This chapter is based on Nehemiah 1; 2.
My name is Nehemiah, one of the Hebrew exiles. I occupied a position of influence and honor in the Persian court. As cupbearer to the king, I was admitted freely to the royal presence. Because of my position and my abilities and fidelity, I had become the monarch’s friend and counsellor.
Though surrounded by pomp and splendour, I, the recipient of royal favour, did not forget my God or his people. With the deepest interest, my heart turned toward Jerusalem. My hopes and joys were bound up with her prosperity. Through me, prepared by my residence in the Persian court for the work to which I was to be called, God purposed to bring blessing to His people in the land of their fathers.
By messengers from Judea, I learned that days of trial had come to Jerusalem, the chosen city. The returned exiles were suffering affliction and reproach. The temple and portions of the city had been rebuilt, but the work of restoration was hindered. The temple services were disturbed, and the people were kept in constant alarm by the fact that the walls of the city were still largely in ruins.
Overwhelmed with sorrow, I could neither eat nor drink; I “wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted.” In my grief, I turned to the divine Helper. “I … prayed before the God of heaven.
Faithfully I made confession of my sins and the sins of my people. I pleaded that God would maintain the cause of Israel, restore their courage and strength, and help them to build up the waste places of Judah.
As I prayed, my faith and courage grew strong. My mouth was filled with holy arguments. I pointed to the dishounor that would be cast upon God, if His people, now that they had returned to Him, should be left in weakness and oppression. I urged the Lord to fulfill His promise:
Deu 4:29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.
Deu 4:30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him.
Deu 4:31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.
This promise had been given to Israel through Moses before they had entered Canaan, and during the centuries it had stood unchanged. God’s people had now returned to Him in penitence and faith, and His promise would not fail.
I had often poured out my soul on behalf of his people. But now as I prayed a holy purpose formed in my mind. I resolved that if I could obtain the consent of the king, and the necessary aid in procuring implements and materials, I would undertake the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and restoring Israel’s national strength.
And I asked the Lord to grant me favour in the sight of the king, that my plan might be carried out.
Neh 1:11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.
“Prosper, I pray Thee, Thy servant this day,” I entreated, “and grant me mercy in the sight of this man.”
Four months I waited for a favourable opportunity to present my request to the king. During this time, though my heart was heavy with grief, I endeavoured to bear myself with cheerfulness in the royal presence. In those halls of luxury and splendour all must appear light-hearted and happy. Distress must not cast its shadow over the countenance of any attendant of royalty. But in my seasons of retirement, concealed from human sight, many were the prayers, the confessions, the tears, heard and witnessed by God and angels.
cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set My name there.” See Deuteronomy 4:29-31. This promise had been given to Israel through Moses before they had entered Canaan, and during the centuries it had stood unchanged. God’s people had now returned to Him in penitence and faith, and His promise would not fail.
Nehemiah had often poured out his soul in behalf of his people. But now as he prayed a holy purpose formed in his mind. He resolved that if he could obtain the consent of the king, and the necessary aid in procuring implements and material, he would himself undertake the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and restoring Israel’s national strength. And he asked the Lord to grant him favor in the sight of the king, that this plan might be carried out. “Prosper, I pray Thee, Thy servant this day,” he entreated, “and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Four months I waited for a favourable opportunity to present my request to the king. During this time, though my heart was heavy with grief, I endeavoured to bear myself with cheerfulness in the royal presence. In those halls of luxury and splendour all must appear light-hearted and happy. Distress must not cast its shadow over the countenance of any attendant of royalty.
But in my seasons of retirement, concealed from human sight, many were the prayers, the confessions, the tears, heard and witnessed by God and angels.
At length, the sorrow that burdened my heart could no longer be concealed. Sleepless nights and care-filled days left their trace upon my face. The king, jealous for his own safety, was accustomed to read countenances and to penetrating disguises, and he saw that some secret trouble was preying upon me, his cupbearer.
“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,
I was nervous when the question was asked. Would not the king be angry to hear that while outwardly engaged in his service, my thoughts had been far away from my afflicted people? Would not the offender’s life be forfeited?
My cherished plan for restoring the strength of Jerusalem—was it about to be overthrown? “Then,” I wrote: “I was very sore afraid.” With trembling lips and tearful eyes I revealed the cause of my sorrow. “Let the king live forever,” I answered. “Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchers, lies waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?”
My description of the condition of Jerusalem awakened the sympathy of the monarch without arousing his prejudices. Another question gave me the opportunity for which I had long waited: “What is it you want?” But I did not venture to reply till I had sought direction from One higher than Artaxerxes.
I had a sacred trust to fulfill, in which I required help from the king; and I realized that much depended upon my presenting the matter in such a way as to win his approval and enlist his aid.
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.”
In that brief prayer, I pressed into the presence of the King of kings and won to my side a power that can turn hearts as the rivers of waters are turned.
To pray as I Nehemiah prayed in my hour of need is a resource at the command of the Christian under circumstances when other forms of prayer may be impossible. Toilers in busy walks of life, crowded and almost overwhelmed with perplexity, can send up a petition to God for divine guidance. Travelers by sea and land, when threatened with some great danger, can thus commit themselves to Heaven’s protection.
In times of sudden difficulty or peril the heart may send up its cry for help to One who has pledged Himself to come to the aid of His faithful, believing ones whenever they call upon Him. In every circumstance, under every condition, the soul weighed down with grief and care, or fiercely assailed by temptation, may find assurance, support, and strengh in the unfailing love and power of a covenant-keeping God.
In that brief moment of prayer to the King of kings, I gathered the courage to tell Artaxerxes of my desire to be released for a time from my duties at the court, and I asked for authority to build up the waste places of Jerusalem and to make it once more a strong and defenced city.
Momentous results to the Jewish nation hung upon this request. “And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.”
Having secured the help I sought, with prudence and forethought proceeded to make the arrangements necessary to ensure the success of the enterprise. I neglected no precaution that would tend to its accomplishment. Not even to my own countrymen did I reveal my purpose. While I knew that many would rejoice in my success, I feared that some, by acts of indiscretion, might arouse the jealousy of their enemies and perhaps bring about the defeat of the undertaking.
My request to the king had been so favourably received that I was encouraged to ask for still further assistance. To give dignity and authority to my mission, as well as to provide protection on the journey, I asked for and secured a military escort.
I obtained royal letters to the governors of the provinces beyond the Euphrates, the territory through which I must pass on my way to Judea. I also received a letter to the keeper of the king’s forest in the mountains of Lebanon, directing me to furnish such timber as would be needed. That there might be no occasion for complaint that I had exceeded his commission, I was careful to have the authority and privileges accorded me, clearly defined.
This example of wise forethought and resolute action should be a lesson to all Christians. Children of God are expected to work diligently and with providential care in addition to praying in faith. They encounter many difficulties and often hinder the working of Providence on their behalf because they regard prudence and painstaking effort as having little to do with religion.
Nehemiah did not regard his duty done when he wept and prayed before the Lord. He united his petitions with holy endeavor, putting forth earnest, prayerful efforts for the success of the enterprise in which he was engaged. Careful consideration and well-matured plans are as essential to the carrying forward of sacred enterprises today as in the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.
Nehemiah did not depend upon uncertainty. The means that he lacked he solicited from those who were able to bestow. And the Lord is still willing to move upon the hearts of those in possession of His goods, on behalf of the cause of truth. Those who labor for Him are to avail themselves of the help that He prompts men to give. These gifts might pave the path for the truth’s illumination of numerous dark regions. The donors may have no faith in Christ, no acquaintance with His word; but their gifts are not on this account to be refused.