Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me.”
Not long after 600 BC, the Babylonian empire conquered Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. They destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took many people captive to Babylon. This Babylonian captivity of Israel lasted about 70 years (Jer. 29:10) until Persia overthrew Babylon and implemented a new empire.
During this time, an Israelite exile name Nehemiah worked as cupbearer for the king of Persia. His job was to taste the king’s wine to see if enemies had put poison in it. The upside of his job was that he tasted the best wine in the country. The downside was that nobody would sell him life insurance.
When Nehemiah heard a report about the poverty and disgrace of the Israelites back in Judah, he fasted and prayed, reminding God of his promise to bring Israel back from exile. That’s the first type of prayer we see Nehemiah use: an extended campaign that included fasting, to draw God’s attention to a matter of deep concern.
During Nehemiah’s prayer campaign, the king said to him, “Why are you looking so sad?” Nehemiah was afraid, because looking sad wasn’t part of his job description and he didn’t have any life insurance. But he answered honestly, “Because the city of my ancestors is in ruins.” The king said, “What do you want?”
“I prayed to God and answered the king,” said Nehemiah (Neh. 2:4-5 ) This kind of prayer is a quick and silent plea in an unexpected moment of crisis. Nehemiah said to the king, “I want to go back to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem.” The king gave permission, and even offered an armed guard to escort him on the journey.
So Nehemiah led a group of Israelite exiles to Jerusalem, where he acted as governor, organized a work crew, and started rebuilding the walls. The local governors were angry and annoyed that political competition was moving into their territory, so they stirred up trouble to hinder construction. They mocked the small crew of wall builders: “If even a fox climbs on your wall, it will fall down.” Nehemiah prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders” (Neh. 4:4-5). This is another Nehemiah prayer, pointing out his enemies to God and asking God to punish them.
The enemies escalated the situation by planning to attack Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s response: “We prayed to God and posted a guard” (Neh 4:9). Sometimes our prayers may need a bit of military support or other practical measures.
After the wall was rebuilt, Nehemiah declared a day of fasting and prayer in Jerusalem, where the people confessed the sin of their ancestors and renewed their commitment to serving God (Neh. 9). This brings Nehemiah’s prayer life full circle, from fasting and praying by himself in Babylon, to fasting and confession with the community in Jerusalem.
After the wall was completed, Nehemiah restored the house of God in Jerusalem and turned the Sabbath from a day of business back into a day of worship. He prayed, “Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.” A remarkable prayer, asking that his life’s work would not be wasted. He wanted God to remember the good work and the man who did it.
Fasting and prayer are out of fashion today. We’re better at short spurts of prayer in moments of crisis. Work in us, God, so our lives will become like Nehemiah’s, a long campaign of service strengthened with prayers of many types.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.