For the last three weeks, we have been following the story of Nehemiah and his desire to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in order to bring comfort and safety back to the Jewish people. This week Nehemiah’s story takes a slight turn away from the actual building of the wall to a side issue among the Israelites. Greed, rearing its ugly head, threatens to tear the nation apart from the inside out. Turn with me to chapter 5, and let’s see how Nehemiah deals with turning greed into generosity.
As chapter 5 opens, we have the oppressed voicing their complaints:
About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.” Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.” And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.” (verses 1-5)
This is part 3 of a multi-message series on the story of Nehemiah and his love for God and country. Last week we saw Nehemiah’s prayer answered, we traveled with him to Jerusalem to check the state of the wall, and we watched the people of Israel come together. We also found out that the Samaritan army was close by, watching and commenting on the Israelites’ plans. This week, let’s explore chapters 3 and 4. These two chapters are crucial in the story –will the Israelites succeed or will they give up on their hopes and dreams of seeing the city restored?
As we start, I love the picture Nehemiah gives of the wall being rebuilt. Chapter 3 identifies each section of the wall that is repaired and the Israelite family who stepped up to do the repairs. What unfolds is how the entire Jewish community comes together in a consolidated and continuous effort, and the wall begins to go up – brick by brick. In our modern age, with our construction equipment, we can’t imagine the physical exertion that occurred to repair the wall. Days would be long, breaks short, and the activity ongoing in order to accomplish what they accomplished.
Last week, we began to look at the life of Nehemiah and gain some insight into his character and love for God. We took apart his prayer and saw how we could improve the way we pray. This week, let’s see where that prayer ended up taking him! Read Nehemiah 2: 1-20.
So where does Nehemiah’s prayer led him – right where he needs to be! However, if you go back, you will see Nehemiah’s prayer was not answered immediately. In fact, it was months later. Nehemiah’s story starts “in late autumn” and we now find him “early the following spring.” And his prayer is about to be answered!
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.” … (verses 1-2)
The fact that the king notices Nehemiah’s countenance says something about their relationship. Servants were not necessarily ‘noticed,’ they were tolerated. Cupbearers, however, held special significance. Not only did they serve the king his cup, but they became confidants to the king. And yet, as close as Nehemiah was to the king, he had a healthy respect for his position and the king’s authority because the Scriptures state at that moment he was “terrified” (verse 2).
The story of Nehemiah has been on my heart lately. When I’m weary and tired, stressed and overwhelmed, his story keeps coming to mind. It can be an encouragement to anyone trying to ‘build up’ something in their life – faith, a marriage, a child’s self-confidence. Discouragement will come, and the Enemy will rise up when you try to establish a solid foundation in any area of your life. This post will be the first in a series of posts related to faith building, so that you are prepared for anything life throws at you. We will look at the story of Nehemiah as an illustration. Turn with me this week to Nehemiah 1:1-11.
Unlike most of the called prophets of the Old Testament, Nehemiah was just a regular person like me and you. In fact, he was a Jewish servant to King Artaxerxes of Persia. He lived in the Persian Empire after the nation of Israel spent seventy years in captivity under Babylonian rule. Only a remnant of the Jewish people lived in Jerusalem after this time, as the city laid in ruins.
Nehemiah, however, is not your average servant. He was the king’s cup-bearer (verse 11), a position of importance and one that had direct influence on the king because he would have been in the king’s presence on a daily basis.
Interestingly, even as a Jewish servant, Nehemiah appeared to be someone of status within the Persian Empire:
1. He served the king directly.
2. He is seen later as one that was entrusted with great responsibility and a natural-born leader, governing Israel for 12 years.
3. He appeared to be well-supported and/or had means, because as governor he did not accept payment for his duties.