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Letters and Manuscripts — Volume 18 (1903) - Contents
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    Ms 58, 1903

    Nehemiah’s Prayer


    June 16, 1903 [typed]

    Portions of this manuscript are published in 3BC 1136; CTr 182-184.

    Nehemiah, the Hebrew exile, occupied a position of influence and honor in the Persian court. As cupbearer of the king, he was admitted to the royal presence; and by virtue of this intimacy and his own high abilities and tried fidelity, he became the monarch’s counselor. He was a man of high principle, unbending integrity, and great sagacity.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 1

    In that heathen land, surrounded by royal pomp and splendor, Nehemiah did not forget the God of his fathers or the people who had been entrusted with the holy oracles. The dignity of his position did not rob him of his piety or his love for his brethren. His heart was tender toward them. He was not ashamed to own his relationship to them and to the truth. He felt that he must honor the truth in all places. He did not make any apology for holding a faith distinct from the faith of those in the Persian court.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 2

    By his residence in the Persian court, Nehemiah was being prepared for the work to which he was to be called. He was gaining advantages that were to enable him to be a great help to his people. When God has a work to do, He has His instruments in preparation for this work. He has His chosen ones whom He can call into action when the right moment comes. Courts of princes are sometimes used by God as a training school for the education of the men He is fitting to bear important responsibilities.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 3

    Days of peculiar trial and affliction had come to the chosen city. Messengers from Judah described to Nehemiah its condition. The second temple had been reared, and portions of the city rebuilt, but its prosperity was impeded, the temple service disturbed, and the people kept in constant alarm, by the fact that its walls were still in ruins, and its gates burned with fire. The capital of Judah was fast becoming a desolate place, and the few inhabitants remaining were deeply embittered by the taunts of their idolatrous assailants, “Where is your God?”18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 4

    The soul of the Hebrew patriot was overwhelmed by these evil tidings. So great was his sorrow that he could not eat or drink; he “wept and mourned certain days, and fasted.” But when the first outburst of his grief was over, he turned in his affliction to the sure Helper. The record says that he “prayed before the Lord God of heaven.” [Nehemiah 1:4.] He unburdened his heart to God. He knew that the affliction that had come upon Israel was the result of her transgression; and with deep humiliation he came before God to ask for pardon and a renewal of the divine favor. Faithfully he makes confession of his sins and the sins of his people.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 5

    Taking hold by faith of the divine promise, Nehemiah lays down at the footstool of heavenly mercy his petition that God would maintain the cause of his penitent people, restore their strength, and build up their waste places. “I beseech Thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments; let Thine ear be attentive, and Thine eye open, that Thou mayest hear the prayer of Thy servant, which I pray before Thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel Thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against Thee; both I and my father’s house have sinned.” [Verses 5, 6.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 6

    Not only did Nehemiah say that Israel had sinned. He acknowledged with penitence that he and his father’s house had sinned. “We have dealt corruptly against Thee,” he says, placing himself among those who had dishonored God by not standing stiffly for the truth. [Verse 7.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 7

    He presents before the Lord His own terms. He had said that if they broke the covenant that He had made with them, He would scatter them among the nations, and this He had done. But He had said also that if they turned to Him, He would gather them together again to the place that He had chosen. He had been faithful to His threatenings when His people had separated from Him; He had scattered them abroad among the nations, according to His word. And Nehemiah finds in this very fact an assurance that He will be equally faithful to fulfil His promises. His people had now returned in penitence and faith to keep His commandments; and God had said that if they would do this, even though they were cast out to the uttermost parts of the earth, He would gather them thence again, and would cause the light of His countenance to shine upon them. This promise had been given more than a thousand years before; but it stood unchanged through all the centuries. God’s word cannot fail.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 8

    Nehemiah’s faith and courage strengthen as he grasps the promises. His mouth is filled with holy arguments. He points out the dishonor that would be cast upon God were His people, now that they have returned to Him, to be left in their state of weakness and oppression. “We have dealt very corruptly against Thee,” he says, “and have not kept Thy commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which Thou commandedst Thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech Thee, the word that Thou commandedst Thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations; but if ye turn unto Me, and keep My commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather thee from thence, and will bring thee unto the place that I have chosen to set My name there. Now these are Thy servants and Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed by Thy great power, and by Thy strong hand.” [Verses 7-10.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 9

    “O Lord, I beseech Thee, let now Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant, and to the prayers of Thy servants, who desire to fear Thy name; and prosper, I pray Thee, Thy servant this day and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” [Verse 11.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 10

    Nehemiah had often poured out his soul before God in behalf of his people. Day and night he had offered this prayer. And as he prayed, a holy purpose had been forming in his mind, that if he could obtain the consent of the king, and the necessary aid in procuring implements and material, he would himself undertake the arduous task of rebuilding the ruined walls of Jerusalem and seeking to restore the national strength. And now in closing his prayer, he entreats the Lord to grant him favor in the sight of the king, that this cherished plan may be carried out.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 11

    Nehemiah humbled himself before God, giving Him the glory due unto His name. Thus also did Daniel in Babylon. Let us study the prayers of these men. They teach us that we are to humble ourselves, but that we are never to obliterate the line of demarcation between God’s commandment-keeping people and those who have no respect for His law.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 12

    We all need to draw near to God. He will draw near to those who approach Him in humility, filled with a holy awe for His sacred majesty, and standing before Him separate from the world.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 13

    Praying With Holy Confidence

    God is Lord over all. Compared with the infinite One, man is nothing. “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?” the psalmist asks. [Psalm 8:4.] And yet, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16.] Everything depends on the quality of our faith. Those who eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of God become one with Christ. They accept the word of truth that Christ came from heaven to bring to the world.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 14

    “The flesh profiteth nothing,” Christ said; “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” [John 6:63.] With holy confidence we may approach the throne of grace. Through obedience to the Word of the living God, we may obtain eternal life. We may in this world be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 15

    The Lord is faithful. He will keep His covenant with those who love Him and keep His commandments. He will bestow on them mercy and grace “exceeding abundantly, above all that they ask or think.” [Ephesians 3:20.] Nothing will be thought of too great worth to bestow on those who have loved Him and exalted His name.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 16

    The sincere, earnest petitioner will receive a decided answer. Indifferent, wordy prayers bring no returns. But the prayer coming from a broken, contrite heart is heard in the heavenly courts. He who made man, He who formed the eye and planted the ear, will listen attentively to the earnest, heartfelt prayers that come from unfeigned lips.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 17

    Nehemiah Asks the King’s Support

    Nehemiah was compelled to wait for four months for a favorable opportunity to present his request to the king. During this period, while his heart was oppressed with grief, he constantly endeavored to carry a cheerful and happy countenance.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 18

    In his seasons of retirement many were the prayers, the penitential confessions, and the tears of anguish witnessed by God and the angels; but this was concealed from human sight. The regulations of Eastern courts forbade any manifestation of sorrow within them. All must appear gay and happy in those halls of luxury and splendor. The distress without was not to cast its shadow in the presence of royalty.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 19

    But at last the sorrow that burdened Nehemiah’s heart could no longer be concealed. Sleepless nights devoted to earnest prayer, care-filled days, dark with the shadow of hope deferred, leave their trace upon his countenance. The keen eye of the monarch, accustomed jealously to guard his own safety, is accustomed to read countenances and to penetrate disguises. Seeing that some secret trouble is preying upon his servant, he suddenly enquires, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing that thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart.” [Nehemiah 2:2.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 20

    The question fills the listener with apprehension. Will not the king be angry to hear that while outwardly engaged in his service, the courtier’s thoughts have been far away with his afflicted people? Will not the offender’s life be forfeited? And his cherished plan for restoring Jerusalem—is it not about to be overthrown? “Then,” he says, “I was very sore afraid.” [Verse 2.] With trembling lips and tearful eyes he reveals the cause of his sorrow—the city, which is the place of his father’s sepulcher, lying waste, and its gates consumed with fire. The touching recital awakens the sympathy of the monarch without arousing his idolatrous prejudices; another question gives the opportunity for which Nehemiah has long sought: “For what dost thou make request?” [Verse 4.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 21

    Asking Help From God

    But the man of God does not reply until he has first asked the support of one higher than Artaxerxes. “I prayed,” he says, “to the God of heaven.” [Verse 4.] The silent petition then sent to God was the same that he had offered for many weeks, that God would prosper his request. And now, taking courage at the thought that he has a Friend, omniscient and all-powerful, to work in his behalf, the man of God calmly makes known to the king his desire to be released for a time from his office at the court and be authorized to build up the waste places of Jerusalem and to make it once more a strong and defensed city. Momentous results to the Jewish city and nation hung upon this request. “And,” says Nehemiah, “the king granted me according to the good hand of my God upon me.” [Verse 8.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 22

    Diligence in Business

    While Nehemiah implored the help of God, he did not fold his own hands, feeling that he had no more care or responsibility in the matter. With admirable prudence and forethought, he proceeded to make all the arrangements necessary to ensure the success of the enterprise. Every movement was marked with great caution. He did not reveal his purpose even to his own countrymen; for while they would rejoice in his success, he feared that they might, by some indiscretion, greatly hinder his work. Some would be likely to manifest a spirit of exultation which would arouse the jealousy of their enemies and perhaps cause the defeat of the undertaking.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 23

    As his request to the king had been so favorably received, he was encouraged to ask for such assistance as was necessary to carry out his plans. To give dignity and authority to his mission, as well as to provide for protection on the journey, he secured a military escort. He obtained royal letters to the governors of the provinces beyond the Euphrates, the territory through which he must pass on his way to Judea; and he obtained also a letter to the keeper of the king’s forest in the mountains of Lebanon, directing him to furnish such timber as was needed for the wall of Jerusalem and such buildings as Nehemiah proposed to erect.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 24

    An Example for Us

    The example of this holy man should be a lesson to all the people of God, that they are not only to pray in faith, but to work with wise diligence and fidelity. How many difficulties we encounter, and how we hinder the working of Providence, on our behalf, because prudence, forethought, and painstaking are regarded as having little to do with religion. This is a grave mistake. It is a religious duty to cultivate and to exercise every power which will render us to be more efficient workers in the cause of God. Careful consideration and well-matured plans are as essential to the success of sacred enterprises today as in the time of Nehemiah. If all who are engaged in the work of God would realize how much depends upon their fidelity and wise forethought, we would see far greater prosperity attending their efforts. Through diffidence and backwardness we often fail to secure that which is attainable as a right from the powers that be. God will work for us when we are ready to do what we can and should do on our part.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 25

    Men of prayer should be men of action. Those who are ready and willing will find ways and means of working. Nehemiah does not depend upon uncertainties. The means which he has not he solicits from those who are able to bestow. All the world, with its riches and treasures, belongs to god, although it is now in the possession of wicked men. If His servants take a wise and prudent course, so that the good hand of the Lord may be with them, they can obtain the means that they need to advance His cause.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 26

    Be Strong in the Lord

    Nehemiah’s experience in connection with the rebuilding of Jerusalem teaches lessons that will be needed by God’s people as long as time shall last. The times call for men of strength and decision of character. Paul says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” [Ephesians 6:10, 11.] The enemy will mingle his evil with every good work that is done, if the workers are not on guard. Thus he seeks to spoil God’s purposes. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplications in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” [Verses 12-18.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 27

    Nehemiah Rebukes Extortion

    The walls of Jerusalem had not been completed when Nehemiah’s attention was called to the unhappy condition of the poorer classes of the people. In the unsettled state of the country, tillage had been, to some extent, neglected. Furthermore, because of their separation from God, His blessing had not rested upon their lands. A scarcity of grain resulted. To obtain food for their families, the poor were obliged to buy on credit, and at exorbitant prices. They were also compelled to raise money by borrowing on interest, to pay the tribute to the king of Persia. The people of Israel were not now enjoying prosperity as when the Lord blessed them for their obedience. Because of their sins, their defense had been removed, and the Lord had allowed other nations to overcome them. Under the rule of idolatrous kings, heavy taxes were imposed upon them; property, liberty, and life seemed at the mercy of these godless powers.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 28

    While they had no thought of revolting against the king of Persia, they had hoped, by repentance and reformation, to regain the favor of God and to be restored to their former liberty. As yet their hopes were not realized. The tribute money for the king must be forthcoming in its season. To add to the distress of the poor, the more wealthy took advantage of their necessity, obtaining mortgages of their lands, and adding them to their own large possessions. They also required usury for all money loaned. This course soon reduced the unfortunate debtors to the deepest poverty, and many were forced to sell their sons and daughters to servitude. There appeared no hope of improving their condition, no way to regain either their lands or their children, no prospect before them but that of perpetual slavery. And yet they were of the same nation, children of the covenant equally with their more favored brethren. They had the same affection for their children as had the others. Their distress had not been caused by indolence or prodigality. They had been compelled to contract debts because of the failure of crops and to pay heavy taxes.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 29

    As a last resort, they presented their case before Nehemiah. The soul of this man of God was filled with indignation as he heard of the cruel oppression that existed among his own people. He resolved to see that justice was done; yet he did not move rashly in the matter. He felt that God had laid upon him grave responsibilities, and he must be faithful to his trust. “I was very angry,” he says, “when I heard their cry and these words. Then I consulted with myself.” [Nehemiah 5:6, 7.] He took time to weigh the whole matter and to form his plans. Then with characteristic energy and determination, he exerted his influence and authority for the relief of his oppressed brethren.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 30

    The fact that the oppressors were men of wealth, whose support was greatly needed in the work of restoring the city and its defenses did not for a moment turn him from his purpose. Having first sharply rebuked the nobles and rulers, he presented the matter in an assembly of the people, clearly showing what were the requirements of God touching the case and urging them upon the attention of his hearers.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 31

    He cited the people to events that occurred in the reign of the apostate Ahab and to the message which God sent to Israel rebuking their cruelty and oppression. The children of Judah, because of their idolatry, had been delivered into the hands of their more idolatrous brethren, the people of Israel. The latter had indulged their cruel enmity by slaying in battle many thousands of the men of Judah and seizing all the women and children, intending to keep them as slaves or sell them into bondage to the heathen. Because of the sins of Judah, the Lord had not interposed to prevent the battle; but by the mouth of the prophet Oded he rebuked the cruel design of the victorious army: “Ye purpose to keep under the children of Judah and Jerusalem for bondmen and bondwomen unto you; but are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God?” [2 Chronicles 28:10.] And the prophet assured them that the fierce anger of the Lord was upon them and that their course of injustice and oppression would call down His judgments. Upon hearing these words, the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes of the congregation. Then certain leading men of the tribe of Ephraim “took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them, and gave them to eat and to drink, and anointed them, and carried all the feeble of them upon asses, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brethren.” [Verse 15.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 32

    After relating these facts of history, Nehemiah proceeded to the case under consideration. He wished to bring the offenders to see the real character of their oppressive work and to be ashamed of it. He said, “We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us?” [Nehemiah 5:8.] Nehemiah and others had ransomed certain of the Jews who had been sold to the heathen, and he now placed this course in contrast with the conduct of those who for worldly gain were enslaving their brethren. The fear of God should restrain them from such injustice. Nehemiah declared to the Jewish rulers—some of whom had been guilty of these practices—that instead of judging and punishing other criminals, they should investigate their own work, lest they should become a reproach, even among the heathen.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 33

    He showed them that he himself, being invested with authority from the Persian king, might have demanded large contributions for his personal benefit. Instead of this, he had not taken that which justly belonged to him, but had liberally contributed to relieve the people in their great necessity. These extortioners had no more reason than he had to pursue the course they were pursuing. He urged them to cease their oppression at once and restore the lands of the poor, and also the increase of money and provision which they had exacted from them and to lend to them without security or usury.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 34

    “Then they said, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest.” “Then,” Nehemiah says, “I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to their promise.” [Verse 12.]18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 35

    These portions of sacred history teach an important lesson. Nehemiah is a true example of religious integrity. In the course that he followed there was no swerving from correct principles. He refused to countenance the least oppression. He was determined to stand true to God and the principles of His law.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 36

    Those who profess to love and fear God should cherish sympathy and love for one another and should guard the interests of others as their own. Christians should not regulate their conduct by the world’s standard. In all ages the people of God are as distinct from worldlings as their profession is higher than that of the ungodly. From the beginning to the end of time, God’s people are to be one body.18LtMs, Ms 58, 1903, par. 37

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