Nehemiah: More Than a Cupbearer (Nehemiah 1-4)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 1-4

Our chronological study of the Scriptures brings us to the Book of Nehemiah. Permit me an opportunity to restate the timeline that brings us to Nehemiah 1.

King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Judah in 606 B.C., and in 586 B.C. Babylon’s army had destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem. Seventy years after Judah was first conquered, the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled when Cyrus, king of Persia, issued an edict in 536 B.C. giving the Jews liberty to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1).

Under the leadership of the prophet Zerubbabel, the Jews began to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1-6). Opposed by their enemies, and discouraged, the building of the Temple languished for many years as the Jews neglected construction on the LORD’S house, and turned to building their homes and planting crops. The Temple was completed around 458 B.C. (Ezra 6).

Some sixty years later, the LORD moved on the heart of a scribe named Ezra, who led a second group of Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7). Ezra’s task was to teach God’s Law and Commandments, call the people to repent of their sins, and renew worship and sacrifices in the Temple.

The Book of Nehemiah gives us a history of how the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and the challenges and difficulties Nehemiah and the people encountered. The year is around 446 B.C., and Artaxerxes is king of Persia (Nehemiah 1:1).

Today’s devotional commentary is limited to Nehemiah 1.

Nehemiah 1 – Who was Nehemiah? 

“I was the king’s cupbearer” (1:11), and with that simple phrase, Nehemiah introduces himself in a way that belied the office he held as the most trusted servant to the most powerful king in the world.

Living in the king’s palace, Nehemiah’s life was one of wealth and privilege.  He was more than his title implies; the role of the cupbearer was that of a king’s closest aid; his confidant, and counselor.  Artaxerxes, king of Persia, trusted Nehemiah with his life. As the king’s cupbearer, he was charged with guarding the king from assassination attempts, being the first to taste the king’s food and sipping his wine.

In spite of the comforts and privileges he enjoyed as a cupbearer, Nehemiah’s heart was burdened for the remnant of his kinsman, the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem.  When men of Judah came from Jerusalem to the king’s court, Nehemiah eagerly inquired concerning the welfare of his brethren and the state of things in Jerusalem (1:2).

The report left Nehemiah shaken and overwhelmed with grief. (1:3-4).

Some ninety years had passed since Zerubbabel led the first exiles to Judah to rebuild the Temple. Nevertheless, the walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt and the suffering of the people was a great reproach to the LORD. Nehemiah was so moved he writes, “I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4).

The balance of chapter 1 is Nehemiah’s record of his prayers to the LORD over the course of days, weeks, and months. Consider the character of Nehemiah’s prayers: With passion and humility, he worshiped the LORD in his prayer (1:5). He prayed for his nation (1:6a) and identified with the personal and corporate sins of his family and people (1:6b). He rehearsed and claimed the covenant promises the LORD had made to Israel (1:8-11).

Closing with a prayer for God to grant Him mercy and favor (1:11), Nehemiah waited four months (2:1) for the LORD to move on the heart of the king to be open to his petition.

James 5:16b – “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith