Nehemiah was in exile in Susa, the capital of the empire of the Medes and Persians. He is a senior person as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, a very responsible and trusted position to ensure the king was not poisoned. Nehemiah records that “… my brothers came … from Judah. And I asked them … concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, ‘The remnant there in the province that survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed …’” (1:2,3). The Temple had been rebuilt, but nothing else.
In reacting to this news, “I sat down and mourned and wept for days …” (verse 4). He is then “praying before the God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (verses 4,5). We prove we mean what we say, especially in loving God, by what we then do.
The climax of his prayer is in verse 11, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayers of your servants who delight to fear your name”. Do we “delight” in fearing God? By “name”, we primarily mean His ‘reputation’ toward those who love and serve Him truly. We need to get our minds around this.
Chapter 2 tells us that “in the month of Nisan” (four months later) in serving the king as his cupbearer, but having ongoing sadness about the plight of Jerusalem that “the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’ I was then very much afraid” (verse 2).
What should we do when we are “very much afraid”? If we are truly godly, as Nehemiah was, we should pray instantly. Nehemiah tells the king the cause of his sadness, saying, “Why should not my face be sad when the city, the place of my father’s graves, lies in ruins …” (verse 3). “Then the king said to me, ‘what are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven …” (verse 4). What instant and urgent prayer was involved here! Imagine it!
Nehemiah then asks, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my father’s graves that I may rebuild it” (verse 5). The request is granted, presenting a wondrous opportunity. The rest of the book is an inspiration to all who are committed to serve God at every opportunity. Do you have that sense of commitment?
Let us all set our minds on developing that commitment more and more – and the foundation for this is to feed on God’s word every day.