Nehemiah is one of my favorite people. He was a man who threw himself wholeheartedly into whatever task God handed to him. He was faithful and hard-working; he was passionate; he was capable; and he could get mighty snarky! Sarcasm is my love-language, and I think Nehemiah and I would have gotten along famously. So, here’s my take on this enjoyable little book.
Because God’s people would not stop worshiping idols, God had to punish them by allowing them all to be taken away to the pagan empire of Babylon for 70 years. Now the 70 years was over, and the people of Israel were slowly moving back to Jerusalem. But it was a long process, and many Jews remained in Babylon. One of these Jewish men who still lived in a foreign land was Nehemiah. Nehemiah had become a trusted servant to King Artaxerxes, the ruler of Persia. He was the cup-bearer to the king, so it was his job to make sure no one put poison into the king’s food or drink. King Artaxerxes must have trusted Nehemiah a great deal, don’t you think? It was a big responsibility to keep the king safe, and it meant that Nehemiah would see the king many times a day, every day. God put Nehemiah into this special job for a reason, but Nehemiah didn’t know what that reason was. He just did his best, knowing that by doing his job well, he was also serving God.
Nehemiah had a brother named Hanani, who had already moved to Jerusalem. One day, Hanani, came back to Persia from Jerusalem for a visit. Nehemiah asked how things were going, and Hanani had bad news to tell. “They are in great trouble and disgrace,” Hanani said. Back in Nehemiah’s time, cities always had walls to protect them from enemies and wild animals. Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down and the gates burned when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city so long ago. The people living in Jerusalem were in trouble because they had no walls to protect them. They were in disgrace because having broken-down walls would be like you and me living in a broken-down, burnt-out house! It is possible that the people had tried to repair the walls, but without official permission from the king it would have been impossible for them to get the materials they needed. And there would have been no protection for the Jews from Jerusalem’s enemies, who did not want the walls rebuilt.
When Nehemiah heard this news, he began to weep. Even though he had never seen Jerusalem himself, as a Jew it was his true home. He felt as you might feel if you heard that your house had burned down.
Nehemiah was a man of action, though. When he heard about the problem, he didn’t just sit around crying about it. He did something about it. He did the only really helpful thing anyone can do. Do you know what that is? He prayed!
And now Nehemiah knew why God had put him into the job of cup-bearer to the king. He asked God to give him a chance to talk to the king. Although he was with King Artaxerxes every day, Nehemiah was not allowed to speak to him without permission. No one was! Also, no one was allowed to look sad in the king’s presence or they would be punished! The Persians had some strange laws, didn’t they? So Nehemiah had to try to keep his feelings hidden and wait for the king to speak to him
Four months went by, and Nehemiah kept praying faithfully. At last, God answered his prayer. One day, the king noticed that Nehemiah looked sad, and instead of being angry and punishing Nehemiah for breaking that rule, he kindly asked what was wrong. Nehemiah breathed a quick prayer to God to ask for the right words to say. Then he boldly told the king what was on his heart. The king must have liked Nehemiah a lot, probably because Nehemiah had been a good and faithful servant to him. He was willing to do whatever Nehemiah asked of him, and Nehemiah was not afraid to ask the king for everything he would need to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Isn’t it wonderful that Nehemiah was such a faithful man? What if he had not been a good worker? The king would never have listened to him, or even cared that he was sad. In fact, he would never have gotten the job of cup-bearer in the first place, so he would never even have seen the king. Then God would not have been able to use Nehemiah for such an important job. Are you faithful in the jobs your parents or teachers give to you? If you are, then you are also being faithful to God, and He can use you to do even bigger, more important jobs.
Next time, we’ll learn what Nehemiah did when he arrived in Jerusalem.