Artaxerxes Sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem

Today’s reading is Nehemiah 2:1-18Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

Last week Gaby introduced us our series on Nehemiah and she made two key points.

  • The first was that Nehemiah was someone who was very dedicated to God and
  • secondly he had become one of King Artaxerxes most valuable officials.

In this second chapter, we are some 4 months on from Nehemiah hearing about the destruction of Jerusalem. During this period he had been praying to God and seeking His wisdom. This says a lot about the way Nehemiah operated; when he heard about Jerusalem being in ruins he didn’t just rush out to do something about it, he did three things:

  1. He prayed for God’s will in the situation
  2. He planned ahead—he didn’t rely on a wing and a prayer.
  3. He was astute—he waited patiently for the right opportunity to put his plans into place.

In Chapter 2 We pick the story up when he was looking troubled in the presence of the King. Now this was a very dangerous thing to do because just being in the presence of the king was meant to make you happy. If the king took a dislike to your attitude, you could be executed. But the king noticed and asked Nehemiah what was troubling him. You can almost hear Nehemiah gulping as he tells the king what is wrong.

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’s preface May the king live forever! was part of the etiquette of court. When you greet the Queen in our country you use ‘your Majesty to start with and then Mam as in spam not ma’am. What is really smart here is that Nehemiah did not say which city. He does this to let the king know that this is a personal issue not a political one. If he had mentioned Jerusalem, a place potentially where a rebellion could be started, he may not have got any further.

However, the king responds well and asks Nehemiah what he wants—A quick arrow prayer and Nehemiah responds that he wants to rebuild the city of his ancestors. The king was happy to release him but asks Nehemiah how long it would take.

Nehemiah is well prepared, he tells the King how long he needs but also asks for :

  1. Letters of safe passage from the King to the governors of Trans-Euphrates
  2. A letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, to give him timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and his residence whilst he was there.

The king also sent army officers and cavalry with Nehemiah not just or protection but with a strong message that Nehemiah was on the king’s business, so do not interfere.

As soon as the plans are in place the opposition builds. Jerusalem was surrounded on thee sides by some powerful enemies, local lords. The last thing they wanted was to see a restored Jerusalem.

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.

When Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem, he waits a few days to consider his options. Then at night when no-one was looking he did some reconnaissance of the walls and city. We read they were in a sorry state. Only when he had done this does he tell the officials of Jerusalem his God given plans—to rebuild the city.

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.

Note that Nehemiah gives God the glory and his rightful position. This isn’t a solo effort, it is a partnership where God is the enabler.

The people agree to build the walls.

Immediately the plans become public Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab start their mocking—potentially a precursor to more violent action. Again Nehemiah tells them that these are Gods plans and they won’t thwart Him.

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.”

I really love the book of Nehemiah; it is a great story of God’s goodness and an excellent example of how God uses his people to fulfil his will.

So what can we learn from this chapter

  • The first is that prayer and discernment are vitally important in any of our plans. Nehemiah prayed for 4 months before broaching the subject of the destruction of Jerusalem with his employer, the king. We observe 2 types of prayer from Nehemiah—the daily ongoing prayer and the quick arrow prayer. Some years ago I had a very difficult situation between some people at work which I was praying about. Having assessed the situation I arranged a meeting which none of the parties particularly wanted to do. As I chaired the meeting it seemed to be going ok when suddenly it started to sour—I shot a prayer to God ‘please help me now’. What was remarkable was that the meeting took a completely different direction and we ended up with a remarkably positive outcome. Some of those on the side-lines who were critical of my approach told me ‘they didn’t see that coming’.
  • Secondly, patience in dealing with difficult situations is really important – knee jerk reactions are often not helpful. If Nehemiah had gone running to the king when he heard about Jerusalem he would have got nowhere. Sometimes it is hard, but allowing time to think and allowing God into our situations is vital if we want to be in God’s will for our lives.
  • Thirdly Nehemiah kept close counsel. He did not go around telling everyone what he was doing, he told very few people before announcing his formulated plan—even going out in the dark so people wouldn’t see him. This is really about having the self control to allow God to work in his time and not setting our own agenda’s.
  • Finally, Nehemiah was not vainglorious, he gave God all the praise in everything he said, even when speaking with his enemies.

Nehemiah’s wisdom in the way he conducted himself is very well summarised by Jesus words in Matthew 10:16Open Link in New Window

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Nehemiah was a person from a conquered people and yet rose to a position of great importance. This was due to his faithfulness to God who moulded him to be a person of enormous integrity and great wisdom.

We may or may not have risen to high office but being people of faithfulness, prayer and wisdom can have a huge impact on those around us.

There will be a video version of the service.

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