for His Task
Nehemiah showed great courage and wisdom in how he approached the situation in Jerusalem. Signs of good leadership that we find in this account include:
- keeping necessary information to himself, using discretion in revealing his plans
- doing the necessary research and planning required to accomplish the tasks at hand
- encouraging fellow workers, inspiring them to commit to completing the work
Above all, Nehemiah made every effort to move ahead carefully and prayerfully, thinking ahead and having faith that nothing was impossible with God on their side.
His method of glorifying God, when others were mocking and jeering at him personally, is something we often forget to do in like circumstances.
When we identify with God, we find it easier to project the ridicule to Him. To Nehemiah, they were, in fact, mocking God, and it was His reputation that Nehemiah was quick to uphold and protect.
Read Nehemiah 2:11-12. After the three traditional days of rest after a journey, why would Nehemiah set out on this secret mission? What would he hope to accomplish by keeping it secret?
Read Nehemiah 2:13-15. Why was it important to see the condition of the gates and wall of the city?
Read Nehemiah 2:16-18. How did Nehemiah enlist the help of the best people to do the difficult task of repair that was needed to protect the city?
Nehemiah offers us a glimpse into the work of Christ as chief architect in charge of the restoration of God’s people. Like Christ, who left His throne in heaven, Nehemiah left a position of authority in Persian government to become the governor of a struggling nation, surrounded by enemies.
War-torn and destitute as Judah was, this humble servant begins a journey to promote the full restoration of Jerusalem after its inhabitants experienced their predicted seventy-year captivity.
Through prayerful dependence on God, Nehemiah was instrumental in the full reconstruction of Jerusalem, after two other groups of exiles had failed to complete the work. This included construction of the walls and gates that meant so much for its protection.
How important it is for us to not let opposition deter us from serving God. No matter how dark and torn down our lives become, God can restore us fully and we can once again minister to those around us and be a light to the world, as Jerusalem was originally designed to be.
Nehemiah’s character can be found readily in the first two chapters of this book. He is found to be…
- patriotic (Nehemiah 1:1-4)
- prayerful (Nehemiah 1:5-11)
- perceptive (Nehemiah 2:17-20)
We, too, must commit to a cause, depend on God to show us what to do about it, and use the wisdom He provides to act on our commitment. Success in ministry is guaranteed when we follow the example of Nehemiah and other devout disciples, whose stories fill the pages of Scripture from beginning to end.
Next Week’s Lesson: God’s Call
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
Other Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/