Scripture reading – Nehemiah 2

Having heard the sad state of his countrymen (1:2-3), Nehemiah did the one thing he could do…He “fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4). Because he was “the king’s cupbearer” (1:11), he was uniquely and providentially in a position to be used of God. So, Nehemiah prayed, “O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (1:11).

We have seen Nehemiah as a man of prayer in chapter 1 (1:4-11), and in Nehemiah 2 we see him in his role as the cupbearer of Artaxerxes, king of Persia (2:1). Because assassination was an ever-present threat for a king, his wine and meals were served only by his most loyal and trusted servant. Such was the nature and character of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 2

Four months passed, after he received news from Jerusalem. While he fasted and prayed in private, Nehemiah continued to fulfill his role as the king’s cupbearer. One day, however, his physical bearing betrayed his sorrow and the king asked, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (2:2). Recalling the authority of ancient oriental kings was absolute, and the power of life and death rested in their hands, Nehemiah confessed, “I was very sore afraid” (2:2b).

His heart unmasked by his sorrow, Nehemiah explained his sad countenance to the king, saying, “Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” (2:3) The king’s heart was stirred by Nehemiah’s answer, and Artaxerxes asked him, “For what dost thou make request?” (2:4a).

Initiation (2:4-10)

With a silent prayer for God’s favor (2:4b), Nehemiah entreated the king send him to Judah to rebuild the city of Jerusalem (2:5). The king enquired how long he would be away (Nehemiah’s answer is not recorded, but Nehemiah 5:14 reveals he was away from the king’s court for 12 years). Observing the queen was sitting beside the king (perhaps indicating her influence as well, 2:6a), Nehemiah requested letters that would give him safe passage to Judah (2:7), and authority to acquire materials needed to rebuild the city (2:8).

With God’s favor, Nehemiah departed for Jerusalem with “the king’s letters” (2:9), and a military escort. One can imagine the stir among the citizens of Jerusalem when the king’s cup bearer arrived with the “captains of the army and horsemen” (2:9b). Yet, there were two men, “Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite” (2:10) that were distressed by the news that a man had come “to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (2:10).

Investigation (2:11-16)

After arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah rested for three days (2:11). Then, under the cover of darkness, and accompanied by a few men (for he had not disclosed to any the purpose of his journey), Nehemiah surveyed the state of the city. Though nearly a century and a half had passed since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, Nehemiah found the walls of the city broken down, and the gates consumed by fire (2:13; 2 Kings 25). In fact, the debris from the walls of the city was so laid waste Nehemiah could find “no place for the beast that was under [him] to pass” (2:14). After surveying the city, Nehemiah returned to his dwelling and did not disclose to any where he had gone, or why he was come to Jerusalem (2:15-16).

Identification (2:17-18)

Evidencing the quality of a great leader, Nehemiah identified with the people, saying, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach” (2:17). He shared how God had favored him, and the king’s support for rebuilding the city. Hope was renewed, and the people said, “Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work” (2:18).

Closing thoughts (2:19-20) – Rebuilding Jerusalem would not be without its challenges or enemies. “Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian,” became a constant source of discouragement (2:19). When they heard the plan to rebuild the city, those men taunted and scorned Nehemiah and the Jews, and accused them of rebelling “against the king” (2:19).

Looking to the LORD as his shield and strength, Nehemiah answered his enemies, and said, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us” (2:20).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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