Today we start the final segment of the long chronological narrative of Israel in the book of Nehemiah. The remainder of the books in the Old Testament from Esther to Malachi, are written primarily by the prophets prior to or during the period when Ezra and Nehemiah were written.
What jumps off the page in Nehemiah Chapter 1 is an immediate link to our theme verse, 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
The first action needed for a restoration of perfect unity is to humble ourselves; that is, to formally, sincerely, and passionately repent, as Ezra showed us. The second action is to pray and seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways. This second half of restoration to perfect unity with God through confessional prayer is where Nehemiah leads us.
When Nehemiah learns that the remnant of his people that returned to Jerusalem from exile is in very bad condition and the walls of Jerusalem have been destroyed, Nehemiah sets an example for confessional national prayer just as Ezra did for repentance. Nehemiah:
- Weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays for many days to the God of heaven.
- Addresses God as the great and awesome One who keeps his promises and never-ending love with those who love him and keep his commandments.
- Asks God to open his ears and eyes (seeks God’s face!) to hear his prayer for his nation that has sinned terribly against God.
- Confesses that Israel has acted corruptly (disobedience) and has not kept the commandments God gave to Moses long ago.
- Remembers the warning God gave to Israel, that he would scatter Israel among the peoples of the land (exile) if they became unfaithful (disobedient).
- But recalls also that if Israel returns to God and keeps God’s commandments, God will gather his outcasts from everywhere to the place where his name resides – Jerusalem.
- Reminds God that Israel is his chosen people, whom he redeemed out of slavery in Egypt (a thrilling allusion to how God has redeemed you and me out of sin into eternal life through Jesus).
- Concludes with passionate appeal for success and mercy in the presence of King Artaxerxes for beginning the mission to which he is called – to reestablish Israel’s unity with God by rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
So to Ezra’s demonstration of national repentance, the other half of perfect unity is national prayer, spoken on behalf of a nation by a man chosen by God, a humble man who rises up through inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, not a political leader.
Nehemiah is a slave servant, a cupbearer to the King, one who through humility and servanthood has gained the trust of the King.
By the time we finish Nehemiah, we will see a pattern emerge pointing directly to how the church of Jesus can humble itself, seek God’s face, and be healed through the perfect unity Jesus so deeply prayed for in us just before his death so that we can live. This pattern makes us begin to think of the church as a different kind of nation, not as a scattered remnant of believers. It also urges us to consider what the commands of Jesus are and what our wicked ways have been as a different kind of nation, ways from which we need to turn.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Ch 7:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.