By Kevin Ivy
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tullahoma
Nehemiah, who was deeply trusted by the king as his cupbearer, provided wine to the king as he had done time and time again before. Sadness was a dangerous emotion to express while in the king’s presence.The king expected his subjects to always be happy, even if they were not truly happy. The attitude of his subjects, especially those closest to him, reflected the well-being brought about by the king’s leadership. This time however, Nehemiah could not contain his sadness. The king, recognizing Nehemiah’s sad disposition, asked the dreaded question: Why is your face sad (2 Nehemiah 2:1-2)? He recognized that Nehemiah’s heart was breaking. When Nehemiah heard this, his sadness rapidly turned to fear. Some translations say that he was dreadfully afraid. Nehemiah was terrified at how the king would react but he capitalized on the opportunity the king had given him and revealed that he was sad because Jerusalem was in ruins. The king asked, “What would you request?” Nehemiah immediately began to pray. Notice that Nehemiah did not approach the king without first approaching the King of kings. He didn’t answer the king without first asking guidance from the King of kings. He prayed before he acted. This immediate response at the king’s question reveals how continual his prayer life was (v. 4).
After breathing a prayer to God, Nehemiah’s response to his earthly king was simple (v. 5). “Send me to Jerusalem so that I might rebuild it.” The temple was rebuilt under the leadership of Haggai and Zechariah. The city walls and the gates however were still in ruins. The king, along with the queen who was in the room, agreed that Nehemiah should be sent to Jerusalem for a time (v. 6). Recall that Esther was the queen of the previous king, and thus the stepmother to the present king. It is possible that she was able to influence the present king and queen to be favorable to the Jews. Whether or not this was the case, the good hand of God was upon Nehemiah (v. 8b). The king provided Nehemiah letters both for the governors of the provinces beyond the river and a letter to the keeper of the king’s forest. The king even sent captains of the army and horsemen with Nehemiah for his protection (v. 9). It would take approximately three months to travel from Susa to Jerusalem. This journey would be long, dangerous and full of checkpoints where letters were required for passage. Forests were carefully guarded, and written permission from the king would assure Nehemiah of the lumber he would need to build. These letters, and military support, from the king, proved that the good hand of God was upon Nehemiah.
When Nehemiah made it to Jerusalem, he was there for three days before he let anyone know of his intentions. He breaks his silence on the matter in verses 17-18. He challenged them to recognize the dire situation they were in. He convinced them of the fact that God had been favorable to this cause thus far. They were motivated to build and put their hands to the work. The sight of Nehemiah’s credentials and his motivating message revived their drooping spirits to begin the building despite the bitter taunts of influential men (vv. 19-20). Once again, God had sovereignly orchestrated events and circumstances to further His will and plan. Now, they were on their way to rebuilding the wall, securing the city, and unknowingly preparing for the coming of the Messiah to Jerusalem. God’s plans indeed exceed our plans!