Nehemiah (meaning, Jehovah Comforts), the son of Hachaliah, and the cupbearer to the king of Persia, led the third and last return of those who were held bondage in Babylonia. Nehemiah worked alongside Ezra in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah were at one time a single book, divided at the time of the 1560 translation of the Geneva Bible. What is known of Nehemiah is found only in the Book that bears his name. At an early age, by God’s providential work, Nehemiah was appointed by Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to be his cupbearer. This responsible position, a place of honor in the courts of the king, allowed Nehemiah to approach the king at the time of the need of rebuilding Jerusalem. Not only was he the king’s wine taster, but he was a valued member of the court. From this intimacy Nehemiah obtained a commission as governor of Judea, of which Jerusalem was capital, receiving letters and edicts which enabled him to lead in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah had a true faith in the Lord. For he believed that the sovereign God would work through the Persian king, as well as guiding his hand, that His will would be accomplished in the building of Jerusalem. No one, be they pagan king or anyone else who denies God and sets himself as the authority, is a hindrance to the working of God in this world.
The prayer of Nehemiah is answered according to the will and work of the Lord. It was in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes that Nehemiah took the wine and gave it to the king. His face had shown a sadness which the king had never seen in Nehemiah before; so the king asked him, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart.” Nehemiah was very sore afraid and said, “Let the king live forever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchers, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” The king responded, saying, “For what dost thou make request?” Nehemiah’s heart prayed to the God of heaven while his words spoke to the king, saying, “If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my father’s sepulchers, that I may build it.”
Our witness to the truth of the Word of God ought to come to the ears of the civil authorities. This is not because they have the power to grant or not to grant our petitions, but that we are claiming the authority and pleasure of our Father in heaven that his will be done on earth. Thus we must arm ourselves with his Word and the desire as his servants that his name be glorified. These words of Matthew Henry encourage praying, as did Nehemiah: “Christ has given us to pray, and the promise that we shall speed, enable us to come boldly to the throne of grace. Nehemiah immediately prayed to the God of heaven that he would give him wisdom to ask properly and incline the king’s heart to grant him his request. Those that would find favour with kings must secure the favour of the King of kings. He prayed to the God of heaven as infinitely above even this mighty monarch.”
Discussion: In what ways can we encourage our civic leaders to be obedient to the moral law of God?
Nehemiah, armed with his faith in the Lord, and with letters given to him by the king, traveled to Jerusalem. His faith is revealed in these words, “And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.” He told no one of what his God had put in his heart to do at Jerusalem. But, he went out by night to view the broken walls of Jerusalem. He viewed the general destruction of Jerusalem. Nehemiah, with the knowledge of what needed to be done and that the Lord was with him, then gathered the priests and nobles, and those who did the work, saying, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.”
Nehemiah impressed upon them that the hand of God was good upon him; “as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me.” Their response was, “Let us rise up and build.” Nehemiah then records their action, “So they strengthened their hands for this good work.” They strengthen themselves, binding themselves courageously to the task of rebuilding Jerusalem. We are God’s servants, being used in the building up of the Body of Christ; reminding ourselves that it is Christ who is building his Church, we are but the building-blocks which are to be faithful servants, rejoicing in the grace of strength he gives us. Thus, we must put ourselves to the task with courage. We must bond ourselves to the task that we might not let go, nor allow the ways of this world to hinder us. We attach ourselves to the Word of God that we may be “thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17). We must always have our eyes of faith upon Christ in all our ways as the Body of Christ; for the Father has “put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).
Discussion: Is our faith being expressed in our service for Christ as the Head of the Church?
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