As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.”
Nehemiah was serving the king of a foreign nation, and he received word that God’s people had been returning from captivity to Jerusalem. Part of this message was that the wall and gates of Jerusalem were greatly compromised, and those Jews were not protected even though they were now free. If we survey the story of Jeremiah’s prophecies, we see what the wall and gates represent. The safety provided to the Jews by Jerusalem was the safety of the Lord. When God removed his hand of protection to lead them into captivity, He removed the protection of that city. Now, Nehemiah would need God’s favor and protection in bidding leave of the king to go restore Jerusalem.
When Nehemiah prayed this prayer of repentance on behalf of his people and asked the Lord for favor before the king, he was asking to help usher in that hand of protection again. This prayer would be granted, and Nehemiah’s mission would not be free of struggle and controversy, but it would be a success. This prayer of repentance for his people would turn into him leading his people to repent themselves after more disobedience. The rebuilding of the wall and gates of Jerusalem would be a re-establishment of God’s protection over those returning children. In all of this, the foundation of Nehemiah’s request is an appeal to God to let him be of service to his children in their need.
Nehemiah knew that God wanted to restore Israel because He had said so. Nehemiah also knew that Israel had to return to the Lord to be part of that covenant. He wanted to be the one to stand in the gap, the man on Earth who would mediate between God and his people to bring this to pass. After rebuilding that wall and celebrating with a dedication of that fortification, Nehemiah would institute reforms to bring God’s people back in line with his precepts and his will. One man’s prayer and willingness to serve changed so much for so many. Father, give us the same spirit of service as Nehemiah, that we would not only pray for others but offer ourselves to do the necessary work for them.