Because of their continual disobedience, the Jews were taken captive by Babylon. True to His promise, God allowed some of the Jews to return home about 50 years later. They were led by Zerubbabel.  They rebuilt the destroyed temple, although it was far less grand than the original one. Haggai and Zechariah preached to them. Esther lived during this time and God used her to preserve the Jewish nation. The great majority of the Jews preferred staying in Babylon where life was easier than it would have been returning and rebuilding the destroyed city.

About eighty-five years after that, Ezra led a smaller group from Persia to Jerusalem. Then, fifteen years later, God chose Nehemiah to lead the third and final group to return. His grandparents had been taken into captivity when Jerusalem fell.  They  continued to put their faith in God, though, for the name they gave Nehemiah means “The Lord Comforts.”

Nehemiah had a very important place in the government of King Artaxerxes. He is called the “cupbearer” of the king (Nehemiah 1:11). In earlier times the cupbearer was the one who drank first from everything given to the king to make sure no one was trying to poison the king. By Nehemiah’s time it had become a position of a top assistant and advisor to the king.

In the fall of 446 BC, in the capital city of Susa, word came to Nehemiah about the awful condition of Jerusalem and the Jews living there. The walls of the city were never rebuilt, and that brought great disgrace to the people and their God because all the nations around them saw it as proof that the God of Israel could not take care of His people. The people had been back for 150 years, but hadn’t taken any steps to restore the city. This really bothered Nehemiah, and he prayed and fasted for many days when he heard the news (Nehemiah 1:1-5).

Although he lived hundreds of miles away, Nehemiah was personally concerned with the needs he heard about. Neither he nor his parents had ever been back to Jerusalem, so they had not caused the problems; the people in the land caused them by not rebuilding the walls and the city. Still, he cried over their failure. He had compassion for them even though they were suffering the consequences of their sin. He identified with their needs and didn’t criticize or blame. He was hurt because God’s reputation was hurt.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer (1:4; 2:4, 9; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31). He is often found praying, and it is a main theme of the book. He goes to God first with everything that happens in life, just like Daniel. In this first prayer, when he hears about Jerusalem, Nehemiah pleads for God’s love and mercy on His people. He confesses the sins of the people (as did Daniel) and acknowledges that God is righteous. Then he asks God’s help in correcting the situation. He remembers God’s promises in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30 to one day bring the people back to the land.

Prayer is a very important trait for leaders today as well. We can’t lead others unless we are following the Leader of all Leaders – God Himself. We must spend time in prayer talking and listening to God so we know the direction He wants us to go, as well as how He wants us to lead. If not, we just go our own way, and that leads to disaster. Nothing of real lasting value can be done without prayer. Praying makes us wait on God instead of rushing in our own direction, opens us to God’s plan, and activates our faith so we trust in Him in all we do.

When you hear of a Christian or a church which is struggling, or failing to stay faithful to God, do you criticize and judge, or does your heart break for them because God’s heart breaks for them? Do you have compassion and concern for God’s people who are not obeying God? Do you pray for God to have mercy on them? Are you concerned for the harm they are doing to God’s reputation? Do the needs of your people lead you to faithfully fast and pray for them? Are you a leader who is a man or woman of prayer?