“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.”
(Ezra 1:1 NASB)
Seventy years had passed, and the time had come for the Jews taken into exile in Babylon to begin their return to Jerusalem. The work waiting for them there was daunting: rebuild the wall, the city, and the Temple. Once begun, the work was slow, difficult, and not without its detractors from nearby populations.
About ninety years later word came to Nehemiah, who was serving the king in Susa, that things were going badly back in Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s heart was deeply moved, and he longed to go to Judah and revive the rebuilding project. The king granted Nehemiah’s request and provided him many resources to assist in the effort.
In reading through the book of Nehemiah, one cannot help but notice that he was truly a man of prayer. One of the more noteworthy aspects of his prayers is how readily he confessed his own unworthiness as well as that of his forefathers and his nation. Here’s an example: “Please, Lord God of heaven…let Your ear 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 have committed against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.” (1:5-6 NASB)
This readiness to confess sins and unworthiness shows a depth of understanding and humility in the heart of every child of God who prays in like manner. In addition to freely acknowledging who they are, it is essential also to acknowledge who God is: “You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” (9:17 NASB) That is the only basis on which sinners like us can approach a God like Him, namely, at His invitation and trusting in His mercy and grace.
In chapter nine Nehemiah led the people in a prayer-service, and what a prayer it was! From verse six to the end of the chapter, he followed the pattern of confessing sins, often specific sins, but then also cited God’s righteousness, manifold mercies, unwillingness to forsake His children, willingness to instruct them, readiness to deliver them, having patience with them, and so on.
It is the Holy Spirit who moves hearts to offer humble prayers that demonstrate total trust in God and His grace. Such prayers are suitable when things are going very well and when the going is very difficult.
Even though they were physically back in Jerusalem, in many ways it didn’t feel like the exile was over.
“Behold, we are slaves today, And as for the land which You gave to our fathers to eat its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves on it. And its abundant produce is for the kings Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress.” (9:36-37 NASB)
Starting with Ezra, the leaders had led the people in a renewed interest to know and follow God’s Word. This bore much fruit which was evident in their labor, offerings, and prayers. God is faithful to deliver and bless His humble children. Their prayers are heard and answered according to His gracious good will.
“May Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise!” (9:5 NASB)