This story takes place during the Persian reign of King Artaxerxes, following the 70-year captivity in Babylon. Cyrus, a previous king of Persia had given permission for the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Only a remnant chose to return, however, and they do so under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra. When our story opens, Nehemiah, who is still in Persia, holds an important office as cup bearer to the king. He is diligently performing his court duties when some friends from Jerusalem pay him a visit.
With a heart for the people of God, Nehemiah enthusiastically asks how things are going back home. Sadly, he learns that things are not going so well. In fact, the city is in shambles and the neighbors are hostile.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” Nehemiah 1:3, NIV
This news greatly distresses Nehemiah. With a heavy heart he weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays. He pleads with God for mercy. He confesses his own sin and that of his people. He reminds God of his promises.
Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.” Nehemiah 1:5-10, NIV
After asking God to grant him favor with the king, Nehemiah continues in his court duties. The king has a high regard for Nehemiah, and can immediately tell that something is wrong. He doesn’t like to see his cup bearer in such a state, and calls Nehemiah’s attention to his downcast demeanor.
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” 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 2:1-3, NIV
After Nehemiah confesses that he’s upset about the news he’s just received from Jerusalem, the king gives him leave to make a request. Nehemiah asks for a leave of absence so that he can return to Jerusalem and repair the damage.
The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time. Nehemiah 2:4-6, NIV
The king gives his permission along with material assistance, and protection as a government official along the route.
Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, and makes a night inspection of the damage. Going out through the Valley Gate, he travels around the perimeter of the city, examining the condition of the walls. He finds many broken down and also finds the gates destroyed by fire. Determining the extent of the project, he calls the leaders together and then reveals his plan for rebuilding of the wall and the gates.
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. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. Nehemiah 2: 17-18, NIV
The people are encouraged as the work begins. The enemies of the Israelites, however, are not happy about the situation and attempt to thwart the project at every turn. Eventually, the threat is so imminent that the men of Israel work with one hand and hold a sword with the other. Nonetheless, Nehemiah remains steadfastly committed in his purpose.
Despite heavy opposition, the wall is rebuilt and the gates are re-hung. With newfound safety, worship is restored and Scripture reading resumes. Hearing the Word of God is an emotional experience for these newly returned captives.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12
A desperate prayer of Nehemiah led to a revival of faith for the returning exiles.
Nehemiah’s story was one of sorrow, but God’s provision was one of joy.
Join me tomorrow for a story involving a well-to-do princess, a mighty river, and a provision of hope!
If you’ve missed any part of this series, you can find all of the posts in the side bar category 31 Days of God’s Provision.
On the journey toward Home,