“It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, ‘The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.’” (Nehemiah 1: 1-3)
In 446 B.C. word came to Nehemiah during the captivity in Babylon that the Jews left in the holy land were in desperate straits. Nehemiah then sat down and wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed for many days. He brought the situation before the Lord confessing the people’s sin, his sin, and asked for forgiveness and an open door back to Jerusalem. God answered his prayer, but we should note how it came to be answered.
Nehemiah was King Artaxerxes’ cup bearer. Very much like Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai, this devout Jew had risen to an influential position while in a pagan land. His above-reproach steadfast, honest character had won him favor with those in authority over him – a great example for us Christians within our secular culture. I wonder if our walk matched our talk, what kind of influence we would have. The king noticed Nehemiah’s despair. ‘What can I do for you, Nehemiah?’ This most powerful man in the world, this pagan leader, in a position to crush this sad little wine-taster, says, ‘Let me help you.’ The open door back to Jerusalem was Nehemiah’s character.
Nehemiah presented his requests to the king, and all were granted to him. When he arrived with letters of permission from the king to pass through, there arose a grumbling about this man who was intent on helping the Jews. Later we will see this beneath-the-surface antipathy boil up in full-blown opposition. Doesn’t it always?
Nehemiah then says, “So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem…” (2:11, 12) When Nehemiah revealed his God-given plans to the people, they exclaimed, “Let us rise up and build.” – Then they set their hands to do this good work.” (2: 16-18) And in the third chapter we see them doing just that. Name after name is recorded and the particular work each did. When God’s people come together, pooling all their gifts and talents and ministries, it is surprising and impressive what can get accomplished. But then we do serve an amazing and awesome God, do we not?
All was well. “But it so happened…” (4:1a) As long as the devil and his minions are unchained there will always be a – But it so happened. “But it so happened when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant and mocked the Jews.” (4:1) The building of the wall stirred up a hellish hornets nest, and Satan’s agents began swarming seeking to discourage and destroy God’s work and will.
More on this next time.