He asked. But he didn’t like the answer he received. Nehemiah 1 says that when some visitors arrived in Babylon from Jerusalem, Nehemiah asked about the welfare of the holy city. But the answer dismayed him: the people were distressed, the walls were broken down, and the gates were burned with fire. Nehemiah’s response should be instructive to us:
Verse 4 says, “When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” He did not take these things “in stride” or respond stoically. He mourned for days at the state of God’s city and people.
Nehemiah’s colleague Ezra responded similarly when he was told about how God’s people broke the Law by intermarrying with unbelievers when they returned to Jerusalem. Ezra 9:4 says he sat appalled until evening the day he heard the news.
These men serve as examples to us regarding the way we should respond to news of spiritual corruption. We shouldn’t sigh at the news, and then move “on to the next story” as if we were a dispassionate news anchor. We should be “appalled” like Ezra was at sin; we should weep and mourn like Nehemiah. Indeed one of the signs that we are spiritually compromised is that we are NOT touched with the grievousness of our own sins, and those of others.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) He was speaking of the kind of mourning Ezra & Nehemiah were doing, for the sins and distresses of God’s people. One way we will know we are experiencing revival is when we respond to sin not with apathy or resignation but like Nehemiah did when he “wept and mourned … (with) fasting and praying.”