The following extract is from Episode 1 of ‘Lessons from Nehemiah, Rebuilding Broken Walls’ which can be viewed below.
And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach.
The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
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.
This is a true story of how God used a humble servant of the Lord for His greater purpose. It is set at a time when a small percentage of Jews had already started to return to Jerusalem following the end of the Babylonian captivity. The return to Jerusalem was prompted by the royal decree by King Cyrus of Persia. Judah was now a province of Persia and King Artaxerses I was reigning at the time of Nehemiah. The Bible says that Nehemiah was King Artaxerses’s cup bearer in the Persian royal palace in Susa, or Shushan, which today is known as the city of Shush in Iran.
Now any great move of God begins with God doing a great work in somebody. The name Nehemiah means ‘Yehovah comforts’; He was Ben Hachaliah, or son of Hachaliah, which means ‘whom Yehovah enlightens’. It is fair to say that Nehemiah very much fulfilled the role of being enlightened by God to bring comfort to His people. What a description to live up to! May we too be enlightened to the truth to bring comfort to His people.
God is still moving in our times. For Nehemiah it began with hearing the news first-hand that survivors of the captivity in Jerusalem were in great distress and reproach. And the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates were burned with fire. Nehemiah 1:2 says Nehemiah asked concerning Jerusalem. The burden for Jerusalem begins with having a heart for the things God loves and inquire with interest the things that concern Him.
The Bible says in Psalm 87, “The Lord loves the gates of Zion. More than all the dwellings of Jacob.” As we will discover in future episodes of this series, the gates are very symbolic because Jerusalem’s peace and security depended on strong walls and fortified gates. Not only did the broken walls expose the Temple of God, but His people were left completely open and vulnerable to its enemies. They had no defence and no protection at all. They lived not as residents but ‘survivors’, as Nehemiah says, because their lives were one of constant survival, full of fear, stress and tension.
The Lord did not will this for His people who had returned to their ancestral homeland. Nehemiah’s burden for Jerusalem was consistent with what the Bible clearly teaches us to have.
It says in Psalm 137:5-6:
“By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill!
If I do not remember you,
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
“If I forget you O Jerusalem… if I do not remember you.” Despite being hundreds of miles away from a city he had never even visited, Nehemiah’s head was in Persia but his heart was in Jerusalem. And it is with this deep burden that he remembered Jerusalem and the welfare of her people.
Friends, we too should have this heart for Jerusalem. In fact, the Lord will give us this burden when we read God’s Word and obey it. That’s why we make it our cause to inquire of the things concerning Jerusalem. As Christians who love Israel, we have a burden for the gates of Jerusalem; for Jerusalem’s protection, for Israel’s defence, for secure gates and safe walls, for the welfare of her people; that those who dwell there will not be simply known as ‘survivors’ but ‘thrivers’. Praise the Lord that today despite enemies, Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel live.
The Bible tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Psalm 122:6-9 says:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
Because of the house of the Lord our God
I will seek your good.
May the Lord instil in us a desire to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Now Nehemiah’s reaction was compelling. Losing strength in his legs he sat down and began to weep and mourn. This wasn’t simply him feeling bad for Jerusalem or feeling sorry for the Jews there. I believe God touched his heart and moved upon him in a way that convicted him of his burden.
It says Nehemiah wept for Jerusalem and so he prayed and fasted. This weeping of Nehemiah over Jerusalem is also a reflection of the heart of our Lord. As Christians, we will be familiar with someone else who wept over Jerusalem – Jesus. In fact, the Gospels record three occasions that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem.
Let’s read one of these accounts from Luke 19:41-44:
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
This prophetic word was fulfilled in AD 70 when the Roman Emperor Titus besieged Jerusalem destroying both the city and the Temple. To this day its broken stones on the floor of this ancient city are evidence of this tragic event and a reminder that the Bible is true and that all things prophesised in the Gospels will be fulfilled. Jesus lamented with tears over Jerusalem foreknowing of its future attack, but note it wasn’t just the city’s physical destruction that Jesus mourned, but in the words of Jesus, “the things that make for your peace.” He was burdened for the spiritual condition of God’s people.
Nehemiah himself also had a burden for the spiritual aspect of those who resided in Jerusalem as did the prophets of Israel. Here again is the heart of God revealed to us: Jesus mourned that Jerusalem, the City that God loves, should dwell in peace. Jesus wept over the peace of His brethren, His very own. And I know that you too desire peace for the Jewish people. If a Christian truly loves Jesus then they will love His brethren also. You cannot be a Christian and have a hatred towards the Jewish people. You cannot be a Christian and set yourself against Zion. If Christians want to be like Jesus, then when Jerusalem hurts we will hurt, when Jerusalem weeps we will weep, when Jerusalem rejoices we will rejoice.
In accordance with His word, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem; peace within its walls, prosperity within its palaces.
Psalm 122 says, “For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’”
“Brethren” means the Jewish people and “companions” means friends of Jewish brethren. “Peace be within you” is for the sake of both.
Those who consider Jewish brethren their companions, their friends, their allies, who stand shoulder to shoulder like good friends do, are included in these words of peace upon Jerusalem. Isn’t that wonderful?
May the Lord bless you today with His peace and may God bless Israel and all who stand with her. Like Nehemiah, let’s consider Jerusalem, inquire of its condition and allow the Holy Spirit to develop a burden for its walls and its people.