How did a Persian king’s cup-bearer have the skill, confidence, and perseverance to lead the third Jewish return to Jerusalem in 445 B.C.?
I have recently started studying the book of Nehemiah with friends – so we could compare opinions. Quickly, a reoccurring pattern stood out to us.
Nehemiah constantly prayed.
As the book of Nehemiah is written in first person, it is assumed that he wrote it.
The autobiographical style provides unique insight into Nehemiah’s prayers. His written interjections of prayer often appear between his ongoing conversations.
An example of this prayer habit is found in Nehemiah 2 – when he told the Persian King Artaxerxes about his desire to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.
‘“2 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, 3 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?” 4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.’
– Nehemiah 2:2-5 (NIV)
Another example is found in Nehemiah 4 – when he faced enemy opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.
‘When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” 4 Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. 6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. 7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.’
– Nehemiah 4:1-9 (NIV)
I believe Nehemiah’s prayer habits were key to how he – the king’s cup-bearer – successfully lead the third return to Jerusalem and rebuilt it despite opposition.
Nehemiah was in a unique position where he had access to the most influential person, the king, to make his request. However, this opportunity would have been wasted if Nehemiah didn’t have the trust and desire to follow God and complete a seemingly ‘impossible’ task.
Nehemiah was prepared to ‘talk with God’ and by faith ‘walk with God’.
It was his faith that gave him confidence and peace – regardless of the difficulties he faced.
‘…If God is for us, who can be against us?’
– Romans 8:31 (NIV)