Now it happened in the month of Chislev . . .
. . . As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the jGod of heaven.
— Nehemiah 1:1, 4
The first chapter of Nehemiah is the key to the rest of the book. Here, the discerning reader can gain insight into why this man was so effectively used by God, and how you and I can do the same.
Nehemiah 1:1-3 describes the moment that Nehemiah heard the awful news: God’s people and God’s city were completely devastated and left defenseless. What did Nehemiah do? This is very important. What was the first step that Nehemiah took? This man of God “sat down and wept and mourned for days” (Nehemiah 1:4). Think about that. Nehemiah took time simply to grieve the condition of God’s name and His people. This is why Nehemiah was so effectively used by God – he lingered in repentance over the spiritual state of his surroundings.
We too, as American Christians, must understand that taking days at a time to pull back from our daily lives to weep and mourn matters to God. And, it’s personally transformative; it prepares us and empowers us to do what God calls us to do thereafter.
Oftentimes we don’t want to face hardships squarely in the eyes, but instead we want to “look on the bright side of things.” When we see the unrelenting decline of Christianity in America, some believers are tempted to put on a happy face and say, “It’s okay! God is still at work!” Yes, God is still at work, just as He was in Nehemiah’s time when Jerusalem was leveled. But that’s not what God is looking for at first. God is looking for people – like Nehemiah – who will recognize that there has been a spiritual problem in God’s people that needs to be repented of before things can be made right again.
Nehemiah did not stop with a few days of repentance. The Bible says that he “continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).
How long did Nehemiah humble Himself before God in fasting and prayer? The Bible gives us the timeline of events. Nehemiah received the news “in the month of Chislev,” which is the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar. Nehemiah’s second step, after repenting, fasting, and praying, takes place “in the month of Nisan,” which is the first month of the Hebrew calendar (Nehemiah 2:1). The Bible implies that Nehemiah took approximately 120 days to fast and pray!
Why did Nehemiah tarry so long in repentance? The worst of God’s covenant curses had come on God’s people (Deuteronomy 29:24-28). Not only was the result terrible – the devastation of Jerusalem and God’s people – but the cause was worse – the overwhelming sins of God’s people. On top of that, Nehemiah wanted to go back to Jerusalem and correct the problem at hand.
Biblical scholars point out that the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah form one continuous story. The famous and thematic principle of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is also the backbone of this final episode of Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s first and protracted step was to humble himself, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways, so that God would hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land.
Because Nehemiah took time to repent, God gave him favor with the king, favor with the people in Jerusalem, endurance against opponents, and speed in their labors. If Nehemiah would have attempted to rebuild the walls without first seeking God for 120 days, his efforts would have never prevailed.
The same can be said for us. This is why we also need to take time for repentance, prayer, and fasting today, if we want God's power to rebuild the spiritual condition of our churches and nation. We need to first pray, fast, and repent, and then step out in God-directed action, so that God will hear, forgive, and heal.
Our Father, hear us now. We grieve over the state of Your church and Your name in this land, and we grieve over our many careless sins that have brought us to this low place. Forgive us. Heal us and give us supernatural help and direction for how to rebuild Your work in our midst for the glory of Your name. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Chuck Hetzler, PhD
Director, Christian Union Day and Night
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