King Artaxerxes was an absolute despot, an all-powerful potentate. Like all Eastern kings, he was revered as a god, and surrounded by divine honors. People actually worshiped their royalty. But when speaking of this earthly god and king in all of his awesome majesty, before the God of Heaven, Almighty God, Nehemiah loses all awe for majestic pomp and ceremony, and simply refers to him as “this man” (Nehemiah 1:11). In the awesome splendor of God’s presence all earthly glory fades out of the worshiper’s sight, no one can be dazzled by human splendor, when he walks in the light of God.
It is interesting to note that people in this world think they are important, when in the light of God we are all paupers. I’ve met many famous people, athletes, politicians, (Congressman and Presidential hopeful Ron Paul once asked me to be his campaign manager) and movie stars. I shook hands with John Wayne and Red Skelton, but they are just men! The President of the United States is just a man. When will this world realize that the only lasting relationships in life revolve around the Living God? “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36 NLT).
In chapter one Nehemiah learned about the condition of Jerusalem and God’s people. He was so concerned that he fasted and prayed for four to five months, asking God to give him favor with the king.
I. The King’s response:
Nehemiah 2:1-8 NLT, “Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. So the king asked me, ‘Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.’ Then I was terrified, but I replied, ‘Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.’ The king asked, ‘Well, how can I help you?’ was terrified ‘If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.’ The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, ‘How long will you be gone? When will you return?’ After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request. I also said to the king, ‘If it please the king, let me have letters addressed to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, instructing them to let me travel safely through their territories on my way to Judah. And please give me a letter addressed to Asaph, the manager of the king’s forest, instructing him to give me timber. I will need it to make beams for the gates of the Temple fortress, for the city walls, and for a house for myself.’ And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.’”
Nehemiah was convinced that he had to do the job!
How determined was he? When one came into the presence of an eastern king certain things were expected:
•Your life was always in danger, just one false move could mean execution. It was very difficult to get into the position that Nehemiah had, it was even harder to get out alive.
•It was an insult to the king to look sad in his presence. “No one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth” (Esther 4:2). That’s why Nehemiah was “terrified.” After four to five months of fasting, grieving and praying, his appearance was altered.
II. So Nehemiah sent up an arrow prayer. “The king asked, ‘Well, how can I help you?’ With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied” (Verse 4).
He could have berated the king for his failure thirteen years earlier when he stopped the work on the Jerusalem wall (Ezra 4). He could have reminded the king that he had not even bothered to investigate the accusations that stopped the work. Dale Carnegie said, “If you want to get honey don’t kick over the beehive.”
Believer’s requests are not always unselfish. “God, what have you done for me lately?” We have seen some selfishness, even in the Bible:
2 Samuel 13:1,2, “Now David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar. And Amnon, her half brother, fell desperately in love with her. Amnon became so obsessed with Tamar that he became ill.”
1 Kings 21, King Ahab wanted a vineyard that was owned by Naboth. He wanted it so much that he became ill, laid on his bed and refused to eat. Verse 7, “Are you the king of Israel or not?” Jezebel demanded. “Get up and eat something, and don’t worry about it. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard!”
2 Samuel 18:33, King David is distraught over the death of his son Absalom. “Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”
The truth is Absalom had raped his father’s wives; stole the hearts of Israel away from David and driven David into hiding. He was a proud, egotistical, immoral traitorous killer. When he died a plot to take over the kingdom and ruin the whole nation ended. Absalom’s death was the best thing that could have happened to the nation!
Nehemiah’s sorrow was totally unselfish. It effected his health, and he couldn’t hide it from the king. “I had never before appeared sad in his presence. So the king asked me, ‘Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.’ Then I was terrified” (Verses 1, 2).
Nehemiah was genuinely grieved over Jerusalem and the people of God. Verse 3, “Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”
“The great task to which God had called Nehemiah was so important that every other consideration must be waived. Would that we might have such an overpowering sense of being about our Father's business and be so impressed with the grandeur of our task that we would reject every suggestion of the evil one that would bid us take up some lesser pursuit” –A.W. Tozer
Having sought the help of God, the opportunity came, he spoke to the king with complete honesty. In the presence of the king, the sadness of Nehemiah's heart could not be wholly hidden. But, having had an audience with God he had the courage to ask to be allowed to go and help his brethren.
“Nehemiah, the good, rose up from his weeping to do something about a vision God had laid on his heart. Under divine providence, he was soon transported from Shushan to his beloved city, Jerusalem, armed with authority and equipped with materials to rebuild the ruined city” –A.W. Tozer.
He asked for three things. 1) Permission to repair the wall; 2) Letters of safe conduct; and 3) A letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest for timber. “And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me” (Verse 8).
III. The journey to Jerusalem (Verses 9-11).
Prayer is our first and principal line of activity, but that’s not all that is needed! God expects our co-operation. God will touch the heart of the king, but Nehemiah must put feet to his prayer. So, armed with royal authority; thrilled with a sense of God’s presence; with and understanding of the dangers along the way; accompanied by an escort of Persian soldiers and with letters from the king, he will complete the journey in about three months.
He will pass through some provinces of other Persian governors and minor politicians: “But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of my arrival, they were very displeased that someone had come to help the people of Israel” (Verse 10). Remember those names, along with Geshen the Arab, we’re not through with them yet. They will give Nehemiah much trouble.
IV. The nocturnal inspection of the wall.
“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; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode. And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass. So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work” (Verses 2:11-16).
This was an overwhelming task! The length of the wall is 2.5 miles, their average height was about 40 feet (four stories), and the average thickness is 8.2 feet). The walls contain 34 watchtowers and there were 8 gates. The wall was wide enough that four houses could be built within them, and wide enough for two chariots to pass.
The stones were megalith in size. One stone was weighed several years ago at “570 Tons (1.25 Million Pounds) one of the largest construction stones in the world…The biggest stone in the Temple's Western Wall, One of the heaviest objects ever lifted by human beings” (http://www.tiltul.com). They may have been even larger. An Egyptian pyramid stone weighed in at 750 tons, about 1.75 million pounds.
Methods had to be devised, and manpower recruited to move the massive stones. They had to be tumbled down a hillside into the valley, then moved to the site and assembled, taking an enormous amount of skill, manpower and machinery.
Nehemiah had to fight a history of defeat among his people. This had been attempted ninety years earlier and given up. It took Ezra fifteen years to complete the relatively easy task of rebuilding the Temple. Thirteen years earlier an attempt to rebuild the wall was stopped by the king. People were probably saying, “We’ve never been able to do this.” “It can’t be done here.” In every task for God there are always well-meaning people telling everyone why it can’t be done. Most pastors have experienced this negativity in their churches.
We are dying, we are dying, tell the sad news o’er and o’er!
Hear the sound of bitter crying, our church will be no more.
We no longer throng the highway, treading where the saints have trod,
Reaching sinners in the byways, begging them to come to God.
No one will heed our preaching, till out present ills we cure,
Vain our pretense of teaching, our church will not long endure.
See our Sunday school is dying, there’s no federal aid to save.
But our stubborn church keeps crying, stagger downward to the grave.
The people Nehemiah had to work with were a defeated, discouraged people.
V. The appeal to rebuild the wall. (2:17,18)
“But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king. They replied at once, ‘Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!’ So they began the good work.”
He lays the whole case before them. “Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!”
He appeals to the necessity, their sense of urgency, “Jerusalem lies in ruins.”
He appeals to their spirituality. God is with us! God wants this job done! “Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me” “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).”With God, everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26).
He appeals to their practical side. He told them, “We have the support of the king, nobody can stop us.” “Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king” (Verse 18).
He appeals to their reputation. “We Jews are a lean-mean-building machine, don’t ever let anyone say, ‘The job was too big for them.’ They needed to regain their reputation among the nations, They were “in great distress and reproach” (1:3).
VI. Opposition. (2:19,20).
“But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?’ So I answered them, and said to them, ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.’”
When it seems things are going well…look out! Nehemiah tells them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.” Listen to God, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches” (Philippians 4:19 NLT).
Then he says, “Therefore we His servants will arise and build.” No glory-grabbers here!
Just ordinary people
God uses ordinary people.
He chooses people just like me and you
Who are willing to do as He commands.
God uses people that will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you.
Because little becomes much as you place it in the Master's hand.
Principles from Chapter 2:
1) The work is God’s! God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s support! Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). Perhaps we should get out of the way and let Him do it J. Hudson Taylor, M.D., missionary to China, and the founder of the China Inland Mission wrote,
Bear not a single care thyself, one is too much for thee;
The work is Mine, and Mine alone; thy work — to rest in me.
2) The divine call is clear! “Rise up and build.” God says to the Church at Philadelphia, “See! I have set before you a door wide open which no one is able to shut…” (Revelation 3:8 AMP). “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 NLT). That’s our divine call!
Here is a man:
•Saddened by the condition of his nation and his people.
•Willing to fast and pray for as long as it takes.
•Unwilling to allow pride or fear to prevent him from taking his life in his hands and approaching the king for his people.
•Who could not sleep until the task was finished.
•Who was willing to take on an overwhelming task because he knew God was in it.
•Who could take a group of discouraged, disgruntled and defeated people and accomplish great things for God.
•Who could blend the practical with the spiritual. The false dualism of the sacred and the secular was not part of his thinking.
•Who was willing to face the enemy, weapon in hand, while building something great for God.
•Who was willing to become a servant, working with other servants to do God’s work.
•Who stretched his own, as well as other’s faith to believe that with God nothing is impossible.
When D.L. Moody was just starting in the ministry he heard a preacher say, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully surrendered to Him.” Moody that night said, “By God’s grace I’ll be that man!” It is said that Moody shook two continents for God and over a million souls came to Christ under his preaching and ministry. Moody had little formal education, and he was not a polished speaker. But God greatly used his life.
Give me a man of God—one man, whose faith is master of his mind,
And I will right all wrongs, and bless the name of all mankind.
Give me a man of God—one man, whose tongue is touched with heaven’s fire,
And I will flame the darkest hearts with high resolve and clean desire.
Give me a man of God—one man, one mighty prophet of the Lord,
And I will give you peace on earth, bought with a prayer and not a sword.
Give me a man of God—one man, true to the vision that he sees,
And I will build your broken shrines, and bring the nations to their knees.
– George Liddell–
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also the New Living Translation (NLT); The Message (MSG); The Amplified Bible (AMP); and The Living Bible (TLB).