Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 17 2019 - Nehemiah 1:1-2:10 – Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem

We are now beginning the last book of historical narrative in the Old Testament, the book of Nehemiah. We have seen that the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt and that Ezra the Scribe had come to Jerusalem to teach the people God's law and to call them back to live in faithful and wholehearted obedience to that Law. Nehemiah's ministry overlaps with that of Ezra.

Nehemiah's story starts in the city of Susa, the central focus also of the story of Esther. Nehemiah is a Jewish man who occupies a position of great responsibility in the court of King Artaxerxes – he was cupbearer to the king and responsible to ensure that the king received the best of wine and that no one tried to poison him. Artaxerxes is believed to be the son of Esther's husband, Xerxes (though we cannot be sure as there were several Persian kings called Artaxerxes). It would seem that Mordecai's faithful service of Xerxes had encouraged Artaxerxes to look for similar men of integrity among the Jewish community whom he could rely on to serve him well.

Do Christians today have a similar reputation for integrity and trustworthy service?

One of Nehemiah's brothers who had been living in Judah came and told him that the walls of Jerusalem remained in ruins and their gates destroyed by fire. The Jewish inhabitants were under threat and the name of the Lord was mocked by non-Jewish residents in the area.

Nehemiah was deeply troubled by what he heard and spent, it would seem, four months in prayer and fasting (compare 1:1 and 2:1). Nehemiah's prayer (1:5-11) is a model for our prayers. He begins with worship, acknowledging God's greatness, goodness and faithfulness towards his people. He confesses the sins of his people, the Israelites, that had resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile. He pleads God's promises to restore his people, reminding God (so to speak) that they are, "your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand" (1:10). He asks the Lord to give him success in what he is about to do and to grant him mercy in his encounter with the king – remember Esther's hesitancy to make requests of the king.

So Nehemiah appears before the king with a face that betrays his worries and concerns. In response to the king's enquiries, Nehemiah tells him of the plight of Jerusalem and, after further prompting by the king, asks leave to travel to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem's walls. The king grants his request, gives him safe conduct through the provinces of the empire and grants him supplies of wood from the royal forests for his building work. Nehemiah acknowledges that the Lord has answered his prayer; "the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me" (2:8).

Nehemiah arrived safely but was immediately faced with opposition; "Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite [were] displeased … greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel" (2:10).

William Carey (1761-1834), a shoemaker from Northamptonshire, was burdened with the thought of the millions of people in other parts of the world who were yet to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ. After much prayer, and despite opposition, he left his home for India where he worked for the rest of his life. He was one of the founders of the missionary movement that began in the eighteenth century. He urged his contemporaries to "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." Look up his entry in Wikipedia –

Lord God, give us a spirit of prayer like that of Nehemiah. Lay upon our hearts the work that you would have us do for the extension of your kingdom and the glory of the Saviour's name. Give us the boldness to attempt great things for you knowing that you have done and will do great things for us. Encourage those of your people in positions of authority today to be bold in prayer and to be wise and courageous in their words and their actions.

Peter Misselbrook