It is a familiar message. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah had warned the people of Israel ninety-years earlier of what would happen if they did not turn to God (Jeremiah 6:1-9). But no one listened. When Nehemiah comes on the scene, there is also a need to turn to God, to pray and to get to work.
That is what this opening section is about: Nehemiah, once he accepts the mission to rebuild the city, looks out over a heap of rocks and weeps over what the people had done (and not done) to get to this point (Nehemiah 1:4). He laments how the whole nation has been unfaithful and disobedient to God (1:5). He realizes that the building up of the nation is not going to be easy, as it is going to involve not just physical but moral and spiritual renewal: the people are going to need to confess what they had done, and not just pay lip service to God.
It is an importance point. It is important because we need to realize how Nehemiah begins his work: he begins in prayer, grieving and fasting, confessing, remembering. It is the reason Nehemiah is on the ruins in the first place: the people had offended God and failed to keep God’s commandments (1:6) and Nehemiah, being the leader he is, admits how far he and the people have fallen.
But now comes the hard part: building: how to build amidst the rubble; how to do several things all at once, all at the same time, to accomplish the mission.
That is Nehemiah’s challenge – and ours as well: how do we build up amidst all the challenges we face? How do we work on building a community of trust and honesty, prayer and worship? How do we respond to God’s grace?