Desperate situations sometimes preclude long prayers. A vehicle driver who has narrowly avoided a crash may quickly breathe the words, “Thank you, Lord.” The prayer requires no more words. Several of Old Testament Judean political leader Nehemiah’s prayers fall into this classification. Nehemiah cared for his followers’ spiritual security; he experienced great frustration when his people failed to identify threats to faithfulness. He prayed as he worked for spiritual and fiscal reform: Remember, O God…
Nehemiah chapter 5 reveals social unrest in Governor Nehemiah’s province. Some creditors had sold delinquent debtors into slavery. The critical issue at hand was that the debtors were co-religionists and a section of their religious law, Leviticus 25:39-43 specified how such debtors from among their countrymen were to be treated. It clearly stated “Do not make him work as a slave” and “they must not be sold as slaves.” Nehemiah reprimanded the violators of the law; he also demanded that priests and nobles swear to correct this grievous wrong. The governor modeled ethical correctness; later in the chapter he spells out how he and his advisors conducted themselves in order to avoid placing additional financial burdens on their people. He did not use the special food allotment allocated for the governor, nor did he or his advisors use their positions to acquire land. He focused his energies on his primary mission of restoring security by rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. As he responded to unethical behavior among the people, Nehemiah prayed, “Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people” (Neh. 5:19).
Prolonged political opposition from both outside and within the province continued. Tobiah and Sanballat continued to spread false rumors about Nehemiah’s motives for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. They tried to lure him outside the city. Nehemiah refused to be distracted from his work; he responded to charges that he was leading a movement to make himself king by responding “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head” (Neh. 6:8). His opponents conspired with allies within the city to make Nehemiah flee to save his own life; Nehemiah refused to leave his task to save his life. He would have considered such flight a sin. The governor prayed, “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me” (Neh. 6:14). Nehemiah demonstrated selfless service and personal courage as he served his people.
The final chapter of Nehemiah reveals that Nehemiah had returned to Persia after accomplishing his mission. He returns after several years to resume leadership in Judea only to discover that four major patterns of corruption had emerged during his absence. Tithes were not being used for upkeep of the temple and care of religious leaders, but were diverted to enemies of Judea. Nehemiah moved swiftly to institute fiscal controls and prayed, “Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.” Judean merchants flagrantly disregarded the Sabbath cessation from work and brought their wares into the city on the day of rest and worship. Nehemiah increased city and temple security to enforce restrictions on commercial activity on that day then prayed, “Remember me for this also, O my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love” (Nehemiah 13:22). Numerous people, including priests, had violated regulations against marrying people of another religion; Nehemiah again enforced the law and prayed, “Remember them O my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites” (Neh. 13:29). He concludes the book with a prayer, “Remember me with favor, O my God.”
Nehemiah’s prayers on the run demonstrate his integrity; his selfless service, and his loyalty to the laws of God. He models how a political leader who wants to please God will execute his responsibilities; he remembers to whom he answers throughout his years in office. Nehemiah’s short prayers plead for accountability: He asks God to remember his own service and to punish those who have sought to hinder Nehemiah’s service to his people. His prayers echo his behavior; Nehemiah models sound ethical decision-making and upholding of regulatory requirements. Even as he enforces laws, he remembers his own need for mercy in his prayers. This Judean governor’s prayers challenge us to fulfill our responsibilities with honor so that we too may pray, “Remember, O my God, all that I have done for you and your people.”