Yesterday we looked at Nehemiah’s call to action and his prayer when he heard of the state of the walls of Jerusalem. We saw how he responded, with fasting and prayer, and prepared himself to do what was needed. Today we see the result of Nehemiah’s fasting and prayer, how God blessed him, and we will see his first actions upon arriving at the Holy City
Nehemiah 2 New King James Version (NKJV)
Nehemiah Sent to Judah
1 And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. 2 Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.”
So I became dreadfully afraid, 3 and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”
4 Then the king said to me, “What do you request?”
So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”
6 Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
7 Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.
9 Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.
Nehemiah Views the Wall of Jerusalem
11 So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode. 13 And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass. 15 So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me.
So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”
20 So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”
As we saw yesterday, Nehemiah was the cupbearer for the king of Persia. After years of captivity, the Persians have allowed the Israelites to return to Judah. Ezra has spent the past 12-14 years (scholars don’t agree on exactly how long) rebuilding parts of the City, including the temple, trying to bring the People back to God. Nehemiah has not been able to go to the city, yet, though, and asks some of his friends how the city is when they return from visiting it.
They tell him, “the survivors are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” This is not the news Nehemiah wanted. Chapter 1 tells us he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days.”
This mourning wasn’t all he did though. He resolved to do something about it, because he had the king’s ear, being the cupbearer. He spent days fasting and praying, confessing his sins, and asking that he be granted favor and mercy in the sight of the king.
The King’s Response
It says in Chapter 2 that Nehemiah had “never been sad in the king’s presence before. I can imagine why. Artaxerxes seemed to deal favorably with the Jews. To Nehemiah, he probably was a just and right ruler. The two were probably friends, to an extent.
This day, Nehemiah was sad, and the king noticed. He asked what he could do to help, and Nehemiah did the smartest thing possible before just responding. He “prayed to the God of heaven.” (v4)
Even in the middle of a conversation, he paused to say a supplication and ask a request of the LORD. We can always take a quick second to pray to the LORD. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians to pray without ceasing. This is a great example of this. It doesn’t mean you have to always be on your knees, speaking directly to the LORD. How could we ever hear His voice if we are the ones speaking the entire time? Nehemiah simply took a brief moment and prayed, barely interrupting his conversation with the King.
This attitude of humility and prayer before God surely meant God blessed Nehemiah and soften the king’s heart again. The king simply asked how long he needed and then provided everything Nehemiah would need, from safe passage to materials.
When Nehemiah got to the city, there were immediately those who conspired against his work. He was aware there would be contention, so at night he snuck out to hide as he inspected the wall. It was bad, and had been for decades.
He had not yet spoken to the Jews who lived there, so after his inspection, he sat down with them and told them everything that had happened, especially of God’s favor and the king’s blessing and help.
But, of course, the dissenters, who hated the Jews mocked them and accused them of planning rebellion and treason against the king. This is a common tactic, shifting the blame, when it is really they who were treasonous, going against the king’s decree. but Nehemiah simply answered them, saying God would prosper them, and they have no right to even be in the Holy City.
Without fail, when we are about the LORD’s work, there will be adversaries. People will line up to attack His work. It will feel like they are attacking you. But know that it is the LORD’s work they are attacking, and He will not let it stand. When you go about His work today, look at any adversary you may have, external or internal, and say, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper me,” and be about His work, for His glory.