A sojourn is a temporary stay. Not like a summer camp summer stay, but more like a temporary relocation of a permanent residence. I’m sure the Israelites who were carried off into captivity to Persia did not see it as their permanent home, but in all likelihood there were some who assimilated into Persian culture. They compromised with the Persian lifestyle and adopted Persian values. Bought the rugs, drank the bitter coffee…
Nehemiah was captive who rose to an important position in the Persian court, able to rub shoulders with kings and princes. But he still saw himself as a Sojourner who was far from home. He felt he was living behind enemy lines. He heard that Jerusalem was in ruins, and it disturbed him so much that he actually cried over the state of affairs back home. So here’s a couple of questions for you:
Where do you feel most at home? What Makes YOU Weep?
Nehemiah thought about these things, and he prayed about them as well. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:4-7, NIV)
Home, Where My Heart Lies…
Nehemiah was one of the Hebrew leaders who had been deported to Persia, far away from home and family. Even though he had gained an important position in the Persian court, he saw himself only as a sojourner in a foreign land… He thought of his homeland, longed to go there. He worried about conditions there and was filled with compassion.
This passage describes Nehemiah’s response when he heard firsthand from his brother about the sad state of affairs in Jerusalem. Apparently he was a passionate man, and the news of how citizens of Jerusalem lived in squalor and beset by enemies was very distressing to him.
Nehemiah was a great leader, and not just because he was passionate or organized or skillful. He was a great leader because his first response to hearing about the need in Jerusalem was to approach God with a humble and contrite heart, and to take ownership and responsibility for the situation. He apparently knew about God’s character and God’s promises, and he went before the Lord 1) praising Him for who He is, and 2) confessing his own sins, as well as those committed by his family and his people.
A Different Perspective
Even though Nehemiah had risen to an important role in Artaxerxes’ court (he was cupbearer to the king), he stayed humble, and didn’t get wrapped up in the material comfort of his position. Just imagine what it would be like to trade God’s blessing for material things. Imagine what it’s like to be distracted so much by a comfortable life among your enemies that you grew calloused to what blessings really are! (Hmmm does that sound familiar to us American Christians?)
Nehemiah did not focus on the fact that he was an important man in his temporary local surroundings. He saw himself as a sojourner in a strange land. He remembered the truly important things: who his God was, and who Nehemiah really was. Probably a good idea for the rest of us temporary sojourners who sometimes forget what’s really important, and choose to live comfortably in our Enemy’s kingdom.
Living Behind Enemy Lines
Nehemiah heard that things back home were not well kept;
When he heard that Jerusalem was broken down, he wept.
Although he was a sojourner, he served the Persian king,
And had the wealth and privilege that such appointments bring.
But Nehemiah could not eat or sleep; his thoughts would roam
To how oppressed and how distressed his people were at home.
So think of this: you live in Satan’s kingdom here on earth,
And you’re surrounded by the things that give his kingdom worth;
Will you remain here comfortably, imbedded soft and deep,
Or will you long for your true home, and look around, and weep?
Be careful what you value, and be careful where you stay,
For just like Nehemiah, you’ll be going home one day…
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