The 7 Elements of Nehemiah’s Great Prayer
“O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant.” Nehemiah 1:11
If you’ve ever been to church, you probably know the Lord’s Prayer. But, have you heard of Nehemiah’s prayer? Much like the Lord’s Prayer, Nehemiah’s prayer is structured in a particular way, but his prayer has much more depth and certain elements.
Who was Nehemiah, though? What was he praying about? How can we know his way of praying is effective for us today? Let’s go back into the Old Testament and discover who this remarkable man was and the example he left for us all.
There is a Book
Yes, there is a book called Nehemiah, and it comes right after the book of Ezra in the Old Testament. Though it’s written in first person, both Jewish and Christian traditions say Ezra was its author. In fact, the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate both call it “Second Ezra.”
It’s very believable that Ezra wrote the book of Nehemiah because Ezra was a priest-scribe. He had rare access to the royal archives of the Persia empire at that time, which is evidenced several times in the book of Ezra. Because of his privilege, Ezra was able to detail Nehemiah’s activities based on the royal archives as well as Nehemiah’s personal diaries.
Who Was Nehemiah?
Nehemiah is most often referred to as a cupbearer (though later he was appointed governor of Jerusalem for two terms). It was his job to taste the wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned before allowing the king to drink it. That was in his early days under King Artaxerxes and about 40 years after the Persian empire defeated the Babylonians.
(Fun fact: King Artexerxes’ stepmother was Queen Esther.)
Like Joseph and Daniel, Nehemiah attained great significance within the king’s palace by becoming the king’s closest confidant. The king fully trusted him, which makes sense since he had to trust his cupbearer with his life. This placed Nehemiah in the perfect position to lead the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls which had been destroyed under the Babylonians.
This was the third attempt to rebuild the city walls. Zarubbabel and Joshua made the first attempt in Ezra 1–6 after their release from captivity. Chapters 7–10 then chronicle Ezra’s second attempt in 458 B.C. Nehemiah made his attempt thirteen years later.
We find Nehemiah’s prayer right away in chapter one. He’s just received news from a friend that the survivors of the Babylonian captivity are in “great distress and reproach.” The walls of Jerusalem are broken down and its gates burned. The news tears Nehemiah’s heart apart, so he begins fasting and praying to God.
“I beg you, Yahweh, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and loving kindness with those who love Him and keep His commandments: Let Your ear now be attentive, and Your eyes open, that You may listen to the prayer of Your servant, which I pray before You at this time, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, while I confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against You. Yes, I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against you, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances, which You commanded Your servant Moses.
“Remember, I beg You, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you trespass, I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though your outcasts were in the uttermost part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and will bring them to the place that I have chosen, to cause My name to dwell there.
“Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. Lord, I beg You, let Your ear be attentive now to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants, who delight to fear Your name; and please prosper Your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.
“For I was cupbearer to the king.” (Nehemiah 1:5–11 WEB)
Journey Back to Jerusalem
The Lord heard Nehemiah. Four months later, he is serving wine to King Artaxerxes. His sadness is still so great he can’t hide it, and the king quickly notices.
“Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” (Nehemiah 2:2 NKJ)
Nehemiah gives the king a short rundown of what’s happened to Jerusalem. The king simply answers, “What do you request?” (v4) He graciously allows Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. He also gives Nehemiah letters to hand to the governors telling them to grant permission for Nehemiah to safely pass through their territories along the way.
Long story short, Nehemiah and his workers finished rebuilding the walls in a record 52 days. They were bullied and teased by naysayers, and often had to watch out for attackers, but they worked as a team and got it done. At the temple’s dedication, Ezra read aloud all of Moses’ law and a great revival spread among the Jews as they celebrated an extended Feast of Tabernacles.
If you decide to read this amazing book of the Old Testament, watch out for three main themes: (1) the need for careful attention to reading the Bible in order to perform His will, (2) Nehemiah’s unfailing obedience to God, and (3) resistance to opposition from both within his team and among the local residents.
His struggles and triumphs are a great reflection of what so many of us go through as we try to serve God.
7 Elements of Prayer
So, what made Nehemiah’s prayer so special that it moved God’s heart in such an amazing way? Let’s break it down.
“I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments….”
Nehemiah begins by giving God praise, which is also what Jesus tells us to do in the Lord’s Prayer. We should always begin our prayers this way, by acknowledging the greatness of God.
Remember, Nehemiah prayed this after the Israelites were released from seventy years of Babylonian captivity. By praising God for always keeping His promises, Nehemiah is declaring God’s character and using it as a basis to ask God to intervene in the situation.
“…please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night….”
Immediately following praise, Nehemiah tells God his request for God to pay attention to him. We know God is always paying attention to us, but Nehemiah doesn’t want to take any chances. He specifically asks God for it.
His statement “which I pray before You now, day and night” tells us he’s really anxious for God to respond, and he’s committed to keep asking.
“Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant, Moses.”
Nehemiah openly admits his family has sinned, that they have not kept any of God’s rules. He might also be talking about the returning captives. We too should confess our sins and repent every time we pray so our sin doesn’t interfere with God’s perfect work in our lives.
“Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant, Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them,, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.”
Recalling what God has promised in His word is an excellent tool to use when you pray. God knows His promises, but when we remind Him of them, He knows we’re serious. It deepens our connection with Him and strengthens our relationship with the Creator of the universe.
“Now these are Your servants and Your people whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.”
Nehemiah acknowledges God’s power of redemption. He’s mainly referring to the Hebrews’ exodus out of Egypt, but he’s also confident God will bring an equally successful second deliverance for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
“O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Nehemiah repeats his request while hinting at the fact Israel was the place God had chosen for His name’s dwelling (v9). And so, the “servants who desire to fear” His name were the people in Jerusalem who had been praying for God to intervene for years.
(Side note: “In the sight of this man” is referring to King Artaxerxes whom Nehemiah anticipated he needed to talk to about the situation.”)
The Big Finish
Because the Messiah had not yet come, Nehemiah simply ends his prayer in verse eleven. For us today, if we’re praying for something specific, we should ask for God’s favor “in Jesus’ name.” Jesus Himself tells us to pray this way in John 14:13.
“You can ask for anything in my name and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.” (NLT)
He also says in Matthew 21:22, “And whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Nehemiah clearly believes God will do what He said He would do, and we can too. If we truly believe, then we end our prayers with “in Jesus’ name” so He can be glorified.
I want to emphasize that Nehemiah’s prayer is not the official way to pray. There is no specific structure or step-by-step instruction for praying. God is more interested in hearing what you have to say however you want to say it and the fact that you’re seeking Him.
I personally believe, though, that the elements of praise and repentance based in humility are essential to any prayer. We must humble ourselves before our mighty God and acknowledge who He is, meaning not only His power but also His great love for us.
James 5:16 tells us “the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” and Nehemiah definitely prayed fervently. His prayer moved God’s heart, and he was allowed to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls with the king’s blessing. Your prayers can move God too.
Whatever you’re going through, allow Nehemiah’s example to guide you through your next talk with God so that you too can experience miracle breakthroughs.