|UP AGAINST A WALL
Series: Up Against A Wall - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 3, 2000
This morning we’re beginning a two part series of messages from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. I invite you to turn with me to Nehemiah, chapter one.
What do we do when we come up against people that seemingly go out of their way to tear us down - to oppose us - to make unreasonable demands on our lives? How are we suppose to handle impossible situations and people - at work - in our families - that we inevitably run into as we try to live our lives? How can we keep going when inwardly we’re crumbling and just can’t go on?
Nehemiah was a man like us - who was called by God to do a seemingly impossible job against tremendous opposition - the situation desperate - the odds stacked against him. This week and next week we’re going to look at what Nehemiah did and what we can do to move forward in difficult times.
Nehemiah 1:1: The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Let’s pause here and understand the background of what’s happening - the situation that Nehemiah is in.
Under kings Saul, David, and Solomon - Israel had become a significant nation - a major military and economic power. Saul got things going - under David the nation came together as a people - then with Solomon and all his wealth and wisdom - the nation really hit a new height of prosperity. It was the golden age of Israel’s history.
Towards the end of Solomon’s life, we know from the Bible, that Solomon compromised with the world - he lived in sin - and led the nation into sin. And so, God judged him and the nation.
1 Kings 11:11,12 says this: So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you....Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but will tear it out of the hand of your son.”
Which happened. When Solomon died the kingdom divided in two - ten tribes went to the north and became the Kingdom of Israel - two tribes remained in the south around Jerusalem and became the Kingdom of Judah - a nation divided - hating each other. Even while they were being attacked by other nations - they fought between themselves. Spiritually - economically - politically - however we look at it - within a short period of time they went from this high plateau of success to complete ruin.
In 722 B.C. Assyria invaded and captured Israel. Then in 586 B.C. the Babylonian’s finished off Judah in the south and carried off the people into captivity. When the Babylonian’s got to Jerusalem they leveled it. They burned the Temple. They tore down the wall around the city. They set fire to all the fortified buildings. They destroyed anything of value.
Imagine Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped - utter devastation. This beautiful city - the pride of Israel - this city that the Bible uses as a symbol of God's dwelling place with mankind - where God’s glory and blessing were displayed to the world - now is in ruins. The armies of Babylon marching home with the treasures and their captives.
Some 140 years later - Nehemiah is in Susa - in southwestern Persia - the winter capital of the Media-Persian Empire. Hanani - one of Nehemiah’s brothers and some others have come back from Judah - and Nehemiah asks them what’s happening in Jerusalem.
Living in the Armenian Diaspora - whether we were born here in the U.S. or someplace else - our hearts gravitate to Armenia. When someone comes back from Armenia, we ask, “How are things there?” “What is it like in Yerevan?”
After the earthquake in 1988 we waited for reports from those who had gone - we looked for ways to help. During the independence movement in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s - during the war for Artsakh - we waited for reports of what was happening. Would Armenia survive? Would it be free?
A group has returned from the homeland. Nehemiah is in Susa asking what’s happening in Jerusalem. How are the remnant of our people living there? Hanani tells him, “Its not good. The people are in misery. They’re suffering in every way you can imagine. The city is defenseless against its enemies - the wall is broken down and its gates are wide open.”
Nehemiah when he hears the report is knocked off his feet. He sits down and begins to weep and mourn for days. Hearing what conditions are like in Armenia today we can come close to understanding Nehemiah - after all that has gone on - now this. The frustration - the sense of hopelessness - the sadness.
Jerusalem is a picture of where we often live our lives. Every time we turn on the T.V. we see pictures of people who are living in misery - whose walls have been broken down - maybe through neglect or opposition. We, too often, come up against situations and people which knock us off our feet - disease - a spouse - a boss - work - destructive habits - name it. We come against it like an impassable wall - we see no way to go on - no way to go under - to go over - or around. How do we go on?
When Nehemiah was knocked off his feet - the first place he went was to his knees. Verse 4: When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
AGAINST A WALL - PRAYER IS OUR PRIORITY
In honesty - my first response usually is to try figure out how to solve the problem - to figure out who or what is to blame - to work out a plan - to fix it. Or, often I get angry or depressed. Nehemiah reminds us - whatever our problems they will never be completely solved unless we first go to God in prayer.
Nehemiah 1 - verses 5 to 11 are what Nehemiah prayed to God. I’d like to share this prayer with you because its really easy to say, “If you have a problem go pray about it.” That sounds very spiritual. But, its not very helpful. What Nehemiah prays - what he emphasizes in his prayer - can help us when we pray.
There are four parts to his prayer - four areas to focus on in our prayer. The first is in verse 5 - ADORATION - PRAISING GOD.
Nehemiah 1:5: I - Nehemiah - said, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,”
When we come to God in praise - we’re not just coming in prayer to a man - or an idea - or a philosophy - with some wishful thinking and good thoughts. When we come to God - and lift up His name - the Almighty - the Sovereign - the Omniscient - God who is enthroned in Heaven - awesome and beyond comprehension - come and praise God it puts everything else in perspective.
Who is the greatest ruler on earth compared to God? What situation - what wall - is stronger than God? What boss? What spouse? What disease?
We begin with praise.
Second - Nehemiah CONFESSES HIS PART IN THE PROBLEM.
Verses 6 and 7: “Let Your ear - God - now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we - notice the “we” and how Nehemiah includes himself with his people - we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.”
Nehemiah’s confession is not just about what God’s people did 140 years ago - how they all sinned and got everyone else into this mess. Nehemiah is praying about his own part in that sin.
This is tough. When we’re in conflict with another person - our usual response is to blame the other person. To think of a long list of ways in which the other person is the root of the problem.
It takes two to have a marriage and two to have a divorce. But, rarely will the offended spouse say, “I was the cause of the divorce. I bear blame for this.” At work - in the church - in politics - name it - they’re the stubborn ones - they won’t change. But we rarely honestly consider our part in the problem.
Nehemiah goes to God and says, “I'm guilty. I confess. I’m part of the problem. Change me. Work in my life so that I can be a part of the answer.”
Third - Nehemiah CLAIMED GOD’S PROMISE.
Verses 8-10: “Remember the word which you - God - commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ - Jerusalem - They are your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand.”
Nehemiah knew his Scriptures. In the middle of his prayer he quotes God’s word - from Leviticus 26, God’s promise to judge and scatter Israel if they turn to sin, (Leviticus 26:14 ff.) and from Deuteronomy 30, God’s promise to restore the nation from its exile. (Deuteronomy 30:1-5 ff.) Nehemiah says, “Lord, we’ve disobeyed and you were true to your promise. We’re judged and scattered. But, Lord, You also promised to restore us and protect us. I’m claiming that promise.”
Sometime - especially when you’re up against a wall - stop and make a list of God’s promises. Someplace in that list you will find at least one promise that you can claim in your situation. God doesn’t flippantly hand our promises. God makes promises to us purposefully to meet every situation and need that we have in life.
We can claim these promises:
Fourth - Nehemiah brings HIS REQUEST TO GOD.
Verse 11: “O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.” Now I was the cupbearer of the king.
What Nehemiah is asking for here - is to be successful in bringing his plan before King Artaxerxes - the ruler of the Medio-Persian Empire. Its a bold - courageous prayer. It comes from lips of Nehemiah who reveres God’s name. He’s praying, “God cause me to be centered in your will so that I will be successful because you will be compassionate and make me successful.”
Next week we’ll talk about what Nehemiah’s plan actually is. But, its important for us to begin this week - as Nehemiah does - with the priority of prayer. In this world of cell phones - answering machines - email - T.V. - constant activity and movement - its so tempting for us to want to press on quickly to our own solutions - or to spin around and around frustrated and depressed by our problems.
We need to stop - in prayer to wait on God - to clear our vision - to quiet our hearts - to turn in faith to God. He is who we need for impossible circumstances. He is waiting for us to cry out to Him.
_______________________Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.