We have here Nehemiah’s prayer, a prayer that has reference to all the prayers which he had for some time before been putting up to God day and night, while he continued his sorrows for the desolations of Jerusalem, and withal to the petition he was now intending to present to the king his master for his favour to Jerusalem. We may observe in this prayer,
I. His humble and reverent address to God, in which he prostrates himself before him, and gives unto him the glory due unto his name, Neh. 1:5. It is much the same with that of Daniel, Neh. 9:4. It teaches us to draw near to God, 1. With a holy awe of his majesty and glory, remembering that he is the God of heaven, infinitely above us, and sovereign Lord over us, and that he is the great and terrible God, infinitely excelling all the principalities and powers both of the upper and of the lower world, angels and kings; and he is a God to be worshipped with fear by all his people, and whose powerful wrath all his enemies have reason to be afraid of. Even the terrors of the Lord are improvable for the comfort and encouragement of those that trust in him. 2. With a holy confidence in his grace and truth, for he keepeth covenant and mercy for those that love him, not only the mercy that is promised, but even more than he promised: nothing shall be thought too much to be done for those that love him and keep his commandments.
II. His general request for the audience and acceptance of all the prayers and confessions he now made to God (Neh. 1:6): “Let thy ear be attentive to the prayer, not which I say (barely saying prayer will not serve), but which I pray before thee (then we are likely to speed in praying when we pray in praying), and let they eyes be open upon the heart from which the prayer comes, and the case which is in prayer laid before thee.” God formed the eye and planted the ear; and therefore shall he not see clearly? shall not he hear attentively?
III. His penitent confession of sin; not only Israel has sinned (it was no great mortification to him to own that), but I and my father’s house have sinned, Neh. 1:6. Thus does he humble himself, and take shame to himself, in this confession. We have (I and my family among the rest) dealt very corruptly against thee, Neh. 1:7. In the confession of sin, let these two things be owned as the malignity of it—that it is a corruption of ourselves and an affront to God; it is dealing corruptly against God, setting up the corruptions of our own hearts in opposition to the commands of God.
IV. The pleas he urges for mercy for his people Israel.
1. He pleads what God had of old said to them, the rule he had settled of his proceedings towards them, which might be the rule of their expectations from him, Neh. 1:8, 9. He had said indeed that, if they broke covenant with him, he would scatter them among the nations, and that threatening was fulfilled in their captivity: never was people so widely dispersed as Israel was at this time, though at first so closely incorporated; but he had said withal that if they turned to him (as now they began to do, having renounced idolatry and kept to the temple service) he would gather them again. This he quotes from Deut. 30:1-5, and begs leave to put God in mind of it (though the Eternal Mind needs no remembrancer) as that which he guided his desires by, and grounded his faith and hope upon, in praying this prayer: Remember, I beseech thee, that word; for thou hast said, Put me in remembrance. He had owned (Neh. 1:7), We have not kept the judgments which thou commandedst thy servant Moses; yet he begs (Neh. 1:8), Lord, remember the word which thou commandedst thy servant Moses; for the covenant is often said to be commanded. If God were not more mindful of his promises than we are of his precepts we should be undone. Our best pleas therefore in prayer are those that are taken from the promise of God, the word on which he has caused us to hope, Ps. 119:49.
2. He pleads the relation wherein of old they stood to God: “These are thy servants and thy people (Neh. 1:10), whom thou hast set apart for thyself, and taken into covenant with thee. Wilt thou suffer thy sworn enemies to trample upon and oppress thy sworn servants? If thou wilt not appear for thy people, whom wilt thou appear for?” See Isa. 63:19. As an evidence of their being God’s servants he gives them this character (Neh. 1:11): “They desire to fear thy name; they are not only called by thy name, but really have a reverence for thy name; they now worship thee, and thee only, according to thy will, and have an awe of all the discoveries thou art pleased to make of thyself; this they have a desire to do,” which denotes, (1.) Their good will to it. “It is their constant care and endeavour to be found in the way of their duty, and they aim at it, though in many instances they come short.” (2.) Their complacency in it. “They take pleasure to fear thy name (so it may be read), not only do their duty, but do it with delight.” Those shall graciously be accepted of God that truly desire to fear his name; for such a desire is his own work.
3. He pleads the great things God had formerly done for them (Neh. 1:10): “Whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, in the days of old. Thy power is still the same; wilt thou not therefore still redeem them and perfect their redemption? Let not those be overpowered by the enemy that have a God of infinite power on their side.”
Lastly, He concludes with a particular petition, that God would prosper him in his undertaking, and give him favour with the king: this man he calls him, for the greatest of men are but men before God; they must know themselves to be so (Ps. 9:20), and others must know them to be so. Who art thou that thou shouldst be afraid of a man? Mercy in the sight of this man is what he prays for, meaning not the king’s mercy, but mercy from God in his address to the king. Favour with men is then comfortable when we can see it springing from the mercy of God.