Study Notes

Nehemiah 2:1-9


As you recall, we began a new book the last time we met - the book of Nehemiah. Chapter one introduced us to Nehemiah, an official in the court of King Artaxerxes of Persia.

When he met a group of men from Judah, he asked about how the Jews were doing, and what the condition of Jerusalem was. When he got the answer, he was terribly distressed. Things were terrible. The Jews were in distress, the city walls were broken, and the gates had been burned.

Nehemiah immediately went to prayer - not only interceding for the Jews, but also volunteering to be part of God's solution. The chapter ended with Nehemiah's prayer asking the Lord to grant him success.

Now, the last sentence in chapter one really should have been the first sentence of chapter two. It was there that Nehemiah said,

Neh. 1:11 ...Now I was the cupbearer to the king.

In the past, a nation's leader was often in regular danger of assassination. The fact that he was surrounded by guards would protect him from an assailant who would attempt to storm the throne room. But there are other ways to kill a king. A method that often proved to be successful was poisoning. Secretly drop liquid poison in the king's wine glass, or sprinkle some poisonous powder on his lima beans, and you'll succeed in killing him without ever seeing him face to face.

Well, one way that kings insured their safety against such a crafty assault was to have a cupbearer. This was a man who would insure that the food and drink given to the king was untainted. His job was to taste all food and drink given to the king. Because this was a man who regularly put his life in jeopardy for the king, and was close at hand all the time, the position became an esteemed one, occupied by a man the king trusted implicitly.

In the history before us, Nehemiah tells us that he was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia.

2:1-2 Sad In The King's Presence

Four months had passed since Nehemiah had heard of the condition of Jerusalem and the plight of the Jews. His heart was heavy, and it showed on his face. This was a dangerous thing for him. There were heavy restrictions placed upon anyone that the king was exposed to. You might remember from our study in Esther that Mordecai was limited where he could go when he was bewailing the law which had been passed against the Jews. He only...

Esth. 4:2 ...went as far as the king's gate, for no one was to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth.

Now, right in front of the king, Nehemiah's face is sad. When the king mentioned it, he was "very much afraid," for the king could very well have put him to death for such a violation of the law.

2:3-4 Live Forever

Nehemiah responded by saying, "Let the king live forever." This was a blessing that was frequently spoken to kings (1Kings 1:31, Dan. 2:4, etc.). It has extended even into modern times, although the more common statement is now, "Long live the king."

After the respectful blessing, Nehemiah then got right down to business: "Why shouldn't I be sad? After all, Jerusalem is trashed."

A Quick Prayer

Now, at this point he could have been rebuked, fired, or even put to death. But instead, the king asked, "What would you request?" I love what Nehemiah says here:

Neh. 2:4-5 ...So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king...

I prayed to God, then I said to the king. Oh, that we could be accused of praying and saying! Of putting our hearts in God's hands instead our foot in our mouth!

This prayer couldn't have lasted more than a second or two. But supplication was made to God. Whether its content was, "God, give me the words," or simply, "God help," it was a prayer nonetheless.

We have considered the value of prayer many times. But we don't often consider the value of the short prayer that is uttered between the question and the answer. Between the first statement and the second. The prayer that invites God into the conversation because we know that we can really mess this up if we do it on our own.

No doubt there have been countless times that you wish you could go back and pray before a decision. I know that I have many regrets for not quickly inviting the Lord's intervention in a situation or decision. We all have been guilty of doing what Joshua did when the Gibeonites rode their donkeys over to the Israelite camp.

Josh. 9:6 And they went to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us."

"We're not supposed to make covenants with the people of this country," the Jews responded. "How do we know you're not from around here?" "Look at these worn-out sacks, look at our patched sandals. Look at how stale our bread is," they defended. "Of course we're from far away."

Josh. 9:14 So the men {of Israel} took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD.

This is the point that they should have offered up a Nehemiah-type prayer. "When we heard what they were saying, we all started praying." But instead, they said, "Well, okay. We'll make a covenant with you." Big mistake, and all because they didn't pray.

Do you pray like you should? Do you invite the Lord into your workday conversations? Do you offer up quick requests throughout the day, asking for His intercession and His strength? If not, you're making far too many decisions in the flesh, and they can prove to be terribly costly.

Fortunately, Nehemiah did it right:

Neh. 2:4-5 ...So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king...

2:5-6 Send Me To Judah

Now he makes the request: "Send me to Jerusalem to rebuild it." I believe that ever since we were all small children, we have been able to anticipate our parents' answers by the questions they ask.

"Can I go to Billy's?" "Well, what time would you be home?"

"Can I have dessert at the restaurant tonight?" "Are you sure you're going to have room after eating all your dinner?"

We can tell. And no doubt, Nehemiah could tell by the king's question that it was in the bag: "How long are you going to be gone?"

2:7-8 Letters For Safety And Supplies

Nehemiah was a man with both a vision and a plan. He knew exactly how long this was going to take, and had already thought through the requirements of the task. "I'll need letters for safe passage and timber for the gates."

This is my kind of guy. There's all kinds of people with visions of what they'd like to see happen. And usually they get dumped in the lap of someone else. Whether it's a grand idea for political reform, or an idea for ministry, there is usually no lack of people with vision. But those who plan out what will be required and the steps to get us there are the ones who get used by God to accomplish them.

The Good Hand Of God Upon Me

"The hand of the Lord" is used throughout the Scriptures to describe God causing things to happen. The hand of the Lord can be against you (Deut. 2:15), bringing pestilence (Exod. 9:3) and being heavy upon you (1Sam. 5:6) to smite you (1Sam. 5:9) Or it can empower you (1Kings 18:46); inspire you (2Kings 3:15); unite you (2Chron. 30:12); and strengthen you (Ezra 7:28).

In the book of Acts, we read that a terrible persecution rose up against the church and scattered believers all over the face of the earth. When some of these Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch and preached Jesus to the Gentiles,

Acts 11:21 ...the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.

This is why we pray that the hand of God would be upon us - He will move us, and make things happen for us and through us. Therefore, Peter exhorted us,

1Pet. 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.

Nehemiah realized that the king granted his request because the good hand of his God was upon him.

2:9 Sent With An Army

Nehemiah traveled with an army of men. It is interesting to me that years before, Ezra had been in a similar situation, yet had made the opposite decision. Ezra wrote,

Ezra 8:21-23 Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of A-hav-AW, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, "The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him." So we fasted and sought our God concerning this {matter,} and He listened to our entreaty.

Nehemiah traveled with an army, but Ezra traveled without one. They'd both prayed, and both had the hand of God upon them. But they did things differently. So who was right?

They both were. You see, God is seeking people who are willing to do the work of the ministry. Who are praying about fulfilling the vision. He is not looking to cookie-cutter every person and situation into the same formula. And so some are abundantly provided for up front, and some are provided for a bit at a time. Some are delivered from opposition, others are delivered through opposition. Some find success in a short time, others only see it after years and years.

I say that to say this: Don't be discouraged when you see others being blessed in ways that you're not. Don't be dismayed when people say, "Well, when God did it for ME it was different." You just be God's man. You just be the Lord's woman. Make sure that you're available, and that you're praying.

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