Nehemiah is moved to ask his powerful employer, the King, for favor. He prays and then makes a very bold request. Fortunately, he has God’s favor. ◊
Have you ever been afraid to ask the boss or your employer for a raise, or a day off, or a vacation? What if the boss confronts you first and senses you have something on your mind?
Such was the case on one particular day with Nehemiah in 445 BC.
We know the year because we’re told at the beginning of Nehemiah’s journaling in Nehemiah 2. It is the 20th year of Persian King Artaxerxes’ reign in the month of Nisan (a Hebrew calendar month). As cupbearer to the king (to avoid poisoning plots), Nehemiah was typically not downcast.
But on this day, he was. He spills out his heart’s woes about the plight of his Jewish people in their homeland in and around Jerusalem when asked what was the matter:
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:1-3)
Fortunately for Nehemiah, his relationship with the king was close. He was a trusted advisor and Artaxerxes essentially asks him what he would like to have done. It’s interesting to note that Nehemiah prays before he speaks:
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. (Nehemiah 2:4-9)
Nehemiah gets all that he asks for and then some, “because the gracious hand of my God was on me.” And he boldly and wisely asks for much support. He sets a period of time. We don’t know the exact length of the time-off request, but we do know he ultimately returns after a 12-year period! He also asks for “letters” from key officials, used as authority for safe passage through territories and for access to royal forest land for wooden beam timber supplies. The king also supplies him with army officers and a calvary.
The Enemy is Not Happy
By the time Nehemiah and his contingent arrive in Jerusalem, the word had already gotten around the surrounding area that someone was coming to help out the local Israelites:
When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. (Nehemiah 2:10)
These regional leaders were enemies of Israel with longstanding hatred against this nation. These people’s ancestors had lived in the Promised Land before God pushed them out when Joshua and the original 12 tribes of Israel (sons of Jacob) moved in as God directed. These leaders were not happy that Jerusalem might be supported enough to rise up from its ruinous state.
Consider any reference to these regional leaders as real and symbolic opposition to the physical and spiritual rebuilding that God wants to accomplish through his vessel, Nehemiah, whose Hebrew name (nacham) literally means “comforter or comfort of the Lord or comforted by God.”
And Comforter is a term often used to describe the Holy Spirit.
Nehemiah Surveys the Landscape
Nehemiah secretly surveys the ruined walls around the city. He wants to take personal inventory of the task at hand. He then makes his statement of intentions to rebuild the city walls to the Jewish priests, nobles and officials. These men were in agreement to start the project.
I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days. I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (Nehemiah 2:11-18)
The Enemy Mocks and Ridicules
As does our spiritual enemy, the neighoring haters mock and ridicule Nehemiah and the Jews, even suggesting they are going against the will of the King of Persia.
But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” (Nehemiah 2:19)
Nehemiah, as the comforting advocate for the Jews, just as the Holy Spirit is our own personal comforting advocate, strongly replies:
I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (Nehemiah 2:20)
Do you realize the Holy Spirit is our own spiritual advocate against the Enemy?
“Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalmen, that we may not longer suffer disgrace.” – Nehemiah 2:17