Here are some notes from a great Don Carson message on Nehemiah 1-2 (first of 5 messages, here)
Nehemiah’s concern for God’s promises and God’s people. Nehemiah is not for individualistic Christians.
1. A servant who perceives the need with tears and contrition
Nehemiah lives c. a century after the exile to Babylon. There have already been two movements back to Jerusalem. (Ezra 1-6 and Ezra 7-10)
But the remnant is not doing well. They had already had an aborted attempt to rebuild the walls (see Ezra 4.12 etc.)
Nehemiah’s response: not distant professionalism but deep identity with the people of God. cf. Paul, Moses, Isaiah, Ezra. We must so identify with the people of God that we are driven to tears and fasting and intercessory prayer.
2. A servant who prays with deep knowledge of God
Nehemiah presupposes that
a) God is sovereign; “It is very common in Scripture, when things are going wrong, to acknowledge God’s sovereignty”
b) God keeps covenant.
c) God expects repentance where there is sin.
d) God punishes and restores his people. cf. Deuteronomy; Revelation 2-3.
e) God knows his own people and watches over them.
f) God delights in those who revering His name.
g) God controls everything; including the most practical. Nehemiah has thought through enough to know what must be done: he needs imperial sanction (which would be a reversal of the king’s policy of 20 years ago). But he knows that God is sovereign. cf Isaiah 10. “Nehemiah sees that he is ideally placed, and he wonders.”
3. A servant who plans with patience and understanding of God’s enigmatic providence. 2.1-10
Nehemiah has planned what he is going to say, he trust in God’s sovereignty but he doesn’t know the outcome. He does what is right, but God’s sovereignty is enigmatic. God may have an alternative; cf. Esther – 4.14. ‘If I perish I perish’
You still do what is right, what is courageous, what leans on God’s providence.
Nehemiah has thought it all through, but notice that he does the opposite to Ezra! Nehemiah asks for safe-conducts but Ezra doesn’t. But the circumstances are different.
4. A servant who prosecutes with wisdom and collaboration. 2.11-20
arrives with careful reserve; quiet reconnaisance; inclusive leadership (‘we’); ignores the opposition – he is inclusive within God’s people but draws some clear lines here.
Nehemiah: a man with a godly, entrepreneurial vision. Ezra the teacher did not build the walls. A vision of how to get from here to there. Preachers need to think entrepreneurially, or work with those who can. God raises up Nehemiahs too.