Read His Words Before Ours!
Have you ever been overcome by a need?
Maybe it was hearing about a disaster or a situation of suffering and knowing you had to help. Whether it was a charity appeal or a cause closer to home, consider a time when you were so overwhelmed by the brokenness that you knew action was required.
This was the situation in which Nehemiah found himself.
When we meet him, he is working in a Persian palace as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. It is a position of influence and responsibility, and it appears life is going well for Nehemiah, but then his brother arrives, bringing distressing news from Jerusalem.
“The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned.” (Nehemiah 1:3)
By this point, it’s been around 140 years since the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and the city walls and capturing many of the people. Following the Persians’ victory over the Babylonians, many exiles had been allowed to return to Jerusalem and the Temple had been rebuilt under the leadership of Zerubbabel. (Ezra 6:14-15) Although many exiles had returned to Jerusalem for several years, its walls had never been restored.
Nehemiah is distraught as he thinks of the shame and indignity of his people living in a city that is destroyed and defenseless. Ignoring the situation was impossible; action was required.
As we consider how we might respond to being touched by a great need, there are several lessons we can draw from Nehemiah’s story.
First, he responds with genuine concern. He sits down and weeps. He prays and fasts, not just fleetingly, but for days. Although he is in a position of success and privilege, he has compassion on his fellow Israelites and their sorry state. His motivation in all that follows is unselfish. In many ways, his life would be easier if he chose to ignore the Israelites’ plight. However, he is not seeking personal gain, but restoration for others.
Then, Nehemiah prays. He doesn’t rush to take action, but he pauses to seek God. He recalls God’s greatness and unfailing love, and acknowledges how Israel’s unfaithfulness has led them to this situation. He appeals to God’s power and promises, knowing that if he is to work toward resolution, success will only come in God’s strength.
Finally, Nehemiah acts. It is now around five months since his brother’s visit, and, at last, Nehemiah has the opportunity to speak with the king. It is unclear whether Nehemiah’s look of sadness is deliberate in order to prompt the king’s question or whether it is simply a natural expression of his emotional state. Either way, it is not culturally acceptable to appear sad in the king’s presence. It risks incurring his wrath, and as Nehemiah responds to the king, he is “overwhelmed with fear.” (Nehemiah 2:2)
Continuing to pray even as he converses with the king, Nehemiah explains the situation and asks permission to travel to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. Not only does the king agree, but he also promises letters to the governors of other territories granting Nehemiah safe passage through their land, and he even gives instructions to the manager of the king’s forest ordering him to supply Nehemiah with the timber he will need! The Lord has granted Nehemiah favor!
It is clear to Nehemiah that the outcome of this conversation is not because of him; instead, “[t]he king granted my requests, for the gracious hand of my God was on me.” (Nehemiah 2:8)
In fact, as we look deeper into the background of the story, we see that long before Nehemiah ever considered rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, God was already building behind the scenes.
Earlier in King Artaxerxes’ reign, the Israelites had attempted to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but those who opposed the rebuilding had persuaded Artaxerxes to order it to stop. He had decreed the work must halt and the city could only be rebuilt at his command. (Ezra 4:21)
The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about how Nehemiah came to work for Artaxerxes, but it seems clear it was no coincidence. He was able to win the trust and respect of the king, and he was perfectly placed to influence him to allow rebuilding to resume.
Even in a dark time for His people, God was still sovereign, and He was still active behind the scenes, working for restoration.
As we consider the situations of need we see around us, may we follow Nehemiah’s example in allowing our concern to prompt our prayer, and then our action, under God’s leading, always trusting God is sovereign. He has a heart to restore, and His purposes will succeed.
May we, like Nehemiah, be willing to play our part.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!